Monday, December 21, 2015

Tmavé Pivo (Czech Dark Lager)

Lagers can be more interesting, quicker, and easier to brew than they are often given credit for! Every time I brew a lager I find myself drinking it faster than I realize. Kicking the keg when in my mind it is still half full. The cleanliness of lagers showcases malts, hops, and other ingredients better than characterful ale yeasts are able. Balanced, versatile, and hard to find from craft breweries!

Recirculating the wort.One of the first commercial lagers I really loved was Sprecher Black Bavarian. It is marketed as a "Kulmbacher style lager" (AKA schwarzbier), but because it was formulated in the early 1990s it is brewed with inauthentic dark malts (chocolate and black patent). The result is a dark lager that is halfway to English porter. Like cold-brewed coffee: smooth, roasty, moderate bitterness, and no astringency.

In the January/February 2013 issue of Brew Your Own Nathan Zeender and I wrote Dark Lagers: The New Possibility. In addition to Baltic porter and weizen tripelbock, we covered tmavé pivo (Czech for "dark beer"). It is sometimes called černé (black). Our friend and DC beer-historian extraordinaire Mike Stein had returned from Prague with actual examples of the style (most were a bit bland/sweet) to share. We also got context from Czech-located beer writer Evan Rail, and Nathan brewed one with Jason Oliver at Devil’s Backbone – Morana. I never got around to brewing one for myself though!

My research for this recipe.Earlier this year, I bumped into a recipe courtesy of Horst Dornbusch for Flekovský ležák 13° the hallmark example brewed by U Fleku (founded in 1499, the oldest still operating brewpub in the world). It has since been deleted from the Brewer’s Associations website, but is preserved in this BeerAdvocate thread. However, the ensuing discussion only served to catalyze confusion about the accuracy of the recipe, especially the roasted malt.

So I started digging: 2015 BJCP Guidelines for Czech Dark Lager, Stan Hieronymus’s For the Love of Hops has a recipe from Evan Rail, Gordon Strong's Modern Homebrew Recipes, and of course rereading our BYO article. The result was that I came to assume the U Fleku recipe likely should call for Carafa Special II (in place of the Carafa II), but I wanted to err on the roasty end, so I only replaced 1/3. The 13% CaraMunich seemed high, but I occasionally brew recipes that I wouldn’t write to help break me out of routine. I had originally intended to use Munich as prescribed, but an order SNAFU resulted in a free sack of Weyermann Floor Malted Bohemian Dark… similar SRM and "well suited for classic Czech Dunkel lagers," so why not?

I employed the Brulosophy Quick Lagering method for the first time for this batch. Results were good, but the WLP800 was in no mood to be rushed even finishing with a week sitting at 65F. The batch was about twice the size stated below, with most of the first runnings going to a similar “special” higher gravity Baltic porter-esque version at 7% ABV. Sadly I also learned that two 30L Speidel fermentors won’t fit in my fermentation fridge together, so the Czech-tic porter fermented at ambient-fall-basement temperature.

Coincidentally I was at the Rockville, MD Gordon Biersch brewing a collaborative wine-barrel-aged Flemish Red last week and brewmaster Christian Layke happened to have his Tmavé Pivo on. Much closer to the original style (without being bland): less roasty, a few shades lighter, and slightly less sweet allowing the hops to be more present. More on our beer another time!

Tmavé Pivo: U Fleku Style

Trying to get some highlights in the photo took some effort.Appearance – Dark brown, but with clear red highlights. The dense off-white head exhibits tremendous retention. Good lacing. The body is a few shades darker than I hoped for, would be nice to see highlights without holding it up to a lamp.

Smell – Hints of coffee, bready malt, and some dark fruit. Really intense maltiness for the style. "Spicy" Saaz hop aroma doesn’t come through. Clean fermentation, glad the quick lagering method worked!

Taste – Smooth French-roast coffee, and caramel cookies. Clean fermentation, but the malt obscures most of the other characters. Light bitterness, enough to balance the sweetness. Fermentation is clean again in the flavor, although I'm not sure how much I'd notice if it was a little fruity.

Mouthfeel – Full, rounded, and well carbonated. Smooth.

Drinkability & Notes – It’s a good beer, but a true Tmavé Pivo it is not. Richer, roastier, and fuller than classic examples of the style. Turns out my instincts were right on the recipe. To get closer to the real deal, I’d back down the CaraMunich to 7-8% and go all Carafa Special II at 5%. I need to buy a bottle of Black Bavarian to remind myself of how close I ended up!

Tmavé Pivo U: Fleku Style

Recipe Specifics
--------------------
Batch Size (Gal): 6.00
Total Grain (Lbs): 11.57
OG: 1.053
SRM: 25.8
IBU: 29.4
Brewhouse Efficiency: 75 %
Wort Boil Time: 70 Minutes

Grain
-------
51.9% - 6.00 lbs. Weyermann Floor Malted Bohemian Pilsner
29.6% - 3.43 lbs. Weyermann Floor Malted Bohemian Dark
13.0% - 1.50 lbs. Weyermann CaraMunich II
3.7% - 0.43 lbs. Weyermann Carafa II
1.9% - 0.21 lbs. Weyermann Carafa Special II

Hops
-------
1.13 oz. Sterling (Pellet, 7.50% AA) @ First Wort
1.00 oz. Czech Saaz (Pellet, 3.50% AA) @ 5 min.

First stage of the yeast starter.Extras
--------
0.50 Whirlfloc @ 5 min
0.50 tsp Yeast Nutrient @ 5 min

Yeast
-------
White Labs WLP800 Pilsner Lager

Water Profile
-----------------
Profile: Washington, DC

Mash Schedule
-------------------
Protein Rest - 15 min @ 126F
Sacch I - 30 min @ 145F (direct)
Sacch II - 20 min @ 158F (direct)

Notes
-------
Two stage starter made a week in advance (1.25 L to 3.5 L). Second stage was mini-mash of Bohemian Dark. Crashed in fridge prior to brew day.

Brewed 10/25/15

5 g CaCl added to the filtered DC tap water for the mash. Started with only the two Bohemian grains (no CaraMunich or Carafa). Added specialty malts as I heated to the second Sacch rest to ensure conversion, but reduce intensity/astringency.

Collected 8 gallons with a 5 gallon cold sparge at 1.042 for the Tmavé.

Added 1.125 oz of 8% AA Sterling adjusted down shortly before the start of the boil. 1/2 tsp Wyeast nutrient, 1 whirlfloc. OG 1.053. Chilled to 51F, shook to aerate, pitched 1/2 starter. Left at 48F to ferment.

10/29/15 To 1.033 (38% AA), upped to 52F.

10/31/15 AM, started ramping up 5F every 12 hours. Topped out at 65F.

11/3/15 Gravity at 1.019 (64% AA). Still a few more points to go. Remnants of the krausen remain. Would be nice to see 1.016!

11/6/15 Still a little krausen, but I got my wish, 1.016 (64% AA, 4.9% ABV). CaraMunich caramel shines, no diacetyl, ready for kegging and lagering tomorrow.

11/7/15 Into a flushed keg and into the fridge at 60F for the slow ramp-down (5F every 12 hours). Looked pretty yeasty and there was a dense persistent krausen. 1 extra liter into a growler with 1.25 tsp of sugar.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

House Culture Saison Tasting

There are always new hop varieties, malts, and yeast strains begging for the attention of brewers. While it is fun to brew with each, better results often come from repeated use of a smaller subset of ingredients. Of the three, yeast occupies a unique position in that it can provide homebrewers a true house character for minimal effort.

18 months ago I brewed a hoppy wort and pitched The Yeast Bay’s Saison Blend, White Labs Brett Trois (since reclassified and renamed), and dregs from a beer conditioned with CB2. From there I repitched adding Wyeast L. brevis for a New Zealand Saison, and again for my Alsatian Saison. All three beers were delicious, but they were far from showcases for yeast character!

Glass of my House SaisonEnter this batch, the wort from my Softer and Juicier APA, minus the flame-out and dry hopping. A test to see if my house saison culture actually produces good beer when it isn’t hidden behind hops and wine!

How you harvest a mixed culture exerts a selective pressure on the microbes. I won't say my practice is ideal, I've waited until the keg kicks, poured in a pint of sterile wort, and pouring into a flask. Culturing at this late stage selects for the hardiest microbes. Likely those that are not particularly flocculant (so they don't drop out in primary), but not so intransigent that they refuse to drop out after a couple months cold!

House Saison

Appearance – Nice glowing yellow body. Hazy, but far from the gray-tinged muddiness of its sister APA. Airy lemon-meringue foam perched on top. Not perfect head retention falling after half a glass, but great for a mixed-fermentation!

Smell – The nose is a pleasant mix of clove/pepper from the saison strains, and aspirin/cherry funk from the Brett. Brewed less than three months ago (and cold for the last month) so pretty impressive funkification speed.

Taste – The flavor leans more towards the bugs. Light lactic acidity (pH of 3.92), dusty Brett, and a bit of that Wyeast B. lambicus-type cherry pie. With 30+ IBUs in these batches, I doubt the Lactobacillus is responsible for the pH drop. Who knows what other microbes have joined the team after four trips through my "sour" gear!

Mouthfeel – Pillowy, especially while the head is intact. The chloride, wheat, and oats add the substance that low-final-gravity saisons (1.002 in this case) often lack. Carbonation is as high as it could be on draft (I had to pour, settle and top-off after a few minutes for the photo - 15' of 3/16" line).

Drinkability & Notes – This relatively simple batch doesn’t have the bombastic character that some of the previous beers fermented with this culture, but it has surprising balance for a culture harvested from kicked kegs. 96% apparent attenuation turned the 1.056 wort into 7.1% ABV, drinks easier than that. Once this keg kicks I'll be giving this culture another round in something else (maybe with some juniper?). I also dropped some slurry from the primary off when I visited Commonwealth Brewing, I should probably see if it ended up in one of our barrels or somewhere else?

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