Beer Recipe: “Imposter” German Dark ‘Lager’

For this brew, I was targeting something more in line with the German brewing tradition than any of my previous brews.  I didn’t shoot for a particular style, but rather a mix of what I like about schwartzbier, dunkel, and bock to get a full flavored beer, but still drinkable in the warmer months.  I also don’t have any desire to decoction mash or set up for lagering, so I instead chose my ingredients, especially yeast, carefully.  Hence the Imposter moniker: this is an ale in a lager costume.

Batch Size: 5 gal/ 18.9 L

Malt:
8 lb/ 3.63 kg     German light munich malt (Best Malz)
3 lb/ 1.36 kg     German pilsner malt (Best Malz)
1 lb/ 0.45 kg     Melanoidin malt (Weyermann)
6 oz/ 170 g        Dehusked Carafa II (Weyermann)
2 oz/ 57 g          Caramunich I (Weyermann)

Hops:
1.5 oz/ 42.5 g    Mt. Hood, 5.4%, 30 min, 20.6 IBU
1 oz/ 28 g            Mt. Hood, 5.4%, 10 min, 6.5 IBU
Total IBU:           27.1 (Tinseth)

Yeast:
2+1L starter   WLP011 European Ale
(1 vial in 2 L starter, decanted, then 1 L wort at start of brew day)

Other:
1 tsp                  Hydrated irish moss (10 min)
1/2 tsp             Wyeast nutrient

Target CO2:     2.2 vol

Gravity:
OG:                   1.068 (73% mash eff; target 1.060, 65%)
FG:                    1.021 (69% apparent atten.)
ABV:                6.5% after conditioning

Water:
Mash temp:          155.1F/ 68.4C (target 155F/ 68.3C)
Mash thickness: 1.33 qt/lb/ 2.77 L/kg
Single infusion mash, single (batch) sparge
Boil time:              90 min

Calculated Profile:

Calcium 49 Sulfate 79.7 Hardness 123
Magnesium 0.1 Chloride 66.4 Alkalinity 97
Sodium 73.8 Bicarbonate 117.8 RA 62

I was pretty happy with this water profile, save for the sodium content, which is just how my water is served up.  I adjusted the sulfate to chloride ratio for a balanced beer, and kept the RA high to help balance the dark malts.  I added the sparge calcium additions directly to the kettle instead of the sparge water.  I probably should have balanced the chloride a bit higher to bring out the malt (see tasting notes below), and I might consider raising the alkalinity to raise the mash pH a touch to decrease the roast bitterness just slightly (maybe).   (See my water treatment post here.)

Fermentation Temperature: I wanted to keep the ferment on this cool, well below 70F/ 21C, but a warm couple of days right at the beginning of fermentation and an extremely active yeast pitch conspired against me.  Instead it rose to about 74F/ 23.3C before it fell back to 72F/ 22.2C at which point I turned on a lamp in my brew cabinet to maintain this temperature after the ferment tapered off.

Tasting Notes:

imposter

“Imposter” German dark lager ale

Appearance: very clear, but not quite sparkling; dark ruby brown, near black in the glass; no head with a gentle pour, but a small head with a bit more lively pour; very thin layer of yeast in bottom of bottle (seems to be thinner for the last few batches with O2 system and kettle Ca additions); sediment compacted nicely and did not begin to pour out with beer

Aroma: gentle dark malt, touch of roast; aroma seems not to change much as it warms.

Taste: clean bordering on refreshing up front, very malty but not at all sweet or cloying; light lingering roasty bitterness; lacks fruityness or esters which might otherwise be present with other ale yeasts. No stand out contribution from the hops, though it probably is blending with the bitter malt character. Opens up nicely to a deeper maltyness as it warms.

Mouthfeel: carbonation seems a bit sharp for only 2.2 volumes, but probably about where I want it.  Nice full body that goes down without coating the tongue.

Overall: Not quite as round and smooth as I wanted, but very nice- this might be helped by adding a bit more chloride to the next brew, or raising the mash pH. Perhaps I am simply not used to such clean yeasts. Clean but flavorful, and extremely drinkable. I am very impressed with this beer, though I might consider slightly reducing the amount of Carafa II, or replacing it with Carafa I (maybe) to bring down the lingering roast. The Caramunich could be brought up for a bit of additional sweetness, but this too is probably unnecessary.  Really good as is: I could change some things to make it hit slightly closer to a true German-type taste, but if/when I brew this again, I’m not sure I would.  Higher temperature ferment did not seem to impact the beer, probably because of the large active pitch and good bit of pure O2.  [2014.05.07 UPDATE: After another week or two conditioning, this beer has really rounded and smoothed out nicely.]

– Dennis,
Life, Fermented

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About Dennis
Home brewer, home chef, garage tinkerer. Author of Life Fermented blog.

4 Responses to Beer Recipe: “Imposter” German Dark ‘Lager’

  1. Jon D says:

    Good timing on this article using Melanoidin Malt. I’ve got several pounds of it (from an order mix up) and I’m not finding a lot of recipes using it.
    Also on your minor temp problem, I came up with an inexpensive way to keep my ale ferment at a nice even keel. Using a medium/large sized plastic tote ($5 for a red/green one after Christmas) and a submersible aquarium heater. Fill the tote half way up with water and let the heater stabilize at the temp you want, drop in your fermenter and forget about it. I use some StarSan to keep the water from growing any microbs. I don’t brew a lot, but I brewed 3 batches of ale over the winter and the temp stayed rock solid at 68 F all day and night.
    Now that summer is coming up I’m going to try keeping things cool by alternating 2L frozen pop bottles. I keep my house A/C down around 78-80 F during the summer. So I figure 1 or 2 pop bottle in the water bath during the heat of the day should do it.
    Because the fermenter (be it bucket or carboy) is surrounded by quite a bit of additional water, the temperature changes very slowly and is not as much of a chore to monitor. It will also carry away any extra heat during early stages of primary fermentation. I’m thinkin’ this should even be more stable than a dedicated refrigerator with thermostat. I don’t know about trying to lager with this setup, but as for ale, so far it’s working great.

    • Dennis says:

      Hi Jon,
      On the melanoidin malt: this is fast becoming a favorite malt of mine. I’ve found (and many others recommend) adding 0.5 to 1 lb/ 1/4 to 1/2 kilo to help boost the malt character of any beer. If its a lighter variety of the malt, or if you’re wanting a malt bomb, you can go much higher.

      As for the temperature control, I have heard of many using this technique successfully. Out of shear laziness and cheapness I usually just try to brew in season as much as possible instead of messing with control. And it makes putting together my brew schedule a bit more interesting. Saison in the summer, RIS in the winter!

  2. Jon D. says:

    To follow up on the aquarium heater in the plastic storage tote idea. The weather has started to ramp up (107 F today) and I found (as you may have already guessed) that the swapping out of frozen soda bottles to keep the temp in range has gotten to be quite tedious. Depending on where my wife desired the air conditioning set at, kept throwing me off on when to change out the bottle(s) and it actually fell too low for a half day on a golden ale I’m trying keep steady at 65-66 degrees. That batch is destined for the upcoming homebrew club festival booth. I hope I didn’t goof it up goofing around.
    Anyway, vacation is over and I gotta’ go back to work so I bit the bullet and pulled out the wallet for a Johnson digital thermostat for the garage frig. It goes against my grain because I like to keep things simple and or cheap, but I realized I can’t be running home at lunch just to check the temp on the fermenter and the simple part was fading fast. At first I felt a little ill about it, but once I had the new gadget installed it didn’t take long to come to peace with the purchase. I’ve already started looking at some lager recipes to try in the future and I’ll still use the tote because it did work great till the summer heat hit us. You know now I don’t have to do the mad brew-as much-as-possible during the Spring and Fall. I can smooth this out into almost all year. OK, I feel better. Brew on.

    • Dennis says:

      I’m jealous! I think you will not regret the purchase. But alas, I just can’t convince myself to pull the trigger on a temp controller, as much as I know I should.

      Your golden should be fine. The only problem might be that if it dropped too low, your ferment may have stalled. But thats doubtful unless it fell far and fast, or if its a Belgian or saison yeast, which are notorious for being finicky with falling temps.

      In any event, you really only need to keep it at temp for the first 2 or 3 days. A slight rise at the end as the bubbles slow will actually help the fermentation finish strong and clean things up a bit faster. I keep a small lamp in my brew cabinet for just this purpose- no matter what temp I ferment at, I always like to bump it up a few degrees as it finishes.

      – Dennis

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