Saturday, March 31, 2012

Brew day: F5 Altbier (Beerfly Alleyfight version)

Each year since it began (2007, I believe?) we've participated in the Beerfly Alleyfight put on by the Drinking & Writing Brewery. We even participated last year despite the fact that we were in Germany during the event itself (thanks to the assistance of our good friends and Alleyfight partners Klavs and Mary). The short explanation of Beerfly Alleyfight is they get ten homebrewers to brew a beer and prepare a food to pair with the beer; then each homebrewer is paired with an artist who interprets their pairing. If it sounds awesome to you, I assure you it's even more awesome than it sounds. If it doesn't sound awesome to you, I assure you it's even more awesome than it sounds to somebody who thinks it sounds awesome.

Starting with the second year, each Alleyfight has had a theme. Last year, for example, was Belgian IPA's. While that theme combined the two styles of beer I brew the least, this year the theme is right in our wheelhouse: Altbier. If you're one of the six regular readers of this blog you know how passionate I am about Altbier. If you're not, just search this blog for "Altbier" and see how many hits you get.

In theory, picking Altbier as the theme is perfect for us. In practice, it created a bit of a crisis. Do I brew a simple, traditional Düsseldorf-style Altbier? Do I go big and brew a Sticke (extra-strong) Altbier? A Doppelsticke? This past November we threw an all-Altbier party that featured a Muenster Alt and a Schwarze Alt (the latter being my own creation). Do I do something unique like that? Clearly I was a bit overwhelmed with ideas.

After much soul-searching, I decided that I need to do a traditional Alt. Usually the winner is something unique (well, that or the person who brings the most friends, since the winner is chosen by popular vote), so my decision may very well mean we lose yet again. However, winning isn't really the point of the Alleyfight, and as an unofficial Altbier ambassador (see the picture below, taken at our unofficial ambassadorship party at Brauerei im Füchschen in Düsseldorf), I feel like it's my duty to introduce people to traditional Düsseldorf Altbier--something that's quite hard to experience firsthand unless you either travel to Düsseldorf or pick up a six-pack of Metropolitan Iron Works Alt. [I should also take this opportunity to note that one of the best Alt brewers I know, Kevin Blodger, is in the process of opening a new brewery in Baltimore called Union Craft Brewing which will have an Alt as one of their flagship beers. If you live in Baltimore, you are lucky.]

Anyway, enough yapping about my obsession with Alt. It's time to get to the details of my brew day. Now, one thing I realized with my last Alt is that it really hit its stride after two months. The lagering really is essential to getting that crisp, dry finish. As such, I brewed last Saturday (March 24th) even though the competition isn't until May 19th. I also decided that I wanted to cut down on the breadiness a tad so I dropped the Munich-to-Pilsner ratio from 14lb.:4lb. to 12:6. I also dropped the IBU's by about 4 to compensate. Finally, I realized that I didn't have any Caramunich III on hand so I subbed a combination of Caramunich I and Weyermann Abbey malt, which will make it a tad lighter but still within the style range.

For this Alt, I decided to go as traditional as possible. I started by mashing in at 130°F for a ten-minute protein rest and then pulling a 3-gallon decoction. (BeerSmith called for a two-gallon decoction, but I find that it always comes in low so I go 50% higher and then add cold water if I overshoot my temp.) After keeping the decoction at 151°F for ten minutes, I brought it up to boil for 15 minutes. I then returned the decoction (which indeed overshot my target temp of 151°F) and added some cold water to bring it back down to 150°F. [Oh, and for the record my brewing notes are a tad spotty, as my buddy Packy came over to help out, my buddy Gustavo brought some friends over to hang out for a while, and I busted out my new Weber smoker for the first time and attempted to smoke up a couple chickens during the brew day.]

After a half-hour rest at 150°F, I began recirculating for fifteen minutes. I then collected 12 gallons of wort over roughly an hour and fifteen minutes. I did a 90-minute boil with three bittering hop additions (at 90, 60 and 45 minutes) and one Tettnang hop addition of 2 oz. at knock-out. My measured O.G. was 1056, a bit higher than my target gravity of 1051, though my yield was a tad low. This happens a lot so I really need to figure out my evaporation rate and change it in BeerSmith. It's not a huge deal though because I just added a half-gallon of bottled water to dilute to 1053.

Now here's the other way that I'm making my Alt super-traditional. I'm going to Kräusen it to carbonate/cask-condition it and then serve it via gravity like they do in Düsseldorf. To Kräusen, I stored two quarts of the chilled wort in mason jars which I will start to ferment about a week before the competition in a growler and then add to the keg the next day. Then, after the keg carbonates, my plan is to hook up a faucet directly to the "in" quick disconnect and then hook up a hose to the "out" quick disconnect to let air in. This way, if I turn the keg sideways I can serve via gravity (sorry if I'm doing a poor job of describing my plan, but it'll make sense when you see it).

So, after adding the water I ended up with just under ten gallons of wort. I chilled to around 60°F, oxygenated and pitched a slurry of yeast from Metropolitan (above is our daughter, Lily, picking up the yeast from Metro; she should've grabbed one of those Templeton Rye barrels while she was at it). I had vigorous fermentation the next day, and racked to secondary Monday night to get everything off the yeast cake. I'll probably give it another week in the secondary and then rack to kegs for lagering. I'll add that I have a little something up my sleeve to accommodate the Alleyfight attendees expecting something crazy, but you'll have to stay tuned to learn more about that...


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