Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Munich Dunkel

I brewed my first lager a few months ago. It was a Munich Helles and it is delicious. I used to think I mainly had a taste for ales, but after trying some recent fresh lagers from both homebrewers and local commercial breweries, I did a 180 on that one. The key word in the last sentence is 'fresh'! The main reason I wasn't impressed by most supposedly world-class lagers in the past was that they are almost always stale by the time they reach the average drinker here.

Take Spaten as an example.They are an absolutely classic German brewery. In this case, they pretty much invented the Helles style when trying to imitate early Czech Pilsners in an attempt to capitalize on the growing light lager drinking trend that swept through Europe at the time. The average bottle of Spaten Premium Lager purchased here in the Midwest will have traveled for weeks or longer on a boat in a poorly temperature controlled environment, then waited months or more in a distributor's warehouse (again, sadly, often with complete lack of temperature control,) and finally waited on a store shelf or bar fridge, in some cases for weeks or months, before it reaches you. The beer you drink could easily be over 6 months old. For a light, delicate beer packaged in a green bottle, this means you will most likely find not-so-subtle notes of cardboard and skunk.

Enter homebrew and commercial craft beer. The first time I tried a Victory Prima Pils (a US brewed take on German Pilsner,) my initial thought was something like, "This is way too hoppy! It tastes like a pale ale!" Then it hit me. I'd never had an actual fresh German pilsner before. Aha! This is what these beers are supposed to taste like! I've had similar experiences with many homebrewed lagers in the last year or two as well.

 The fact of the matter is most Americans will never taste a fresh lager in their entire lives, even if they are avid commercial beer drinkers. Now that I have, I want more! When I started homebrewing I never thought it would lead me to lagering. As a matter of fact, that was probably my area of least interest. Yesterday I brewed my second one and there will definitely be more to come. After my initial Munich Helles, I brewed a Dunkel this time. I've judged some great ones at local competitions, and this brown lager with it's toasted breadcrumb flavors gets high marks in my book. I stuck with a pretty simple recipe.

Munich Dunkel

brewed on: 5/9/11
OG: 1.053
IBUs: 24 IBUs
mash temp: 153F (I overshot a bit and then brought it down.)
expected color: 18.5 SRM

5 lbs Munich malt (10 L)

5 lbs Vienna malt
6 oz Carafa II

Hops (all loose pellets):
1.8 oz Hallertauer @ 3.9% - 60 minutes

0.25 oz Hallertauer @ 3.9% - 20 minutes

WY 2206 Bavarian Lager yeast. - 2 liter starter, decanted, followed by another 2.5 liter starter, decanted and pitched at 52F.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Flanders Red - ECY Flemish Blend

There are few beers I've brewed repeatedly on a regular basis. One of the joys of homebrewing is the freedom of not being locked into producing the same few styles, as consistently as possible, over and over like a commercial brewery often does. That said, there are a few styles I've taken to re-brewing because I like them, and in some cases I find them very open to variations. Saison is a prime example. It is a very open ended style to begin with, and it's got examples all over the map with variants based on season, locally available ingredients, and pure creative brewing artistry.

On the other end of the spectrum, I find Flanders Reds to be something where I really appreciate a small percentage of the limited commercial examples out there. Rodenbach Grand Cru, Rodenbach's Vintage releases, and La Folie are my definite favorites and there are certain distinct similarities I find in them. They are 3 of the most sour, acidic beers I've tried, the fruity flavors of each fall into similar realms, and the oak aging brings out similar flavors and tannic mouthfeel.

In an attempt to get an eventual good Flanders sour ale brewed at home, I've done 3 batches in the past, all using various slurries of East Coast Yeast's Bugfarm releases. While meant for lambic fermentation, as well as general intense souring, they were my best option available since I find Roselare to be very lacking in the sour department until it is several generations old.

Recently, Al of ECY also released a Flemish blend. It contains a similar blend of yeast and bacteria, although not nearly as many and the balance of them is a bit different to hopefully get closer to a Flanders sour. I'm excited to try it! Since the vial of yeast/bugs sat around waiting patiently in the fridge for longer than I would have liked, I put half of the slurry through a stir-plated starter and saved half to pitch directly into the secondary. The logic behind this is that pediococcus, one of the players in this blend, is not a happy camper when introduced to large amounts of oxygen. I grew half on the stirplate to encourage the Saccharomyces strains in the blend to get healthy for a good initial fermentation. The pedio- is hardy enough to survive well enough in the vial, so I'll pitch the second half of the slurry later to encourage it to go to work once the fermented beer is transferred to a carboy to age and sour for a year or two.

Now that I've got 4 different batches of Flanders Red brewed, all with different yeast/bacteria blends, I'm looking forward to blending some into what I hope will be a passable, and quite acidic, batch of Flanders sour ale later this year! Here is the recipe I used, based on the information in Jeff Sparrows' Wild Brews. It is the same recipe, bug blend aside, that I've used in the past batches.

Flanders Red - #4

brewed on: 5/1/11
OG: 1.053
IBUs: 12 IBUs
mash temp: 150F
expected color: 13.1 SRM

5.5 lbs. Vienna malt
2.25 lbs. Flaked Corn
1 lb. German Carahell
1 lb. Belgian Caravienna
1 lb. Belgian Aromatic malt
6oz. Belgian Special B

Hops (all loose pellets):
0.6 oz Styrian Goldings @ 5.2% - 60 minutes

ECY Flemish Blend - 1/2 grown on stirplate & pitched into primary. 1/2 pitched directly from vial into secondary.

Brandy Barrel Imperial Stout

As I posted awhile back, I recently acquired a 10 gallon Peach Brandy barrel from the owner of Aeppeltreow Winery & Distillery. While aging a Rhubarb-Berry Melomel, I wanted to plan ahead for the next batch to barrel age. Upon the suggestion of a few friends, and with their offers to help, I decided on an Imperial Stout.

Last year I helped start BOMB (Barrel of Monkeys Brewers), a group of friends, all wonderfully talented homebrewers/vintners on their own. We have 2 large barrels that we collectively brew for, with each person contributing 5 or 10 gallons. So far we have a 23 year old brandy barrel, and a Door County Zinfandel barrel from Stone's Throw Winery. The brandy barrel has a sour stout aging in it. The wine barrel had a batch of relatively low strength English Barleywine and now is holding a Rye Porter. Unfortunately, the barleywine, now kegged, is exhibiting signs of brettanomyces. The upside is that I find the flavors complementary so far, and if nothing else, it exhibits Old Ale-like qualities. My hope is that both barrels will soon be used for lambic fermentation. We're meeting this weekend, so ideas for what to do with them will be discussed.

The best thing to come out of the BOMB group is not the beer, but the friendship and camaraderie. It has been a blast getting together with the guys and sharing homebrew as well as great commercial beer. I'm amazed by the things some of the guys pull out of their cellars for our get-togethers. When we did the barleywine filling, we had flights of beer such as J.W. Lees barleywine, aged in Calvados, Sherry, and Port barrels going back to 2004, just as an example.

So, now with a smaller 10 gallon barrel of my own, I definitely want to get a few friends to brew batches with me here and there. With 5 gallons being my standard brew size, it'll be nice to share the brewing load and the results with friends.

For now, my friend Jim and I decided do use one of the Imperial Stout recipes from Zainasheff & Palmer's Brewing Classic Styles book. I intend to start brewing certain "beers to be aged" annually including an Imperial Stout, Old Ale, and barleywine. Thus, this recipe seemed like a good starting place with options to vary the recipe in years to come, whether or not it is oak aged. Here is what we ended up with:

Brandy Barrel Imperial Stout

brewed on: 4/25/2011
efficiency: 75%

expected OG: 1.100

Expected IBUs: 50.3 IBUs
mash temp: 150F


19 lbs Marris Otter
1.5 lbs Roasted Barley (300 SRM)
1 lb Special B
8 oz Caramunich
8 oz Chocolate malt
8 oz Pale Chocolate malt

1.5 oz Magnum @ 14.1% - 60 minutes
2 oz Willamette @ 4.8% - 10 minutes
2 oz Willamette @ 4.8% - 1 minute

US-05 (2 packets)

5/17/11 FG 1.032. (Jim's batch @ 1.031) Filling barrel tonight.