Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Clone Wars; Designing Home Brew Recipes

Hello all.  John here.  Today, I am going to tell you all about my approach to cloning beers.  I am not afraid to admit it.  When I began my home brewing saga, my buddy and I had no idea what  we were doing.  We knew we liked super hoppy IPAs but also wanted to make beer that would appeal the general public.  Our first attempt was an Irish Red, which we had really high hopes to become the "next big thing" in the home brewing community.  I am not sure what we were thinking...we knew next to nothing about brewing beer.  The end result of our effort was a terrible overly sweet batch of first time home brew.  Fast forward 18 months, we have advanced quite a bit, by using one method to help us connect to our beer on a higher level.  We design all of our recipes from top to bottom, start to finish.  We plan the malt, the yeast, the hops, and the water every single time.

Now I am certainly not the first person to post about designing a home brew recipe, but maybe I can shed some light on my process to make it less intimidating for those looking to "up their game".  The easiest way I can explain it is, I work backwards.  I start thinking about what I want the finished product to be like.  It is not too different from that coach you had in middle school that told you envision that buzzer-beating shot going in, or your boss telling you to dream about  your next sale.  If you know where you want to get to, it is pretty easy to complete the process to get to the promise land.

Plan your beer, take comprehensive records.
First thing first, write down what you want your beer to taste, smell, and look like.  Once we have accomplished this, we turn to several trusty internet tools to help us put the structure together.  Our group uses brewtoad.com or brewersfriend.com for recipe construction and we begin to pull in the ingredients desired to meet the agreed upon results.  Brewtoad is easier to use.  Brewersfriend is more comprehensive.  Our brew sensei often uses Beersmith, it is the penultimate brewing program.  This includes our malt bill (all-grain brewers here), hop additions, yeast selection, and any other additives or adjuncts we would like to add to the batch.  After pulling in the ingredients, the recipe tool you choose should begin auto-populating the parameters of the beer; including Original Gravity, Final Gravity, SRM (Color), and ABV%.

I would say that this guys clone looks pretty dang close!
Todays Recipe:  Pilsner Urquell - Now if you are not familiar with Pilsner Urquell, it is the world's first, and arguably best light colored lager.  Pilsner Urquell was developed in Plzen Czechloslovakia, in the state of Bohemia.  That is where the term Pilsner, and the term Bohemian Lager originate from.  It is perhaps the most influential beer in history, and is the inspiration for 2/3rds of the beer produced in the world today.  It literally changed everything about how beer is brewed.   Before Pilsner Urquell there were no light colored lagers.  Now historians argue as to whether or not there were even lagers before Pilsner Urquell, but there we definitely no golden pilsners.   Apparently prior to 1840 the beer in Plzen was so bad that in 1840 the city burghers ordered 36 casks of the beer to be poured out, and a new brewery to be built.  The people of the town invested in the new brewery, and helped build it.  They then hired Joseph Groll (a Bavarian) to come to Plzen and develop a new beer for their new brewery.  On November 11th 1842, Pilsner Urquell was first served at the feast of St. Martin.   And very little has changed about it over the years.   It is still fermented in open oak casks.  It is lagered in underground tunnels carved from the earth for the purpose of lagering.  The lagering tanks are oak, and are coated with pine tar pitch.  The boilers and mash tuns are coal fired, and are made of copper.   When you drink this beer you are drinking history.

We are fortunate to live in a large metropolitan area with some great beer bars.  One of the best is called Bier Station.   And on Friday the 14th of October, Bier Station hosted a great event.  Pilsner Urquell, unfiltered and un-pasteurized.  Wow!  This beer is good the way we get it here in the states. But holy cow was it good unfiltered and unpasteurized, fresh and balanced, malty and hoppy. The good news... We can make this beer when ever we want we just need to find and perfect a reliable recipe.

Pils Urquell unfiltered
and un pasturized was
an amazing experience.
So, where to find a reliable clone recipe? Well, here are some good sources for clone recipes. - Brew Your Own Magazine.  The American Homebrewer's Association (AHA) , major bloggers (like this one, Brulosophy, The madfermentationist, Bear Flavored, and Scott Janish.)  On these blogs you will find a whole treasure trove of carefully vetted and award winning brewers and brewing recipes.  You will also find helpful articles and tips.  The recipe we chose to start with was Michael Tonsmiere's Pils Urquel clone.  Well known blog (themadfermentationist).  Michael Tonsmiere is a great authority on sour beers.  His book is a valuable resource for those of you who want to dabble in sour beer making.  So it may surprise you that we chose a lager recipe from him.  But we know the caliber of brewer that he is, and we knew that we could use this recipe as a starting point for developing our own version.

Now a lot of you begin your cloning career by just choosing a recipe and brewing it, with no modifications.   Here is the problem with that,  you need to be modifying that clone to fit your brewing style and your brewing system.  We get 73.24% from no sparge, we get 77.8% from a decoction no sparge. We lose 1 gallon of trub in a 10 gallon batch.  We boil off 1 gallon per hour, so 1.5 in a 90 minute boil.  If we want 11 gallons into the fermenters we have to boil 13.5 gallons. Michael gets about the same efficiency as we do, but not exactly the same efficiency.  So we will have to adjust the grain bill for our slightly higher efficiency.

Now pilsner Urquell is entirely Saaz Hops. So no problem there, easy to source.  But we need to modify the hop bill as well.  This is the biggest mistake that brewers make when trying to clone a beer.   The don't modify for the current alpha acids of this years crop of hops. And if you don't modify for current acids, your beer can be way off.   Here is an example. The alpha acid units are calculated by taking the ounces x the alpha acid percentage.  So 1 ounce of a 10% alpha acid hop is 10 AAUs.  2 ounces would be 20 units.  But alpha acids change from year to year.  And sometimes radically.   Saaz was 9.9% in 2015, it is usually about 3.75% obviously in 2015 we needed less hops. So here is how you calculate for correct replacement.   1 ounce of 3.75 AA% hops = 3.75 AAUs.   So to get 3.75 AAUs of 9.9% Alpha Acid Saaz you only need.  .378 ounces.   .378 ounces x 9.9 = 3.75 AAUs (alpha acid units).   Always calculate your alpha acid units.

Modifying the recipe for special ingredients, or special characteristics of the brewery.  In the case of Pilsner Urquell,  they ferment open in oak barrels, and then they lager in pine tar pitch lined barrels.   This lends the beer a unique character.  Well obviously we are not going to do that.  But we may to a semi open fermentation. just covering the fermenter loosely with a towel affixed with a bungee cord.  We may also sanitize some oak chips and put them in during fermentation.  That should create similar fermentation and similar atmospheres of pressure, and still keep the nasties out.  But some of the traditions of the brewery can only be replicated with common sense on a home brew level. Obviously we are not going to line our fermenters with pine tar pitch.  So how do we replicate that on the home brew level?   A touch of smoked malt, should do the trick in this recipe for duplicating the pine tar character..  How much... well that is the fun of the cloning process.   We wont know until we try it.  We do know that you do not taste smoke when you drink a pilsner urquel, but there is a unique character.  So we will only add a tiny amount, an ounce or two.  We have loads of saaz hops, so in all likelihood we will make 10 gallons and ferment 5 gallons with our traditional method, and 5 gallons with our changes (intended to replicate the brewery).  Is it necessary to replicate the brewery?  No, but it is fun.

Choosing the right yeast.   Does it really matter? Yes, and no.  In some beers is is critical.  In some beers the yeast is a big part of the character of the beer.  In most lagers, the yeast is not a predominant feature of the beer.  So Yes, a lager strain is needed.  And No, the strain you use is not really that critical.   We prefer Fermentis 34/70 for almost all of our lagers.  And 34/70 is a dependable reliable yeast.  This amazing lager strain can make authentic lagers (not hybrid or mock lagers, actual lagers) at 60 F.   This has been displayed by many blogs, including this one.  Now, you need to know that Pilsner Urquell has a malty sweet finish, and a touch of sulphur.  So with a Pilsner Urquell you need to consider stopping the fermentation a couple of gravity points higher than the terminal gravity, and if we don't get the yeast character we want, we will use Saflager S189 next time (it has a touch of sulphur).   You can halt fermentation easily with a good cold crash.  But in our case, we will be bottling these beers so we will just let it finish out and then we will count on a certain amount of sweetness from the bottle conditioning.  Remember we are trying to make this as similar to the golden unfiltered, unpasturized lager we got to try at Bier Station.

The recipe.  Our inspiration can be found here.  And here is our final recipe modified for this years hops, and for our efficiency.   Is this the ultimate final version of our recipe?  No, of course not.  But it will be fantastic beer that we will enjoy.  We will also take notes and talk about how to change it to be exactly what we want it to be.  We often start out trying to clone a recipe and then end up deciding not to continue the cloning process. Electing instead to focus on another aspect of the beer, and focus on making the beer exactly what we want it to be, rather than copying the original beer.  As you review this recipe you can see that we made subtle changes to Mike's original recipe.

Dave jumping in here.   Now you may notice that this is a triple decoction recipe.  If you are not familiar with decoction, I really encourage you to go back and read this blog.  And read this blog.  Oh, and watch this video.  Decoction is not hard, once you learn what you are doing.   Basically you are going to do a multi step mash, and to raise the temperature of each step, you are going to remove 2/3rds of the grain in the mash tun and decoct it.  That means you are going to bring it to 150 -155 F for 10 minutes, and then to a boil for 15 - 20 minutes.  You will need to stir constantly.  If you are a new brewer, this might not be the recipe to try to learn decoction on.   So In that case just mash for 60 minutes starting at 156 F and letting your mash fall naturally in temperature over 60 minutes.  At the end of the mash remove 1/2 of the grains and bring them to a boil, stirring constantly for 15 minutes, then add them back into the main mash before draining, and or sparging.  So your total mash time will be close to 75 minutes.  This process is called a false decoction.  It will get you very close in terms of color and mouth feel.

That's all for today. Thanks for reading.

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