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!
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!
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
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
Batch Size (Gal): 6.00
Total Grain (Lbs): 11.57
Brewhouse Efficiency: 75 %
Wort Boil Time: 70 Minutes
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
1.13 oz. Sterling (Pellet, 7.50% AA) @ First Wort
1.00 oz. Czech Saaz (Pellet, 3.50% AA) @ 5 min.
0.50 Whirlfloc @ 5 min
0.50 tsp Yeast Nutrient @ 5 min
White Labs WLP800 Pilsner Lager
Profile: Washington, DC
Protein Rest - 15 min @ 126F
Sacch I - 30 min @ 145F (direct)
Sacch II - 20 min @ 158F (direct)
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.
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.