zeit für brauen: 21st century American amber lager

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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

Grist:

  • 95% US 2-row
  • 4% Belgian Caramunich
  • 1% Weyermann Carafa II Spezial

Mash:

  • 154F for 75″, 170F for 10″

Boil:

  • 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

Fermentation:

  • 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
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13 thoughts on “zeit für brauen: 21st century American amber lager

  1. Nice. I have on hand a beer made using a recipe for the original Budvar, only I added a twist: Used Rahr 2-Row instead of Pilsner malt, and used Ultra hops instead of Czech Saaz. Tastes more like a German Pils (even though the Budvar yeast was used), but turned out fine.

    • That sounds really nice – I want to do a run of beers with a Czech lager strain this winter, and I may have to rip a page from that book for one of them using the rest of of my sack of Rahr malt …

  2. Agree 100% on the style argument.

    I love blending both traditional styles and creativity. I can buy an amazing pale ale, porter, or pilsner from lots of different breweries. Giving styles a new tweak is so much more fun.

    My homegrown cascades got ravaged by spider mites before I could harvest. Who would’ve thought we have those in South Florida? I’m jealous of you Liberty crop.

    • Truthfully, not that much to be jealous of … my yields were very low this year (I pretty much blew the entire harvest on this batch), although the quality seemed good. Hopefully next year is better all around!

  3. Spot-on assessment of the value of BJCP style guidelines — providing us a common language base to work from to talk about our own respective deviations.

    I really enjoy reading your blog and miss seeing your mug on Brewing TV…guess I’ll have to settle for the digitized word. Keep it up, Michael. At the risk of stroking your ego to near-fatal levels, you have a pretty influential role in the home brewing community (particularly here in Minnesota). So keep up the blog, sharing your insights, what you’ve learned, and probing us to get our beer nerdery on.

    Cheers.

    • Oh, you’re nice (and you’ve got a great first name) but I’m just a dude that likes to talk about beer. Homebrewing is a decentralized thing, and – especially on my mind this past week with all the chatter from industry figureheads about the craft beer bubble bursting and AB-Inbev & SABCo setting their sights on the craft market – it’s an unstoppable, underground movement that depends on each of us to keep the dream alive. So cheers to you, and home fermentationists everywhere!

      • I think much of the chatter is just hot air, business heads drawing comparisons to other bubble bursting events (real estate, tech, etc.) — but when it really comes down to it, few areas have the saturation levels they’re talking about, like San Diego, Portland, Seattle, San Fransisco. There’s still a lot of room for growth and prime opportunity for local expressions in the brew pub scene and as home brewing clubs and communities share and involve the public in their passions for locally crafted beer.

        Personally, I’m not too worried about AB-InBev & SAB immersing themselves into the craft beer scene — they may even create some interesting and flavorful beers in the process; and of course the masses will buy continue to buy it because they have the capital to market the snot out of them. But with that said, as long as home brewers like us continue to educate others and inspire curiosity to explore the “goat trails” of the true craft beer scene (especially as expressed from a local perspective), I think that craft breweries won’t be going anywhere for a long time.

        It’s like I was saying to someone on the Linked-In craft beer user group, the laws of economics will naturally weed out the crap brewers and those who are not creative or unique enough to stand out among them all. The “me too” brewers (as Kris England calls them) may make a pretty decent brew (making that hop-bomb IPA like everyone else) and may consume some of the market share, but I don’t see that as a problem. It just becomes a unique opportunity for new breweries to become inventive, resurrect long-forgotten beer styles (like Kris’ Patersbier), and create new and compelling beers. And if it takes a saturated market to force more inventiveness and creativity, so be it. I, for one, don’t mind the diversity and the market saturation.

        • I need to save some material for a post I’m working on, but I agree, Michael. There may be ebbs and flows, but craft beer will never go away.

          I think it’s important to consider the source(s) – large or large-ish craft brewers with multi-state distribution, which will probably see the biggest squeeze from both ends: the increased attention of industrial conglomerate brewers on the craft segment, plus the thousand-odd breweries in planning all over the country on the make for local tap space.

          Having said that, I also think a bubble is a fair read – the last time craft beer enjoyed this kind of popularity, growth, and national attention, there came a slew of me-too breweries that, for whatever reason one wants to attribute, didn’t last, and the rapid expansion was followed by a period of contraction. (Homebrewing went through a similar trajectory in those years.) But it didn’t last and the next generation came back stronger, so I don’t personally see a reason to be pessimistic.

          • So I should wait for the bubble to burst, so I can pick up the one barrel steam fired boil system and jacketed glycol fermenter cheap on E-Bay? Hah! – I’ll wait to see the full post in response when it’s ready. Great blog here, Mike.

  4. Sounds like a fine beer. I just brewed a Vienna this past weekend and broke all tradition by using Merkur hops and putting crystal 60 in it, so my SRM was off, too! Love that 34/70. Some good late January beers, I am hoping.

    • Hells yeah! I dig Merkur – it’s nice to have some quality higher-alpha options to get IBUs in a malt-forward lager without all the vegetal matter of a low-alpha noble hop.

  5. I’m glad you posted this, I’ve been a little less excited about brewing for a while and this is just what I needed to see.

    I’ve been brewing specifically for competition in the latter half of 2012 – in that time I brewed a special bitter 5 times, a mild 3 times, 2 iterations of an IPA and am planning to rebrew an APA and another Pliny Clone (with small adjustments) for UMMO and other competitions early next year. As fun and as much of a challenge as it’s been to see recipes evolve and scores go up, it has left me saying no to batches friends suggested or to other recipes that occur to me that maybe wouldn’t be ideal for competition, but would be fun to brew and would get the creative juices flowing.

    I think I need to find some middle ground where I brew some batches for competition (I love challenging myself and competing is a great way to do that), but I need to brew some batches just for fun. Batches that combine styles or don’t really factor them in. Maybe even some blends (think Firestone Walker)…whatever comes to mind.

    When you stay within some rigid confines, even with goals in mind, the magic and joy of homebrewing just seems to fade a bit.

    Time to think up some batches for 2013!

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