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Smoky Brewday: Letters from Lichtenhain

So, I have had about 5 pounds (a couple of kilos) of smoked malt sitting around, losing their smokiness. I was kicking around the idea of trying to make some kind of experimental brew. The malt is probably six or eight months old, and so it will not be as smoky as it was when I first got it; on top of that, I only have a few kilos, so I am leery about trying to make a smoky beer unless I use 100% smoked malt. That meant a low-gravity, smaller batch, even if I do add DME. It looks like I can, if I have adequate efficiency, probably get something like 3 gallons 1.045 wort from that smoked malt, which immediately suggested the possibility of making a smaller beer for maximal smokiness…

… but I had a feeling a smaller beer would need something else to make it interesting, even with the smoke.

Enter the Lichtenhainer, a brew that has historically varied (higher and lower) than 1.045, but with a number of references to that approximate gravity. Supposedly, these beers were brewed by fermenting a smoked beer made with 100% smoked malt, and then inoculating it with lactic acid bacteria after the completion of fermentation.

You can read more about that over at Shut Up About Barclay Perkins, a wonderful blog exploring beer history.) The author there also has lots of other wonderful information about the style, and notes that the claim these beers were “weisse” beers doesn’t, for a lot of older descriptions, mean they necessarily contained wheat: weisse in the old days meant light-colored. My first attempt at a Lichtenhainer is going to be an all smoked-barley batch, or, well, the grain is going to be all smoked. (I’m cheating with a little DME to make a 5 gallon batch at about the right OG, and the barley is a bit old, so it will be a lighter smokiness, I think…)

The problem for me is that I can’t get a pure lacto culture, and also doubt I would be able to drink the beer in time to prevent it going over-the-top sour… so for me, the best alternative for now is a sour mash, for a portion of the brew. (Randy Mosher claims it was usually about 0.2% lactic acid, which is not so very high; my version might turn out a little more sour, but I’m only planning on sour mashing it for something like 36-48 hours, and it’s only a portion of the grist. I like this option better than Mosher’s, of simply using 25% sour malt — I figure a nice fresh sourness can go a long way!)

I’ve read the Lichtenhainer style is hazy, but I’d like to try get it clear, or at least see if it’s possible, so I’m going with Kolsch yeast and a lagering period as well as perhaps gelatin finings — because the idea of something that serves crystal clear, but tastes like sour and smoke appeals to me somehow, I guess as a kind of contradiction or something. I may throw in just a small amount of melanoidin malt, as well as mashing the non-soured portion of the mash at a medium temp for a balanced body. I decided to mash the main mash in the high end of the mashing range, but it dropped down to the low end after a while and I just let it go. I figure the brew should be malty enough with the DME I’ll be adding.

Other than that, the recipe specifics are simple:

Grist: 5lbs of (oldish) smoked malt, with a portion (about a third of it) sour-mashed in a mini-cooler for 48 hours + 0.95 kilos of LDME at boil time, to bring it up to 1.045 OG for a 5-gallon batch. I figure adding DME won’t take away the smokiness much, and one recipe I read called for precisely 5.5 lbs of smoked malt, along with some rauchmalz. Well, I’m having the smoked malt do double duty, and certainly will do the same again if I end up having enough smoked malt on hand anyway! (It’s so easy to sour your own malt, after all.)

Hops: 23 IBUs of Hallertauer — about 2oz./56 grams (but in a pinch, any noble hop would do, I imagine)

Yeast: Kölsch (Wyeast 2565)

Mash temp: (for main mash) 64°C

Boil: 90 min

Fermentation Temp: Approx. 14-15°C, for a more lager-like result, although temperatures will fluctuate between 13°C and 16°C. I plan on fermenting this side-by-side with the California Common Beer I have going now.

On Sour Mashing:

While I had really good results with souring a wort prior to boiling it, but after mashing out, I decided that I would once again try sour-mashing a portion of the mash a few days prior to starting the main mash. I have a cooler large enough to hold a good kilo or so of malt in a thick mash, so I figured that would work. I thought about inoculating with wild lacto, by leaving the mash open out on the balcony for twenty minutes or so, but ended up going with the traditional method of throwing some loose, ground pilsner malt onto the mash and sealing it up tight, with as little headspace as possible.

Having done that last night, and then wrapped the mash tun with a hot blanket and set the whole under a stainless steel boiling pot turned upside down, I can say that the souring has certainly begun with a vengeance. The smell is, well, it smells like a sour mash, though tending towards the clean and less towards the vomit/garbage side of the spectrum. (Hopefully because I managed to minimized oxygen inside the cooler.)

I’m thinking that mashing, sparging, and boiling this is going to end up being my Sunday night project, after dinner with my crit group. If I start the mash late into our meeting — and it really doesn’t take much work to do that — then I should be able to sparge by 8 or 9 pm, boil by 10 pm at the lastest, and have everything done by not too late after midnight. Especially if I remember to do one step I keep forgetting, which is to use a cheese cloth as a pseudo-filter in the bottom of the brewpot mash tun. (So that I don’t have to vorlauf like hell for an hour and still have more bits coming through.)

One thing I can say is that while there is a subtle smokiness to the mini-sour-mash, it’s nothing like what I was hoping for. I know now that I’ll have to try again if I want to make a proper Lichtenhainer of the smokiness I was hoping for. Still, this should without a doubt be an interesting beer, and a very worthwhile test run.

And since it’ll build up a nice Kölsch yeast cake for me, I think my next attempt with this yeast ought to be a proper Berliner Weisse, not cloudy like the last one I made, but absolutely, sparklingly clear… more on that next time!

If you’re interested in sour mashing, I’ve written up a little guide for brewers. It’s not exhaustive, but I’ve included a lot of ideas and suggestions in the post. It’s here, for those interested.

UPDATE (27 Sept., 12:03 am):

I’m running off the wort. This is always a bad thing to be writing at midnight on a school night. But it had to be done today, the sourness was optimal and it would have gone bad had I left it longer.

The wort is a very bright blond color, and has a delicate smokey aroma, along with just a faint hint of that cheesy sourness. That said, I’ve done partial-sour-mashed beer once before, and while the beer didn’t turn out all that well, I learned one thing: perceptions at the point of runoff don’t necessarily translate to perceptions in the finished beer. I think the sourness will not be overwhelming, but it will be more noticeable in the final product than in the wort — preboil or post-boil alike.

That said, I am kind of tempted to put this off one more night: to run off all the wort into a container, insulate it, and sour it a little more. I likely won’t — I have no way of keeping it warm, for one thing– but it’s a good instinct. I think more sourness and more smoke would complement one another. But since I can boost the smoke, I’m going to leave the sourness at a lower level too. I am hoping they’ll match one another approximately.

(I can always do the crazy, sour-as-hell mash later, once I’ve smoked my own malt.)

UPDATE (27 Sept. 3:06 am):

Damn. This is taking longer than I thought. I oversparged considerably, which shouldn’t have been a problem since that’s only true by my old (under-sparging) standards. But I also ended up mixing up the burners on my oven, and ended up boiling the wort on the smaller burner, which means a lower boiloff rate. Which means I need to boil this wort longer.

The nice thing is, the kitchen smells basically like smoked gouda. I don’t smell Hallertauer hops, didn’t even smell them when I pitched them into the boil pot. Just smoked gouda.

I’m looking forward to tasting this beer… but I’m going to have to boil and chill, and I think it means I’ll be getting about 5 hours of sleep tonight. Which is not good.

UPDATE (27 Sept. 1:29pm):

Note to self: now I know exactly how much wort to collect for a 2-hour boil to get just a little over 5 gallons. That sucked. But I have figured out why I was getting different boiloff amounts with different boils, which is something.

As for this beer, of course it didn’t start bubbling in the night, as I over-cooled it (on purpose). The yeast is replicating now, and if fermentation hasn’t yet begun when I get home, I’ll aerate once more.

The resulting wort is a fascinating shade of orange, vaguely reminiscent of the brownish hue that cheese takes on when smoked. I had no idea such pale-looking malt would develop that color during the boil. Of course, that’s probably only part of why the beer ended up the color it did — the last hour of the boil was very hot (I used an immersion heater along with stovetop heat), and that can do a lot in terms of beer color. Also, the DME I added was considerable, and was added with only 15 minutes or so left in the boil. But I think the color is pretty interesting, and appealing.

The taste of the wort from the gravity sampler was, well, nothing special, but it’s a low-gravity beer and I wasn’t expecting to be blown away by it. This one will, I hope, shine more when it’s finished, cleared, and sparkling in the glass.

UPDATE (29 Sept. 2011):

Good krausen this morning. Looking forward to seeing how this turns out. The airlock activity is still slow enough that sniffing the airlock revealed nothing, but it started after 48 hours, which at this temp, with no starter, is pretty good.

(And now I should add: I need to start getting yeast starters going. Time to get or build myself a stir plate…)

UPDATE (15 October 2011):

Well, this was a weird one. I filled up my carboy quite full on it, when I probably should have boiled the wort down further (say, for an hour longer) so I ended up with what I’d guess is about 5.75 gallons of wort. The ABV on this beer is therefore relatively lower than the estimated one, though efficiency issues are also partly to blame. In any case, my result is a 5-gallon carboy plus about 3L in assorted bottles.

The FG was 1.012, or at least, that’s how it seems at the moment. I’m going to leave the beer in the keg for a few days before I begin lagering the beer. It’s a cloudy orange hue, quite unusual-looking, and I think when it’s cleared (which I’ll likely have to do with gelatin, as I am not sure I want to lager this beer for as long as six weeks!) it will be interesting… but the smoke is very faint, the sourness is very mild, and all in all, I think it’s more of an easy-sipper than an experience. Indeed, my first impression was that it reminded me of fruit juice, though not any specific fruit… some kind of faintly smokey, alien fruit, I guess.

Not to worry, though: I will be trying again, with some home-smoked malt, in November. I’ll be preparing malt for a few special beers: a Grätzer, a classic Rauchbier (I think brewed with Marzen yeast, ie. yeah, really a lager), and something else… perhaps a smoked porter or something…

UPDATE (17 Oct 2011):

Okay, I couldn’t wait, and the beer is very, very young, but I tried it from a bottle. There was a nice, thick head that dissipated quickly, leaving a strange white residue floating on the surface (I’m guessing it was yeast). The color is basically very pale, though with a vaguely orangey tint to it. I expect the beer would be more attractive if lagered to clarity, and I’ll get hitting the keg with some gelatin. The Kolsch yeast is very powdery, though, and I doubt it’ll be clear in time. Which is fine: on one level, this beer served as a starter for a bigger Kolsch-based brew, and an experiment with smoked malt. The aroma is odd, with a significant resemblance to the aroma of the original sour mash. I’m surprised that didn’t all boil away, and I’m guessing it’s a consequence of the sourness and smoke mixing in a cheesy way. The warmer the beer gets, the smokier it smells, but cold, it smells like sour mash.

It’s not overwhelmingly sour, but there is an unmissable tang and aroma; the smokiness is much more subtle than I expected, which, since this was mostly smoked malt (plus a little DME) means that the malt must have been even older than I thought. Still, the smoke does manage to add some complexity and even, on first tasting, a vague hint of smoked-meatiness. It’s a brew I think will only improve with time, but I also suspect it’s the sort of thing I’ll want to BMBF into 500 ml (or smaller) bottles, instead of keeping it on tap. One doesn’t need more than an occasional hit of smoked sour beer, after all. Maybe I’ll change my mind after making a proper Classic Rauchbier with very freshly home-smoked malt… we’ll see.

It is, however, very low ABV, and thus very drinkable despite its absolute oddness. I find it an interesting beer, but I want more smoke, and a touch higher ABV (I think 4% would be fine on this brew, especially if it were smokier and a touch more sour).

Pictures! I’ve been taking pictures of all my beers but I haven’t put any into the blog posts. It’s about time. These aren’t great pictures, but they’re better than nothing.

Having recently shot a horror film, this lighting seems acceptable, and does get the color across a bit:

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