The Homebrewer’s Brain – Munich Helles
Hey, remember us?
Yeah, we’ve been busy… babies, too many hours on the clock, building business plans, blah, blah, blah. The fact that so much time has passed since our last post seriously burrows into our collective psyche. It pains us. But, sometimes life gets in the way. What can you do? Please allow us to apologize. Consider it a hiatus, a time to recuperate. And we move on…
One thing that we have absolutely not allowed to go stagnant is our endless trek down the path to better beer. We have been homebrewing every chance that we get. For us, brewing is not just a means to the end of having beer to drink. It’s so much more. We want to make the best beer in the world. We put hours into recipe formulation. We read, we discuss, we reflect… This is a log of our process.
The brewing community is phenomenal. We love being a part of it. We always feel accepted and we almost always walk away from a brewery visit feeling like we were virtually hugged by the staff. The one thing that we are often most surprised by is how open brewers are about what they do. Processes, recipes, sometimes even financials are shared with us openly. It speaks to the genuine quality of people that we aim to surround ourselves with. Ultimately, we want to be just as open and helpful. We want to spread the love too.
So this is our attempt to share. We thought that it might be helpful to write down our process for recipe formulation, if not to help other all-grain brewers, to help us remember why we did what we did. This way, if a bit of time passes between the first time that we brew something and the follow up brew,we don’t have to start all over from scratch.
We urge you to share your experiences as well, for we are still figuring it all out ourselves.
I (Timperial) should, in addition, mention that I am also writing this as a means to assist one of my employers, Homebrew Heaven, get flow to their website and to create a deeper set of tools to assist homebrewers on that site. Please check them out if you haven’t already, for they are allowing me to take time on the clock to write these articles.
Hello brain, let’s hash this out
One of the most important things, to me, when developing and tweaking a recipe is researching the style. I often have a general idea of what goes into it, but I like to know the history of the style and what the recipes of the best examples look like. What ingredients were available and what processes were employed back when the style first came into vogue?
Before I start to peruse the internet there are two books that I almost always refer to. First, for basic history and recipe guidelines, I refer to Designing Great Beer by Ray Daniels. Then, to get an idea of what ingredients are typically used in examples that I like, I check Clone Brews by Tess and Mark Szamatulski.
I then hit the internet. I study the BJCP Style Guidelines and search for more recipe information. Ultimately though, all of this data simply serves as an informational base for my recipe. I’m generally not out to brew a beer that exactly fits the style guideline. I am, after all, an American brewer. I have a great desire to be creative and innovative. I want the end result to produce a feeling. I want he/she of whom imbibes the beverage to say to him/herself, “Yes, this is indeed a Helles, but it’s so much more”.
I have been using BeerSmith software for a while now to create and save my recipes. I also save them on Hopville.com so that I can share them with my brewing partner. It’s free to create an account and it can be accessed from any computer with an internet connection. I can save the recipe at home or at work and then have him log in from wherever he is and we can talk through our ideas. It’s super convenient.
My idea with this beer is going to be loosely based off of Samuel Adams Alpine Spring. It’s an unfiltered lager brewed with 2-row and honey malts and a ton of Tettnang hops. I found it to be extremely flavorful, especially with the heavy hopping. The flavor and aroma is intensely of lemon. So much so, in fact, that I feel as though actual lemon peel or lemon juice was added, but there is no mention of that anywhere on the bottle or the Sam Adams website. I am intrigued enough by this that I plan to go heavy on the Tett in late additions and dry-hopping to see how lemony the hop actually is.
Right there, with the heavy late addition hopping, we are out of style, but I’d like to go more traditional on the grains. In looking at more modern examples of light lagers and pilsners, it seems appropriate to go with European pilsner malt as a base with some Vienna for malt flavor and some light crystal 20 and cara-pils for body. The main goals here will be to keep the original gravity between 1.045 and 1.050 with a terminal gravity of around 1.010 (obviously, no brewer can survive without a hydrometer) and to keep the color as light as possible, ideally around 4 SRM. I was able to play with the grain ratios to make this happen with 83% base, 11% Vienna and 3% each crystal 20 and cara-pils.
I, for a minute, thought about doing a step mash on this one since that is the traditional route but upon further reflection, with today’s highly modified malts, I don’t think it’s worth the added efforts.
Despite the placement of the hops in the boil, I think it’s still possible to hit the BJCP style guideline on IBUs for Helles (16 – 22). I decided to use Perle for bittering at 60 minutes and cram all of the Tett in in the last 15 minutes. I was able to hit 20 IBUs despite using 4 total ounces of hops in a 10 gallon batch. Success!
Personally, I prefer to use pellet hops in the boil and leaf hops for dry hopping. Pellet hops give you a slightly better extraction and they are much more convenient to weigh and bag. I find it super convenient to use the Escali Digital Scale to weigh out the proper quantities. Despite the fact that most brewers simply toss pellet hops into the kettle, I don’t have a good way to whirlpool the wort post-boil. I’m also afraid to clog the Kettle Screen that I use, so I bag my pellets in an 8” X 9 ½” re-usable nylon bag. I use leaf hops for dry-hopping because I feel there is slightly less chance that I’ll “muddy up” the beer with hop particulate. With this I just use a disposable muslin bag for ease of disposal.
Traditionally, soft water is best for brewing light lagers and pilsners, but soft water tends to minimize the hop experience and I, clearly, don’t want to do that, so I’ll just filter tap water with my inline water filter, as per usual. If I really wanted to soften my water, I could combine my tap water with about 50% distilled water, but then there would be some concern with the mineral content required for healthy fermentation.
The yeast I choose will be pretty crucial here. I’m brewing a lager style but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I must use a lager yeast. The key is that I minimize the yeast character… make sure the beer is super clean. I have a garage that I can keep my fermenter in but I do not have a fridge with a temperature controller. This is going to be a big factor in the route I go with the yeast. Since it’s springtime in the Northwest, I can’t rely on a consistent ambient temperature in my garage. It’s unlikely that I will be able to hold a sub 58 degree environment in my garage, so I need a yeast with a higher temperature range. I’m a tried and true Wyeast supporter, so my first thoughts are of 2124 Bohemian Lager (Bohemia is the home of Pils after all), 2112 California Lager and 2565 Kolsch. The lager yeasts have a range up to 68 degrees, which seems very do-able, so I chose to go the most traditional route… that of the Bohemian Lager strain.
And viola, a recipe has been created. We shall see how I did in a few weeks time.