Jun 24 2011

Schwarzbier – Dark Helmet

Lots of factors go into what my next homebrew will be. (Some of them are even rational.) The time of the year will push me towards porters and stouts, or will swing me the other way to pale ales and Berliner weisses. Sometimes it is a seasonal yeast strain, or the availability of scarce hop varieties that inspire me to try something new.

I don’t do lagers very often, so when I know I’ll have to dedicate a cooler to lager fermentation (around 50F) and subsequent lagering (around 32F), I might as well do two at once. So I did a triple decoction bohemian pilsner in the morning and a schwarzbier in the afternoon back in April. It was a long and, occasionally, trying day but I ended up with 2 batches of lager beer in the end, so it was worth it.

Quick rundown: a schwarzbier is a smooth, moderately malty, dark lager of German origin. It is pretty tightly balanced and the ones that I’ve tried that were out of style were so because they were too roasty and porter-like. That is something that Gordon Strong was complaining about on Twitter the other day, as well.

The malts: Munich, Black Roasted Barley, Crystal 60L, Carafa II, Pilsner, and Chocolate malt

Dark goodness

There is nothing revolutionary about this schwarzbier and it cuts very close to JZ’s recipe for the style. I used a blend of the Wyeast 2124 Bohemian Lager strain and the White Labs WLP830 German Lager strain. That was a bit of a necessity considering that I had to ramp up a huge culture of the Bohemian lager for the BoPils, and so to get to the right pitch count, with my meager yeast farming setup, I used some of the Bohemian strain to complement the planned German strain for the schwarzbier.

It was bottled last week and should be ready to taste in a few more days.

This one is named Dark Helmet after the Spaceballs character who was a master of the “Schwartz”.


Dark Helmet – (Schwarzbier)

Starting Gravity: 1.059 (4/17/11)
Secondary Gravity: 1.015 (5/2/11) (Lagering)
Final Gravity: 1.015 (6/15/11)
5.9% alcohol (by volume)
Apparent Attenuation: 73.6%
Real Attenuation: 60.3%

Mash (154º for 80 min)
5.0 lbs Pilsner Malt
6.0 lbs Munich Malt
5 oz Crystal 60L
7 oz Chocolate Malt
4 oz Black Roasted Barley
4 oz Carafa II

Boil (90 min)
1.5 oz Hallertau Pellet Hops (3.8 AA) (60 min)
0.5 oz Hallertau Pellet Hops (3.8 AA) (20 min)
0.5 oz Hallertau Pellet Hops (3.8 AA) (0 min)
1 tablet Whirlfloc (Boil – 15 min.)
½ tsp Brewer’s Choice Wyeast Nutrient Blend (Boil – 10 min.)

Primary (50º F for ~2 weeks, including a diacetyl rest)
Wyeast 2124 Bohemian Lager – Starter Made
WLP830 German Lager Yeast – Starter Made

Secondary (34º F for ~6 weeks)


Dec 31 2009

Collaborative Brewing During Bockapalooza

Here’s a strange little admission: I had never done a collaborative brewday until a few weeks ago. 

It’s not a secret or anything.  It is just a bit surprising since I’ve been brewing for 14 years at the time of this blog post.  Sure, I’ve hung out with someone who was brewing and I’ve had prospective brewers watch me brew before, but I’d never worked together with someone to brew beer until the big bock brewday I just did with my friend Greg.  I guess that’s a long time to have, essentially, worked by yourself. 

There’s a huge opportunity in working with another brewer and seeing their methods, peeves and shortcuts.  And I’m sure that I would be a better brewer now for working with peers and gathering some solid best practices over the years, but brewing alone has some benefits. When you brew alone, you establish YOUR method.  You get a rhythm to your day and timing down in the repetition.  Also, you get a good feel for tweaking your methods since you are the only person performing all of the brewing actions.  Put another way, if you are the only person doing everything, you are going to be a bit more consistent batch to batch. (Albeit, perhaps, consistently either bad or good.) 

But these are minor advantages and, honestly, they could be my unconscious attempt to justify why I always ended up brewing solo. 

Fast forward to October during a homebrew club meeting and Greg and I discovered that we had both had plans to brew a doppelbock in December.  This seemed like a great time to join forces.  And, of course, like all great ideas it quickly swelled from the realistic brewing of a doppelbock to the absurd idea of a marathon brewday that would net us 12 gallons of doppelbock and 12 gallons of eisbock.  This is makes the day a game of logistics, because the beers are similar but not quite the same. And you are talking about 80 pounds of grain and still unknown, once you factor in the chilling, amounts of water. 

Doppel and Eis - Sparge Water

LOTS of water

After we each bought a bag of grain (Greg bought a 55# bag of Munich and I bought a 55# bag of pilsner) and a couple of weeks of planning, I drove over to his house, in an unusual early December snow, to commence to Bockapoolza.  It started off very orderly, although our 10 gallon mash tuns were filled to capacity with the grains need for these high gravity beers. 

Doppel and Eis - Mashing In

Greg: Mashing like it was his job

Doppel and Eis - Distracted Me

Me: Pretending to work.  What a hobo.

Doppel and Eis - Mash Totem Pole

From the “don’t try this at home” department, we created a mash tun totem pole.  Just. Because. We. Could.

There was down time in between, of course, where I acted like I was doing something important. We, unlike a side by side brewday, we had to stagger our batches a bit. This was simply because Greg had a homegrown wort cooling system (made from a pond pump and using blocks of ice, simple but genius) that we wanted to use to get the bock worts down to below 50 degrees. 

Doppel and Eis - Double Boil

Double Boiling

The double boil went smoothly and the heat from the burners kept his deck warm and dry from the snow. 

Doppel and Eis - Perspective to Big Ass Starters

Extreme Yeast Starting

 Since these were big and lager beers, we needed to go strong on the yeast we were going to pitch.  Greg headed up this effort and started up two beastly batches of yeast.  After he talked to the Wyeast people, he went with the Wyeast 2206 Bavarian lager and Wyeast 2124 Bohemian lager yeasts.  The doppelbock received 100% Bavarian yeast, and the eisbock received 35% Bavarian and 65% Bohemian yeast. 

Doppel and Eis - Four Carboys

Four Carboys of Love

In the end we came out with 24 gallons of finished beer, although I think it was a much longer session than we both were expecting.  But it went by quickly due to the amount of brew (or busy) work that needed to be done and we had a few beers and a nice lunch during the session.

What did I learn? Honestly, less than I expected.  But, in retrospect, I shouldn’t have anticipated all that much knowledge would be dropped into my head because of what we were trying to do. We weren’t co-brewing a simple 6 gallon homebrew batch that we both could have done blindfolded.  We were attempting something bigger and stranger than either of us had ever done before.  This was a very cool collaboration, because of the teamwork and creative thinking we need during the day, but there were very few opportunities to swap methods.

What was interesting is that I came away with a clearer idea of what kind of brewer I was.  Greg is a big front end planner in grain and water ratios, and then he lets the beer be the beer it wants to be once it hits the fermenter.  I’m the opposite, which isn’t to say that I don’t wring my hands over recipe formulation and double checking my numbers in brewing software.  I just work in more of a zen state DURING the brewing since I’ve done this so many times, it just have a feel for it.  Put another way, when you are riding a bike you don’t actually put any thought into leaning into a turn.  It is instinct.  I don’t get obsessed with the numbers once the brewday begins.

This isn’t to imply that my fellow homebrewer is inexperienced. He’s a great brewer.  Greg just goes into the relaxed zen state during fermentation. That’s where I get bunged up, take meticulous notes and sweat the fermentation temperatures.

That’s another reason why I dig homebrewing so much.  I’ve documented before that I love that this hobby uses all of the creativity and science that you can throw at it.  Both sides of your brain can get nice workouts.  But, for me, the act of brewing is a few hours of meditation and getting in a groove.  A runner’s high.

So, in the meantime, scheme a plan and brew with a friend. Don’t wait as long as I did.


May 5 2009

Mexico, Help Me Help you

Dear Mexico,

I know you are going through a tough time right now. The swine flu, sorry H1N1, is making you sick, and tourism is down. I get that. No one wants a funny tan line on their face because they have to wear a surgical mask to your lovely beaches. These are challenging days.

And I want to support you and pump a little money into your economy. I’m sure you need it right now. But this is a beer blog and your beers are…..DAMN.

See, America is in the midst of a huge craft beer revolution. It is surprising it has not come to you, our fine neighbor to the south. But good taste unfortunately has never been quite as contagious as say…well, enough with the influenza jokes.

Listen Mexico, you have a wonderful history when it comes to brewing. Michael Jackson says that you had the first commercial brewery in the New World, which was created by the Spanish around the mid-1550s.

Later on, German immigrants settled in Texas and then moved southward into your country bringing with them their amazing brewing knowing and styles. Despite the heat of your land and the difficulty brewing them there, you have the Germans to thank for making the majority of your beers lagers.

And what do you do? You make Corona and Pacifico and Tecate and Sol. Your skunky crap begs for a lime in order to make them slightly drinkable. If I was German, I would hate you.

I think Denis Leary sums this kind of disrespect for the New World up with his routine about why the French hate America: “Why the French hate Americans? Years ago, they gave us the croissant–‘le cwa-soh’– And what’d we do? We turned it into a ‘croissandwich.’ Thank you very much.”

Thanks, Mexico. Thanks for turning a perfectly balanced lager into Corona Light.

So, since it is Cinco de Mayo, I’m drinking a Negra Modelo, which is honestly very close to a Vienna lager.

(And why, in the name of all that is holy, are you bringing me a frozen mug? Why do you hate me?)

It is a darker beer with a nice bit of malt and caramel. I like this brew despite the fact it has a corn flavor in the background. But it is clearly a huge winner over anything else you are making and putting in clear glass bottles.

Let me help through these tough days, Mexico. Let’s take baby steps. Put your beer in dark bottles to start with. At that point, you will be at the same crappy quality level with the nasty, but slightly less skunky, lagers that the American macros sell.