Helles Obsession Continued…

Hi heroes!

I know it seems like I only have the Munich Helles style on my brain lately, and to some extent that is true. I have 3 batches brewed up and fermenting and I already have the ingredients to make 2 more. Nevermind how I’m going to find the space for them all in this freezer.

helli

But there is hope for all you non-Helles fans. I’ll be re-brewing a few versions of my Purring Kitten Session IPA to (hopefully) have ready for a big competition in Reno on November 2nd. Also, I cleaned out all the old (non-Brett or sour) yeast vials from my refrigerator (and combined them with all the trash can-destined expired Wyeast smack packs I got from UBottleIt) and made a monster 5L starter.

franken starter

The blend has 15 different kinds of yeast and is 24 vials & packs total. 7 Belgian styles, 1 German, 5 American, & 2 British. I’d like to do a big weird Russian Imperial Stout or Barleywine and then add honeycomb sticks (from Black Swan) soaked in bourbon. I’ll have to see how the starter wort tastes before I waste time brewing a beer for it though. I’ll also have to use the bathtub or my ghetto (yet award-producing) swamp cooler-ish Walmart container to keep fermentation temps under control, as I doubt any of the 15 yeasts want to work with 49-54 degrees.

UPDATE: The Franken-starter wort tasted pretty meaty. I did not have confidence in its ability to do the job.

With all that said, I bought some Helles beers to drink and talk about! I can hear the applause now! Mind you all of these beers were purchased warm on well-lit shelves, so any impressions I have may not reflect how I’d feel about the beer in a fresher and more properly-treated state.

helles lineup

Weihenstephaner Original Premium90 on Beer Advocate – Very light color, light bready nose with little to no hop presence, very little hop bitterness, pleasant rounded finish with just a touch of malt character. Very easy drinker. If anything I almost want a little more out of it. But all in all a very nice beer.

Believe it or not, I don’t think I’ve ever had this beer. I love their Hef and I fell in love with this style a while back, but I guess ‘Original Premium’ never led this horse to Helles. Come to think of it, I only knew this was a Helles because I was looking for more examples of the style on Beer Advocate.

The ‘rounded’ malty finish on this that I so enjoy leads me to believe that ignoring the Munich water profile and going for a Chloride to Sulfate ratio that favors a more malty finish (according to John Palmer) could be the best approach. However, I likely will brew a basic Helles with ‘Munich water’ just to see if I can prove his point.

Paulaner Original Munich Premium Lager84 on Beer Advocate – Another very clear light golden beer, very similar nose to the previous with just a touch of baking bread, finish deviates a little as it is a touch drier with a little more hop character and perhaps a little oxidation.

It almost seems to have just a hint of banana or vanilla in the finish as well. This is another very enjoyable beer. I’d be happy as a clam if either of these first 2 beers were the keg pouring at a house party. I’m really impressed by how well these really light lagers hold up to age and less than ideal temperatures. It makes me want to go re-visit Germany sooner rather than later. Get the futon ready Mike ‘Basucher’ Werner!

Stiegl Goldbrau Premium Lager – 80 on Beer Advocate – So it would appear that Stiegl Leicht is actually their 3.3% Helles and I was lied to by a tiny placard at my local beer store. This is apparently a Marzen/Oktoberfest. It’s certainly darker than the first 2 beers, more carbonated, and has a little more pronounced toasty malt character. This is a prime example of why you have to be fairly beer savvy to even discover this style, let alone be able to reliably hunt it down. All in all, this is not a bad beer and pretty light for what I associate with an Oktoberfest. Unfortunately I don’t know the German word for ‘tweener’.

Mahr’s Hell89 on Beer Advocate – This is a beer I’ve very much enjoyed as an occasional treat lately as it is $6 for a Euro torpedo bottle. I get a touch of not quite skunk, but something a little off on the nose from this bottle. The flavor and finish are still nicely malty and rounded with hints of vanilla. This is another Helles that steers me toward brewing with minimum hop presence and a water profile that plays up the malt and rounds out the flavor.

On a side note, I’m glad I’m forcing myself to have all of these beers in one sitting as I’ve discovered I like Weihenstephaner better than Mahr’s. That means I can switch from $6 bottles to $9.50 six packs. Who says beer blogging doesn’t pay?

Moosbacher Lager81 on Beer Advocate – Possibly a shade darker than the others, nose is pretty light in all departments, pretty light finish with once again hints of malt and vanilla.

It seems to be lacking a little malt oomph in the finish that a couple others had. Although a blind taste test with a style this subtle would be pretty daunting. As I drink more of it I’d say find the cheapest Helles you like and stick with it. $9.50 for a Weihenstephaner sixer still leads.

Ballast Point Longfin Lager81 on Beer Advocate – Wow! My previous impressions of this beer have been that it had a touch too much hop character and finished a little dry for a Helles. This bottle I’m drinking seems pretty heavy in the DMS department. The BJCP guidelines describe aroma expectations as:  “Low to moderately-low spicy noble hop aroma, and a low background note of DMS (from Pils malt).” This is pretty big cooked corn in flavor and aroma. Not my favorite, but again this isn’t typical of the last 3 six packs I’ve had of this beer.

Hofbrau Original85 on Beer Advocate – Another very clear beer, might be a slight bit darker than some of the others or might be my weird lighting by my pc, well carbed, don’t get a ton in the nose (maybe a little malt & the tiniest bit of smoke) but the finish has a solid malt presence, water profile may be cause for a slightly less rounded finish than others, a little better hop presence in finish too. I find this beer perfectly enjoyable, but then again I’m a few Helli in.

Spaten Premium Lager83 on Beer Advocate – Not much skunk despite the green bottle, finish has a little more hop and not the same roundedness of some of my preferred brands, not quite as pleasant as a number of the others.

I’ve found I like my Helles malty without being under-attenuated or cloying and pretty absent in the hop department. Even trying to differentiate between these beers has given me a great appreciation for the difficulty level of brewing one well. I’m considering dry hopping a Helles, and while Citra is awesome with everything, I debate trying a noble hop or a new German hop like Opal or Saphir.

Finally, I want to say cheers to my friends at Tenaya Creek Brewing Co. I’m pictured here drinking a growler of their Local 702 Pale Ale. Genius marketing and a very good beer. Party on my brewing brethren!

tenaya 702

Fun with Water, Farmhouse Oktoberfest and Lime Saison Update

Howdy my brewing brothers and sisters. Since my last post I’ve brewed a couple batches & continued to expand my knowledge & efforts in the field of water building.

If you’ve followed my brewing at all, you’ve noticed I have a tendency to start trying things and then I double back for proper schooling. Water building certainly has not been an exception. My 8/20 Hef had a Residual Alkalinity of -58 with a Chloride:Sulfate ratio of 2:1. Perhaps a little aggressive on the chlorides. My 8/24 Hef had a Residual Alkalinity of -80 with a Chloride:Sulfate ratio of 0.89:1. A little more reasonable. It appears Residual Alkalinity values that low are acceptable for rather light beers, although they might be coming in a touch hot.

Anyway, I built water for my 8/27 Farmhouse Oktoberfest and had a RA of -60 with a Chloride:Sulfate ratio of 1:1. I based my water building off of an online water profile I found for the city of Munich (75ppm Calcium, 120 Sulfate, 18 Magnesium, 2 Sodium, 60 Chloride). I upped the chlorides to shoot for a little maltier interpretation of the style. All was well. My RA looked low for the color of the beer, but I was ballparking Munich’s water. However, today I ran into Munich’s water profile for Oktoberfest in John Palmer’s How To Brew and he indicates the sulfates are 10ppm & chlorides are 2ppm.

Needless to say, my water is way out of the ballpark if those are more accurate numbers. Even my chloride:sulfate ratio is way off. Oh well, we’ll see how it turns out. I did a small single decoction mash on an Oktoberfest base recipe (a modified version of Jamil’s in Brewing Classic Styles) that’s running on White Labs 670 AKA saison yeast with brettanomyces. I’m not sure with all those other factors that my water building attempt will be the biggest issue. At least Farmtoberfest dresses stylishly.

Regardless, my water knowledge is growing appreciably. I listened to (and took notes) on the first 3 Brew Strong water shows. I’ve listened to the 4th part with the Q&A, but I don’t take notes or retain things quite as well on the treadmill.

I have also taken a look at the Vegas water profile & filled its values into this water spreadsheet for your using pleasure. At first glance it appears that Vegas water is best suited for rather bitter beers that are pale-amber-copper colored. These deductions are based on a Chloride:Sulfate ratio of 0.41 & a Residual Alkalinity of 64. John Palmer says a ratio 0-0.5 puts you in very bitter beer territory & a RA of 0-120 puts you in that color range.

My other news to report is that a sampling of the 6/10 Lime Saison went down quite favorably with one of the Mikes that assisted in last night’s brewing. It had a little spice, a little fruit, & the lime is present but not overpowering. I added 2oz of Motueka dry hops almost a week ago and I dare say that bad boy might be ready for bottling.

Alright, time to squeeze in a quick workout & then go do a little grilling and beer pairing. Proost y’all!

German Hefs and Oktoberfests

Hello fellow heroes! I’m just finishing up sampling 8 Oktoberfest-style beers so the knowledge I shall drop shall be slightly altered. Fun, but altered.

First I want my loving fans to know that I’m still waiting to hear back on the brewpub gig, which is having some interesting effects on my brewing. It has me holding off on acquiring a chest freezer & other upgrades, but it has me brewing more in case these are my last homebrew batches for a while. It also has me working on German Hefs because supposedly the DE filter will be the toughest thing to master in the brewpub setting and an unfiltered beer would be first on deck.

Taking all that into account, I brewed a hef on Monday. After listening to Jamil talk about how to nail a hef, I did a decoction and I’m trying to run it at around 62 in my new ghetto Walmart swamp cooler. The recipe was 53/47 White Wheat to German Pils and I used Wyeast 3068 Weihenstephaner with no starter. The swamp cooler is usually about 60-61 when I check it in the morning & drops to between 54-57 when I drop a couple frozen water jugs in. On my next batch, I might add one at a time to see if I can keep the floor temp of the swamp water a little warmer.

Also, lately I’ve been brewing with RO water and then adding gypsum, calcium chloride etc to build the water profile I want. I realized right before I was going to fire up ye olde burner that I’d been Firestone Walkering my last few brews AKA IPAs (100ppm Calcium, 100ppm Sulfate) but wasn’t ready to build water for a hef. Based on info from The Mad Fermentationist & using this spreadsheet I went with a 2 to 1 Chloride to Sulfate ratio and ended up with 83ppm Calcium, 108ppm Chloride, & 54ppm Sulfate. I’d have added Epsom salt for a little Magnesium if I’d have had some on hand. I thought those numbers were fairly on point with the historical brewing water of Germany, but it turns out that ratio was reversed in Munich & Dortmund. Anyway, it’ll be fun to see how it turns out.

I’ll be listening to Brew Strong episodes tonight and tomorrow to get a feel for what water adjustments I want to do for tomorrow’s batch of hef.

In other news, my feline assistant enjoys the swamp cooler and whistling airlock & Jamil’s hef episode has both fairly spotty audio quality & a funny story about Justin’s friends puking in a limo (at the beginning).

So given my renewed interest in German hefs, I tasted some commercial examples:

Weihenstephaner – 98 on Beer Advocate – Hits me as a big vanilla banana. Silky smooth. Has crowd pleaser written all over it. Clove becomes more present as it warms. Hint of bitterness & lingering carbonation on finish. Great beer. I tried it first because I’m supposedly using its yeast for my hef.

Schneider Weisse – 89 on Beer Advocate – Darker than the last beer. Finish goes a little iffy. More bitter. Finish has some bready/toasty/smoke flavors. Seems off. I’m not entirely sure that the trip to America wasn’t rather unkind to this bottle.

Ayinger – 92 on Beer Advocate – Very light in color. Mostly clove flavors. A touch of spicy hop. Clove, slightly bready, a little banana in finish. Good hef. No complaints here.

Paulaner – 91 on Beer Advocate – Shade darker, probably has some Munich. Finish is a little bready/toasty/bitter. Picked up a little clove & not much banana.

Konig Ludwig – 84 on Beer Advocate – Typical hef flavors are present but very mellow. Has a touch of clove, probably a little Munich malt. Graham cracker in nose. Reminds me of an American hef.

All in all I’m quite excited to hear that Wyeast 3068/White Labs 300 is Weihenstephaner’s yeast strain. I think that if I can nail the fermentation temps on a pretty simple base recipe, I’ll have an award winning hef that I love.

In other news, somehow yesterday I dreamed up a saison version of an Oktoberfest. I understand that Oktoberfest is a lager, but the idea was to use the Okto base recipe with a saison yeast & possibly some Brett.

Of course I had to taste 8 different Oktoberfests before important brewing decisions could be made!

I decided to taste all 8 & make notes before I consulted the BJCP guidelines. I wanted to form my own impressions based on my own preferences, before assessing which was doing its category the most justice.

Ayinger – 88 on Beer Advocate – Bready malt in nose, Germany-ness to it. Nose reminds me of an alt. Finish a touch bitter & smoky. Would like a tad softer & rounder finish with a little more residual sweetness. Improved as it warmed up. The style guidelines do indicate the finish should be on the dry side.

Spaten – 80 on Beer Advocate – Green bottle. Awesome. Finish has a little skunk to it. Not a ton of maltyness. Skunk overrides. Why does anybody use green bottles?

Gordon Biersch – 82 on Beer Advocate – Different profile than previous two. Feels like flavor wave drops off too quickly. Malt flees the scene & noble hops leave a long finish.

Shiner – 77 on Beer Advocate – A little bit more in my wheelhouse. Malty breadiness hangs on throughout. Little toast. Finish is rounder with a little noble hop. In the interests of full disclosure, this & Real Ale’s Oktoberfest were my first introductions to the style.

Stevens Point – 80 on Beer Advocate – Malt is less rich. Crisp clean finish. Very drinkable beer but it feels like they played it pretty safe.

Samuel Adams – 83 on Beer Advocate – Usually Sam’s beers are too malty for me. This style should be a softball. But no, the malt seems a little understated. Very clean with nothing offensive. The flavor profile could be a good amount richer for my taste.

Hofbrau Munchen – 76 on Beer Advocate – Woah! Very light! Apparently some domestic versions can be golden & like a strong Helles. This is way different from the others & it’s a little skunked from its green bottle. It drinks like a slightly richer pilsner. I thought this was mislabeled until I looked at the style guidelines.

Widmer – 78 on Beer Advocate – There’s something different about its malt profile. There’s a strange light fruit ester in the nose (which is not to style). Pretty drinkable, but not super clean & possibly has some off flavors.

So after all this tasting (while making 3 yeast starters) I’ve concluded I’d like my Oktoberfest to be a little richer, with very low hop bitterness. Above all I want to drink something that seems like somebody set out to make a rich malty beer. Not a hedged safe play easy guzzler.

Now with that knowledge, I need to marry that with my Farm-toberfest idea. I’ve chosen White Labs 670 American Farmhouse (a combo of saison & Brett) for this beer-bauchery. Given that I didn’t like the dry finishes of some of the beers, I’ll probably mash quite high to try and leave some residual sweetness. I’ll also use an extremely light hand on any hop flavor additions, as I wasn’t sure the noble hops were adding anything good whenever I could detect them.

Other than that, I just have a few random items to report. The SNAFU Memorial Competition is in a couple months & I’m starting to try and plan out what to brew to win ‘Best Use of Hops’ & ‘Best Big Beer’. I might be too late in the game to whip up some things for the big beer, but using a ton of delicious hops is always in my wheelhouse.

Yesterday I dry hopped most of the beers hanging out in the beer tower.

Lime Saison, Rufus, NZ Union Jack, Saison 3’s, Am Farmhouse, & Brett Rye IPA. All those bad boys got their first or second wave of dry hops. A lot of Nelson Sauvin involved of course. They should all turn out pretty well, assuming I have the time to bottle & keg them.

I was thinking Wild Dubbel might be a little more tame. Turns out I was wrong. I have 4-5 honey mangoes that are cut up and hanging out in the back of my freezer. Wild dubbel just might get some delicious fruit to play with too.

I still had yeast starters of WLP650 Brett B & WLP653 Brett L sitting around, so I decided to combine those and give them some new starter wort to chew on. I tasted their old starter worts too.

Brett B 650 – Heavy nail polish in aroma. Flavor hints at something else & then gets nail polished out.

Brett L 653 – Strange meaty/smoky aroma I can’t quite put my finger on. Has an umami-ness to it. The flavor profile is slightly more mellow but more meat with a touch of sweaty horse.

Can’t wait to team these awesome flavor profiles up! 😛

Alright, that wraps up this episode of heroicness.

Proost y’all.