Category Archives: Recipes

My Attempts On The Perfect Munich Helles

There is one beer style that seems to be the goal of many homebrewers to get it right: Munich Helles. A pale, golden lager beer with a malty body and not much hop character. Many have tried getting it right. There are threads on homebrewing forums, even on German ones, Reddit also has something, there’s a even a blog dedicated to brewing lager beers with the focus on Bavarian beers, aptly named “The Quest For Edelstoff“, the almost legendary export-strength Helles brewed by Augustiner.

Since my wife and I particularly enjoy Helles, it has been my goal in the last few years to brew a really good one. In February, I brewed my fourth one, and so far, it’s been absolutely fantastic (it’s still carbonating, though). In the fourth try, I got everything just right, it looks right, it smells right, it tastes right. There is nothing where I would say that this is a fault (no matter how minor) in the beer, and I am overly critical about my own beer.

Maybe I should discuss what my previous attempts looked like. In the first recipe that I did in February 2014, the grist was rather complex (mostly Pilsner, some light Munich malt, some CaraPils, some Melanoidin). The mash was a Hochkurz infusion mash, 90 minute boil, with a single hop addition of Hallertauer Mittelfrüh. W-34/70 yeast. If I remember correctly, the beer came out a tad too dark (still pale, but more brown than golden), and it had a honey-like note. I blame the melanoidin malt for that.

The second attempt, in October 2014, was close to the first recipe, except no melanoidin malt, and Perle hops at 90 minutes and 15 minutes. The mash was unexpectedly more efficient than planned, and in the end the yeast must have stalled a bit, so it came out strong, more like a Maibock, with some residual sweetness.

The third attempt, brewed in September 2015, was 100% Pilsner malt, with a Hochkurz double decoction. This time a 2 hour boil, and Perle at 60 and 40 min, and Hallertauer Mittelfrüh at 15 min. Yeast (again) was W-34/70. The overall result was very cloudy, and had more hop aroma than anticipated. It tasted more like unfiltered Staropramen than a Helles.

For the fourth attempt, done in February 2016, I decided to do a few things differently, and incorporated a lot of recommendations from Ludwig Narziß’s books. I composed the grist of 98% Pilsner malt and 2% CaraHell, which I then mashed at 38 °C in a water adjusted to a residual alkalinity of 0 °dH. I rested for 20 minutes, then heated up to 50 °C. I then drew a decoction, heated the decoction up to 65 °C, rested until conversion, then brought it to a boil for 10 minutes and poured it back to bring the mash up to 65 °C. I then let it rest for 50 minutes. I then drew a second decoction, again brought it to a boil for 10 minutes, and poured it back to get to 75 °C. I then lautered and sparged. Again, a 90 minute boil. For hopping, I used Hersbrucker hops this time, with additions at 70 and 40 minutes. Also, I cheated, and added some Irish moss at 15 minutes. After chilling the wort to 11 °C, I pitched a large starter of Wyeast 2308 (i.e. the Weihenstephan 308 yeast strain), and let it ferment for 2 weeks, followed by 7 weeks of lagering at 1 °C. I then kegged it. It’s currently carbonating.

Since the overall amount in the fermenter was about 21 liters, but the keg only fit 19 liters, I got to try some uncarbonated Helles. The colour was clearly golden, and just right. The hops were subdued, and the beer was dominated by a very soft malty note. There was no sweetness though. The mouthfeel was very full-bodied, and there was a typical lager flavour in there – I guess low levels of sulphur. All in all, a very pleasant experience.

For the colour, I’d say it’s most definitely the grist that’s responsible for that. 100% Pilsner malt was a tiny bit too pale, small amount of Munich and/or Melanoidin malt made the beer a tiny bit too brown. 2% CaraHell really seems to do the trick.

Then the hops: Perle clearly doesn’t work so well, Hallertauer seemed okay in the past, but the Hersbrucker seems to taste even nicer when used in rather small amounts and with no late additions.

And last, probably one of the most important factors, the yeast. While W-34/70 is one of the standard strains in lager brewing, I’m not sure it’s particularly well-suited for brewing Helles. Even when fermented cleanly, it just seems a bit harsher than the W-308 strain, which is just softer and a bit less attenuative. I’m not sure whether the decoction mash made any real difference, but it’s certainly a technique to achieve a highly fermentable wort.

I’m not saying my Helles is the perfect Helles, but of those that I’ve brewed so far, it is by far the best. For the next attempts, I will definitely keep the grist, and most likely the hops, and at most will I experiment with other mash schedules and methods, and most likely with other Bavarian lager yeast strains that are not W-34/70. W-206 is certainly worth a try, and so is W-109 which is a traditional strain for Helles and available for homebrewers.

Brewing a Historic Berliner Weisse

It’s March, and I’ve been wanting to brew a Berliner Weisse for quite a while. So what better time to brew a Märzen-Weisse?

Relatively little is actually known about Märzen-Weisse. What is known is that it’s a stronger version of a regular Weisse. In his 1947 brewing notes, the brewmaster of Groterjan brewery mentioned a high-gravity version of 16-18 °P that some breweries produced occasionally. I don’t know whether that’s the Märzen-Weisse strength, but it definitely sounds intriguing.

For this brew, I teamed up with Franz Pozelt of Slowfood Berlin, to do one Weisse according to my recipe, and then one Weisse according to his recipe. Last Sunday was the first of two brewing dates.

We started off with a historic Berliner Weisse recipe that calls for 20 parts pale barley malt, 10 parts wheat malt, and 2 parts oat malt. We didn’t know where we’d end up in terms of gravity (because it’s a no-boil recipe, see below), so we used 4 kg Pilsner malt, 2 kg pale wheat malt, and 400 g oat malt.

The mash schedule was also based on historic methods: with dough-in at about 40 °C, we then slowly rose the temperature until we reached 50 °C to rest for 15 minutes. Then we continued to slowly heat up until we reached 62 °C, which we held for 45 minutes. We then drew a thin decoction and boiled it for about 5 minutes. At this point, we also added the hops, literally 3 leaves of Hersbrucker, to boil it. Mash hopping is another historic method in Berliner Weisse.

We then mixed the decoction back to raise the temperature to 72 °C, held that temperature for another 15 minutes, and then moved the mash to the lauter tun. With enough vorlauf to achieve a bright and clear wort, we then went on to sparge. Since this was going to be a no-boil Berliner Weisse, we didn’t know what efficiency to expect, so we simply collected enough wort until we reached 16 °P.

The wort was then heated up to 95 °C, and the temperature held for 20 minutes. This was a bit of a compromise, as older recipes lauter directly to the cooling tub resp. the fermentation vessel, but the Groterjan brewmaster mentions this as a possibility to prevent beer infections (such as Pediococcus) without having to resort to a boil. Interestingly, the resulting wort had 17 °P. That may be due to a measurement error earlier, and we didn’t mix the wort properly before (my experience is that during lautering, the runnings don’t mix well, most likely due to different specific gravity, so you get wildly different measurements with the refractometer depending where you take your sample).

Right after that, the wort was transferred to the fermentation vessel, and cooled down to 30 °C.

Fermentation itself is where my approach deviates from history: to better control the resulting sourness, I decided to sour the wort with a big starter of Wyeast 5335 Lactobacillus buchneri, and when sourness will have approached a good level, yeast will be pitched. I decided for US-05, as it’s a relatively neutral ale yeast which has been shown to successfully ferment even in wort with a pH level of 3.38, plus it’s cheaper for me to get several sachets of it than e.g. a single vial of WLP029 or a smack-pack of Wyeast 1007.

Since the brewday went without any issues, the lacto is doing its work now, and I’ll keep measuring the pH levels and tasting the souring wort. The yeast will be pitched when the sourness is right. In addition to that, the fermentation vessel was used to ferment and mature a batch of porter with Brettanomyces, so I expect an infection with B. claussenii, as well, which is perfectly fine for the style.

I’ll report about any results. At the moment, the lactobacillus is slowly fermenting away, producing some CO2. I suppose that’s fine, as L. buchneri is heterofermentative.

Mannheimer Braunbier

After my research of Horner Bier, I took more interest in trying to reconstruct other historic beers. In “Vollständige Braukunde” by Johann Carl Leuchs, I stumbled upon Mannheimer Braunbier, which is, as the name says, a brown beer that used to be brewed in Mannheim.

The typical brewing process for the beer is the Rhine method which was common around Mannheim, Frankfurt and Strasbourg. The malt is doughed in by underletting a mix of boiling and cold water. The water to grain ratio is relatively low, while the initial mash temperature is 30 to 50 °C, depending on the brewer. Then boiling water is added, until stirring is easier, and the mash is constantly stirred for 45 minutes. Then wort is drawn off and poured back onto the mash until the wort is clear. When all wort is drawn off into a cooling tub, more boiling water is added to the mash, a rest of 30 minutes is done, and the second runnings are drawn off into the cooling tub. At that point, the grains are considered to be completely spent, and no small beer is made from them. During the second mash, a bit of wort is taken, the hops are added, and are boiled for 15 minutes. This is called “roasting”. After that’s done, the remaining wort is added from the cooling tub. In the cooling tub, any unclear material like flour shall remain back to make sure a clear wort is boiled. Total boil time is 3 to 4 hours, then the wort is cooled down to about 18 °C, and yeast is pitched.

Leuchs mentions two recipes, one brewed with brown barley malt, amber barley malt and sugar, the other one brewed with equal amounts of brown barley malt and amber barley malt, juniper berries, and ginger. For the latter recipe, Leuchs refers to Hermbstädt, the author of the book “Chemische Grundsätze der Kunst, Bier zu brauen“. Interestingly, Hermbstädt mentions that originally, Mannheimer Bier was indeed brewed in Mannheim, but in 1826 (the year that book was published), was brewed in Berlin, where it was enjoyed as a common, healthy, and nourishing drink. It is described as very clear.

Interestingly, Hermbstädt describes a different mash schedule than Leuchs: in total, 12000 quarts (1 quart is about 1.145 liters) were supposed to be used for mashing to produce just 2000 quarts of beer, with a boil of only 30 minutes. I don’t know how that should work, so I simply don’t believe it. Also the hopping is different: hops and juniper berries are infused in water twice, and that infusion is then added to the boiled wort. When the cool wort is added to the fermentation vessel, chopped up ginger is added along with the yeast. According to Hermbstädt, the beer was drinkable already 8 days after brew day.

Based on this information, I tried to come up with an interpretation of the beer style. I’d leave out any excessive boiling, but I’d keep essential elements like the mash schedule as described by Leuchs, and the distinct technique of hop roasting. As brown and amber barley malt, I’m simply picking Munich malt and Vienna malt. This may not be the truest representation, but it’s the closest what we can get in modern diastatic malts that roughly matches the colour description. The question of how smokey the malts for this beer originally were is not something I’m able to answer, nor am I willing to do a wild guess and produce a smokey beer. As hops, I’m picking Tettnanger as that would be a relatively local hop variety for Mannheim.

So, here’s the recipe:

  • 2.75kg dark Munich malt
  • 2.75kg Vienna malt
  • 180g Tettnanger hops (4% alpha acid)
  • 14g juniper berries
  • 4g ginger root (chopped up)

The day before brewing, smash up the juniper berries and soak them in a liter of water until the next day, then remove them.

Dough in the malt with 10 liters of water to result in a mash at 50 °C. Keep that temperature for 30 minutes, then add another 10 liters of hot water to result in a mash temperature of 68 °C. If that’s too much effort, just add 10 liters of water of at least 50 °C, then heat up to that temperature.

Then do a Vorlauf until the wort is clear, and lauter. Sparge with hot water. Take the first few liters of the first runnings, and bring them to a boil together with the hops, and boil for 15 minutes. Then mix that with the remaining runnings and boil for 90 minutes. At the end of the boil, add the juniper berry infusion, and chill the wort to about 20 °C. Add chopped up ginger to the wort, and pitch an ale yeast. Depending on your brew kit’s efficiency, the resulting beer should come out with about 13.5 °P, 80 IBU and 5.5 % ABV. The bitterness is obviously crazy high, but with some aging, it should subside and smooth out.

As for brewing that, I have no immediate plans to do so. I’m currently planning to brew a Berliner Märzen-Weisse inspired by a historic recipe, about which I will post here soon. If you’re brewing Mannheimer Braunbier though, I’d love to hear about any results.

An English Barleywine Recipe

About two years ago, my then girlfriend and I brewed our first Christmas beer. It was an oatmeal milk stout which, in retrospect, had just too many components and was a bit confused, but still drinkable. Right after finishing that, we had another great idea: why not brew a big beer that takes some time for aging, and serve that as Christmas beer in a year’s time? So the obvious style for us was English barleywine. I put together a recipe, we brewed it (and had a very chaotic brew day with too many stuck sparges and very low efficiency), bottled it, and after a year, it came out really nice. We kept a few bottles, and yesterday, we brought some of them to the Christmas beer tasting of the Berlin Homebrewing group.

This beer, now two years old, was well-received, and so I’m documenting the recipe for others to brew it and have the patience of a year or longer to actually get a great beer.

Grist:

  • 83 % Pale Ale Malt
  • 17 % CaraRed

Hops:

  • 2.5 g/l Target @ 90 min
  • 3 g/l East Kent Goldings @ 10 min

Two hour mash at 62 °C, then a 90 minute boil. Nottingham Ale yeast. OG was 22 °P, FG was 3.5 °P. 9.6% ABV. 65 IBU (calculated).

In my notes, I forgot to write down the alpha acid content of the hops that I used. In the end, it doesn’t really matter much, because the hop bitterness almost totally fades, and there is just some very muted, round bitterness there that accentuates the overall maltiness. Because of that, I’m not sure whether anything but a bittering addition really makes sense in the end.

After fermentation, we bottled the beer without any priming whatsoever, and no fresh yeast. It still took up some carbonation, which probably comes from tiny amounts of fermentable sugar left after the main fermentation, which was eventually, and very slowly eaten up by the yeast. After that, we sampled the beer at 3 months, 6 months, and 9 months age. Only at 9 months age, it started to taste nice, but really only reached its full potential after 12 months of bottle maturation. An additional 12 months added even more complexity, and that makes me very happy about this beer and the recipe.

Berlin Homebrewing Competition 2015: My English Brown Ale Recipe

As mentioned in my previous article about my results at the Berlin Homebrewing competition 2015, I’m publishing the recipe to my best-performing beer, the English Brown Ale that I submitted to the Brown Ale, Porter, Stout category.

This beer was the first one that I designed for that competition, and since it was announced early that the overall winner would be brewed by Berlin microbrewery, I actually designed the beer to be not contain any too exotic malts or other ingredients, as this could theoretically have been a show-stopper for realizing the recipe at a larger recipe that doesn’t have a malt storage as well-sorted as a homebrewing store. So, that’s what it looks like:

Grist:

  • 67 % Pale Ale Malt
  • 21 % Munich Malt (dark)
  • 11 % CaraAroma
  • 1 % Chocolate Malt

Hops:

  • 1.5 g/l East Kent Goldings (5.8 % AA) @ 60 min
  • 0.75 g/l East Kent Goldings (5.8 % AA) @ 15 min

60 minute mash at 69 °C, then a 60 minute boil. S-04 yeast. OG was 12 °P, FG was 3 °P. 4.8 % ABV. 26 IBU.

The recipe actually went through some refining. The previous version contained only half the amount of Munich malt, only 8.5 % CaraAroma, and a tiny bit more Chocolate Malt. And even the first version is based off another recipe that I had brewed in early 2014, an English Dark Mild, which consisted of 87% Mild Ale malt, 11.5 % CaraAroma and 1.5 % Black Malt. The mix of Pale Ale and Munich Malt is something that I conceived to get a nuttier character into the base malt instead of just plain German-produced Pale Ale Malt. But I think in total, the idea of the dark mild showed through in the brown ale, which in some ways make the latter mostly a bigger version of the former. And I think the end result was definitely pleasant.

My First IPA

About two years ago, a friend of mine got married. I was a relatively inexperienced homebrewer then, but my previous few beers turned out quite alright, so though I’d be bold and try to… *gasp* design my own IPA recipe as a wedding present!

I looked at existing recipes, how they were put together, and then I checked what was available from the homebrewing online store of my choice, and chose a few things that sounded good to me. I emphasize “sounded” because I had really only read about different hop and malt varieties, and recommended yeast strains for IPAs, but that was it.

Grist:

  • 85 % Pale Ale Malt
  • 10 % Vienna Malt
  • 5 % CaraHell

Hops:

  • 1.5 g/l Summit (15% AA) @ 60 min
  • 1.5 g/l Cascade (5.8% AA) @ 10 min
  • 1.5g/l East Kent Goldings (4.8% AA) @ 14 days dry-hopping
  • 1.5g/l Cascade (5.8% AA) @ 14 days dry-hopping
  • 1g/l Summit (15% AA) @ 14 days dry-hopping

90 minute mash at 68 °C, then 60 minutes of boiling. US-05 yeast. OG was 16.5 °P, FG was 4°P.

Fortunately, the result was a big success. I haven’t brewed it since then, but I’m still astonished how well this beer turned out to be. A bit of a lucky shot, but whatever. Just don’t ask me why I put it together like that. If I designed an American IPA recipe nowadays, I wouldn’t do things too differently, though.

Tracing the origins of Vienna Lager

As an Austrian, I’m naturally interested in Austrian beer. One of the heritages of Austrian brewing is the Vienna lager beer style, a style that has actually long been forgotten in its country of origin, where the contemporary beer market has been dominated by beers that are almost, but not quite, entirely unlike German and Czech beers. Austrian Märzen is less alcoholic and a bit paler than Bavarian one, Austrian Helles is hoppier than the Bavarian counterpart, and Austrian Pilsner doesn’t have the same flavour profile like German or Czech Pilsners. The only German beer that to me that has a flavour profile similar to Austrian beers is Rothaus Pilsner.

Only recently, Vienna lager has been rediscovered in Austria: Brauhaus Gusswerk produces a very nice one, and with Ottakringer’s “Wiener Original”, there is even a mainstream supermarket beer of that old style (for the record, it’s one of my favourite local beers whenever I’m back in Austria).

Outside of Austria, and that’s what most literature will tell you, Vienna lager survived by getting picked up as a beer style by Austrian immigrant brewers in Mexico, and from there it was subsequently picked up by the thriving US-American craft beer scene. That’s a reason why the beer style’s definition is very much dominated by an American view on it, like the BJCP definition and the Brewers Assocation Beer Style Guidelines. And that’s where the problems begin.

Both style definitions contradict each other, with BJCP describing it with “Caramel aroma is inappropriate” and “No roasted or caramel flavor”, while the BA says “malty aroma, which should have a notable degree of toasted and/or slightly roasted malt character”.

I’m not entirely happy with either definition, just like I’m generally not very happy with what the BJCP writes about some other beer styles. So I wanted to find out what Vienna lager was actually like, originally, and whether an authentic recipe can be reconstructed.

To start of, I first needed to find out what the beer looked and tasted like. Emil Leyser, in his book “Die Malz- und Bierbereitung” from 1900, wrote (I only have excerpts, sorry) that Vienna beers have a golden yellow colour, a very rounded and full-bodied flavour with a low hop bitterness. He also explicitly states that the beer does not have anything caramelly or “assamar” (roasted bitterness).

In his book “Decoction!” (p.29), Ron Pattinson lists some beer analysis results from Viennese beers from 1870. One entry in that table is particularly interesting:

  • Beer: Lager
  • Brewery: Schwechat
  • Where sample obtained: direct from the brewery
  • OG beer: 1017.60
  • Balling wort: 13.25°
  • Balling beer: 4.51°
  • Apparent degree of attenuation: 65.94
  • ABV: 4.6
  • Lactic acid: 0.13
  • Colour: 6.3

It’s not entirely clear what unit of measure colour is. I assume SRM, for one particular reason: beers of that colour are usually described as golden, which would match Emil Leyser’s description.

What’s also quite interesting is how low the attenuation is. I assume “OG beer” refers to the gravity points of the finished beer, “final gravity” in modern terms. Balling is the predecessor of the Plato scale, and 4.51° for the final gravity are relatively close to 1017.6 gravity points. Full-bodied, indeed.

When going further in finding some bits and pieces, I also looked at what Ottakringer is writing about their modern version of Vienna lager: they say they use Vienna malt, Melanoidin malt, and Saaz hops. Their original gravity is lower than the 1870’s analysis (12 °P), and the amount of alcohol is higher, as well (5.3 % ABV), so their beer would be a lot drier than the historic beer. The ingredients are notable, though: Vienna malt as the obvious choice for the malt (it’s the malt that was expressly developed for Vienna lager, after all), Melanoidin malt, presumably to add more colour and to imitate the additional melanoidin production of a proper triple decoction, and Saaz hops as a classic noble hop variety. Saaz is considered a Czech hop variety nowadays, but don’t forget that in the 19th century, Bohemia was part of Cisleithania, the Austrian part of Austria-Hungary. At least from a historic point of view, it is an absolutely reasonable choice in hops.

Saaz was not the only hop growing region in Austria, though. In Mühlviertel, the part of Upper Austria north of the river Danube, there’s been (and still is) an active hop growing industry, as well. It’s hard to tell which varieties were grown in the 19th century, though, as production had ceased during World War 2, and after the war, hop gardens were repopulated with German, Slovenian and British hop varieties. Hops were grown in southern Styria as well, which is now part Austria, part Slovenia, but the hops there were replaced after problems with diseases in the early 20th century, and Styrian Goldings, a Fuggle with local terroir, and other hop varieties  bred from Styrian Goldings are grown there nowadays.

Now that we’ve generally established what malt and what hops would be appropriate, we still need to find the right yeast. Obviously bottom-fermenting, preferably Bavarian. Anton Dreher and Gabriel Sedlmayr had worked together in researching English brewing technology, and so it wouldn’t be unreasonable to think that Dreher would have gotten a bottom-fermenting yeast strain from Sedlmayr’s Spaten brewery.

Earlier, we already established the desired attenuation of only about 66 %. Wyeast has WY2308 “Munich Lager”, at 70-74 % attenuation, which is already pretty close to what we’re looking for. White Labs has WLP820 “Oktoberfest/Märzen Lager Yeast”, with an attenuation of 65 to 73 %. This looks much better already! They also offer WLP838 “South German Lager Yeast” (68-76 %), WLP860 “Munich Helles Yeast” (68-72 %) and WLP920 “Old Bavarian Lager Yeast” (66-73 %) that are a similar range of attenuation.

According to the Yeast Strain Comparison Chart, WY2308 is the same strain as WLP838, which apparently is the yeast strain “Wisenschaftliche Station #308” from Munich. According to the same chart, WLP820, the closest choice in terms of attenuation, is the “Weihenstephan 206” yeast strain, and the same as WY2206, which is specified to attenuate higher (73-77 %), though. Either the chart is a bit off here, or there has been some genetic drift in the propagation of one these strains. But for me, WLP820 sounds close enough.

So, based on this information, if I were to design a recipe for a Vienna lager, I would do it like that:

  • 100 % Vienna malt, enough to get a OG of 1053 (13 °P).
  • Ideally, a triple decoction mash.
  • A single bittering addition of Saaz hops, e.g. 3 g/l (3.5 % AA) for 90 minutes to gain 27 IBU*.
  • A cold fermentation with WLP820 yeast that should end up with a final gravity of about 1018 (4.5 °P).

(* I’d keep the bitterness at the higher end to counteract the very high final gravity)

Based on what I could find out, this would match the original beer style relatively closely. When you enter that into a recipe calculator, the typical colour you will get is about 6 to 7 SRM (about 12 to 14 EBC). This is much closer to how Vienna lager was described by Emil Leyser. It also is a lot paler than the style definitions of BJCP and Brewers Association, which specify a range of 10 to 16 SRM resp. 12 to 26 SRM.

(On a side note, the resulting recipe above is remarkably simple, in modern homebrewers terms, it’s a SMaSH (single malt and single hops) beer.)

Of course, this is not enough. A direct comparison with historic documents from the Klein-Schwechater Brauerei directly would be interesting, because this recipe is merely put together from bits and pieces, with plenty of (informed) guesswork to fill in missing gaps. If anybody has something like that, please contact me, as I would really like to see whether the historic original would confirm or deny what I put together here.

And of course, I haven’t brewed this beer yet. That’s an exercise for another time.

Designing simple beer recipes

Usually, people that are new to homebrewing start off buying a recipe kit, with ready to use ingredients, whether it’s malt extract or crushed malt, and will continue to do for a few more brewers. Then people get more interested, and start looking into taking existing recipes, tweaking them, and creating something new. And that’s what gets them hooked.

At least that’s what it was for me. The first three brews or so were fine, using existing recipes respectively kits. But then I got bold, and wanted to try out new stuff, and created an actually quite alright American IPA.

And after that first experience, people want to try out new ingredients, different malts, different hops, different yeast strains. And end up with beers with 10 different malts and 5 different hops. And all the flavours are muddy and the beer is full of disappointment.

There are different ways to counter that. The most extreme approach is SMaSH. SMaSH stands for “Single Malt and Single Hops”, and refers to the use of just one malt variety and one hop variety, with any mash and hop schedule that you can come up with. It’s absolutely minimalistic, because of so few ingredients that all have to shine, and it’s a good way to evaluate new ingredients.

There’s actually lots of beer styles that you can (but not necessarily have to) brew as a SMaSH:

  • Pilsner: 100 % Pilsner malt, 100 % Saaz hops with an aggressive hop schedule.
  • Vienna lager: 100 % Vienna malt, 100 % of a noble hop variety or related with a rather restrained hop schedule for bitterness only.
  • Munich Dunkles lager: 100 % dark Munich malt, 100 % noble hops, with very little hopping just for bitterness.
  • Munich Helles lager: 100 % Pilsner malt, restrained hopping for bitterness from 100 % noble hops.
  • Historically, English porter used to be brewed out of 100 % brown malt up to the 18th century (brown malt back then was very different from modern brown malt and had enough diastatic power to convert itself).

And some professional brewers are going for that as well. Vagabund Brauerei here in Berlin have done several SMaSH ales which were clearly interesting, some were pretty good, some not so great.

But at some point, you just reach an end. There are just some things that you can’t brew as a SMaSH. And so Drew Beechum came up with an interesting extension of SMaSH that he aptly named “brewing on the ones”.

(slides here)

Instead of just limiting to one malt and one hop, you’re limited to

  • one base malt
  • one specialty malt or adjunct
  • one brewing sugar
  • one hop variety
  • one spice

Of course you can leave out stuff (not every beer needs to be spiced, thankfully!), but this suddenly gives a lot more freedom: you can brew Hefeweizen (>= 50 % wheat malt, the rest Pilsner malt), Tripels (100 % Pilsner malt, Candi syrup), any strength of English bitter or Pale Ale (Pale malt with some crystal malt; e.g. Fullers even use one mash, collect different runnings, and blend them to produce three different beers, that is Golden Pride, ESB and Chiswick Bitter), etc. etc.

And when you have brewed like this, it gives you a good perspective that good beers don’t necessarily require a complex grain bill or a complex hopping schedule. Some beers are just about simple ingredients and the brewing process done right.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that you should brew all your beers like that. But it definitely helps to not just put together as many malts or hops, but to think about every single malt what function it’s supposed to fulfill. Like do you really need these barley flakes? Why do you put them in anyway? What about these two types of caramel malt of very similar colour? Chocolate malt and black malt? Do 5 % wheat malt really make a difference? You get the gist.

In my own beers, I usually try to keep things simple, two to three different malts, for more malt-focused beers just a single hop variety for bittering and very little aroma, for hoppy beers one bittering hop and then one to three hop varieties. Three is even a bit on the edge, but fine as long as flavours don’t go muddy. With that rule of thumb I managed to produce some quite alright beers in the past. And of course, rules are sometimes meant to be broken. 😉

Stone Pale Ale: then and now

Stone recently published a homebrew version of their recipe for Stone Pale Ale. Stone had announced that they would decommission their Pale Ale, to make way for other, new beers. Of course, this got people upset, and so somebody asked them for the recipe so that the beer at least survives for homebrewers. So Stone delivered. And the internet was happy about it.

The thing is: it’s not the first time Stone published their Pale Ale recipe. In 2008, the released a whole bunch of their recipes scaled down for homebrewers in BYO magazine. A bold move, certainly.

But there’s a catch: they’ve changed the grain bill and their hopping a bit.

In the 2015 recipe compared to the 2008 recipe, they’ve scaled down the crystal malt a bit. But even in the newer version, that’s a lot: 13% in the 2015 version, and a whopping 15.8% in 2008! Combined with a mash temperature of 69°C I wonder how this beer does not turn out to be cloyingly sweet.

The hopping changed as well, but not too much. They obviously changed the bittering hops. This might be just due to availability or cheaper prices. From what I’ve heard, Magnum is such a cheap source of alpha acid, some German hop growers even have problems shifting all of what they grow.

Unfortunately, the aroma hopping is not directly comparable as they deliberately changed the 2008 recipes under the assumption that homebrewers don’t do a whirlpool. At least they stuck with the same hop variety, which I think is quite an interesting choice by itself. Ahtanum hops have been around for quite some time, but have never gained quite the attraction or notoriety like the “C” hops, or Simcoe or Amarillo.

All in all, both versions of the same beer give an interesting insight how one of the big craft breweries in the US designs recipes, and at least to me, it was a bit of a surprise.

One thing that is mentioned on the side is the yeast strain. According to Stone themselves, they got their house strain from a defunct Canadian microbrewery, and is similar to WLP007. In the 2008 recipe, they use WLP002, though. There are some rumours that WY1217 might be Stone house strain, but there is no further evidence other than Wyeast’s claim that it’s from a “well-known San Diego brewery”. Stone themselves keep their yeast with White Labs, their yeast strain is WLP5036, and (obviously) not publicly available.