Latest Brew – Maerzen/Oktoberfest

There’s something I like about brewing in April for consumption in September.  I imagine brewers scurrying around trying to fill their barrels before the weather got too warm, workers stuffing alpine caves with glacial ice to keep the beer cold then, in September when it is starting to get cool in Bavaria, people scurrying about to empty the barrels to be refilled with fresh beer.  That is the abridged version of the story of Oktoberfest Lager, a beer brewed in March (Maerzen is German for March) to be consumed before September (Oktober in the old calendar).  I brewed mine last Sunday.

I was in Helga’s German Deli last Saturday enjoying their beer sampler.  Their beer sampler comes with two Bavarian-style pretzels and six 12-ounce pours of beers from Warsteiner and Hofbrau.  We added a Kostrizer Schwarzbier to it.  The sampler contains both the Warsteiner and the Hofbrau Oktoberfest beers.  I really prefer the Kloster Weltenberger Anno 1050 Maerzen-style beer, it’s thicker and sweeter than the others so I’ve been trying to emulate it in my Maerzens.  The Weltenberger is sweeter, thicker, maltier than the mass-market Munich Oktoberfest.  So my Anno 2015 is modeled on the Franconian version.

The mash was a three-step infusion mash with a batch sparge.  Temps were 122 degrees, 145 degrees, 156 degrees and 170 degrees for great conversion, about 80% efficiency.  Here’s the wort running into the kettle, demonstrating my new-found method for keeping crumbs from running into the kettle, a cheap knee-high stocking from Walmart:


I also learned another little trick this time, using smaller containers to recirculate.  I was using a one-gallon pitcher, then having to pour it back, stirring up the grain bed and making my wort cloudy.  This time I used two quart measuring cups and avoided cloudy wort.

The beer is perking away at 50 degrees in the refrigerator downstairs.  Once it’s done with primary, it gets lagered for as long as I can keep the fridge cold.  In retrospect, I might have added an ounce or two of melanoidin malt to simulate decoction.  Maybe next time.  Part of the fun is learning and it seems I learn something from each brew.

Sharing the Recipe – Naked Porter a la Dry Dock

Here’s the recipe mentioned in the previous post.  It’s a coffee flavor bomb.  I’m going to dial the carafa malt back a bit next brew but, for blog consumption, here is the Naked Porter recipe:

Next version I’ll back the Carafa down to a more respectable 10 ounces.  Make sure your water is very hard or treat with alkali, bicarbonate or hydroxide, to ensure the mash is not too acidic.  Cheers!

Gushers – Negative Effects of Water Treatment

A few weeks ago my Naked Porter, so named because it’s the Dry Dock’s Vanilla Porter sans vanilla, was fine.  Now nearly every bottle I open gushes.  I got one that was positively nasty with bad fermentation by-products.  The rest have been overcarbonated but not bad.  Here’s one:


Finding out what could have happened is a bit of a forensic effort.  The bad one was a true gusher and there was no doubt that it was not a good beer.  The rest are tart with some diacetyl but that was always present.  Diagnosing the beer is made more difficult by the fact that it’s the one batch I’ve made that I didn’t keep notes.  There are no off aromas.  The beer has always been opaque so it’s hard to tell if there’s any significant cloudiness.  When I poured, the beer appears to be clear.  Aside from the one truly bad beer, the beer is not gushing in the glass.  Its head is persistent but not growing. Based on this, I have to assume I had the one bad bottle from the batch, likely the result of a dirty bottle and not any brewing error.

Now I’m working from memory.  It’s a very dark beer with lots of roasted malts, leading to a highly acidic mash.  I added some calcium carbonate – chalk – to the mash to bring the pH up.  Later, reading the Brewing Elements series book “Water”, I learned that the chalk does indeed dissolve in the acid environment of a mash, then combines with phosphates to form apatite chrystals.  In beer, these form condensation nuclei, sites where bubbles can form, much like bubbles in a normal beer form at minute scratches, imperfections and dirt specks on the glass.  Beer is a supersaturated solution of carbon dioxide so when the pressure is released with condensation nuclei present, the beer gushes.

Our water requires treatment for very light and very dark beers to control the mash pH.  Chalk is ineffective and leads to problems as mentioned above.  Next time I’m brewing very dark, I’ll add sodium bicarbonate, baking soda, instead.  It’s soluble and controls the pH much more effectively.  Yes, I’m adding sodium but our water is so low in sodium that it shouldn’t matter.

So I have good tasting gushers.  So be it, I learned a valuable lesson from it and I had no plans to enter any of these over-the-top coffee bombs in any competition.  I’ll enjoy them at home, share them with understanding friends and will not make the same mistake again.

By Demand: Lemongrass Ginger Wheat Recipe

A commenter asked me for this recipe, both here and on Brewer’s Friend:  My lemongrass ginger wheat recipe recipe (so far) reflecting my experiments to help perfect it:

The first recipe I got the right amount of lemongrass.  When making it, be sure you get good quality lemongrass.  I get mine dried from the Savory Spice Shop rather than the Brew Hut.  Fresh ginger – grated, added at flameout to get a bit of ginger bite.  Add earlier for flavor and no bite.  This version is actually my next prototype brew, a three-gallon batch designed to test for the final proportions.  I intend to brew this next weekend and will report as it becomes finished.

Cheers and thanks for the question!

Saturday Brew Day – Grodziskie

Grodziskie is an extinct smoked wheat beer from eastern Germany (where it’s called Graezer) and western Poland.  I’ve been trying various things for some time in an effort to get one that I consider both drinkable and to style.  It’s a very light beer and rather highly hopped:  4.0 ABV and 40 IBUs (BU/GU ratio is 1).  I’ve experimented with varying the amount of smoked malt, souring but finally got the clue from Ron Pattinson’s book on obsolete beer styles.  This Grodziskie is brewed according to his guidlines.  Here’s the recipe:

If I haven’t plugged Brewer’s Friend, let me do so now.  It’s a great site for creating and sharing beer recipes, the community of users is very knowledgeable and very polite – no arguments over sprinklin’ vs dunkin’ over there!  It has a great suite of tools for brewers of any level of expertise.  And it’s under development all the time so any problems that come up generally get fixed.  I recommend it, in fact, I’m a lifetime member!

They didn’t pay me for that, really.

Some other brews in progress:  The Vienna Lager is done and very nice.  Likewise, the Baltic Porter is lagering and also very nice.  I’m planning my next brew but don’t know when I’ll get it done – soon I hope.  It’s a Maerzen and that means March.  Aprilzen just doesn’t have the same ring.

Sensory Training

Last night I finished the Siebel Institute’s 12-flavor sensory training panel.  It was quite enlightening to actually taste those off-flavors people write about.  If you ever get a chance to complete the testing, do so.  It’s worth it.

For example, I now know exactly what lactic acid contamination tastes like – think soured milk.  Diacetyl is rancid butter.  I couldn’t smell or taste butyric contamination but, before I knew it was the flavor I was sampling, I began to feel ill, like I’d just thrown up.  And I also learned I’m one of the 50% of the population that can’t smell the Indole off-flavor, described by the other three guys at the table as horse crap.  My homebrew club was doing the tasting so, when I said, how will I ever know if this stuff is in my beer.  The guys said, don’t worry, if it were in there, we’d have told you.

It’s still a slow brewing time for me.  I’m teaching my six year old grandson to ski so that’s taking up my weekend time.  This coming weekend I’ll brew the Lubelski, a German/Polish smoked wheat ale.  Thanks to some references by Ron Pattinson, I know a couple of things:

– It wasn’t soured.  Given the times this beer was in existence, the Prussians knew how to brew beer.  It would likely have been clean.
– It was highly hopped for its gravity.  1.040 OG and 40 IBUs.  That’s a BU/GU ratio of 1, a hoppy beer.  The flavor hops are at 20 minutes so they won’t contribute a lot of aroma which is good – would interfere with the smoke flavor and taste vaguely poisonous.
– It’s 100% wheat (except for the bit of acidulated I put in for the mash pH).  Protein rest, anyone?

I’ve done this beer before and the Dry Dock has indicated they want to brew it.  I haven’t done this formulation.

It should be good.