Brew Day, June 2018 – Hopleaf Mead

This month saw the brewing of a hopleaf mead. This is rather a strange-seeming batch, and a bit of an experiment, just to see if some 15th-century Venetians knew what they were talking about. (I opted not to make anything overly complex because it’s been in the low 90’s and humid. Also, we’ve been getting pavilions ready for Pennsic outside, which is hot, sweaty, and tiring. Firing up a burner was definitely counter-indicated.)

The hopleaf mead experiment stems from a passage in a Russian book on brewing. In it, a professor writing the foreword cites Ambrosio Contarini, part of the Venetian Embassy to the Shah of Iran from 1472-1475. On the trip back from Iran, Contarini and company stopped for about six months in Moscow. Part of the story of his travels reads thus:

They have no wine of any kind, but drink a beverage made of honey and the leaves of the hop, which is certainly not a bad drink, especially when aged.

The “leaves of the hop” (hopleaf) really caught my attention. It reads that way in both Russian (“с листьями хмеля“) and, once I found it, the original Italian (“con le foglie del bruscandolo“).  My first thought was, certainly they don’t mean hop leaves? Contarini has to be confused about what part of hops gets used. I mean, the cones are green, and somewhat leaflike.

Intrigued, I dug a little further. “Bruscandolo” is Venetian dialect for hops (Google says that “normal” Italian would be “luppolo”; and a medieval Italian-English Herbal Dictionary even went with “lupuli“). Nowadays, it apparently means the hop shoots or tips, which can be treated like asparagus shoots or fern shoots, and cooked up in a variety of ways. (I’ll have to try Risotto di Bruscandolo, or Bruschetta Bruscandolo, next spring.) But I found another reference, again to a Venetian in period:

The principal imports of England are spices, sugars, and all sorts of fruit from Spain and France, wine, oil, and what they call hops (obloni), the flower of the hop plant, and the “bruscandoli,” needed for the brewing of beer…

This is from an English translation of some diplomatic letters from Giacomo Soranzo, the Venetian Ambassador to France. Now we’ve got several hop references and names; just to confuse matters, Soranzo describes “hops” and “bruscandolo.” Fortunately, he specifies “hops” as “the flower of the hop plant.”

Given all of these varying terms and such, until and unless I find anything different, I’m going with the notion that “hops” (or “obloni“, and maybe “lupuli” as well) are references to the hop flowers/cones, and “bruscandolo” is a reference to the plant as a whole. As such, it makes some sense to assume that Contarini meant the actual leaves. What one would get from them, I have no idea; all of the bittering oils are found in the cones. Hopleaf might (might) give you some tannins. There’s bound to be some natural yeast there, as well. But experimenting is in order.

I brewed this up as a 1-gallon batch of sweet mead, Cascade Hops, used in Hopleaf Meadand put three full-sized, mature hop leaves into primary, lacking any indication as to how much to use. I rinsed the leaves, just to ensure there weren’t any spiders, insects, aphids, or the like. The particular leaves I used were from one of my Cascade mounds, for the reason of ease of availability–I’d have had to go across the field to get Magnums or Willamettes, and did I mention it’s been hot?

Having acquired the leaves, it was time to assemble the rest of the recipe. I’ve got about 20 pounds of Clover honey left over from a previous meadmaking spree. Three pounds or so into a gallon batch makes for a decently sweet mead. I’d thought about using K1V-1116, but didn’t have any on hand, so I opted to go with EC-1118 instead. They’ve got similar alcohol tolerances, and both ferment out cleanly. Also, after pondering things, K1V is a “killer” strain–it kills off other yeasts in solution with it. If the hopleaf is to add anything of a yeasty nature to the brew, going with EC-1118 will allow that to come out. The rest of the batch is pretty standard, with GoFerm and Fermaid O staggered nutrient additions.

Hopleaf Mead
Hopleaf Mead, prior to adding the final leaf. It also got diluted by almost half.

Hopleaf Mead (this is recipe #166 in my Little Black Book)

3.1 pounds of Clover Honey
1 packet Lalvin EC-1118 yeast
4.53 grams Fermaid-O (split into four additions, at 24, 48, and 72 hours, and on day 7)
2.5 grams GoFerm nutrient
3 mature Cascade hop leaves, rinsed

OG: 1.126

Five Minutes of Mead

I just realized that for all of my talk about brewing, I’ve neglected to talk about meads. While the majority of my mead recipes are for a full 5-gallon batch, I’ve recently discovered the joys of micro-batches. Here’s an article I wrote up for the newsletter of my local beekeeping association, discussing the process and providing a recipe for them:

Five Minutes of Mead with Misha

An issue many people have with making meads is finding vessels to use for the fermentation. As a homebrewer, I have a plethora of glass carboys of various sizes, from 7 gallons down to one-gallon. While convenient for me, they have a number of drawbacks: they tend to be large; they are heavy (especially when full of liquid); they are fragile, and tend to cut people when they break; and they can be expensive. A less-costly option would be fermenting buckets, made of food-grade plastic. These also come in a range of sizes. Plastic, however, scratches readily, meaning that they’re only really worthwhile for a small number of batches. Then there’s the issue of batch size: while you can brew a 1-gallon batch in a 5-gallon carboy or bucket, the extra airspace can be problematic for the brew. And brewing a 5-gallon batch requires a lot of honey: ten to fifteen pounds, or even more.

A simple solution is the use of pickle fermenting kits (readily found on Amazon; I think I saw a kit in Wegman’s, a while back, as well) and Mason jars. The kits consist of a Mason jar lid, which has been drilled and fitted with an o-ring to hold a standard homebrewing airlock. These are available in both wide- and narrow-mouth styles; I’m fond of the wide-mouth, for ease of adding things to the mead as I feel the urge. Quart jars are readily available, easily cleaned and sanitized (sterilized, even), and make the recipe math fairly easy.

Generally speaking, the amount of honey used will have the largest impact on the final sweetness of the mead. All other things being equal, using less than 2 ¾ pounds of honey per gallon will give you a dry mead; using more, up to about 3 ¼ pounds per gallon, yields an off-dry to semi-sweet mead. Going above that, up to about 4 ¼ pounds per gallon, gives increasingly sweeter meads, then above about 4 ½ pounds per gallon yields what is called “sack” mead.

Honey weighs about twelve pounds per gallon, give or take. Given that there are 16 cups to a gallon, a little kitchen math shows that four cups of honey would weigh three pounds. This means, conveniently, that one cup of honey in a quart is the equivalent of three pounds per gallon—a nice, semi-sweet mead. Want to drop it to two pounds per gallon? Only use 2/3 cup. Four pounds? 1-1/3. Little tweaks beyond that are a matter of tablespoons.

With all that said, here’s a fairly simple, “basic sweet mead” recipe, given in volumes for a quart; everything scales up directly to a gallon, or even five:

1 ¼ cups honey

Hot water to 1 quart

¼ packet of dry wine yeast (I recommend Lalvin K1V-1116, available here or here.)

  1. Put the honey in your fermenting container.
  2. Heat the water to a boil, then let it cool to just off the boil.
  3. Pour the hot water into the container, stirring to dissolve the honey.
  4. Let the liquid cool; when it reaches lukewarm (or below 100º F), add the yeast.
  5. Put the lid on the fermenter, and add water to the airlock.
  6. Give the vessel a shake twice a day for the first week.
  7. Leave the fermenter alone for about a month, then carefully decant the contents into a new fermenter, leaving behind as much sediment as possible.
  8. Once the mead is clear enough to see through, decant it once more.
  9. Let it sit another six months, then decant it a final time; now, you can put the “sealing” lid on the jar (ideally, not too tight-just enough to barely seal). The mead is ready to drink! It should keep a year or more in the refrigerator.

I’ve got another couple of articles that I can clean up a little bit and post, but this should be enough to get even the newest mead-maker started. Enjoy!

Brew Day, May 2018: Two brews, one experiment

Beer and a little watermelon while brewing

The brewday for this month went of well, with the weather finally deciding to cooperate after a solid week of rain. Downtown flooded, but as we’re on a hill, with a slope away from the house in all directions, we didn’t get any of that. There was a little water seepage in the cellar, but the full extent was a little bit of mud.

Two batches were brewed: a Pils for my friend Dominick, based on a Stella Artois clone, and an experiment for myself, which I’ll get to in a moment. The pils I believe is going to be nice, if not exactly “to style.” I don’t have a setup right now to truly lager, but I can ferment fairly cool in the cellar. It was a simple grain bill, with 9.5 pounds of Pilsner malt. The hops were Saaz, added at the beginning, and with 5 minutes to go in the boil (1.5 ounces and .5 ounces, respectively). Dominick picked out WLP830, German Lager yeast. Volumes came out decently, and the gravity ended at about 1.046; I think it’ll be about 4.5% ABV, and the color should be straw gold. The hope is to have it ready for Pennsic.

The other batch was, as I mentioned, a bit of an experiment. The recipe was a riff off of my “scaled” Braunschweig Stadtmumme recipe: Munich and Vienna malts, with a healthy dose of German hops. I went for the higher-Alpha Herkules, rather than Tettnang, partly because I wanted something with some bittering to balance the Munich, and partly because I wanted to try them out. Nottingham yeast, to keep things simple. (The full recipe will be below.)

The crux of the “experiment” part, though, was the mash. Rather than my typical infusion/batch-sparge style, I went with a direct-fired mash, starting everything (grains and water together) at room temperature. This, again, is based on my reading of the Mumme recipes. They didn’t infuse, nor did they decoct; rather, they heated the mash for an hour and a quarter. That timeframe confused me at first, because it almost sounded like they were “simply” mashing for 75 minutes. But the more I thought about it, the more I figured that a properly-shaped vessel, with a strong enough fire under it, would probably get the volumes given in the original recipe (2172 pounds of grain, with “enough” water) up to the right temperatures in about that amount of time.

I went with 16 pounds of grain overall, and water to bring the overall volume up to about 9.75 gallons (about 34 quarts, give or take). With a pretty low flame on my propane burner, it took me about an hour–near enough to the original time–to get to my target mash temperature of 152 degrees F.  I stirred constantly, to try to prevent any scorching, but still got a small amount (maybe 4 square inches of “scorch”).

My reasoning for starting from room temperature is that they didn’t specify any mash steps, and didn’t indicate adding the malt to hot water. The ramp up from ~70 degrees F progressively all the way to ~152 F took the mash through all of the intermediate steps–liquefaction, acid rest, protein rest, glucan, then saccharification. Rather than discrete steps, they “slid” up through the entire scale.

Once I had the mash at temp, I turned off the burner, and a friend and I transferred the mash to my “normal” mash tun (an Igloo cooler, with a false bottom). I let it sit another 20 minutes, partly to complete whatever conversion it was going to do, and partly to let the grain bed settle somewhat. Then I ran off the wort, using a large bowl to recirculate the first gallon or so.

My yield pre-boil was a little lower than I might have liked, netting about 6.5 gallons; while the kettle I fired the mash in could have held more, the cooler was about at its limit. (I either need to make the beer “smaller,” with less grain, or find a bigger mash tun.) Otherwise, everything went off without a hitch. The batch is currently happily fermenting in my cellar, and I’ll have to wait until next month to see how things have gone.

Fermented beer and leesOne other “achievement” for today was kegging last month’s batch. It turned out quite nicely, as a sort of “lawn-mower beer.” Pale golden, light in body, and astoundingly clear. In fact, here’s a picture of the last few inches of beer in the fermenter, with the sediment clearly visible through it. I think this will be a lovely Pennsic beer, nice and crisp and thirst-quenching.

This month’s recipe, with ingredient links to MoreBeer:

Closer to Stadtmumme

11 pounds of Munich Malt
5 pounds of Goldpils Vienna Malt
1.5 ounces of Herkules leaf hops (11.3% Alpha, first wort hops)
1 Whirlfloc tablet (15 minutes in the boil)
1.5 ounces of Herkules leaf hops (11.3% Alpha, 10 minutes in the boil)
1 packet Nottingham dry yeast

Direct-fire the mash from room temp up to ~152 degrees, over the course of an hour. Initial boil volume ~6.5 gallons. Boil 1 hour. Final volume, 5 gallons. Initial Gravity: 1.073.

Seven tips to help you become a better brewer

When I started seriously getting into brewing, I began scouring every resource I could find for tips on how to improve my brews. The tips I found seemed pretty simple–use fresh ingredients; pay attention to fermentation temperatures; “relax, don’t worry;” that sort of thing–but I quickly noticed that they all seemed pretty uniform. No matter where I went, everybody had the same advice. While the “normal” tips out there will certainly help improve your brewing, I’ve compiled a list of a few more “off-the-wall” tips I have collected on my own. Without further ado:

  1. Learn how to taste beer. Not how to drink beer, but how to taste it, the way that serious wine people do “wine tastings,” but without the pretension. Train your palate. If you can’t recognize that a given beer is bad (or a bad example of style), compared to a different one that is good, then anything you do to “improve” your beer will come up short.  More importantly, if you can’t tell why something is bad, you won’t be as well-positioned to critically taste your own brews, or improve them.  Going through formal Cicerone training is a formal way of doing this, but it’s a bit costly.  A simpler, more informal way of doing it is to organize beer tastings with small groups. Take time to try the beers at their “intended” temperatures, and sip them as they warm up. Discuss what you’re tasting; talk about what you’d like to taste in the beers, and talk through how you might get there.
  2. Try commercial examples of lots of styles. Try lots of commercial examples. Try multiple versions of styles. Try them from as close to the source as possible–and try them “aged,” or even slightly stale. Learn what styles you like, and what you don’t like. Learn why, and how to explain why. This will help you focus your brewing–there’s no reason to brew Bourbon Imperial Double-Stouts, if you don’t like them. Likewise, it will help you be able to recommend brews to others. (If you don’t know it’s out there, or don’t know what it’s like, you can’t recommend it.)
  3. Join a club, group, or find a brewing mentor. Good places to go for this include your local homebrew store. I’ve heard stories of unfriendly ones, but I’ve never actually been to one; usually, all of the employees are happy to help, however they can. Find your local homebrew club: if there’s not a small one locally, there’s bound to be a larger one that covers your region. A great place to find your local store or club is the American Homebrewers Association (there’s a link in the sidebar to join); I also recommend getting a membership, both for the online resources, and for the discounts on brewing books, as well as Zymurgy magazine. Go online: there are several forums, where you can get informal advice and mentorship from some very experienced people. (My favorite, at present, is HomeBrewTalk.) Having these sorts of connections will provide good discussions of styles, techniques, and equipment; it can provide exposure to more examples of styles; you can get access to more resources, and possible use of equipment. Most importantly, it’s a way to get feedback for your own brews.
  4. Brew a lot. Think of it as the beer equivalent to the “10,000-hour rule.” If you don’t brew frequently, it’ll be like a “new experience” every time you go to brew. You’ll never really build your confidence, or your knowledge of your equipment. Having lots of experience bumps up the chances of things going smoothly–and increases your “library of tricks” to fix when things go poorly. A corollary of this rule is “Be willing to dump a batch.” You can’t hit a home run at every at-bat. And sometimes things to irreparably wrong. You’ll probably not have to dump many–I can count mine on the fingers of one hand–but you’ll likely have to dump one at some point along the way.
  5. Keep copious notes. Notes on your brews. Yes, the recipes, but more importantly on how the brew went and what happened. What went well, what went poorly. Document the recipes, as well as (especially) on-the-fly changes, because the one time you don’t, you’ll brew up the best thing you’ve ever tasted, and you won’t be able to remember how, or to recreate it. When things go really wrong, you’ll have a written record to assist in fixing the issue later. When the brew is done, add tasting notes on it, to figure out whether to improve it next time, and how, or even to decide if you want this to be a “house brew.”  I’ve got my so-called “Little Black Book,” in which I record all of these things; I can look back on 14+ years of batches for inspiration, corrections, or just to reminisce.
  6. Learn your ingredients. Know what goes into your beers, and how you can change the brew by varying the use of those ingredients. Taste things, at every step of the way. Chew on some grains. Take deep whiffs of hops. Try a drop of different yeasts. Taste the wort–first runnings, last runnings, post-boil. Take samples of the beer during fermentation, and taste them. Try your batch before it’s carbed. This will give you some baselines for what a “good” batch/process looks like, so you can recognize when things go off the rails. I’m also fond of the so-called “SMaSH” beers, where you use a single base malt and a single hop variety. (“SMaSH” stands for just that: Single Malt and Single Hop.) You can use these to taste individual ingredients–and you can do them in series, changing one ingredient each time, to compare different ones. Do a series with different base malts (using the same recipe, up to a given gravity, with a fixed hop schedule). Then do a series with the same base malt, changing the hop variety each time. Do a series of the same recipe, using a different yeast. Only change one ingredient at a time, to get fair comparisons. And, importantly, take notes.
  7. Know your equipment. If you change things up every time, you’ll change your beer somewhat, even using the same recipe. When starting off, you’ll be building up to your “final system,” possibly for a long time. (While I’ve used the same setup for years, I’m still planning improvements.) But try to stick to a basic setup as much as possible. If you maintain it & learn it, you’ll be able to adjust recipes based on your equipment–your batch efficiency will be unique, and how you run the brew will change. (For instance, my setup does not lend itself well to decoctions–so I avoid recipes with decoction mashes, or adjust them to be “normal” infusion mashes.) Also, you can calibrate your equipment: set up volume markers; learn how much dead space various vessels have; learn your typical boil-off rates, and the like. If you’ve got one, and I suggest you acquire one, input this data into your favorite brewing software–this will help when formulating your own recipes.

Those are probably the biggest tips that I’ve got, beyond the basics. If you’ve got more tips, please let us know in the comments!

Silly idea about wood…

A thought struck me as I was drifting off to sleep last night.

While the current material of choice for wooden casks is white oak, this certainly wasn’t always the case. (I know that ‘traditional’ balsamic vinegar, for instance, is aged in as many as three different woods.) I would imagine that liquid-tight casks could be made from nearly any good, close-grained hardwood (fruitwoods, mostly). What sort of wood character would have been imparted to the brew by these?

Nowadays, we homebrewers have done a bit of playing with oaked beers, adding oak chips to our fermenters & letting them soak in the brew for a while…

And this is when the light bulb went off: I’ve got a bag of apple-wood chips (nominally for smoking things) that I could use instead of oak chips. I almost certainly wouldn’t get the depth of character that I’d get with oak; I imagine it would be significantly more subtle, and I’d have to be careful what brew exactly I used it with, to not overpower the wood. But it would be interesting. And I can easily get similar bags of chips of different woods–cherry, maple, etc.

I’ve simply gotta try this. Something for me to play with over the winter brewing season, I should think. I imagine a nice Vienna lager, with maybe either apple and/or maple. If preliminary tests go well, perhaps a brown ale (or even a porter?) with some cherry.

Have any of you done this? Did you get good results? Bad? “Meh”? I’d really love to know–please let us know in the comments. (Or, if you have ideas for good wood/beer combinations, post that, too!)

Three Beers from Brunswick

In trying to track down my “Holy Grail” of a pre-1600 Einbecker Bier, I stumbled across a mention of another of my favorite period beers: the Braunschweiger (Brunswick) Mumme. This reference was in “Hochtnutzbar und Bewährte Edle Bierbrau-Kunst”, by David Kellner, printed in Leipzig in 1690. While this is a bit post-period for my purposes, I’m confident enough to say that it’s “close enough” for horse-trading. Unlike Einbeck, Brunswick maintained a continuous brewing tradition, which inclines me to think that it was less likely to change significantly. (The brewing of Einbecker Bier moved to Munich after the 30 Years’ War, and there it evolved into today’s Bock.)

Kellner praises Mumme for its “exquisite strength, lovely taste, and thick, brown, beautiful color.” He also describes how it is carried far and wide over land and sea, for which the Braunschweiger brewers have created “Schiff-Mumme,” or Ship-Mumme. For their own usage within the town, they have a version called “Stadt-Mumme,” or City-Mumme; lastly, they make “Erndtbier,” or Harvest Beer, to sell to the peasants at harvest-time.

The description of what goes in to the various Brunswick Mummes is as follows:

Take two Braunschweiger wispels of quite well-washed and dried barley-malt, together with sufficient water for , and cook it for five quarters of an hour, scoop it into a vat and let it stand a little, then again it goes into the pan (but only the broth, without the malt), and once again for three hours with 15 himpen of good Country-Hops therein cook well. After this they cool in a vat, and allow them to be fermented adequately before they place it in barrels and bring it into the cellar, which afterwards, when it has sufficiently fermented and separated from the yeast, it will be tapped in the cellar and sent away. From this they receive commonly four half-barrels of Mumme.

The common City-Mumme, to be drunk quickly, take the same amount barley-malt, only 4 himpen of hops, and proceed as with the previous one. But if it is supposed to lie long, take 10 maß of hops to it, and put the brew in seven barrels.

For their Harvest-Beer they take two wispels of barley malt, 12 maß of hops, cook them with enough water for nine barrels of beer, in the same way as before, and clear it up, then they seal up the barrels, and sell it to the peasants at harvest-time.

First, let’s do an analysis of the brewing technique. It’s obviously different than the Berliner Beer process I’ve documented, particularly in that it assumes pre-malted grain. Judging from the above, I would guess that the “five quarters of an hour” portion is the mash, and it takes that long to bring everything up to temp, running it up from room temperature. It would obviously go through each stage of the various rests–liquiefaction, acid, protein, et cetera. I would have to run experiments (or dig up information on specific mass and heat absorption) to see if they’d get up to a good mashing temp in that amount of time.

Once they’ve got their “cooked mash,” they let it sit for a while, probably finishing whatever conversion is going to happen, before returning the liquid to the kettle. They then perform a three hour boil. I shudder to imagine how much fuel that must have taken. After the boil, they cool the wort, then perform what appears to be an open fermentation, before casking the beer.

One point of interest to me is that they’re using the same grain bill for these beers, “adjusting” them by varying the hopping rate and the output volume. It’s not especially significant, other than to note that modern homebrewers go the opposite route: we aim for a consistent output volume (typically 5 gallons), and adjust the grain bill and hops to meet that.

Another point to make here is that this helps dispel the notion of “brewing being mostly done in the home, for personal use.” They would need two vessels large enough to hold over a ton of sodden grain, plus the additional mash liquid. I’ve heard of ways cities got around this (which I will put in a different post), but this is obviously not “homebrewing” in any real sense of the word.

That being said, the next thing to do is to get the measurements into something usable to us. For definitions of the different measures, and for lack of something better at the moment, I’m using the Vollstaendiges Handbuch der Muenzen, Maße und Gewichte aller Länder der Erde, by Johann F. Krüger, which dates from 1803 (Google Books edition). Here’s what we’ve got:

  • 1 Braunschweiger Wispel is 329.1 gallons
  • 1 Himpen is 1/40 of a Wispel, or 8.23 gallons
  • 1 Fass, or barrel, of Mumme is 95.95 gallons (for the curious, 1 Fass of Bier is 103.62 gallons; I’m not sure why the difference)

Those are, where available, the Brunswick measurements (as for the Wispel). Failing that, I’m using the Saxony versions, unless I can reason my way into something different. The Duchy of Brunswick/Braunschweig was part of the Kingdom of Saxony, when it wasn’t independent–but that’s more history than I want to go into here. (Maybe I’ll go over it a bit in its own post, some day.)

From my own empirical observations, I get about 3.3 pounds of barley malt per gallon. The hops are problematic, as we don’t know for sure how they were packed. Are they using hop bales? “Trod” hop pockets/sacks (as used in Victorian England)? Loose hops? I’m going to assume some form of tightly packed (bales or pockets), and use that as an upper bound. Two sources (Stewart and Priest’s Handbook of Brewing, and Hornsey’s Brewing) give me bale and pocket volumes and weights of .83 to 1.25 pounds per gallon and 1.02 pounds per gallon, respectively. So, roughly 1 pound per gallon should work as a rough maximum.

Then there’s the water. “Enough” water can be difficult to estimate, but with a brewing calculator, we’ve got the information to figure it all out. I don’t have an analysis of medieval Brunswick water available to me, but it was likely well-water, and probably of moderate hardness. This would tend to promote somewhat darker beers than otherwise.

Anyway, if we plug in the numbers, the raw recipes look something like this:

2172.06 pounds of barley malt
123.45 pounds of hops
Final volume 191.9 gallons

2172.06 pounds of malt
32.92 pounds of hops, plus 2.64 pounds for dry-hopping
Final volume 671.65 gallons

2172.06 pounds of malt
3 pounds of hops
Final volume 863.55 gallons

Those are some big beers!  My calculations tell me that the Schiff-Mumme would need something north of 285 gallons pre-boil, and significantly more than that for the mash (considering the grain will absorb some). It also gives me an OG of 1.288, assuming 70% efficiency–which is likely optimistic. IBUs would depend largely on the hops being used; assuming something with about 3% AA, you’re looking at about 79-80 IBUs.  If they were using stronger hops, it would quickly bump up towards the (theoretical) 100 IBU maximum, but given that OG, you’d need some hefty bittering to balance it! The color, even if you assume something on the order of a modern Pale Ale malt, comes out roughly 20 SRM, which looks like a nice brown, darker than a Newcastle, say, but not as dark as a Dunkel.

The Stadt-Mumme needs about a thousand gallons of wort pre-boil. I’m seeing an OG of 1.078, with 40-ish IBUs. The color is significantly lighter, coming in at about 5 SRM, using Pale Ale malt.  And the Erndte-Bier needs 1285 gallons of wort pre-boil, clocks in at about 1.050, 8-9 IBUs, and about 4 SRM, or the same color as the Pale Ale malt.

But, as I mentioned, no homebrewer these days has the equipment to mash a ton of grain at a time. (If you do–please contact me; I’d like to talk.)  So, to make it work, we have to scale things down. Here’s what I come up with, to make 5 gallon batches of each:

56.47 pounds of grain
3.2 pounds of hops
Mash with 36 quarts of water

16.07 pounds of grain
3.9 ounces of hops, plus .3 ounces for dry-hop
Mash with 37 quarts of water

12.6 pounds of grain
.25 ounces of hops
Mash with 38 quarts of water

I’m not sure the average homebrewer would be able to brew up a Brunswick Schiff-Mumme on typical equipment. Not all-grain, certainly; although the adventurous could probably come up with a usable extract recipe. The Stadt-Mumme looks like a hoppy Oktoberfest, in just about everything except color. Playing with the grain bill, to move it away from just the base malt, would make for a really tasty beer. And the Erndte-Bier, well–it looks okay, if a bit strong, for quenching the thirst and providing some extra calories on a long workday outside.

In all of this, I’ve avoided mentioning what yeast is used. I haven’t seen any useful analyses that would point in one direction or another, and certainly no actual cultures from the time. I’d go with something German, or at least Continental, if possible; if it had a good alcohol tolerance, so much the better. The Schiff-Mumme, after all, is strong enough that even a Champagne yeast would have a hard time drying it out. An Alt yeast might work for the other two, but really, you should experiment and decide what you like best. I can imagine a California Ale/Chico/1056 batch of Stadt-Mumme being tasty, with the right hops.

I hope this has inspired you to brew a batch of Brunswick Beer! If you try any of these recipes, please let me know, either via email or in the comments!

Working Up To Bockbier

I will, one day, brew the full version of my proposed Einbecker Bier (the “original” Bockbier). That day, however, was not today.

Today’s Brew Day, on Saturday as opposed to the normal Sunday due to outside scheduling conflicts, was playing around a bit with the bones of the basic recipe (which can be found in another post–as soon as I get it written and published). I kept the 2/3 barley, 1/3 wheat grist, but scaled it back from a 1.078 SG to a planned mid-1.050’s–and then hit 1.068 anyway. This should bring the ABV down from about 7.5% to a more quaffable not quite 6%. I also stepped away from the Munich malt in favor of Vienna, which should give a breadier maltiness. (In my opinion, Munich can almost get overwhelming when used in large percentages–almost a chewy meatiness, if you will. It’s not bad, but generally needs to be either less than 100% of the malt bill, or hit with a large dose of hops). It also dialed the color back from garnet-amber to somewhere in the gold range, where the original Bockbier was (described in period as “golden”–and more detail will be in the afore-mentioned post).

Low-tech Brew Rig, starting out on Almost Bockbier Brew Day
My trusty, somewhat rusty, Brew Rig, ready to start heating strike water.

I’ve also fooled around with the hop schedule: where the original was all bittering hops all the time, I’m doing FWH and some late hops. This should add a bit of hop complexity, even though it’s still a single-hop beer. It’s all Tettnang whole-leaf hops, because I’ve got a bunch of them waiting to be used. (As of this writing, they’re harder to get hold of as whole-leaf; here’s a link to some Tett pellets.)

Lastly, I went with White Labs San Francisco Lager yeast. This choice was made to cover a number of issues. First and second, the temps in my cellar have been fluctuating around the low 50’s; too warm for most lagers, but too cold for most ales-and I want this to be more lager-like, which pretty much means Kolsch yeast or San Fran. Third, given the weather has finally turned, everyone is brewing this weekend, and the yeast selection at my LHBS was pretty well decimated. None of my first, second, or third yeast choices were available, so here we are.

As things are wont to do, technical snags abounded. My first propane tank ran out while I was heating the sparge water; when I unscrewed the regulator, its O-ring broke. After quickly scrambling and scrounging out all of the other suitable propane hoses I’ve got, I determined that none of them had functional O-rings. A trip to the hardware store later, and my channel-lock pliers had wandered off–making connecting my second propane tank complex.

But, all things considered, it was a good day. The weather was nice, beer was brewed, and no one was killed in the making of today.

The recipe, for the curious. This is #164, in my Little Black Book.

Almost Bockbier
9 pounds Vienna Malt
3 pounds Wheat Malt
2 ounces Tettnang leaf hops (3.7% AA, FWH)
1 tablet Whirlfloc (15 min. in boil)
1 ounce Tettnang leaf hops (3.7% AA, 10 minutes in boil)
1 packet WLP-810 San Francisco Lager Yeast

Mash at 156 degrees F.  Sparge to 8 gallons pre-boil.  Boil for one hour. OG: 1.068, 5.5 gallons into the fermenter. Ferment at “cellar temps” (currently upper 50’s F).
(Brewed 14 April 2018)

Fourteen Steps for Brewing Medieval Beer

While sorting through stacks of dusty, old German books, looking for beer recipes that might date to pre-1600, or hints as to where they may be, I stumbled across an interesting series of books: the Oeconomia, oder Hausbuch. They were put into publication beginning in 1563 by Johannes Coler, a German Protestant priest who lived from 1566-1639. He lived in various parts of what is now Germany, including Frankfurt and Parchim, but spent a significant part of his early life in Berlin. Coler’s father, the Provost of Berlin, was the Lutheran theologian Jakob Coler; Jakob authored the books, but was in poor health by 1600, and his son had them printed on Jakob’s behalf.

The topic of the books was a popular one at the time: Household Maintenance. This ran the gauntlet from keeping and maintaining the gardens, hunting, cooking, finances, etc. But the most important chapter, for my purposes, was Chapter 20 of the Second Book. This chapter was entitled: On Brewing. Here’s what it looks like:

One page of the German beer brewing text

To be sure, it’s only one brewing method (“how we do things here in Berlin”), but it’s better than most of the other stuff I’ve seen, which includes more than a little bit of guesswork.  And what’s better, it’s all recognizable! This is all stuff that has equivalents in modern brewing (mostly).  Let’s break it down, with my translation (slightly tweaked for readability, and modern language):

  1. Pour the barley into a butt, and leave it to soak there for three days and nights (in winter, four is as well).
  2. Pour the barley onto a platform, raised into a heap, until it begins to germinate or shoot.
  3. Stir it frequently, separating the grains from each other, until there is a small sprout at its tip.
  4. When enough of it has sprouted, separate the grains from each other, and dry it in the stove-room, in the sun, or in a drying-oven.
  5. Grind the malt coarsely, so that the meal is well-hulled.
  6. In a pot, bring water to “seething;” put the milled malt into the butt, and pour the hot water over it, and stir it together.
  7. Scoop the mash from the butt into the kettle, and stir it well so that it does not burn. If the malt is burned, the beer will taste burnt, as well.
  8. Put wood laths alongside each other in the butt, and pack around them tightly with straw to strain the malt out from the liquid. (The butt needs to have a tap in front.)
  9. Pour the cooked malt into the butt, on the straw, and open the tap, collecting the liquid in another butt. If there is a lot of malt, heat another kettle of water, and pour it onto the grain. (If you want good beer, you pour less water; if you want a lot of beer, but lower quality, you pour a lot of water.)
    The second page of the German beer brewing text
  10. Once you have collected the runoff, pour a little into the kettle, so that it is about one-third full. Add hops–if the beer is going to store for a long time, you need a little more hops; if it is going to be drunk quickly, you need less. Stir the hops in, and bring the liquid to a boil. (The boil duration is as long as you think necessary, which is learned by experience and taste).
  11. When the boil has gone long enough, you add the rest of the liquid to fill the kettle, and bring the whole volume to a boil (without stirring).
  12. After the boil, place a large basket over a butt, and scoop the beer into the butt, straining the hops out in the basket. (If you are making a small beer, re-use these hops in it, straining them out after the boil again.)
  13. Let the beer cool to lukewarm, then add an adequate amount of yeast: more yeast if there is more beer, but less yeast for a smaller volume.
  14. Let the beer ferment for one to three days (or eight days for a Lager Beer), then remove the yeast from the top, and pour the beer into a cask. If it will be drunk soon, let it sit for eight days to clear and carbonate. If it is a Lager Beer, let it sit for longer. Afterwards, tap the cask and drink.

The third page of the German beer brewing text.

That seems like a lot to process, I know, but it’s really not so bad once you unpack what Johann says. At its heart, there are three parts to this.

First, steps one through five take you from raw grain to ground malt. There are a pair of surprises here. The most obvious one is that classically, we’ve thought that brewers purchased “finished” malt from maltsters. According to this, that wasn’t the case, at least in some areas–and if there was a part of the world I’d have bet there were professional maltsters in period, it would have been Germany.

But the really interesting thing to me is the drying of the malt. The most common “thought-experiment” description of medieval beer says it would have tasted smoky, from being dried over wood. Here we have a choice of three methods to dry the malt: “in the stove-room, in the sun, or in a drying-oven.” The drying-oven sounds to me like what we’d call a kiln. While I have issues with the notion that all kilns inherently smoked the malt, I’ll grant that it’s possible.

Drying malt “in the sun,” however, sounds like you’re creating what I’ve seen referred to as “wind-malt.” (I’ll call it “sun-malt,” from here out.) Basically, air-dried. And “in the stove-room” sounds to me like the equivalent of “dry it in a warm, dry place.” While I can come up with a way for the “stove-room” to smoke the malt, however slightly, I can’t really picture sun-malt having any smoke at all. And either of these two would give you an extremely pale malt–easily as pale as the palest of modern ale malts. I’d say at most, you’re probably looking at between 2.5 and 3.5 degrees Lovibond.

Second, from six to about thirteen, you’re taking your malt and brewing beer. Again, there are a few interesting points. First, the “seething” water used in the mash. The German word used is “sieden,” which nowadays can translate as “to boil.” I submit to you, however, that the Berliners knew what they were doing, and knew that if the mash steeped too hot, you wouldn’t get good wort. (Modern science tells us that the malt conversion enzymes denature above about 160 degrees Fahrenheit.) Running the numbers through my brewing calculators, in order to cool a volume of boiling water to mash temperature, you’ve got to have so much grain that your mash wouldn’t work.

If, however, you bring your strike-water to a bit below boiling–seething, or (as the English have so poetically put it) “smiling”–your mash temperature will tend to even out in the 152 to 156 degree range, given a number of other variables. This is perfect mashing temperatures. (William Harrison, in his 1577 Description of England, calls several times for seething water.)

Scooping the mash back into the kettle and presumably heating it (all the while stirring it, to prevent it from scorching) looks to me like either decocting, or heating the mash up to “mash-out” temperatures (stopping the enzymatic activity)–probably the former. If the malt is of uneven quality, this would probably help to bump up the mash efficiency a little bit. I’ll have to do a bit of experimentation here, and update this with my results.

Straining the wort out from the malt is fairly straightforward. Pouring more water onto the grain to increase the volume of beer is sensible, as well. I find it interesting that they’re actually adjusting the quality of beer by adding more or less water–the end volume doesn’t seem as important, here, so much as the quality of the end result.

Then they fill the kettle a third of the way with wort, and boil it with the hops. The odd bit here is that they’re doing a partial-boil initially, then later adding the rest of the hops. I’m not certain the purpose of this–again, some experimentation will be forthcoming. (Another interesting point is re-using the same hops to make a small beer…)

Third, step fourteen, is fermenting, racking, clarifying, and (eventually) drinking the beer. The beer goes through what, for lack of a better term, I’ll call primary fermentation: up to three days, or “eight days for a Lager Beer.” Bear in mind, “lagers” in the modern sense were unheard of, at this time. This is attested to by the notion of “removing the yeast from the top”–skimming off the krauesen, or foam. If this were an English ale, we would call this “top-cropping” the yeast.

Having removed the yeast, the beer is now poured into its serving-cask, where it will sit for eight days, or–again, the interesting bit–longer, if it is a Lager Beer.  Either way, by most modern standards, this is really quite quickly done. Most modern ales are around a month old or more, when you’re able to buy them; lagers (in the modern sense) take at least twice as long.

But they’re calling for the beer to be “clear and carbonated.” So, apparently it works… Yet again, further experimentation will need to take place.

There you have it! How to brew beer, in the style of Berlin, circa 1596. Great! But what’s the recipe? Well, for that, you’ll have to wait for my next post. What do you think? Please comment below…

How, When, and Why I Started Brewing

The things I’m asked most often about when I started brewing are how, when, and why, exactly, I started.  To answer these questions and more, we need to set the way-back machine to 1994, when I was a young Sailor stationed in Hawaii.

At the time, I was in my early 20’s, and a bare novice at all things alcohol. The craft brewery scene hadn’t really launched yet, to say nothing of the homebrewing scene. Oh, I had been ‘introduced’ to beer–I did mention that I was a Sailor, right?–but when I had tried it, it was mass-produced swill, and the low-quality version, at that. (I was young, and the “premium” stuff was too expensive…)

What I was interested in, though, was cooking. I missed home-cooked meals, and the chow hall on base simply wasn’t cutting it. The house I was sharing had a lovely kitchen, but my cooking skills were mostly limited to grilled cheese and soup.  So, seeing an opportunity, I set about learning, by raiding the local bookstores for cookbooks. (I did mention that this was a while ago, right? the Internet was barely in its infancy…)

One fine day, while perusing the shelves in a Borders Bookstore which undoubtedly no longer exists, a book quite literally leapt out at me.  Seriously, it fell off the shelf. That book was The New Complete Joy of Homebrewing, by Charlie Papazian. Intrigued by the promise of learning “to make beer just the way you like it,” the book came home with me, and I devoured its contents in the space of a couple of nights.

It was about the same time that Sam Adams began distributing to the islands, and I had my first taste of the Boston Lager. To put it mildly, I was blown away, and hooked.

It wasn’t for another six months, though, in early 1995, that I put my first batch together. It took a series of things coming together. First, I had found a store that sold homebrew supplies. Second, I moved to a new rental house, with a different roommate. And third, we decided to throw a housewarming party. I scraped together a little extra cash and bought the basics:

  • A 10-quart pot, to serve as my “boil kettle”;
  • A 6-gallon plastic fermenting bucket, with a lid and airlock;
  • A bunch of siphoning gear (tubing, cane, wand); and
  • Two cans of malt extract, two ounces of hops, and a sachet of dry yeast.

I started the batch before we had even finished unpacking. I had my first boilover; we cooled the pot in the sink, and the freshly-pitched batch fermented happily away in the hall closet. I’m not sure exactly what the ingredients were–I was so new at it, that I didn’t even know what was important to record, at the time. I believe that it was Munton and Fisons malt extract (but can’t swear to it); I’m told it was a can each of dark and light extract. The hops were recorded as “one ounce of high-alpha hops, one ounce of low-alpha hops.” As to the yeast, your guess is as good as mine. (Thinking back on the batch, as best I can–this was over twenty years ago–and I’d probably use Nottingham, if I were to try it again.)

Subsequent purchases included bottles and caps, priming sugar, and a bottling wand. Two weeks after the batch was started, it was bottled; about three weeks after that, we had the party.

The beer was extremely well received, with favorable comparisons to Sam Adams. (By this time, I had discovered a local watering hole that carried hundreds of brands of beer, and my tastes had branched out considerably.) Most of it was gone by the next morning, but the feeling of satisfaction from knowing that I had made the beer, and that people liked it, remained.

Many batches followed that one; most of them were less successful. I was still largely flying blind, with just the one guidebook (and the one, very limited, source of ingredients). I had my first infected batch, and more than a couple of “drinkable, but less than tasty” batches. And then I moved back to the mainland; things paused for the duration of one military course, and two years in Japan.

But the urge to brew again never left. The instant I had another place stateside, I went looking for more information–and things had radically changed. There was a homebrewing community, and the Internet had happened (mostly), and craft breweries were popping up seemingly everywhere. And I’ve never really looked back.

Since that first batch, I estimate I’ve brewed nearly 500 batches. I’ve refined my technique, branched into meads and wines, upgraded equipment, shifted to all-grain, and things continue to move. When my wife and I got back into the Society for Creative Anachronism, that opened up the aspect of historical brewing. And things have continued to go, since then.

Let’s see where this all takes us.

Brewing Status Update, October 2017

I’ve got four types of hops growing, assuming the Sterling survive the winter.  They were looking a little weak, but then, so were the Magnums when they were initially planted, so I’m just sort of waiting.  The Magnums are doing pretty well–I actually got some hops from them.  Not much to write home about, but it’s a harvest.  The Willamette plant is absolutely going gangbusters–I need to dig up that crown and split it, this winter/early spring.  I’ll probably be able to divvy it up into six or eight healthy crowns, without trying very hard.  And the Cascades (all 3 bines) are doing quite well–I didn’t get as much of a harvest as I might have liked, but that’s on me, not on the plants.  Next year, hopefully, will be another story.

I’ve been trying my hand at beekeeping; so far, with much less success than I’d like.  I had two colonies last year; both absconded.  Started over with two this year; one has absconded, but the other appears set to at least go into the winter…  We’ll see how they fare.  These have all been Italian bees, and I think part of the reason for them absconding has been mite pressure, combined (this year) with some pollen-bound comb.  I’ve got an order in for two nucleus hives of Russian bees for next spring; they’re apparently mite-resistant.  If they work out, that’ll be outstanding; if not, I may take a break for a year & come back to the hobby again later.

In SCA terms, well…  The King felt it worthwhile to induct me into the Order of the Laurel two weeks back (!!!).  Reasons cited included my baking, woodworking, and a few assorted other crafts… but primarily my brewing.  Which is what brings us here today…

My goal, when starting the latest bit of research, was (and still is) finding a good semblance of a recipe for the original Einbecker Bier–the ancestor of today’s Bock.  I’ve seen references to it from numerous period sources, describing it variously as subtle, light, and “a paragon among all summer, light, hoppy beers.”  The beer was one of the main drivers for Einbeck joining the Hanseatic League; through the League, the beer was shipped as far as Novgorod, England, Italy, and even Jerusalem. (Reportedly, Hansa Hofs and Kontors even built special warehouses, to hold the casks of Einbecker Bier.)

A moment’s thought should bring a conclusion: the beer was likely big, in every sense.  Strong and hoppy.  The descriptions keep calling it “light;” that’s probably more a color thing than flavor–but experimentation may provide other insights; despite being at this issue for several years, now, I’m still pretty early in the hands-on part of the exercise… Maybe next year.