Saturday, 20 February 2016

Its Lager Time!

40L in the pantry
This is going to be a long post...but I swear there is a recipe and brew day in here somewhere.

Many, many, many years ago I lived in a much colder part of the country, and I frequently brewed lagers. I now live in a warmer part of the country, and no longer brew lagers. The reason for that change in my brewing practices is entirely due to the weather...and how I used to lager. No fridge for me, all I had was months of below-freezing weather, a cheap bimetallic coil thermostat, a heat-lamp, and an insulated cardboard box. In other words, I had a basic fermentation chamber in which the beer sat in a carboy in an insulated box out in the yard, and a thermostat switched on one of those old-school 'red' heat lights to keep the temperature from dropping too low. The disadvantage to the cheap thermostat was a few batches that had a little ice on top, but even those batches turned out pretty good.

In my new home the weeks and weeks of consistent below-freezing temperatures simply does not happen; hell, last week we ranged from a high of 15C (shorts weather for us Canuks) through to -15C (beer freezes solid, we leave the sandals in the closet). Not exactly lager-compatible, given you want to keep temps pretty consistent in the 4C to 12C range...and I'm still too damned cheap to buy a fridge for brewing.

So I've been watching some of the experiments and tests being conducted by the home brew community on altered lager fermentation profiles with great interest. My interest was first tweaked by a Brewing TV video on lager workarounds, which compared 3 different methods ways to "lager" without lagering (my post on this video) . Its a great video so its worth embedding again:

More recently, Brülosophy has done a series of fermentation temperature experiments in which they found that (some) lager yeasts can produce perfectly serviceable beers when fermented at ale temperatures. There are two split-batch experiments using lager yeasts in the series right now (1 and 2), both of which produced lagers (a pilsner and helles respectively) where the warm-fermented lagers could not be distinguished by experienced tasters from their properly (or near-properly) lagered split.

That. Is. Awesome.

The temperature in the
pantry should work.
Its also not a surprise, once you think about it. The whole point of lagering is to suppress ester formation, leading to a very clean tasting beer. And historically, before the advent of pure yeast cultures, lagering would also have limited bacterial spoilage, also aiding in the creation of clean tasting beers. But move forward to today, where we have good cultures of pure yeast, have access to good ingredients, and know other methods to reduce ester formation (namely, good pitch rates and good oxygenation), and its not too much of a surprise that we can now get clean lager-like fermentations without actually lagering.

So I'm talking a page out of Brülosophy's book (and stealing their recipe & yeast), and giving it a go myself. I've taken the pilsner recipe from the first lager temperature experiment at Brülosophy, but am using the Saflager Lager (W-34/70) used in the second lager temperature experiment; mostly because I didn't have enough time to build up a proper sized starter of yeast from my bank in the time between brew-inception to my planned brew-day. Today I am brewing with my wife's uncle/my occasional brew-and-fishing partner, Mike, and so this beer is named after him - Uncle Mike's Pilsner.

Recipe and brew-day notes below the fold.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Black Mamba the Third

Changes from last year - hops & sugar
Ever since planting my own hops back in 2013 it has become a tradition to brew a black rye IPA, the Black Mamba (recipe: year 1, year 2), using all of the Cascade hops grown in my garden. This year was not as good a harvest a last year, but also nothing to turn your nose up at - 175g of Cascade - and its all going in. As with past years the recipe is being tweaked to try and feature the hop character better (tasting notes: year 1, year 2). The first batch was good, but I didn't have many hops (first year crop & all that), so it was a little lacking. The second year I had a good amount of hops, but the beer was heavier body and too roasty. So this year the recipe is changing quite a bit.

To reduce maltiness I've lowered the mash temperature further (63.5C), elongated the mash to 75 minutes, and replaced ~10% of the gravity with table sugar. To reduce roast I've replaced the debittered dark malt with chocolate wheat malt, which gives less roast character than debittered barley equivalents (midnight wheat would have been better, but was unavailable). The bittering charge has been increased to 48 IBU's of Northern Brewer (up from 34 last year); the remainder of the ~70IBUs are coming from the last-addition home-grown Cascades; 44g additions at 20, 10, 5 minutes, plus a 15 minute hop-stand.

Recipe and Brew-Day notes below the fold