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Fermentis Saflager W34/70 Dry Yeast – Death, Taxes, And Fermentation

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Few things are certain in life, and two of them are death and taxes. Thanks to Saflager W34/70 dry yeast from Fermentis, there is a third one. For me, this yeast never failed to show signs of fermentation within 24 hrs. I have directly pitched it and rehydrated it, and it always performed quickly and vigorously.

It is a Weihenstephan strain with an ideal fermentation temperature range from 53F to 59F, high flocculation and medium alcohol tolerance. I would recommend it primarily for malty European lagers. but there is one caveat:

Direct pitching makes using this yeast very easy, but it likes to be pitched warm 73F +/- 6F. If you want to cool the wort first and then bring it up to fermentation temperature, I would rehydrate the yeast. I did that when brewing my Traditional Bock, and the yeast started within 24hrs, but fermented not as vigorous as I have seen before.

It produces a very malty, clean flavor that you want in a European Lager. Use Mr Malty’s pitch calculator to determine how many 11.5 sachets need to be pitched.

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Pure and Simple – The German Purity Law

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The Spice of Life

A tourist traveling in Belgium or Britain is greeted by a cornucopia of different styles and tastes in beer. Porters, stouts, witbiers, saisons,… the variety is remarkable. If said tourist now traveled on to Germany or Austria, he or she would find a steep decline in choice. Let’s have our hypothetical tourist sit down in a German pub and sample the beer menu. There would be Munich Helles, Bocks, Dunkles, Schwarzbier, Rauchbier,… all lagers…, and Dampfbier, Koelsch and  Hefeweizen (plus some more obscure local ale varieties). But where are the ales brewed with fruit, sugar, and other adjuncts? Where are the milk stouts, the sugar and honey in the beer? Why are there mostly lagers?.

Variety is the spice of life, or so the saying goes, and that was certainly true for the beers brewed in the Holy Roman Empire in the early 1500s. Brewers used barley, wheat, rye and all kinds of herbs and spices in their beer, and, of course, hops. Beers that were brewed were not really divided in ales and lagers yet, but there were definitely lagers brewed – inadvertently.

How do you brew a lager and not know it? Lagers need cold fermenting. Lager yeast is especially bred to ferment lager in the 50F range. In those days, brewers did not even know, what turned their wort into beer. Yeast was not bred or propagated as much as contracted, like a disease,  from other beer batches. A yeast cell was not a concept that the brewers understood or knew about, but they knew that a beer that was fermented in winter tasted different than a beer fermented in warmer months. That there were two different yeasts going to town on the wort, depending on temperature, that was a thought that would come much later. So winter produced cleaner tasting lager beers – lagers – and summer was the time of ales.

So far, so good. Until the early 1500s there were lagers and ales, some with hops, some with herbs. So who were the spoilsports who ruined this rich menu? We can point squarely to two people: Duke Wilhelm IV. and Duke Ludwig X. of Bavaria.

Duke Wilhelm IV.

A New Beer Law

In 1516,  the law propositioned to the Assembly of the Bavarian Estates in Ingolstadt reduced the ingredients in beer to hops, water and (barley) malt. it was first only used in Bavaria, but it gave the local governments the tools to enforce the regulation and slowly spread all over Germany. The driving factor behind the law (which was not called Purity Law at this time) was economy and health.

Before the rise of hops, herbs were used to brew beer, all kinds of herbs. Those herbs could be beneficial, or highly poisonous. There had been regulations through the Middle Ages in various places and cities, that attempted to regulate the use of herbs in beer, but using hops was simply safer.

Economics played a role too. Beer was such an important part of society, that it consumed a huge part of the grain production. Some grains, like wheat or rye, were necessary for providing bread to the people. The Purity Law restricted brewing to barley, to ensure that enough wheat and rye remained for baking.

So here were the main reasons why German brewers were restricted to water, hops, and malt. Over time this became the motto of the German beer industry and something of a seal of approval. “Hopfen, Wasser, Malz – Gott erhalt’s” (transl. “Hops, water, malt –  may God preserve it”) was a way to define clean tasting, long lasting quality beer. But all that does not explain the fixation on lagers. Hops, water, and malts can make a great ale as well.

Prohibition

The second part of this story is one of prohibition. Brewers and consumers were aware that beers brewed in summer could not be as well preserved as beers brewed in winter. Higher temperatures caused not only a different fermentation process, but also contributed to bacterial infections and sour beers. The second and knockout punch to beer variety came in 1553 when in Bavaria summer brewing was outlawed. Beer had to be brewed in the cooler season and stored cool in caves for summer drinking. Continuous practice  of this isolated the lager strain of the yeast, and specialized it for cold brewing.

While these revolutions were born in Bavaria, they slowly made their way through all Germany. This was hampered by the political situation at that time that saw Germany not as a unified country, but a quilt of little independent kingdoms and and duchies, all united under the name of Holy Roman Empire. What was good for the towns of one duchy, was not the law for the towns of the neighbouring duchy, and so the law had to make it’s way from town to town and guild to guild, aggravated by the fact that brewers had to find other work in summer, when brewing was forbidden.

And then, how else could it be, the tension of the chain became slack. In a few places, brewing with wheat was allowed again, coriander and cumin snuck into the wort. In the late 19th century a new Beer law was put in place in Bavaria to bring the recipes back to the old standard hops, water, and (barley) malt. Other parts of Germany allowed top fermenting beers with sugar and other  malts, but Bavaria stayed the course.

Keeping It Pure

In 1918, the beer law became the “Purity Law” (Reinheitsgebot) in Bavaria for purely economical reasons. Bavaria was defending its beer industry against beer brewed with sugar from other parts of Germany. Later, in the European Union, this “Reinheitsgebot” was adopted in other parts of Germany to indicate that their beer was more pure than the beer imported from other countries in the European Union. This, of course, had the effect that more and more breweries in Germany that had used sugar, had to adhere to the ingredients “hops, water, and malt” again.

And so the Purity Law created an isolating zone around Germany and Austria that fended off everything that strayed from the beaten path. 1987 the breach occurred. Other countries in the European Union were  bringing in lawsuits for not being able to export their beers to Germany and Austria and call them “beer”. This started to serious chip away at the Purity Law. Today, the Purity Law only regulates the production of bottom fermenting beer in Germany. Bottom fermenting beer to be sold in Germany has to be produced with hops, water ,and malt, but can deviate when it is produced for export. Other countries shipping their beer to Germany are not bound by this law.

And the law lives on. It has continued to be a trademark of German and Austrian Lager breweries and countless commercials and billboards try to drive home the fact that hops, water, and malt is all that a beer needs. Today the market is opening up. Free trade is bringing new tastes, and even established breweries cannot help but notice that the consumers are thirsty for more than the old standard lager. I was very surprised when I found the first Shandy (Radler) produced by a beer company that I only knew for lager beers, but I am happy that variety is making a comeback.

The Trouble With Trub

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Many homebrewers know this scenario:

The wort is in the settling tank and solids are precipitating out and sinking to the bottom. The layer on the bottom becomes thicker and thicker and one starts to calculate how much product will be lost when the wort is transferred.

And then then the spout is opened and the  liquid level drops and drops until it reaches the layer and the wort becomes cloudy. Yet it takes some self discipline to close the spout and leave the rest of the wort in the settling tank.

Enter the Sediment Blocker Spigot (bought at www.morebeer.com). It’s inlet screw has a half moon opening. The lower (closed) half is supposed to hold back the trub and only the clear liquid passes through the (open) upper half. So far the theory.

 

How does it perform?

I used the Sediment Blocker Spigot recently when I brewed my Traditional Bock. The sediment layer was 1.5 inches thick and I was curious how far I would be able to to decant the wort off the trub.

Installation was a breeze. The spout uses the standard bucket holes. Caveat –  it only comes with one rubber grommet. I was not quite clear if I should install it on the inside or outside, so I poached a grommet off another spout and installed one inside and one outside.

The spigot performed beautifully.

I decanted the wort off the sediment until only an imperceptible layer above the trub was left. The wort stayed clear until almost the very end. However, I could imagine that the performance depends on the thickness of the trub layer –  the thicker the trub, the more useful the spigot should be.

Brewing a Traditional Bock

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Introduction

My brewing setup

Bock is one of those beers that I could drink year round. There are definitely beers that adhere to certain seasons: a light summer ale for a hot day, a thick stout for a winter evening, and so on. Bock, in its big maltiness, is like a celebration, whenever it might take place. Whenever somebody brings a bock to a get together, there is no question what is to be expected: a intense malty flavor with an enhanced level of alcohol.

Brewing a bock is almost a meditation for me. Everything is slowed down. The high amount of grain takes time to heat, mash, sparge and the wort is noticeably sweeter than the worts of other beers. A bock is a celebration of malt and hops, a slow, yet very drinkable reminder of past brewing practices. What it is not, is a race for ABVs. The alcohol should lend a warming note to the beer, and never turn the bock into rocket fuel.

I am following the recipe for Traditional Bock from Jamil Zainasheff in Brew Your Own. Wherever I deviated from the recipe I have made a note.

Planning

Malt

The majority of a bock is Munich malt, with Pilsner making up the rest and some specialty grains thrown into the mix to enhance the malt flavor.  German malts are, of course, the preference here.

Water

Here it gets tricky. For darker beers, water with a higher mineral content and higher alkalinity is preferable. I have decided to forego bottled water and use our tap water, for which I have a water report. The numbers give me some estimates what to expect.

Hops

Bittering is a background note. Hallertau Mittelfrueh is preferred. Jamil’s recipe uses Magnum hops and I use that in my recipe as well. Jamil’s recipe is formulated to 23 IBUs. I have raised the number to 24 IBUs.

Yeast

There are many liquid yeasts that produce malty beers. I don’t have time to do a yeasts starter and do not want to go through the expense to pitch six vials of liquid yeast instead. The answer is my good old dry yeast workhorse Fermentis W34/70 Lager yeast. According to Mr Malty’s pitching rate calculator (http://www.mrmalty.com/calc/calc.html) I need 2.7 satchets.

Recipe

I am using beersmith for this recipe. When I put in Jamil’s numbers, it put the OG way over the top of the recommended number to 1.076. I reduced the grain bill a bill to match 1.073.

The screenshot above shows the values in beersmith. I am on the higher end of ABV, and the lower end of the color range.

The mash schedule follows Jamil’s single infusion mash of 155F, but I will add a decoction at the end for some color and flavor additions.

  1. 163F for dough-in to target 155F – hold 75 min
  2. Decoction of a third of the mash – boil for 20 min
  3. Add back decoction and raise slowly to 168F for mashout

Brewing

I am using a 10 gal Blichmann Boilermaker as mashtun with a false bottom. The boiling kettle is 8 gallons.

Mashing

I prepare the tap water by dissolving a campden tablet in 9 gal of water to disperse the Chlorine.

  1. Mash water is heated to 163F, dough in lowers the temperature to 157F, and soon to 155F.
  2. The first pH reading comes to 5.0. I am targeting between 5.3 and 5.5 pH. Over the entire mash I keep adding Calcium carbonate to the mash in small quantities –  31 grams in all. The pH will not rise and will remain at 5.0
  3. After 75 minutes I pull the decoction – one third of the thick mash.

    The decoction

  4. I boil the decoction for 20 minutes and add it back to the main mash.
  5. Slowly the temperature is raised to 168 for mashout.

Sparging

After a vorlauf to set the grainbed, I sparge with 4 gallons of 175F water until I collect 6.7 gal of wort. The pH of the wort is 5.3 at the end of collection. The pre-boil gravity is 1.057, one point over the beersmith prediction.

Boiling

The boil time is 90 min. After 30 minutes I add the Magnum hop pellets. It is the only hop addition. 15 min before the end of boil I add the Irish moss, at the 10 minute mark one capsule of Servomyces yeast nutrient.

After boiling the wort has a nice, golden honey color

Chilling, Settling, Aerating

The wort is chilled for one hour in an icebath to 64F and then transferred to a settling tank.

The icebath

After one hour in the tank a thick layer of solids have precipitated out of the wort. I slowly dribble the wort into a plastic carboy to aerate it.

Aeration

Pitching

Three sachets (11.5g a piece) of W34/70 are rehydrated at 76F and pitched. The carboy is placed in a fermentation cooler bag and held at 50F-55F

Update Brew Day +1

Signs of fermentation are visible on the surface.

Update Brew Day +2

The bubbler on the carboy has started moving

Update Brew Day +3

The wort is fermenting vigorously

Update Brew Day +6

The fermentation is slowing considerably. I am raising the temperature to 61 for d-rest.

Update Brew Day +9

Fermentation has stopped. Im lowering the temperature into the 50ies.

If You Think You Can, You Can!

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Beer in a can has a bad rep, no question about that. It’s the image of the non-discriminating beer drinker at a football game with the sixpack, the redneck sitting on the couch in his front yard with a bud-light can, the drunk college guy crushing  a can on his forehead.

However, this image is changing. A can of beer can contain more than the main seasoning for beer can chicken. Craft beers are moving slowly into the metal containers, and that can have some interesting implications. In the article by Dan Gentile (see link below), he makes the point that imported Pilsner Urquell, tastes a lot like the original when consumed from a can. The bottled import is subjected to a lot of light while in transit, which changes the quality of the beer.

Which begs the question –  should all imported beer be drunk from a can?

https://www.yahoo.com/food/the-14-most-underrated-canned-beers-117868081231.html

(Source: Yahoo.com)

WLP802 Czech Budejovice Lager Yeast – Slow Does The Trick

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White Labs produces Lager yeasts with nice malty profiles and WLP802 Czech Budejovice is one of them. As you can probably suspect from the name, it is best suited for Czech lagers. According to White Labs’ webpage, the yeast attenuates at 75-80% and ranks medium in both, flocculation and alcohol tolerance. The optimum fermentation temperature is between 50F and 55F (http://www.whitelabs.com/yeast/wlp802-czech-budejovice-lager-yeast)

The Good

This yeast has never failed me. It tears through a wort in roughly a week and leaves behind a fairly clean, very malty lager. Even without a starter, it never failed to eat the sugars I threw at it.

The Bad

Without a starter, it can be a bit nerve wrecking, because WLP802 takes it own sweet time to get things going. I am averaging between 48 and 60 hrs before I see activity in the fermenter.

Conclusion

For a malty Bohemian lager I can recommend WLP802 any time. Just remind yourself  that Czech Budejovice is a workhorse, but not a race horse.

Brewing a Bohemian (Czech) Pilsner

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Introduction

Sometimes tasks that seem to be overwhelmingly complicated are actually quite simple. And then there is the flipside: tasks that look like a cakewalk, have hidden complications that make us regret our earlier assessment. So what could be easier than take a few pounds of Pilsner malt, some hops, and yeast and brew a Pilsner? Well … brewing a Pilsner is not that difficult, I’ll admit that. Brewing a GOOD Pilsner however, that’s another story.

What makes a good Pilsner? Or better –  what makes a good Bohemian (or Czech in export markets) Pilsner?

Well, there is the robust bitterness, that is not harsh, but very smooth and drinkable. There is the grainy taste of Pilsner malt and thicker, more complex malt character. The color is light, but can lean to golden and the appearance should be clear. The Czech Saaz hops have infused the beer with a light, floral spiciness, that tickles the nose and the tongue, but the bitterness does not linger.

This is a cold beer for a warm summer day, sitting in the shade of a tree on wooden benches, a beer to be enjoyed slowly as

A Munich Biergarten

the wind ruffles the leaves above and the grass below, and conversations turn to anything else but work and mundane worries. Pilsners can very easily be noble dinner beers, but for me, the Bohemian Pilsner, has an unbreakable link to Biergartens and everything that is conveyed by the untranslatable German word “Gemuetlichkeit”.

Brewing a beer that evokes all these images puts a lot of pressure on the brewer. Skill and technique are big factors in achieving the balance between maltiness, bitterness, and drinkability. But it is also a question of  procuring the right raw materials, because Bohemian Pilsner, as many beers, is very much a product of its original environment.

Planning

Constructing a Pilsner means going back to the time and place where it all started. In 1842, Josef Groll brewed the first Pilsner in the city of Plzen (Pilsen) in Bohemia . But more about that in the History of the Bohemian Pilsner. Pilsen water is is especially low in minerals and that softness lowers the harshness of the hop bitterness and rounds out the flavor.

For hops Groll used Red Zatec (or Czech Saaz). These spicy floral hops were so highly priced in former times, that smuggling their rhizomes was punishable by death.

The basemalt was Moravian barley, that was only lightly kilned and made for a light, clear, flavorful beer.

Water

In order to replicate the soft brewing water of the Pilsen area, I dilute Arrowhead Mountain Spring Water, with 50% distilled water. Arrowhead does not give exact water tables for their Mountain Spring Water, but only ranges. By Diluting it with 50% distilled water, I should soften the water enough to come close to the Pilsen water.

Hops

Czech Saaz hops are readily available and I will target a bittering level of 37 IBU. Bohemian Pilsner ranges from 35 to 45 and I am trying to balance the flavor in the middle with an emphasis on the aroma addition.

Malt

Weyermann produces a slightly undermodified Bohemian Floor Malted Pilsner (38 on the Kohlbach index). I could try a step mash without a decoction, but in this case, to emphasize the malt component, I will use a double decoction mash.

In addition I will use 5% light Munich, and 5% Carapils for mouthfeel.

Yeast

I chose White Labs WLP802 Czech Budovice yeast for this Pilsner. It has a malty fermentation profile and should fit a Bohemian Pilsner perfectly.

Recipe

For recipe formulation I am using Beersmith. The volume is scaled from 5 gal to an experimentation batch of 2.5 gal.

The screenshot above shows that I am targeting the upper end of the OG. The bittering units however will be on the lower end. The beer will be malty, but not too bitter.

The mash will be a double decoction:

  1. 145F for the dough in step – hold 20 min
  2. First decoction, raise to 154 – hold 20 min
  3. Boil decoction for 20 min
  4. Add decoction back and raise mash to 154F – hold 30 min
  5. Second decoction boil for 10 minutes
  6. Add second decoction back and raise to 168F for mashout

Brewing

I am using a 10 gal Blichmann Boilermaker as mash tun with a false bottom. The boiling kettle is 8 gallons.

Mashing

  1. 11 qts are  heated in the mash tun to 151F. Dough in settles the temperature at 143F. I raise the temperature to 145F, holding it there for 20 minutes
  2. Within those 20 min I pull a small liquid sample and check the ph with a strip. It is at  5.1.
  3. After 20 min I pull the first decoction (approx. half of the thick mash). The main mash is held at 145F. The grains in the decoction pot are very light.
  4. The decoction is heated to 154F and held there for 20 minutes. The temperature is hard to control in decoction and it escalates to 160F. I turn the heat off and stir it down to 158F.
  5. The decoction is brought to a boil and is boiled for 20 minutes. At the end the grains are noticeably darker and the wort is very sweet from the Maillard reaction
  6. I add the decoction back to the main mash and rise it to 154. The mash is held for 30 minutes.
  7. I pull a second decoction (approx. ¼ of the thick mash). The decoction is boiled for 10 minutes and added back to the main mash. The grains in the decoction are now noticeably darker.
  8. The main mash is raised to 168F for mashout.

Sparging

The sparging water, same as the mash water is diluted 50:50 with distilled water. I recirculate the wort for 5 minutes to settle the grain bed and sparge with 175F water until I have collected 4.3 gal. The ph of the collected wort is at 5.3 and the gravity settles at 1.037.

Boiling

The time for the boil is 90 minutes due to the fact that the majority of the grain bill is Pilsner malt and Dimethylsulfide is present.

4 hop additions are added according to schedule (see Beersmith screenshot above). At 15 minutes before the end 1 tsp of Irish moss is added to the boils and 10 minutes a capsule of yeast nutrients.

Chilling, Settling, Aerating

The wort is chilled for 40 minutes in an icebath, down to 49F. Then I transfer it to a settling bucket and add a gallon of 50% water diluted with distilled water. The OG is now 1.048.  For the next hour, solids precipitate out of the wort. They layer of solids can be easily seen in the picture below as line near the bottom of the bucket.

My fermenter for small batches is a Mr Beer keg. To aerate the wort, I dribble it slowly from the settling bucket into the fermenter. Afterwards the fermenter goes into the fridge to lower the temperature.

Pitching

At 50F I pitch two vials of the liquid yeast. A starter is recommended, but due to time constraints I have to double up on the yeast instead.

The fermenter is now placed in a cooler and held as close to 50F as possible.

Update – Brewday Plus 5

Yeast took 56 hrs to start showing signs of fermentation. Wort now has a tightly laced foam crown on top. Holdeng at 50-53F.

Standby for updates.

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