Monday, 2 February 2015

Sumpsimus Bohemian Pilsner - First Lager, First Water Tweaking

Oh, lagers, the strawman nemesis of the de novo beer snob; the dearest compadre to the uninitiated dark-beer-fearer. As homebrewers, I'm sure that most of us know at least 3 or 4 people who insist that they "can't drink ales", or only drink lagers, which is generally a way of saying that they don't like anything but Budweiser, Coors, or Molson. I've heard the opposite from newer beer-enthusiasts because they choose it as a form of rebellion against the majority lite lager drinking herd. In my opinion, both of these crowds are missing out. While it seems obvious that the BMC crowd may be missing out (in our opinion) on IPA, Stout, Barleywine, Belgian ales, Sours etc, the newer craft drinkers who think that lagers are boring, or that lagers are nothing but the lite corn beer are also missing out. Lagers can have so much flavor!

Recently in craft brewing, breweries have been making IPL - India Pale Lager as a hopped up flavorful example of a lager. This is a good example of a stand out lager, and uses the benefit of lager fermentation, which is it's clean lack of yeast flavors, to allow the hops to shine. This is just one example of the several flavorful lager styles such as real Pilsners, Vienna lager, Marzen or Schwartzbier. By cutting down on yeast-derived compounds, lagers allow for the malt to be expressed, or for the hops to be emboldened. This lack of yeast flavor is a huge benefit to beers like oktoberfest or pilsner that require a certain characteristic graininess to the flavor, but the blank slate also allows for any off flavors to be that much more apparent.

I was once a person who thought I would never need the means to do a lager fermentation. Once upon a time, I thought ales were plentiful enough for me. While I still love ales, and brew them frequently, the world of lagers is an interesting and enticing place to explore when you start to get bored with brewing the same ale styles, or want to try some specific lager styles. I'm very excited to brew up a Vienna lager, and a Bockbier sometime soon, as these are some of the really interesting lager styles to explore. There are many, many ales to brew, and there's always the opportunity to experiment with weird ingredients, but having lagers to brew invigorates the drive to make and try new beers. I've found myself ordering pilsners and bocks at brew-pubs rather than my usual stout or IPA, there's a new world to sample in order to make my lager brewing better.

At first, I was apprehensive to brew lagers because of the apparently long time that it's supposed to take. Also, I hadn't had the means to do temperature controlled fermentation until very recently. After I set up my temperature controlled mini fridge, I dove right into the lagers by making this bohemian pilsner. My apprehension about time had been quelled by the post by brulosopher about a fast lager fermentation schedule. Like most, I was a little weary about deviating from the norm, but as soon as I had my first sip of this bo-pils I was ecstatic! All it really takes is a cool fermentation, a warm diacetyl rest to avoid butter flavors, and a short cold crash (maybe with gelatin). This beer turned out exactly how I wanted it to, and became the bane of all the fears I had about making lagers.

One of the most important things about making lagers is to use the best ingredients that you can in order to avoid off flavors. For this one, instead of using malt from my bulk-buy which is usually just plain 2-row pale malt, I ordered in the pils malt. I ordered a pound of saaz hops as I was working on my fermentation chamber, as I had assumed (correctly) that I would be rebrewing this beer multiple times. The yeast was grown up to lager pitching rates in a 5 L erlenmeyer flask on the stir plate (stepped up from 2 litres to 4 litres). Finally, the ~95% of the beer, the water, was prepped.

This was my first time working on my water profile. I've noticed previously that my IPA's are lack-luster, and one of my brewing mentors showed me an experimental batch he had done of IPA recipes side by side, but one with modified water. He explained to be that the high carbonates of our water supply muddles the hops flavor. I have since then been interested in experimenting with my water, but didn't have the money to spend on an RO system, and I couldn't see myself using it often enough to keep the membranes proper. I decided that it was a must for this lager, and so I went and bought some 5 gallon jugs of RO water. All I added to this water was 2g of CaCl2 to the mash, and later to the sparge water. I also used 2 ml of 88% lactic acid in the mash water in order to adjust the pH.

The aim was to replicate the very soft waters for the Czech pilsner, which meant only enough calcium to ensure proper yeast health, as well as some chloride to bring out the hops bitterness. There will probably be more complicated water adjustments in the future which will give me an opportunity to write at length about the water rather than just lager brewing.

I also used gelatin finings in this beer, 1 tsp gelatin in 3/4 cup of water and lagered it at 0*C for 2 weeks.

Sumpsimus Bohemian Pilsner
OG: 1.054
37 IBUs

8# Pils malt
1# Munich malt

Mashed at 150*F - 90 mins. Single decoction for mash-out.

1.5 oz Hallertauer - 60 mins
1.5 oz Hallertauer - 30 mins
1 oz Saaz - 10 mins
2 oz Saaz - 5 mins

Wyeast 2124 - Bohemian Lager yeast
Fermented at 50*F for 6 days
Raised to 65*F, left for 5 days (Diacetyl rest)
Lagered at 0*C for 2 weeks

Bottled with no extra yeast

Appearance: Very clear, very light, white head that rises up like meringue and persists.

Aroma: Grains, and hops. There's a definite fresh-cracked grain smell to it.

Flavor: This being the first time I've used saaz hops, I can see how some may call it "spicy". The hops is in the forefront with floral notes, but has a definite pepperiness to the flavor. The hops fade into the fresh cracked grain flavor, with a hint of maltiness from the munich coming through. No diacetyl, but sometimes I wonder if I detect a very tiny hint of banana when I drink this at room temperature... Probably just paranoid! Definite bitterness present from the hops in the finish, makes it finish quite dry.

Mouthfeel: Moderate mouthfeel, prickly high carbonation.

Overall: Fantastic. I'm very happy with it, and will be making another as soon as I'm done drinking this batch. There will be more lagers in my future, with Vienna lager or oktoberfest being at the top of the list.

Look out for posts about the trouble with dubbels that I've been having, and a tasting of the sour ale aged on concord grapes that has just been bottled. Next up on the brew list is a 100% brett IPA

Thanks for reading!

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