Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Reflections on a Weihnachtsbier

(From left to right, our F5 Altbier in the Schumacher glass, Füchschen Weihnachtsbier in the Füchschen glass, and our F6 Sticke Alt in the Uerige glass.)

So, immediately after acquiring a principal's ransom in excellent German beers unavailable in the U.S., I came down with a cold. As any good beer geek knows, smelling is key to tasting beer and you just won't catch all the subtleties of a beer if your sinuses are all stuffed up. Well, my nasal passages finally cleared up and I decided to bust out my Füchschen Weihnachtsbier, one of the crown jewels in my recent score. While it's a stronger version of their regular Altbier, at 5.2% ABV it's less than one percent higher than a traditional Alt. Anyway, I figured I would jot down some thoughts for me to keep in mind when re-brewing my Altbier.

First of all, here are my tasting notes:

Aroma: Pours a brilliantly clear deep amber with an ample off-white head. Smell: The straw-like smell of noble hops co-mingles with sweet, bready munich malt. Taste: Interestingly, a somewhat pithy herbal hop taste greets the tongue. However, it quickly gives way to a wonderfully sweet malt flavor, with notes of sweet breads, honey and even a hint of sweet lemon. A crisp, earthy noble hop bitterness--characteristic of Duesseldorf Altbiers--gives this beer a nice finish that keeps the sweetness well in balance without leaving it overly bitter. A perfect balance of malt and hops. Mouthfeel: Typical of an Altbier, it's fully carbonated but not overly so. Drinkability: The wonderful balance of this beer lets you easily come back for more.

I had a chance to enjoy this side-by-side with both of my Alts (one brewed with WLP029 yeast and the other with WLP320) and overall I thought mine compared somewhat favorably. However, there were two main distinctions, one of them significant and the other less so. The less significant distinction was my beer was somewhat more bitter. I have a tendency to underhop my beers so I guess I went overboard the other way. The bigger difference, though, was a subtle sweetness in the Weihnachtsbier that I just didn't pick up from my beer.

This leads to my big question... Do I up the CaraMunich or up the mash temp? My inclination is to increase the CaraMunich, as my concern is that upping the mash temp will increase the mouthfeel and I don't want a thicker beer, I want a sweeter beer. Seems like CaraMunich would fit the bill. However, my recipe is already around 5% CaraMunich and as crystal malts aren't traditional for the style, I'm hesitant to increase it. It's not that I'm beholden to tradition, but if German brewers are able to get more malt sweetness out of just Pils and Munich malts, I want to learn how to do that too!

Here's the other possibility I see... I did a single decoction with a saccharification rest temperature of 152°F. A lot of the instructions I've read for decoctions call for rests between 155 and 160°F. Obviously when you're brewing Hefeweizens and Pilsners you're not looking for a "thick" beer, so I wonder if there's something about a decoction that allows you to use a higher rest without increasing mouthfeel. I really should do some research on this, as it will probably determine whether I up the CaraMunich or up the mash temp next brew.

Oh, and one other thing I'd like to do is add 2.5% CaraHell malt. According to a buddy of mine on BA who knows Altbier way better than I do, a little CaraHell will cut the harshness of the hop finish and that sounds like a good idea to me.

So those are my thoughts regarding the Weihnachtsbier and my Alts. I probably won't post on every German beer I received shortly before Christmas, but I'll definitely have something to say about the Goslarer Goses so stay tuned. Prost!


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