Beer style guidelines: some homebrewers I’ve encountered in the past two decades don’t want to brew anything that can’t fit into an established category (or even deviate from a fixed recipe), while others hate them with an ad-hoc and improvised passion (and can’t or won’t stick to a recipe no matter what).
I think a common understanding of beer style is necessary and important – a universal cipher that makes it possible for a brewer to instantly communicate to an educated drinker what they’re getting and what they should expect, a framework within which beer geeks like you and I can rap – but maybe best used as a tool or signpost rather than absolute law in the brewhouse.
Take, for example, what I’m brewing today: an amber lager using the BJCP parameters for a Vienna as a general target (see? without that, I would have had to say “a European amber lager of 10-18 SRM with 18-30 IBU and OG of 1.046-1.052, brewed with German noble hops and Vienna or Munich malts”). Sessionable. Clean. Lagery.
But! With an unorthodoxically strong finishing hop presence (more like an American pale ale than a Vienna lager) to highlight this year’s sweet, spicy, oh-so-resiny homegrown Liberty hops, and a bit higher IBU level (also more like an APA) to offset the caramelly-sweet malt profile and fuller body that my drinking audience demands in its lagers (apparently my better half does not like the house lagers to finish quite as dry as I do, as the words carved into my forehead with a rhinestone-encrusted switchblade indicate when I look in the mirror).
And! I’m only going to use ingredients I have on hand, in the house, right now. Liberty hops, derived as they are from Hallertau Mittelfrüh, are perfectly OK for a Vienna if not completely authentic. But then I’m going to go and do a damn hop stand with them after the boil, so suck on that, Anton Dreher, this is a 21st century American lager. Since I have no high-kilned German malts in stock, I’m straight up using the unbreakable stallion of domestic base malt, Rahr 2-row, plus some odds and ends for color and caramel profile. And for bittering – talk about an underappreciated hop! – Brewers Gold, with its grapey, pungent, foresty, wild herb character. Add in some W-34/70 and we’re off to the races.
Did I mention that this batch is going to be a 3 gallon BIAB? It’s Keeler Rules today … so cute, it’s like an HO scale model brew session.
MMXII American Amber Lager
Target OG: 1.048
- 95% US 2-row
- 4% Belgian Caramunich
- 1% Weyermann Carafa II Spezial
- 154F for 75″, 170F for 10″
- Brewers Gold hops (pellet, 6.5% aa) to 40 IBU
- Liberty hops (whole, assume 3% aa – I used 0.5 oz for 3 gallons) – hop stand for 15″ after boil, prior to chill
- W-34/70, 2nd gen., pitch at 55F, free rise to 58F over the course of primary
- rack, lager, keg, pour, wipe off the foamstache, top up