Rauchbier 2012

>> Monday, December 24, 2012

Any fellow brewers reading through my posts would quickly realize I tend to brew more ales than lagers. For those not familiar with the difference, ale yeast is a top-fermenting yeast that tends to work best at warmer temperatures, whereas lager yeast is a bottom-fermenting yeast that tends to work better at cooler temperatures. Ale yeast tend to contribute more flavor to the finished beer (e.g. esters) whereas lager yeast generally contribute less flavor resulting in a "cleaner" fermentation. Because of the cooler temperatures, lagers ferment slower than a typical ale so they can tie up your equipment a little longer. They also require bigger starters for a healthy clean fermentation, so they can cost a little more to make. That said, I do enjoy a lot of lager styles and particularly the one I'm brewing today, a Rauchbier.

Rauchbiers are similar to Marzen/Oktoberfest beers, so they tend to be malt focused. The major difference is Rauchbiers use smoked grains and the smokiness carries through to the finished product which can be good or bad depending on how much you like or dislike smoked foods.

I've brewed two Rauchbiers in the past, the first of which was fantastic but the second one suffered from a horrible case of chlorophenols. Chlorophenols can manifest themselves as band-aid-like flavors and aromas. They don't age out and humans are pretty good at detecting them even at very low levels. There can be various causes but chlorine in the brew water is a common one especially when paired with smoked grains which are phenolic by nature. If you plan to brew this style it can't be stressed enough, you need to treat your brew water to remove chlorine. There's nothing worse than finding out after 6+ weeks of nursing this thing along that you've ended up with band-aid beer. Carbon water filters, pre-boiling your brew water, and Campden tablets are a few ways to remove chlorine. It's pretty easy to prevent so just take the time to do it.

This recipe is loosely based on the Rauch Me Gently recipe from Brewing Classic Styles. I've adjusted the grain bill slightly to adjust for my efficiency (typically around 85%) as well as availability of grain from my LHBS. I was planning on using Weyermann Rauchmalt but the LHBS was out so I went with Cherry Wood Smoked Malt from Briess. In my experience this malt imparts a lot more smoke flavor than Weyermann's beechwood smoked malt, so I'm only using 1.8 pounds. I also cold-smoked 2.8 pounds of Weyermann Pilsner malt over hickory that I'll be using in this recipe.

4.2 # Weyermann Pilsner
1.8 # Briess Cherry Wood Smoked Malt
2.8 # Weyermann Pilsner Malt (home-smoked with hickory)
1.5 # Weyermann Munich II Malt
0.625 # Weyermann Cara Munich III Malt
0.2 # Weyermann Melanoidin Malt
1.7 oz Briess Black Patent Malt
1.5 oz Hallertau (60 minutes)
0.5 oz Hallertau (10 minutes)
(2 packs) Wyeast 2124 Bohemian Lager in a 1.57 liter starter
Wyeast Yeast Nutrient

Mash at 154F for 60 minutes. 90 Minute boil.

Ferment at 50F. This yeast is known to produce a bit of diacetyl, so it's best to perform a diacetyl rest after primary fermentation is complete to allow the yeast to clean up after themselves. To do this, raise the temperature from 50F to about 60F for 1-2 days. After the diacetyl rest, lower the temp to 40F for the lagering period. Allow it to lager for at least 4 weeks before bottling/serving.

Brewing Notes
No notable issues on this brew day. Color is a beautiful reddish amber. It started snowing around noon which made me really thankful for the ability to brew in the garage. The ground water temps have dropped to the high 40's, so I was able to chill the batch down to about 59F pretty quickly. A couple hours in my ferm chamber and the wort was down to pitching temp of 50F. I tasted a small sample and it's got a noticeable but smooth smokey character that seems very balanced with the malt profile. I can't wait for this one to be ready. Efficiency was about 83%. This seems to be about where I've settled in +/- 1%. That's with using a .045" gap on my grain mill.

Update 12/26/2012
I've got a couple inches of krausen this morning so things are progressing nicely. It's also worth mentioning, this brew may not quite fit the BJCP guidelines for a Classic Rauchbier since it uses a blend of cherry and hickory smoked malt rather than beechwood smoked malt. When smoking meat, different woods will create different flavors in the meat so I'd expect the same with smoked malt. Case in point, peat smoked malt should be used in very small quantities as it can result in a very harsh smokey character. On the other hand, some rauchbiers are made with up to 100% beechwood smoked malt. Despite the fact that this recipe doesn't use beechwood smoked malt, I think it will still be close enough to enter as a Classic Rauchbier in a BJCP-sanctioned event.

Update 1/3/2013
Fermentation seemed to be slowing so I checked the gravity and I was down to 1.017, so real close to finishing. I started ramping up the temp for the diacetyl rest.

Update 1/7/2013
I dialed the temp down to 40F the evening of 1/5/2013 to begin the lagering phase. A couple things surprised me with this beer. First was how quickly it fermented to terminal gravity. It just goes to show how important proper yeast pitching rates are, especially with lagers. I think this is the first time I have used two yeast packs and made a starter for a lager.

The second was the level of smokiness in this beer. The cherry smoked malt is smooth but intense. I originally bought 2.8 pounds for this recipe but scaled it back to 1.8 after eating some of it and realizing how smokey it was. The home-smoked hickory is more subtle by comparison and the combination of the two should add a level of complexity. This one is still in the fermenter but I'll probably transfer it to a keg soon for the remainder of the lagering period.

Update 2/9/2013
I put this one on tap for Superbowl Sunday and I think it turned out very well. It ended up having a much more subtle smoke character than I'd expected. It's noticeable but very smooth which may be why it seems more mellow/subtle. I'd guess it's at a level that would appeal to more drinkers than if the smoke character were more intense.