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Munich Helles Brew

January 21, 2011

With my keezer (mostly) setup, I figured I can do lagers now.  Being a little tired of the sweet-ish beers I’ve been making, I decided I wanted something relatively dry and I initially thought I’d make a Helles Bock.  Listening to The Jamil Show though, it was mentioned that it might be a good idea to make a Munich Helles to get the proper yeast cell counts for the high gravity Helles Bock.

Despite the lower yeast requirement for the Munich Helles, I still need to do a starter.  This works nicely with my stir plate now finished (to be updated one of these days), so I picked up a 2-L Erlenmeyer flask, some yeast nutrient, and Wyeast 2487 – Hella Bock yeast.  I let it ferment out over a couple days on the stir plate, allowing me to decant the beer and just pitch yeast (more specifics on the procedure post-stir plate in the “Brew Day” section below).

I’m a little worried about water chemistry with this as it doesn’t involve very highly roasted malt (90% Pilsner, 5% Munich, 3.5% Cara-Pils, 1.5% Melanoiden).  I’ve considered making water treatments per documents found on the MHTG’s website, but I think I’ll hold off this time.  For future reference though, I was thinking about taking the approach of boiling the water the evening before to precipitate out bicarbonate.  To achieve a sufficient reduction, it was suggested to add Calcium Chloride (1g per gallon) as well prior to the boil (which would leave me deficient in Calcium in the end and would require me to add more to the mash).  Alternatively, I could do a dilution with distilled water and add Calcium – again in the form of Calcium Chloride to accentuate maltiness (as opposed to Gypsum which would emphasize bitterness).  This water treatment might also help improve my efficiency.


BeerSmith Recipe


You know how I’ve been complaining about my efficiency lately and about how I’ve felt it could be the mill at the brew shop?  Well, I noticed a sign next to the mill when picking up the grains for this brew.  It was something to the effect:  “We recommend you mill your grain twice to get good efficiency without pulverizing it.”  WTF?  I’m reminded of a time early on when my wife went with me to the brew shop and she asked the guy if he thought the crush looked good and if I might want to run it through again.  Apparently in a dismissive tone (I was neither aware she was going to ask, nor present when she did), he responded that that can’t be the problem and that milling it again would screw something up (she wasn’t able to recount exactly what he thought would be the problem).  Now, any LHBS is better than none and I like to support local business, but I’m not getting a good feel from this place.  Over-priced, less friendly than Main St. Brew, less knowledgeable (?), anything else?  I won’t be sad when it’s not my LHBS anymore (especially considering the expansion I’ve heard Main Street doing) but it’s anyone’s guess when that could be.

Brew Day (1/23/2011)

I lied and went ahead with some minor water chemistry adjustments.  Per a guy in the brew club (MHTG), I added some Calcium Chloride to my water and boiled to get as much bicarbonate out as I could (it starts in the mid-300 range).  From that, I added more Calcium Chloride to the mash (3 grams per this brewing water chemistry calculator).  It would have been better to add Gypsum, but I didn’t happen to buy that yet (that might be the thing that I save for next time to compare).  The extra Chlorides should contribute to a more malty beer, but hopefully it’s not overboard.

Pre-boil gravity ended up about 4 points short, but given that my last two brews were 10 and 15 points off, I’m pretty happy.  In fact, by the end of the boil I was only 1 point low.  This improvement from 4 to 1 point off, comes at the expense of an increased boil-off rate.  I ended up with right at 3 gallons as opposed to the 3.25 I was shooting for.  Looking at the wort, it’s really light and clear, so I don’t think any harm was done by the more vigorous boil (and it’s possible that it helped drive off more DMS? – which is a particular concern with a recipe of ~90% pilsner malt).  All in all, I ended up with ~60% efficiency.  I’m not giddy with excitement over it, but it’s definitely in the right direction.  The next brew I do – assuming it’s a darker beer – will hopefully let me know how much of this improved efficiency was due to the double-milling and how much was due to the water adjustments.

During the boil, I noticed a lot of junk floating around.  I’m hoping it’s just hot break and I’m not used to seeing so much because I have been doing dark beers.

Post-chill steps:

  1. Brew day
    1. Chill wort to room temperature (took ~10 minutes from boiling to <60 F)
    2. Strain into carboy
    3. Put carboy into keezer
    4. Put starter into keezer
    5. Let both acclimate overnight
  2. The next morning
    1. Decant beer from starter
    2. Siphon wort from carboy into erlenmeyer
    3. Fill a second carboy with wort
    4. Mix up starter and wort in erlenmeyer and pitch into carboy w/ wort
    5. While carboy is still mixed well, siphon off into 3, 1-gallon jugs (this is necessary instead of leaving in carboy, because I don’t think I’ll be able to fit the carboy and 2 kegs in the keezer at the same time after I keg up my scotch ale – if it turns out that I can find enough room for both kegs and carboy, then i guess I don’t need to, though (e.g. if the collar allows this to work by moving the CO2 outside or something))
    6. Keep keezer set to ~45, since the temperature in the carboy(s) will gradually increase as fermentation takes place and I don’t want it to get >50.

So, I followed this procedure for the most part, except I didn’t wait overnight to let the yeast and wort acclimate.  Given the fact that I cooled the wort to <60 F with the wort chiller and that I’d had the small volume of starter in the keezer most of the day, I transferred the beer to 3 fermentors and pitched in the evening (after finishing in the mid-afternoon).  One lesson for next time:  the yeast cake in the starter was very compact and I don’t think I got even distribution of it to the 3 fermentors.  In the future, I think I can fit a 5-gallon carboy in the keezer (especially with a collar installed), so I’m not going to try to separate my lagers into multiple fermentors.


I don’t remember exactly, but I recall fermentation starting at a good time, given the increased CO2 capacity of the cold beer (~2 days).

Sample after 2 weeks: Very pretty, clear beer but definitely not finished.  Gravity was 1.021-ish, it was pretty sweet, a little sulphur smelling, maybe diacetyl (my senses are far from polished or perceptive).  I’m hoping that I’ll be able to track relative improvement over the next week or two (along with lowering gravity readings) until it’s good.

2 weeks & 2 days: The gravity was down to 1.019 and it seemed cleaner.  Maybe I’m just less picky, but I really liked it.  The aroma was still a little off and it was definitely too sweet, but even in its current form, it was really nice.  It’s reassuring to see the gravity to continue to drop.  Being a lager, I’m not exactly sure what to expect and the airlock isn’t helping me much.  I’d rather not keep my head in the keezer for 5 minutes to see a bubble, so I haven’t “seen” any activity for quite a while (though there is a nice froth on top).

3 weeks (to the day):  The fermentor that got most of the yeast (recall my unequal distribution on brew day) is no longer bubbling.  I took a reading on it (it’s the same fermentor I took the other two readings on) and it’s at 1.012.  Tasting it along with the gravity readings has been pretty cool.  They’ve both clearly shown the beer continuing to ferment and clean up.  Now I can tell the other two fermentors still have some bubbles on top, so I need to let them go for a while, but I’m starting a gradual cool down to lager temps (though I might not go clear down to ~32 F).  I’ll try to remember to drop the temperature 1 F each day until I get down to ~40 F at least.

4 weeks: I was hoping the other 2 fermentors would finish pretty soon after the first, since they only took another day or two to start, but an extra week after the first finished, the other two still show signs of fermentation.  Taking a sample confirms this, with the more active of the two reading 1.014 and tasting like it (some residual sweetness).   I have slowly (1 F/day for ~5 days, 1 F/2 days for a couple after) lowered the temperature, so I imagine that has something to do with the increased fermentation time.  I suppose I’ll leave the temp at the current 42 F until the other two show that they’re done.

Since my first fermentor finished, I bought a 6-pack of Spaten Premium and I have to say my beer is better.  Of course a lot of that has to do with the skunkiness of the Spaten after sitting in green bottles for god-knows-how-long, but it’s still reassuring to know that it is a more pleasant drinking experience than a well-known commercial example.

4 weeks and 3 days: All the fermentors look about the same and the fermentor that was reading 1.014 last time is now at 1.012, so I guess they’re done.  I’ve set the keezer to 35 F and I’ll let it chill there for a while.  I might give it the rest of this week and next before kegging, we’ll see.  I’m less excited about brewing the Helles Bock now – though it’s only because I’m getting more excited about other things I’ve been thinking about (Saison, Alt, etc.) – so I think I can wait another week.  My Oatmeal Stout is also finished, so I can get my brewing fix this weekend by kegging it and brewing another ale with its yeast (though obviously not the Saison or Alt I mentioned above).


NHC Regional Evaluation

Final Assigned Score:  19.5

This beer was clearly not well-received.  I need to remind myself that it’s my first lager and I had no idea how it should taste to keep from being embarassed about this.  I do stand by my claim, however that it was tastier than the Spaten Premium or Esser’s Best that I tried.

Essentially, it had a lot of diacetyl (which I think came from the accidentally under-pitched jugs) and other flaws (sourness, acetaldehyde).



From → All-Grain, Brews, Lager

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