I’m starting to get geared up for the National Homebrewers Conference. I’ve got my ticket, I’ve got the hotel reservation, the baby sitters are lined up. Now I just need to get the beer ready. I’m providing 2 kegs for my homebrew club, and time’s starting to run out. I had better get brewing. I decided to make my American amber Harvest Ale and try my hand at a schwarzbier. The Harvest Ale needs a fresh hop flavor, so I’m holding off on brewing that until May. But the schwarzbier needs time for lagering, so I got brewing that right away.
Schwarzbier is a dark German lager. It is smooth, a little malty, with a hint of roastiness. It should not have burnt, acrid flavors like those found in a porter or stout. There is typically little hop flavor and aroma. If you’ve never had a schwarzbier, think along the lines of Yeungling Black & Tan mixed with Tröeg’s Sunshine Pils. I think a lot of brewers make the mistake of misinterpreting the roastiness description as needing to add roasted barley. The result is usually a lagered stout that is far too roasty for this style. A good schwarzbier malt bill is actually very simple: pilsner malt, possibly munich/vienna malt, and dehusked carafa. The carafa provides the color and the slight roastiness found in this style. Save the roasted barley for your stouts. Regarding the hops, shoot for about 25-30 IBU with an ounce or two of noble hops at the end of the boil if you’d like.
My recipe was quite simple. For an 11-gallon batch, I used 15 lbs Pilsner, 6 lbs Munich, and 1 lb dehusked Carafa III. For the hops, I used 14.5 IBU of Styrian Golding at first wort hopping, 14.5 IBU Magnum at 60 min, and 2 ounces of Spalt at 5 min. I used the Styrian Golding because I wanted a subtle floral character. I intended to use Tettnanger, but my LHBS was out of them. The yeast I chose was WLP 838 Southern German Lager Yeast. I liked the flavor of it in my Pils, and I thought it would work well here.
Brew days don’t come around often for me, and I couldn’t justify brewing a beer to just give away. With just a little more effort, and a borrowed 15 gal pot, I made an 11 gallon batch to split in two, keeping one for myself and sending one to NHC. Since I can’t just split a batch and not provide some sort of variable (and since my fridge can really only hold one 5-gal bucket), I opted to ferment the two at different temperatures. I’ve often wondered just how much difference fermenting at low and high temperatures impacts a beer, and this is a perfect opportunity for me to test this. The NHC beer was fermented at 48°F, and my beer was fermented at basement temperature which was about 60°F.
Brew day went well, and I hit my numbers as expected. The wort was split evenly by weight into two identical fermenters. The worts were aerated by shaking for 5 minutes, followed by pitching the exact volume of yeast slurry into each.
To my surprise, the 60°F beer fermented in about 3 days. That’s fast. I let it sit for another week to clean itself up from any diacetyl or acetaldehyde. The 48°F beer took a little longer at about 9 days to finish fermentation. At this point I performed a diacetyl test on both. The 48°F beer was a huge butter bomb, but there was not much in the 60°F. That’s not surprising given it’s about a 5 days ahead of the 48°F beer. After a few more days I kegged the 60°F beer, and started lagering it at 34°F. I let the 60°F have a diacetyl rest of about a week, then again performed a diacetyl test. This came out clean, so I kegged it and began lagering as well.
In a couple weeks I’ll do a comparison of the two in a blinded triangle test to see if I can really tell the difference between them. I’ll keep you posted.