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Low Gravity Pils Lager

No matter the season, a sessionable lager is always welcome on my taps. Here’s a recipe for a low-gravity, light-bodied SMASH German lager using only pils malt and hallertau hops. I wanted to make something that resembled a macro-American light lager in terms of smoothness and drinkability, but had German-inspired flavors – rich grainy breaded malts and floral hops – and no adjunct malts like corn or rice. This was delicious and was kicked in less than 3 weeks!

  • 9.25 lb German pils
  • 0.75 oz German hallertau (75 min)
  • 0.25 oz German hallertau (5 min)
  • WLP 830 German lager (no starter)

// Mash in w/ 7.5 gal at 152 for 50 minutes (3 tsp CaCl2, 3 mL lactic acid to mash), brief rest at 162, then mash out at 168F. No sparge. Collect around 7 gal pre boil. Boil 110 min. Add 1/2 tsp yeast nutrient and 1/2 tsp CaCl2 at end of boil. 1044 OG. Chill, oxygenate, pitch yeast. Left to ferment at 56F. Brewed 3/21/18. //

3/31/18  Gravity at just over 1012. Tasting wonderful, great malt flavor with some subtle hop character, and already somewhat clear.

4/1/18  Moved to fridge at 36F.

4/4/18  Kegged. Force carbed at 25 psi for two days. Then moved to taps at 8 psi.

This beer came out suuuuuper light-bodied and was a good exploration in SMASH beer flavor. At 4.2% ABV, the base flavor is great – bready, grainy, everything i like about german helles beers – the no sparge likely helped to bring out that malty base. Despite the low IBU, it’s a little dry and doesn’t really cary much sweetness, which would be nice but certainly not necessary. Adding a touch of melanoidin malt or some Munich malt would help just give it that edge it needs. Scaling this up by 10% would also be fine for making a standard strength beer. The hop character is appropriate, very clean and doesn’t have any harshness. The overall lager flavors from the yeast are wonderful; not squeaky clean, but pretty close and has enough diacetyl to make it feel like a lager. Will definitely use this for more light-colored lagers.

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New Zealand Blonde

This was a beer I made for my father-in-law – it came out really easy-drinking and sessionable, although the yeast slightly under-attenuated and left it a little chewy, more like a NEIPA’s body. Overall it tasted great, but would have been even better if it dried out a little more and pushed a little more hop character into the foreground.

  • 6 lb Pils
  • 6 lb 2-row
  • 1 oz Moteuka 60 min (6.6% a.a.)
  • 0.5 oz Nelson (11.6% a.a) at 10, 5, 2.5 min, and primary
  • Yeast cake of WYeast 1099 from Best Bitter.

// Mash-in with 4.8 gal water at 152F for 60 minutes (2 tsp CaCl2 and 2.5 mL lactic acid to mash), mash-out for 5 minutes. Sparge w/ 2.6 gal to collect 6.25 gal 1064 wort. Boil 60 minutes, added 0.25 gal water to dilute a bit since my efficiency was way high. added 1/2 more tsp CaCl2 at flameout. Brewed 11/24/17. Fermentation started right away. //

11/26/17 . Gravity at 1022 – nice soft bread malt flavor with light esters. Some hop flavor but mostly malty. Moved from basement (62F) to up stairs (70F) and gave a good shake to finish out.

 

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Belgian Table Beer #3

This is one of my favorite styles to drink!

  • 8 lb Pilsner malt
  • 0.5 lb White wheat
  • 0.25 lb Cararuby (20L)
  • 1.5 oz styrian bobek hops (3.5% aa) 60 min
  • 0.5 oz styrian bobek hops (3.5% aa) 5 min
  • WLP550 (no starter)

// Mash-in w/ 4 gal at 152 for 50 min, mash out. Sparge to collect 6.3 gal 1032 wort. Boil 75 min. Added 0.5 tsp CaCl2 with 5 min left. Collect 5 gallons 1.036 wort. Oxygenate 30s, pitch straight from packet. Brewed 10/8/17. //

Fermentation was quick and I didn’t take any detailed notes, but I caught it out around 1010 then crash cooled and kegged. Also saved the yeast since this was a fairly low gravity beer and could be used to step to a stronger beer.

Appearance: Hazy straw yellow with a moderately thin white head that hangs around as long as a Bud Light or other light beer.

Aroma:  Grassy floral hops lead which blend nicely with the yeast esters.

Mouthfeel: Light bodied, but given the low amount of alcohol, holds up well and doesn’t come across as thin. Firm bitterness.

Taste: On the first sip the beer hits you like a hoppy pilsner with a burst of grassy and fresh hops. After a few sips this flavor fades a bit and the rest of the flavors – soft breaded malts and floral yeast esters – play nice together with the hops still playing a staring role. Crisp and flavorful for a 3.5% beer.

Overall: A tasty and unique beer that was well-liked by many; but, for only measuring 19 IBU, the hops were very assertive. 60 minute additions, in my opinion, do impart some strong flavor components (likely since my boil isn’t that strong) in addition to bitterness. Add to that the quantity of hop material (1.5 oz) despite the low alpha content (3.5%) of the hops, and the absence of a traditional level of alcohol, all other flavors definitely come to the forefront and are very exposed. Really not much to change next time other than to scale back the bittering hops to maybe 1 oz or 0.75 oz, and maybe mashing a few degrees higher. Prost!

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Nitro English Pale Remake

One of my first nitro beers was a hoppy English pale ale. I remember it having a wonderful balance between the estery yeast profile and citrusy hops, so I remade it with London Ale III to get a sense of how that would change the beer. The previous iteration used London ESB (my favorite yeast); the esters and diacetyl can be high with that though, and the hop character is usually subdued.

  • 10 lb UK Pale
  • 0.2 lb Amber malt
  • 0.18 lb Acid malt
  • 0.3 oz Columbus hops (60 min)
  • 0.125 oz each Simcoe, Citra, Mosaic hops (20 min)
  • 0.5 oz each ” (10 min)
  • 0.5 oz each ” (5 min)
  • 0.75 oz each ” (whirlpool, 20 minutes)
  • WYeast London Ale III

// Mash-in w/ 4.25 gal water at 152 for 50 minutes (w/ 1.5 tsp gypsum), raise to 168, sparge w/ 3.25 gal 168F water (adjusted to 5.6 pH), collect around 6.75 gal 1042 wort. Boil 60 minutes, chill, collect 5 gallons 1048 wort. oxygenate for 30s. //

FG 1016, super cloudy – not so great on nitro. Needed dry hopping for full hop flavor experience. Eventually moved to CO2 and carbonation suited the beer much better.

This came out OK (definitely better on CO2, the ESB yeast + maltier beer is likely why I enjoyed this on nitro the first time) but would have really benefitted from some dry-hopping and keg-hopping. The flavors from the boil additions were bright and citrusy, but it needed that extra kick of hop flavor from a dose or two of dry-hopping.

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Strawberry Peppercorn Short Mead

Every once in a while I make stuff other than beer to put on my 4th tap that houses a 3-gallon keg. What was originally an oversight in designing my kegerator (not being able to fit a 4th 5-gallon keg in the keezer) turned out to be a convenient excuse to make smaller experimental batches that I’m OK with having less of on tap. I purchased the book “Speed Brewing” by Mary Izett recently and made one of her recipes as a 3-gallon batch (her book listed it for 1-gallon, but just scaled up).

  • 2.5 gal cold water
  • 3 lb Strawberries
  • 3 lb Honey (from Costco)
  • 1.5 tbps crushed peppercorns
  • 0.25 tsp yeast nutrient
  • WLP001

// Puree strawberries (removed leaves and and white from the middles), combine with peppercorns and yeast nutrient in plastic tub. Add 1.5L off-boil water, stir and let sit for 10 minutes.  Add honey to carboy (measure w/ weight scale under carboy), followed by hot strawberry mixture. Add cold water, shake/stir until honey is dissolved from bottom of carboy. Oxygenate for 30s, add yeast and seal. Brewed 6/4/17. //

6/7/17:  Airlock slowing down, gravity at 1018. Gave carboy a shake to help finish.

6/8/17: Moved to fridge to crash cool.

6/9/17:  Kegged. Gravity at 1008. Beautiful pink color and delicate fruit flavors. Carbonation already settled in a little and already tastes wonderful. Lost a bit of product due to strawberry sludge, so only wound up with around 2.5 gal. Can’t wait til this is ready!

6/15/17: This one is going quick on tap! I’m really enjoying this. Beautiful cloudy pink rose color. Super light, refreshing, and the peppercorns add a perfect balance to the sweetness of the honey and strawberries, which actually implies a little bitterness like a beer would with hops. The recipe is perfect, can’t really identify anything worth changing. Letting it ferment out a little more would be OK, but I wanted to save some sweetness since I don’t always like when my ciders dry out so much. Never took an OG reading, but I estimated it should be in 3.7% ABV range with this FG. I’ll 100% be making this again (and will be trying some other recipes from the book) – and, be sure to pick up a copy of “Speed Brewing” if you’re interested in making other cool stuff like this!

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Hoppy English Red Ale

Next up is a red ale, trying to emulate what I remember from Cooperstown Brewing Company’s Old Slugger. It had a delicious malt and hop balance that leaned a little into the toasted malt dimension. I dreamed up this recipe that has a toasty malt component but with moderate hopping. I wanted something that has a touch of a hop bite (not aggressive), with some soft herbal hop flavor and a bit of a floral nose.

  • 10.75 lb English Pale
  • 1.25 lb Victory malt
  • 0.1 lb Carafa II
  • 1 oz First Gold, 60 min (3% a.a.)
  • 0.25 oz Cascade, 30 min (7% a.a.)
  • 0.8 oz First Gold, 10 min (3% a.a.)
  • 0.5 oz Cascade, 3 min (7% a.a.)
  • WYeast British Ale II (1L starter)

// Mash-in w/ 4.8 gal at 152F for 50 minutes, raise to 168F. 2 tsp gypsum to mash. Sparge w/ 3 gal 168F water. Collect around 6.5 gal 1054 wort. Boil 75 minutes, collect 5 gallons 1062. Chill to 60F. Pitch half decanted starter. Left to ferment at 66F. Brewed 12/27/16. //

12/28/16: Good airlock activity.

1/2/17:  Gravity down to 1020. Still slightly sweet but malt/hop flavors are getting there. Will let sit for a few more days then crash.

1/4/17:  Moved to fridge to crash cool.

1/5/17:  Added gelatin.

1/8/17:  Kegged. Super clear. Flavor doesn’t impress me – harsh hop edge with malt flavors that don’t really jive. We’ll see how it turns out once conditioned. Tasting notes.

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Three Gallon Batch Process

Brewing small batches has its advantages – it’s quick (I can normally knock out a batch in about 3 hours flat), it’s great for experimenting and not worrying about wasting too much time/resources if things don’t turn out well (most of my early sours were small batches), and it’s more manageable for brewing indoors for me at least. Here’s my standard process for making a 3-gallon batch.

Recipe Design

Using brewing software I usually design the recipe for slightly higher volume (3.5 gallons) but with target gravity IBU/color/OG that I want. I’ll lose about 1/2 gallon to trub and i’ll be diluting the wort slightly with ice (more on this later).

Mash

I use the brew-in-a-bag method in a 4 gallon stock pot. Mash-in like normal, usually around 1.5 to 1.75 qt/lb, calculating such that you’ll have around 3 gallons of pre-boil wort. I realize this seems low for a 3-gallon batch, but hear me out.  Rest the mash for however long you want – around 45 minutes works for me. I usually don’t do step mashes; it’s more work and I’m usually focused on speed for small batches. Mash-out if desired, making sure to consistently stir while you heat since there’s no pump for recirculation. The mash near the base of the pot will get significantly hotter than the surface otherwise.

Sparge

Lift the grain bag out of the pot and then use a pasta strainer to hold up the bag over the pot and let it finish draining. I have a nice metal one with the handles of the strainer wide enough such that it’ll just rest on the edges of the pot, suspended above the hot wort. To sparge, I’ll either pre-heat some water in a side pot, or, if you’re super lazy like me, use an electric tea kettle to heat up water in small batches and then drizzle it over the suspended grain bag, making sure to wet all parts of the bag evenly. It’s super effective, and I usually get pretty good efficiency in the 75% range. The tea kettle only holds about 1.5 liters, so i usually do two rounds of water to get my pre-boil volume up to about 3 gallons. The tea kettle is design to boil the water, so just watch it witha thermometer until it gets to 170F and then you’re good. While you’re sparging, start bringing the wort to a boil.

Boil

Boil like you normally would, just watch closely for boil-over.

Chilling

I don’t have a good way to use a wort chiller indoors on my kitchen sink, so I use a less-than-ideal but still very practical way of chilling down to pitching temperature. Ice. Just dump as much ice as your freezer can hold directly into the hot wort. Yes, this will dilute the wort, and yes you’re adding unsterilized water to the batch. Don’t worry – it turns out great every time.

The amount of ice you add will affect how low the temperature gets. Mine usually only gets down to around 110F to 120F. At this point, if it’s cold outside, I’ll sit the kettle outside (covered) until the next morning and it’ll usually be around 60F. Or, if you have room in a refrigerator, that’ll work too.

After the wort chilled to pitching temperature, use a funnel to pour it straight from the pot into your fermentor. I use regular 5 gallon glass carboys. There will be a good layer of trub that has settled to the bottom of the kettle – it’s up to you whether you transfer this to the fermentor, but I usually stop pouring as soon as i hit the trub and discard the rest. You do lose about 1/2 gallon or wort, so be sure to factor that into your water volumes.

Yeast

I usually don’t make a starter since the volume of wort is less. That being said I usually feel way more confident about the fermentation quality if I use a starter, regardless of whether it truly makes a difference in flavor. If it’s a stronger beer (>1060) I’ll make one regardless.

Summary

This all may seem a little hacky, but it’s easy and effective. It took me a couple batches to hit my numbers, so don’t be discouraged if you go through this and wind up with only 2.5 gallons rather than 3, or 1045 wort instead of 1050. Just adjust accordingly for the next batch and it’ll work out fine. Good luck!

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