Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Brewing a Classic American Pilsner

Going by my usual method/approach to brewing lagers, I'm following up my Munich Helles that I brewed in late January with another lager, to re-use the Wyeast 2124 Bohemian Lager yeast. This time, it's back to something a bit hoppier: a Classic American Pilsner (CAP).

I'm not sure if there's another beer style out there that is harder to find from craft breweries and brewpubs. I know that living in this area of Canada greatly inhibits how much good beer you can find, but I've been lucky enough to have been on a fair amount of trips in the U.S., all of which involved beer to some degree. And I don't think I've EVER had a CAP; at least, not one that was identified as such. I mean, check out the above link to the BJCP description of this style... under "Commercial Examples", they can't even come up with a specific one, only listing "Occasional brewpub and microbrewery specials".

This really is (from what I can tell) more of a pre-Prohibition Pilsner. It basically came about when German immigrants to the U.S. were forced to brew their beloved Pilsner style with the ingredients they had available to them in their new country. For example, using 2-row or 6-row pale malt instead of Pilsner, local hops like Cluster instead of Saaz, Hallertau or Tettnang. More on the style in the discussion below.

For this CAP recipe (my first ever), I again checked Jamil's Brewing Classic Styles. His recipe is quite simple, with the majority of the grist being 2-row; the rest is a healthy amount of flaked corn. This is common for this style; like other American Lagers, a fairly high proportion (up to 30%, according to the BJCP) of flaked corn or flaked rice is used as an adjunct, to cut back on the amount of base grain needed. This provides, of course, a "corn-like or sweet maltiness" in both the aroma and flavor of the beer. Jamil's recipe called for close to the maximum of flaked corn, coming it at about 28% of the grist. I actually changed the base malt to Pilsner; I wasn't too concerned with being completely authentic here, and have a lot of recipes coming up that require 2-row malt, so I thought I'd go with Pilsner malt instead. So, maybe that makes this beer more of a Classic American-German Pilsner? I also added some Acid malt to the grist to bring the mash pH to a proper level (hopefully). The malts and adjuncts are mashed quite low (here, 148 F) to provide a well-attenuated beer with a dry finish.

Lots of flaked corn in there
For the hops, there are several additions in this recipe. Jamil does make a point of mentioning that there are too many hop additions, but that he feels it works well for this style of beer. I've never been one to stray from hop additions, so I followed his recommendation (I see that in his more recent, Brew Your Own recipe, he's toned it down a bit). All of the hop additions are Saaz, which really is a fantastic hop to use in Pilsners; the floral, spicy characters work great in the style. Wait a minute, you're thinking... I thought this style of beer called for American hops that mimic European noble varieties? Yep; but this recipe called for Saaz, and I had a lot of it on hand.

So, yes, this beer is starting to look more like a strict German Pilsner. But wait, it's not just the ingredients that set this style apart from a German or Bohemian Pilsner. It's the higher gravities (up to 1.060) and often-higher hop flavors, due to more late-hopping than you usually see in other Pilsners. Either way, as I'm writing this I'm beginning to understand why the style is often ignored by commercial brewers. It's kind of confusing. If you take away anything about this style, just think of it as a "bigger" Pilsner, with a good amount of hop aroma and flavor, and a firm bitterness. Don't get too hung up by the source of your ingredients.

For the water, I was a bit in the dark. I knew that you didn't want high-mineral water to provide harshness to the beer, but I imagine that a "classic" CAP didn't have really soft water similar to that used in a Bohemian Pilsner. Since I'm obviously not too concerned with being classic here, I decided to simply add some Gypsum to the mash, to bring my calcium up to reasonable levels, and hopefully provide just a touch of extra bitterness to the beer. Nothing major.

As I mentioned, I cultured the slurry of the Wyeast Bohemian Lager from my Munich Helles. I actually washed the yeast to end up with about 200 mL of a thick, mostly-trub-free slurry. Whenever I brew lagers, I always try to brew two that will make good use of the one yeast strain, and pretty much back-to-back so that the yeast slurry is fresh. Also, if you follow this method, of course it usually makes sense to brew the lower-gravity beer first, so that you don't have an even larger yeast starter to make (a 1.058 lager like this would require a whopping 6.5 L starter - or at least several smaller ones - with intermittent shaking... and that's assuming you have a really fresh pack of yeast).

So, yeah, there you have it. I really enjoy a good pilsner, and a slightly-bigger, hoppier one sounds great to me. Hoping to lager this for about 6-8 weeks after fermentation is complete; I'll likely just rack it into a keg and use that as the secondary, and then hopefully have it on tap by the spring.

Recipe targets: (5.5 gallons, 75% efficiency) OG 1.058, FG ~1.012, IBU 35, SRM 3.7, ABV ~6%

3.6 kg (69.2%) Pilsner malt
1.45 kg (27.9%) Flaked corn
150 g (2.9%) Acid malt

Saaz - 70 g (2.6% AA) @ 60 min
Saaz - 35 g @ 20 min
Saaz - 28 g @ 10 min
Saaz - 28 g @ 5 min

Saaz - 28 g @ 0 min

Misc.: 1/2 tab Irish moss @ 5 min

Yeast: Wyeast 2124 Bohemian Lager (thick slurry cultured yesterday, ~200 mL)

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; 8 g Gypsum added to the mash

- Brewed on February 11th, 2014, by myself. 70-minute mash with 13 L of strike water, mashed in at target temp of 148 F. Mashed-out for 10 minutes with 7.8 L of boiling water, resulting temp 165 F. Sparged with ~4.25 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of slightly of ~7.25 gallons.

- SG high at 1.046 (target 1.044). 90-minute boil. Final volume ~5.75 gallons. Chilled down to 55 F, then poured/filtered into Better Bottle. OG a bit high at 1.060. Set BB in fermentation chamber with temp set at 46 F. After about 6 hours, temp had dropped to 46 F. Aerated with 120 seconds of pure O2, pitched yeast slurry. Placed BB back in fermentation chamber with temp set at 50 F.

- 13/2/14 - 17/2/14 - By morning of the 13th, fermentation was pretty active, airlock bubbling every 2 seconds. Stayed this way through to the 17th. Over these few days, I gradually increased the temp to 54 F.

- 18/2/14 - In the AM, activity had slowed to bubbling every 5-6 seconds. Took the BB out of the chamber and left it at ambient to raise the temp for a diacetyl rest. Temp was about 62 F by the evening.

- 20/2/14 - BB back in the chamber, decreased the temp by a few degrees each day until it was back to 50 F. Gravity reading a few days later showed 1.014.

- 26/2/14 - Racked to a keg for secondary, beginning lagering period now. Decreasing temp in chamber by 1-2 F every day until down to 38 F.

- Tasting notes posted; pretty happy with how this came out, grainy and malty, with a really nice hop presence from the Saaz.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Tasting : Maine Beer Co. MO clone

I've probably said this before, but it's often the case that the homebrews you look forward to the most are the ones that let you down. Of course this is inevitable with homebrewing as much as it is with everything else in life - the more you want something to be great, the more you over-analyze it and stress over the shortfalls. I've had a few homebrews where the beer actually came out as good (or even better) than I wanted it to, but usually it's the opposite.

And with this beer, my clone attempt of the fantastic Maine Beer Company MO (an APA), unfortunately it came out below my expectations. I should say right now that this doesn't mean it's a BAD beer... not at all, actually. If I had an APA that looked, smelled and tasted like this, and didn't know what I was drinking, I'd really enjoy it. But MO is just so over-the-top delicious that, unsurprisingly, my clone attempt disappoints me. But hey, I'm not a professional, right?

There's a good amount of hop aroma and flavor to the beer, and it's quite fruity and tropical. I loved the smell of the Falconer's Flight hops when I opened the package, and it seems to have carried over well into the beer. What surprises me is that I was really expecting a HUGE hop punch... with 6 oz combined of Falconer's Flight and Simcoe at flameout, and then two dry-hop additions of 2.5 oz each time... maybe there IS a limit to what late-addition hops can offer . IS there a ceiling-effect?

Or, was my method flawed? The recipe certainly isn't saturated with specialty grains. With only ~7% of the grist being Crystal malt (half of that Carapils), I'm also surprised at an odd caramel-flavor in the beer. Fermentation was fast and clean, and I've never had issues with US-05 in the past. It's supposed to be a clean, neutral yeast, and that's always been my experience with it.

As an extra disappointment, this was my very first kegged beer, so I was REALLY hoping for a huge hop punch, what with all the CO2 blanketing and such! For my next hoppy beer, I'll definitely try keg-hopping. With this beer, I transferred to a secondary carboy, because I hadn't yet received my kegging system; maybe the transferring actually caused some early oxidation of the hops?

Ok, enough speculating. The beer is very good, if you want to try the recipe. Do what you can to avoid oxygen exposure after fermentation has begun. Make sure your hops are as fresh and well-stored as possible... the usual stuff. And let me know how it turns out for you.

Note: I should mention that a friend who lives in Freeport, ME was nice enough to mail me two bottles of MO. I had full intentions of doing a side-by-side of the two beers, but both bottles of MO were 5 weeks old, and were not a good representation of what MO should taste like. Ironically, they had a huge caramel sweetness to them; kind of oxidized, too. Too old, or maybe something to do with shipping issues? Either way, it wouldn't have been fair to compare the two, so I decided against it.

Appearance: Pours with a thick, moderate-large white head that has excellent retention. Finally fades to 1/2-finger. Body is a burnished gold color, with fairly good clarity (some haze).

Aroma: A strong tropical fruit hop character, mixed with a bit of pine and a larger-than-expected caramel presence.

Taste: As the aroma... lots of hops, but the caramel/sweetness part of it doesn’t seem to really fit. Not really sure where that’s coming from; their certainly isn’t a large amount of Crystal in the recipe. Finishes with a very firm, moderate-high bitterness; quite dry.

Mouthfeel: Medium-low carbonation, medium-bodied.

Overall: A pretty good APA... but definitely no MO when it's at its freshest. With the large amounts of hops added, I’m surprised the beer isn’t hoppier, and the caramelish part of it throws me off every time. Needs work if it wants to approach the real thing.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Brewing a Munich Helles

Well. This hasn't happened in a while. THREE brew days in the month of January... that's three brew days in a 20-DAY PERIOD. I'm living the dream, baby!

I actually can't plan on keeping this pace... it's just not feasible when you factor in space, time, and most importantly, the state of one's liver. I've been giving away more beer than usual lately, so that's helping. But right now, I figure, make hay while the sun shines. I always like to use this time of year to brew a couple of lagers... I don't need my fermentation chamber to act as a beer cellar, or even as a keezer, since the back room of my garage is kept at a perfect 46-50 F all winter via digital thermostat. So, it's a great time to use the fermentation chamber for... fermentation. Being able to adjust the temps easily for fermenting, diacetyl rests, and lagering is great, so I might as well take advantage of this stupid season.

When thinking about which lager style to brew, I immediately had my eye on Classic American Pilsner. I've never brewed this style before, and of course the higher hop presence called to me. However, I decided to first brew a lighter style, something that I could share with beer geeks and non-geeks alike. I've brewed a Standard American Lager before; while I enjoyed the challenge, I wanted to go with a style that had a little more depth and complexity. I finally settled on Munich Helles.

Munich Helles was originally created in the late 19th century, as a way for Bavarian breweries to compete with the Pilsner style that was becoming so popular. A light-golden, medium-bodied lager, Munich Helles emphasizes clean, bready, malt flavors, with mild bitterness. Think of it as a true beer geek's Light Lager. I haven't had a lot of Munich Helles beers, but I can say there's a couple of great ones out there, most notably Weihenstephaner Original (does Weihenstephaner make any beers that aren't great?).

Since I've never brewed this style before, I turned to my go-to source for first attempts... Jamil's Brewing Classic Styles. It's a pretty straight-forward recipe: mostly Pilsner malt, with some Munich and melanoidin malt to add additional malt complexity. I looked at a few other recipes online, and read some articles on Munich Helles, and decided to bump the Munich malt higher than what Jamil's recipe called for. At a little over 11% of the grist, it's certainly not high, but I wanted to really have a nice, malty beer. Note that I also added some acid malt to bring the mash pH to a preferred range. The beer is mashed fairly low, at 150 F; you want it to attenuate fairly well for a lager, but not TOO low, since it's a low-gravity beer (i.e. you still want the beer to have some body to it).

I wasn't really sure what to do with the water for this beer. The BJCP notes "moderately carbonate water". Since the calcium, sulfate and chloride in Fredericton city water is pretty low, I wanted to bump up the amounts a bit for the sake of the mash. So, I added 4 grams each of Gypsum and calcium chloride, resulting in numbers that shouldn't be overly bitter or malty... just balanced.

As with most lagers, the hopping in Munich Helles is minimal. Just a noble variety (in this case, Tettnang), added at 60 minutes for some bitterness to help balance the sweetness in the beer. For fermenting, there were several options available for this style. I narrowed it down to the ones that would also work with a Classic American Pilsner (since I plan on reusing the yeast for this style after I rack the Munich Helles to secondary); Wyeast 2124 Bohemian Pilsner stood out. I've used this strain before, and I really like it for a variety of lager styles. I made a big starter (actually, two... the first at about 1.7 L, then another 1.5 L starter to get the big cell count needed for lagers), and this will also mark the first time I've brewed a lager and had a proper oxygen aeration system.

Well, everything seemed to be set properly, so I was hoping for a smooth brew day. Unfortunately, it was one of those days where there were several factors working against me. It was bitterly cold, but at this time of year, in this part of the country, what else is new? It's cold pretty much everywhere, anyway. However, about halfway into my 90-minute boil, I checked on the boil to see that it wasn't very boisterous. It quickly became a light simmer, even with the regulator all the way open. Luckily I have a second propane tank on my BBQ... but, it was very light when I carried it down. Fifteen minutes later, the beer was back down to a light simmer. I rushed over to my neighbor's house and borrowed his tank from him... and damn, wasn't it light, too! I JUST made it to the end of the 90 minutes, but it finished at a simmer, too. I like a nice, strong boil for any beer, but especially for lagers that employ a lot of pilsner malt... you've got to boil off that DMS! Hopefully the beer won't be adversely affected. I had more volume at the end of the boil than planned, but my efficiency was up quite a bit, so the OG actually still came in above target.

Note: Once again, please excuse the general lack of pictures of my brew day... with the extremely cold temperatures and the general propane screw-up, I didn't really have my camera on-hand!

Recipe targets: (5.5 gallons, 75% efficiency) OG 1.048, FG ~1.013, IBU 19, SRM 4.9, ABV ~4.7%


3.6 kg (83.5%) Pilsner malt
500 g (11.6%) Munich malt
113 g (2.6%) Melanoidin malt
100 g (2.3%) Acid malt 

Tettnang - 32 g (4.4% AA) @ 60 min

Misc.: 1/2 tab Irish moss @ 5 min

Yeast: Wyeast 2124 Bohemian Lager (PD Dec 22/13) (with a 1.7 L starter, then a 1.5 L starter)

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; 4 g Gypsum, 4 g calcium chloride added to the mash

- Brewed on January 27th, 2014, by myself. 50-minute mash with 13 L of strike water, mashed in just slightly below target temp of 150 F. Mashed-out for 10 minutes with 7 L of boiling water, resulting temp 166 F. Sparged with ~4.5 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of slightly of ~7.25 gallons.

- SG high at 1.039 (target 1.036). 90-minute boil. Final volume ~5.8 gallons. Chilled down to 46 F, then poured into Better Bottle. OG a bit high at 1.050. Aerated with 90 seconds of pure O2, pitched decanted yeast starter. Placed BB in fermentation chamber with temp set at 50 F.

- Fermentation slowly showing signs of life on the 28th. Over the next 5-6 days, the airlock was bubbling steady at every 2 seconds; I gradually increased the temp to 52-53 F. When it started slowing down, I took the BB out of the chamber and left it at ambient (~65 F) for two days for a diacetyl rest. I then placed it back in the fermentation chamber, dropping the temp over a couple of days back to 50 F. 

- 10/2/14 - Racked to secondary fermentor, set back in chamber at 50 F (waiting for Classic American Pilsner to ferment).

- 26/2/14 - Now that the Pilsner I brewed after this beer has been racked to secondary, I started decreasing the temp in the fermentation chamber by 1-2 F every day until down to 38 F.

- 7/5/14 - Tasting notes here... came out really well - easy-drinking, great malt character.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Tasting : Tommy (Belgian Dubbel)

When you get in the routine of brewing a lot of hoppy beers, it's easy to forget that not all beer styles are best consumed within a week or two of packaging. Luckily, with this Belgian Dubbel that I brewed in early November, I didn't race through all of the bottles immediately after they were sufficiently carbonated. I DID have one here and there (and gave some away) to see how the flavors were developing; I think, at first, I wasn't too impressed with the beer, but now that it's had a couple of months to age a bit, I'm definitely liking it more.

This Dubbel came out much better than my first attempt a few years ago. The beer has more complex maltiness and a light chocolate character to it... whether this is a direct result of the recipe changes or the change in yeast strain, I'm not sure. I'm leaning towards both, actually - while the grist is more-complicated than I generally like to brew, the different malts, dark candi syrup, and higher mash temp definitely helped the beer in the end. And a yeast that emulates Chimay can't be bad; Chimay Red is a fantastic Belgian Dubbel (this is often missed, maybe because the beer is so readily available, at least for a Trappist beer).

Not too many changes I'd make, here. I'd definitely carbonate the beer a little more (2.75 vol is a touch low for a Dubbel, but with the slightly-higher FG I didn't want to take any chances), to at least 3 vol CO2. Next time, I'd probably give the Wyeast 3787 (Westmalle brewery) strain a try. I love Belgian Dubbels and Tripels (and really have to start brewing them more often), but I've got to give the wide variety of Belgian yeasts a complete try before I can settle on which I prefer as my "house Belgian strain".

On a side note, some people at a local beer bar tried this beer with two other commercially-available Dubbels, Maredsous Brune and Floreffe Dubbel. Surprisingly to me, they preferred the beer I brewed to the other two.

Appearance: Poured with a moderate-large light-tan head, doesn’t exhibit great retention. Fades to 1/4-finger after a few minutes. Body is a dark brown color and shows some haziness.

Aroma: Rich, bready malt, with a little bit of milk chocolate in behind. Some spicy phenols. Trying to detect dark fruit; maybe a touch there, but not a lot, for sure. No hop aroma.

Taste: Malty and slightly sweet, bit of chocolate and spiciness in there to balance. Low bitterness, with a slightly dry finish.

Mouthfeel: Medium-low bodied, moderate-high carbonation.

Overall: Quite tasty... giving it a couple of months has helped smooth the flavors out a bit. Easy-drinking; no sign of any alcohol warming at all. I'd like to see some more dark fruit flavors and aromas, but otherwise it's a very good Dubbel.