Octoberfest Season

Octoberfest beers are my favorite seasonal beer and I love Octoberfest season. In the US, Octoberfest beers begin appearing on the shelves in early September and remain available at least into early November. The actual German festival begins in mid-September, runs for two weeks, and ends on the first Sunday in October. German Octoberfest beers imported into the US are often of the Octoberfest Märzen type — malty, orangish-colored lagers around 5.5–6.0% ABV. However, you can also find imported Octoberfest beers in the ligher-colored festbier style. (Also note that German Octoberfests are almost always spelled with a “k” — Oktoberfest or Oktoberfestbier. Some US breweries also do this.) Of the German imports, Hacker-Pschorr — among the darkest and richest — is my favorite. However, as might be expected, there are plenty of German imports that are great and my preference is just a matter of opinion. Somewhat recently, US breweries have begun producing some spectacular Octoberfest lagers. These well-balanced beers taste great on a crisp fall evening. 

It’s not a tent in Munich, but I like my beer garden. Despite the name, Live Oak’s Oaktoberfest does not have any oak character. My arm has some poison oak character in this photo, unfortunately.

The best Octoberfest beers are malty, without any caramel or biscuit notes — just a smooth maltiness that mostly comes from Munich malt. (10 °L). The malty character may be accentuated by dark Munich malt (20 °L), melanoidin, or aromatic malt. Also, some Vienna malt (6 °L) — which is intermediate in kilning between Pilsner malt (2 °L or lower) and the Munich malts — may be present. However, a fantastic Octoberfest can brewed from a grist if 100% Munich malt. Neutral hops — noble hops in the case of actual German beers — provide just enough bitterness to make a well-balanced beer. The beer is not sweet, but it isn’t dry either. It has just enough body to feel a little more filling than a Pilsner, but not by much. Festbier types, brewed with mostly Pils malt, are generally a bit drier. The level of carbonation is within the usual range of lager beers. Overall, the Märzen style of Octoberfest is a malty lager beer with a bit more color and “heft” than a Pilsner, and with less hop bitterness. 

Another great local — or at least regional — Octoberfest lager.

US craft brewers have came a long way when it comes to producing Octoberfest beers. In the late 1980s through the early 2000s, most US “Octoberfests” were amber colored ales made with crystal malt in the grist and often showing a strong biscuit malt character. Sadly, some breweries still produce this type of beer. Many of these were also over-hopped, based on the target style. The best US breweries, however, started making lager beers that aligned with the traditional Octoberfest Märzen style and now there are many great examples. I live in Texas and the regional breweries Live Oak, Karbach, and Real Ale all make excellent interpretations of the style. (For what it’s worth, Real Ale was never a real ale brewery in the sense of brewing cask conditioned ales. They make both ales and lagers, including Hans Pils — which is one of my “go to” beers.) From discussions on social media, many homebrewers report local and regional breweries near them producing fine examples. 

For me, Octoberfests are an “indicator beer.” If a brewery or homebrewer can produce a nice Octoberfest, I have some confidence that the rest of their beers are decent. If you are brewing an Octoberfest, here is my advice. First, be fanatical about cleaning and sanitation. Even a hint of contamination — below the level that noticable off flavors are produced — can rob a malty beer of its malt flavor and aroma. Secondly, run an orderly fermentation — pitch enough yeast, aerate adequately, and hold the fermentation temperture in the proper range. Thirdly, if you are brewing an Octoberfest on the darker end of the scale, adjust your water chemistry. Make your water with just slightly more bicarbonate than the color would indicate is optimum. Not enough to throw your pH out of whack, just a bit. If you calculate residual alkalinity (RA), shoot for 1.3–1.4 for a beer that’s 13–15 SRM. Add calcium chloride such that you have 100–150 ppm calcium ions. Taste your treated water to ensure that it tastes good  — and of course eliminate any chlorine compounds through carbon filtration or with Campden tablets first. And finally, use  fresh, high-quality Munich malt.

With Octoberfest season winding down, winter warmers are up next. Prost!

Partial Mashing Positives

Like most homebrewers, I started out using the standard “malt extract with steeping grains” method of homebrewing. I can remember making a “pale ale” with two cans of liquid malt extract, a pound of crystal malt, and 2 oz. (60 g) of Cascade hops.

Later, I switched to all-grain brewing and was a bit of a purist for many years, only brewing all-grain batches. After all, my beers got markedly better when I switched to all-grain, why go back to an inferior method? Years later, I realized that it wasn’t the switch to all-grain that made better beers, it was all the other things I started doing at that same time. For example, I started making yeast starters. I started to evaluate my brewing ingredients and not brewing with stale malt or cheesy hops. And I started learning more about the science of brewing. [Read more…]

Tart Fruity 100% Rye Session Ale

100% Rye and Fruit make for a tasty tart beer.

Along with brewing moderate and higher gravity beers, I’m in search of interesting, drinkable, very low gravity beers to help with cutting calories (and preserving sobriety) while satisfying my beer thirst. Brewing with 100% rye has been one technique I’ve found to give me low alcohol and substantial body. A few months ago, I decided to combine this all-rye approach with wort souring and the addition of fruit.

Process

Let’s begin at the beginning. To six gallons (23 L) of filtered water, I added 5.0 pounds (2.3 kg) crushed malted rye. Using Brew in a Bag, I rested this thin mash at 150˚F (65˚C) for an hour. After removing the grain, I brought the wort up to 180˚F (82˚C) for fifteen minutes to pasteurize. I didn’t want any of the microorganisms on the grain to have any effect on my souring process. [Read more…]

Managing Tannins as a Beer Character (Part II of II)

375px-Tannic_acid.svgAs mentioned in the first part of this article, there are a few beers that might benefit from just a hint of astringency. Usually, the slight puckering sensation will offset or complement another character in the beer. (And, of course, we all know that noticeable astringency in most beers is going to be unwanted.) There are a couple ways you can get just a hint of astringency in your beer, if you want it.

Tannins are water soluble. They are more soluble in high pH solutions than low. And, like most water soluble molecules, they are more soluble in hot water than cold. Let’s first review what happens when you use continuous sparging with 170 °F (77 °C) water. In other words, if you sparge in the normal way meant to minimize tannin extraction. [Read more…]

Managing Tannins as a Beer Character (Part I of II)

375px-Tannic_acid.svg

Tannic acid, the molecule that gives its name to the class of polyphenols called tannins.

Tannins are a class of molecules found in plants. At high doses, tannins are unpalatable to animals (including humans) and are most highly concentrated in the parts of plants that need the most protection. Some types of tannins are found in barley seed, and hence are present in malt. Other tannins are found in hops. A small amount of tannins are extracted in the mash and in the boil. Some react with proteins and drop out of the brewing stream, but some do carry over into finished beer — and brewing scientists have found that a beer completely devoid of tannins does not taste right. However, as all brewers know, an excess of tannins leads to a harsh astringency that is unpleasant. So, most brewers strive to minimize the amount of tannins extracted in their beers. [Read more…]

Fruit IPAs (II: How to Brew a Fruit IPA)

DSCN3793Brewing a fruit IPA is no more difficult than brewing any fruit beer. The most popular fruit IPAs use fruits that either accentuate the citrus character of their hops (grapefruit IPA, blood orange IPA) or the tropical character in hops (mango IPA, pineapple IPA). See below for a list of hops with these characters. The best examples of fruit IPAs have enough fruit character that you can tell it’s not an ordinary IPA, but not so much that the underlying beer is totally obscured. As such, you really don’t need to alter your IPA recipe to accommodate the fruit — just decide how intense you want the fruit flavor and add that to the recipe. [Read more…]

Thoughts on Cleaning and Sanitation (I: Airborne Contamination) 

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Wort being chilled with an immersion chiller. The kettle is covered loosely with a lid. Steam from the boil sanitized the lid. I also drape clean T-shirts over the kettle while chilling to prevent airborne microorganisms moving vertically through the crack in the kettle lid.

Recently, I posted an article advocating that brewers think about cleaning and sanitation as a matter of degree rather than a “good enough”/“not good enough” dichoctomy. In this article, I’ll share some ideas to move your cleaning and sanitation practices from “good enough” to just a bit better than that. For the sake of completeness, I’ll cover some familiar ground, but I think there are a couple ideas in here that are not well appreciated in the homebrewing community.  [Read more…]

Rockville Gordon Biersch Collaborative Flemish Red

Mike Tonsmeire, The Mad Fermentationist, is collaborating with the Gordon Biersch Rockville, Maryland, location to produce a blended, barrel-aged Flemish Red, and we got the chance to get a preview sampling.

Mike Tonsmeire and Christian Layke with their barrels

Mike Tonsmeire and Christian Layke with their barrels

One of the best parts of being the producer of Basic Brewing Radio is attending the National Homebrew Conference (Homebrew Con) every year. We typically arrive a day early to take in some of the local beer culture wherever the conference takes us. This year, the get-together landed in Baltimore, and we were thrilled to have Mike show us around his neck of the woods, as he lives in the D.C. area.

Our first stop was a visit to the Gordon Biersch Rockville restaurant and its head brewer, Christian Layke. Christian is a former homebrewer and has been with Gordon Biersch for around eight years. He left a job with a non-profit environmental think tank to work with stainless steel tanks instead. [Read more…]

Brewing Liquor For Brown Beers (20–30 SRM)

Screen Shot 2016-05-24 at 3.51.03 PMFor brewers who want to start treating their water appropriately, but don’t want to wade through the requisite chemistry, here’s the third in my series of simple water guides. Today’s post is a quick guide to generating brewing liquor for brown beers, from 20 to 30 SRM. This includes brown ales, some porters, many dark lagers, etc. You begin with 5.0 gallons (19 L) of distilled water and add minerals to create your brewing liquor.

I will post the remaining guide — for pale beers (0–10 SRM) — soon. [Read more…]

Beer Foam (Part 5: Brewing Considerations)

DSCN2679Most of the time, brewers give comparatively little thought to foam. We brew our beers and foam appears on top of them. There is no single ingredient or procedure that creates foam, it simply emerges when a beer is brewed properly. However, there are things you can do when brewing that affect foam production and stability. It pays to understand these things, especially if your foam isn’t always what it should be. [Read more…]