On Saturday, 6 December 2014, it was Grizzly Bear’s first official brew day. Yes, I have brewed before, but this brew day marked a very special occasion. The beer I brewed, eloquently named Kölsch V.1, will serve to be the bench mark for future brew day Kölsch recipes. The grain bill was as basic as you can get, and was limited to German Pilsner malt in all of its glory. This was levelled out with a similarly basic hop bill, namely Perle and Hallerteau Hersbrucker. You can find the recipe here.
The reason I have kept Kölsch v.1’s recipe simplistic is so that I can easily record and analyse the final product. As you will see from the recipe, the ingredients for a typical Kolsch are usually quite basic; however, the way that each brewer utilises the ingredients (insofar as mash procedure, yeast strain, fermentation techniques etc), will weigh heavily on the final product. If I started with a less-than-traditional recipe, then I would make it much more difficult for myself to track my progress.
The purpose of this post is to record my experience of brewing my base recipe for Kolsch. It will help me iron out any procedural difficulties that I ran into during the brew day, which, in turn, will lead me towards my goal of the attaining the perfect home brew Kolsch. Lets begin.
The Brew Day – Kölsch V.1
It was a relatively sunny day here in Leeds, UK, and rather damp from a good pour throughout the night. I managed to open up the brew shed at about 9:00am, and prepared my arsenal. The first step, of course, was to heat up my mash water. I did this using my 70l stainless steel mash tun that I bought from the Malt Miller. It is fitted with two 2.4kW elements, that I purchased through Angel Homebrew.
I am a fan of no-sparge brewing, and so I heated up all of the required mash water in preparation for mashing in. 1 On this occasion, I decided to do a step mash: 45 minutes at 59c to optimise Beta Amylase activity, and 30 minutes at 68c to optimise Alpha Amylase activity. 2In order to do this, I had to slightly modify my approach to the no-sparge mash. All of the strike water was added, but I held back just enough to raise the temperature to 68c by the addition of boiling water.
I mashed in, and was slightly off my target temperature. In fact, I hit 57c, which is still in the range for Beta Amylase, so I was not too concerned. I stirred gently to avoid dough balls, and closed the lid on my 10 gallon igloo cooler. After 15 minutes of mashing, I started to re-heat the left over water in my kettle in preparation for the infusion step. I was trying to knock the temp up to 68c for the last 30 minutes of the mash. The water slowly came up to the boil. After 45 minutes at 57c, I opened the mash tun, and checked the temp. It had dropped 1c, down to 56c. I added my infusion water using an incredible little pump that I got from Angel Homebrew, and, luckily, by some stroke of luck, managed to get it up to 67c, which was slightly lower than my target temperature, but nothing to worry over. This was the first time I tried to do a step mash, so I was chuffed. I slapped the lid back on the cooler, and made myself a brew (coffee, unfortunately).
After the mash was over, I began the lautering process. I started by recirculating about 4 liters of wort, in order to settle the grain bed. I did this with the valve opened about 3/4 way. This cleared up the wort quite a bit. I then began to draw off all of the wort into my kettle with the valve wide open. Just at the point that I thought everything was going so well, I had my first EVER stuck mash. I cursed, and I swore to the gods. I even stomped my feet. Well, ok, that was going too far – I didn’t stamp my feet.
I have never encountered a stuck mash before. I’ve heard people talk about them, but its never been something that I’ve encountered. But this time around, when all was going so well, it happened. Since I’d never encountered one before, I hadn’t done much reading on the subject and was unsure of the best way to solve the problem. Indeed, I didn’t want to disturb the grain bed by giving the mash a good ol’ stir, because I wanted to avoid tannin extraction. After all, this was the reason that I like no-sparge mashes. I stuck a volume measuring stick into the mash, and attempted to carefully clear the area around my bazooka screen. This didn’t seem to help much, but, because I hadn’t read much about stuck mashes, I was unaware of any alternatives. I stuck the stick down again, and again, each time disturbing more and more of the grain bed. Finally, it seemed to start running freely.
That was the most stressful part of the brew day, at least until I checked my pre-boil gravity. It was incredibly short – coming in at 9 brix on my refractometer. That’s about 1 brix short of what I wanted to achieve (just over 10 brix, or 1.041). I planned this recipe assuming that I would get about 55% efficiency because I wasn’t sparging, but should I have went even lower than 55%?! I thought that only in the worst case scenario I would hit below 55%. I whipped out my trusty hydrometer, cooled a sample to 20c, and held my breath whilst I dropped the hydrometer into the sample to double check my readings. The hydrometer showed 1.041: my target pre-boil gravity! Although I was happy, I was also confused. I thought refractometers were more accurate? This will be something to look into. I have to admit, however, that I never have really trusted that refractometer. After all, it was an Ebay special.
I turned on the elements, and brought my wort to a boil. The wort was boiled for 60 minutes, with hop additions at 60 minutes and 15 minutes. I cooled the wort within about 30 minutes using a standard immersion chiller. I think that I could have cooled quicker if it was a bigger batch; the chiller only sunk to about 3/4 depth of the wort. I think this just might be the one drawback for using such a large 70l kettle for batches under 5 gallons. Unless your chiller is very short, you will not be able to get good contact with the wort.
At this point, I was malnourished. I don’t like relaxing when I brew – I like watching. I like to get the job done. There was no time for food. Nevertheless, after the wort had cooled I was eager to transfer into the carboy and pitch my yeast. The wort was chilled to
16c prior to pitching, and I added a 1.5l starter of Hefebank Weihenstephan W-177, an original Kölsch yeast that I imported straight from the yeast bank in Germany. This was not cheap, and I hope to be able to harvest enough yeast to be able to get at least 10 batches out of it. If I cant, it will not be feasible to buy again.
The beer now sits in the fermentation chamber at 16c. Since I am writing this post 11 days after the brew day, I plan on dropping this down to 6c in the next day or so. After it has been stored at 6c for a couple of weeks I will transfer to my corny keg and force carb. Stay tuned for tasting notes!Remember, if you want to keep up to date with Grizzly Bear’s Kölsch v.1, be sure to subscribe!