Eisbock Homebrew Recipe & Review

Eisbock: Silver Medal in Category 5 Bock at the final round of the 2015 National Homebrew Competition

Eisbock: Silver Medal in Category 5 Bock at the final round of the 2015 National Homebrew Competition

In many ways, contemporary American craft beer is constantly chasing extremes. Extreme hops, malt, and alcohol are the norm. Eisbock can be seen as one of the original ‘extreme’ beers. It predates the American craft beer movement, but is equally as intense and flavorful as some of the most coveted craft beers. Eisbock manages to maintain a smooth lager character while being a showcase for the intense malt flavors inherent to many of the great German malts.This recipe has done well in competition, winning a silver medal in the Bock category at the final round of the National Homebrewer Competition in 2015.

The myth of eisbock is that it owes its origin to a brewer who inadvertently left a barrel of dopplebock outside in the winter which led to the freeze concentration of the nectar inside. True or not, the science is sound and methodology similar to what I used for this beer. Alcohol inherently freezes at a much lower temperature than water. This trait can be exploited by brewers, allowing them to effectively concentrate the alcohol in their beers while discarding some of the water content.

When designing an Eisbock, my intent was to specifically formulate a base doppelbock that would be lean on caramel character in order to avoid a cloying sweetness once the flavors are intensified during freeze-concentration. Additionally, I wanted to keep the IBUs low as it is has been my experience that freezing a beer will concentrate the bittering compounds. The same logic can be applied to alcohol heat. Providing for a healthy fermentation is key to avoiding excessive fusel alcohols which will be concentrated in the final beer. My focus was on creating rich toasty notes with a solid Munich malt base while including a touch of high lovibond caramel to throw in a bit of dark fruit flavor that is delicious in these types of beers.

Utilizing C02 and a jumper line to transfer beer keg to keg during the freeze-concentration.

Utilizing C02 and a jumper line to transfer beer keg to keg during the freeze-concentration.

The trick to doing this beer correctly is in the freeze-concentration. I went through approximately 8 freeze cycles utilizing two 3-gallon corny kegs and my kitchen freezer. The basic methodology is to freeze a keg of the beer and then push out the remaining unfrozen liquid to a second keg. It is extremely important to use closed vessels purged with CO2 in order to minimize any risk of oxidizing the beer. Patience is key; multiple incremental freezes that only push a small volume of liquid at a time will help insure you’re pulling out the most concentrated liquid. In the end, I pulled out approximately 32% of the original volume. The liquid that was discarded typically had a specific gravity of near 1.000 meaning that it was primarily water. Sensory analysis of the discarded liquid confirms that it was primarily water. This freeze concentration effectively took my ABV from approximately 7.5% to over 11%.

 

Eisbock Recipe

Specifications:
Size: 3.25 gal
Efficiency: 74%
Attenuation: 68%

Original Gravity: 1.084
Terminal Gravity: 1.026 (measured)
Color: 18.88 SRM (Before Freeze)
Alcohol: 7.5% ABV (Before Freeze. Approximately 11% after freeze.)
Bitterness: 22 IBU (Before Freeze)

Malt Bill:
7.5 lb (68.2%) Weyermann Munich TYPE II
3 lb (27.3%) Weyermann Pilsner Malt
2 oz (1.1%) Weyermann Caramunich® TYPE III
6 oz (3.4%) Hugh Baird Crystal 130

Mash Profile:
148°F – 60m
155°F – 15m
168°F – 5m

Decoctions used between each step.

Water Treatment:
Extremely Soft NYC Water
2g Gypsum (to mash)
4g Calcium Chloride (to mash)

Hopping:
0.75 oz Hallertauer Mittelfrüher (4.0% AA) – 60 m
0.5 oz Hallertauer Mittelfrüher (4.0% AA) – 10 m

Kettle Additions:
0.5 ea Whirlfloc Tablets (Irish moss) – added during boil, boiled 15 m
0.5 tsp Wyeast Nutrient – added during boil, boiled 10 m

Yeast:
White Labs WLP833 German Bock Lager

Tasting Notes:

Judged as a BJCP 5D. Eisbock

Aroma (10/12):
Rich and decadent malt fills your olfactory nerves. The malt is toasty and reminiscent of heavily browned bread crust. There is a background of rich dark caramel providing additional complexity. Enticing aromas of dark fruit, plum, fig, and perhaps cherry waft from the glass. As it warms, a bit of ethanol is apparent and true to the style.

Appearance (2/3):
Deep brown with only the slightest of tan heads that quickly dissipates. Beer is nice and clear due to the prolonged lagering period.

Flavor (17/20):
Huge display of rich malt. There is some residual sweetness that manages to be kept in balance by some intense toasty, almost drying, malt notes. The malt is wonderfully complex with a round nuttiness, followed by fig, molasses, burnt sugar, and sourdough toast. There is just a hint of hop bitterness and no flavor. Fermentation character is clean with a low level of hot alcohol. No ester or other fermentation character.

Mouthfeel (4/5):
Silky full-body with a smooth medium-low level of carbonation. Mouthfeel is just a touch sticky, but otherwise quite luscious.

Overall Impression (9/10)
Beautiful showcase of the melanoiden-rich Munich malt that comprises the bulk of the grain bill. Rich and decadent, it would be tough to consume more than a bottle of this at a time. This Eisbock is a great sipper to spend some time with slowly consuming and contemplating the broad spectrum of flavors it contains. The beer would be absolutely delicious paired with a sharply acidic aged cheddar.

Excellent (42/50)

NHC 2015 Recap

Category 5: Awarded second place for my Eisbock

Category 5: Silver medal for my Eisbock

The sun has set on another National Homebrewers Conference. As I look back on the time spent touring California and attending the conference itself, it is tough to know exactly where to start my recap. The copious notes I took during the seminars describe the analytical information and anecdotes given during the seminars, but aren’t that interesting to read. Your time would be better served listening to the actual talks once they’re posted on the AHA website. Instead, it’s much more fun to talk about the individual events and paint with broad strokes some of the more interesting moments at the conference.

Brewery Visits

Leading up the conference we took some extra time to not only visit friends and family around California, but also tour a number of breweries that have popped up in recent years. Informally, this trip is serving as a yeast hunting expedition with the goal of sourcing sour and wild beers that were brewed with interesting mixed cultures. Luckily several of the stops were selling some great bottles whose microbes will eventually find their way into some new beers I am developing.

Sante Adairius Rustic Ales

Sante Adairius Rustic Ales

Sante Adairius Rustic Ales

We had a great time at our first stop, Sante Adairius Rustic Ales in Santa Cruz, CA. Located in a nondescript commercial strip mall, the exterior belies a comfortable and somewhat ‘rustic’ interior pouring about 8 different beers on draft. SARA was pouring a number of tasty hop-forward beers–typical of the West Coast style–with huge tropical and citrusy hop aroma, but a bit excessive with some of the grassier dry hop flavors. They were also pouring an excellent gose, which was refreshingly tart and had a nice mellow salinity, as well a great dry saison. By happenstance, our visit coincided with the release of bottles of Cellarman, a sour saison that is really delicious, and whose microbes I am looking forward to propagating.

The Rare Barrel

The Rare Barrel

The Rare Barrel

Our next stop was The Rare Barrel located in Berkeley, CA. The Rare Barrel creates only barrel-aged sour beers and has seen great success in what is a growing segment of the craft beer market. The taproom is located within the barrel warehouse and provides an inviting environment for sour beer consumption. While at the TRB, we sampled 5 or 6 different sour beers. TRB contract-brews through Heretic Brewing three different base beers (golden, red, and bruin) which they then ferment in-house and age in barrels using a variety of different yeasts and bacterias. From these three base beers, they’ll add different adjuncts (fruit, spice, etc.), ferment with varying cultures, and blend in different proportions to create their portfolio of beers. All of the beers we consumed were very enjoyable with bright lactic acidity and fairly substantial malt, providing a counterbalance to the acidity. All of the beers were very approachable; a strategy that I’m sure TRB is employing to grow their customer base. Perhaps my only complaint would be that the beers felt overly simplified and one-note (lactic acid). I’d love to see if a bit more funk in these beers would provide for a more interesting drinking experience.

Firestone Walker Barrelworks

Firestone Walker Barrelworks

Firestone Walker Barrelworks

Our last stop en route to San Diego was Firestone Walker’s Barrelworks located in Buellton, CA. At this magical stop we not only sampled a number of the clean barrel-aged beers most people are familiar with (Parabola, Stickee Monkey, Abacus), but also a large selection of sour beers from their growing portfolio of wild beers. Standouts were Maltose Falcons (a big barrel-aged beer brewed in collaboration with the Maltose Falcons homebrew club), Sour Opal, and Bretta Rosé.

 

 

Welcome Reception (AKA Pro Night)

The conference kicked off with a rambling talk and toast by The Lost Abbey’s Tomme Arthur followed by a welcoming reception of (mainly) local San Diego breweries. This was a great chance to sample a ton of different beers that don’t make it out to the East Coast. San Diego lived up to the stereotype of being home to the biggest, most in-your-face samples of IPA. Booth after booth featured hugely punchy, dry IPA’s with massive hop aromas. At one point we sampled an old standby, Pliny the Elder from Russian River. While delicious, the intensity of the hopping seemed muted compared to the levels many newer San Diego breweries are pushing their beers to. When I first had Pliny many years ago, I would have never been able to imagine the levels that hoppy beers are presently being pushed to.

Club Night

The hallmark event of the conference lived up to its reputation. Year after year, the quality of homebrewed beers gets better and better. The vast majority of beers being served were excellent, while a few really shined. Standouts for me were a oatmeal raisin cookie beer (club name forgotten) and a delicious barrel aged Flanders poured by the San Luis Obispo Brewers (SLOB). The creativity and willingness of homebrewers to push the rational limits of beer making to new levels was on full display during the event and gives an exciting preview of what professional craft brewers may soon be producing.

Awards Ceremony

The awards ceremony for the National Homebrew Competition signals the end of the conference and what for me was over a week of beery fun. This year the AHA changed things up a bit and had their executive chef prepare the meal in lieu of chef Sean Paxton, who has done it for many years past. While the logistics of preparing a three-course meal for thousands of people tends to temper my expectations, I thought the food this year was reasonably tasty–much more so than the Paxton meals I’ve had at two previous conferences.

This year I had two beers in the competition, one of which managed to win a silver medal in Category 5, Bock. Winning a medal in a competition with over 7,600 entries is a great personal affirmation and provided a wonderful ending to the conference. The real fun, however, was talking and learning about beer for three days straight amongst the brewing peers that make this such a great hobby. I highly recommend this conference to brewers of all levels–it’s a blast.

See you all next year in Baltimore!

Photo Gallery

Headed to the National Homebrew Conference

Club Night

Club Night 2013 – Philadelphia

For the geekiest of homebrew geeks, there is no event bigger and more exciting than the American Homebrewers Association’s National Homebrewers Conference. This is the Superbowl of homebrew events filled with learning, camaraderie, and old-fashioned homebrew-fueled hijinks.

This year over 3,000 enthusiastic homebrewers will converge upon San Diego, June 11-13, to enjoy the biggest and baddest conference yet. I haven’t been to San Diego in over a decade and am really looking forward to the conference and visiting the likes of Stone, Pizza Port, Modern Times, Societe, Lost Abbey, Alesmith, and Green Flash, who all call the San Diego area their home. There are still tickets available, so check it out!

The Highlights

While I’ll be on pins and needles waiting to see how my beers in the National Homebrew Competition make out, I’ll be enjoying the variety of events the conference offers. The entire conference is a blast, but I’m most looking forward to…

Opening Reception

The opening reception is in essence a three and a half hour long commercial beer fest. The list of breweries that will be pouring is very impressive and showcases a wide spectrum of talented breweries drawn primarily from Southern California.

Club Night

Dozens of clubs pouring beers to thousands of homebrewers make this the highlight for many of the attendees. Club Night puts on display the creativity and innovation that is the hallmark of craft beer, which firmly has its roots in the homebrew community. The variety of beer and electric atmosphere is amazing. By no means is every beer being poured a homerun, but this is a great opportunity to really see the future direction of craft beer.

Seminars

The seminars are the primary reason I like to attend NHC. I always learn a lot about brewing at these events and really enjoy geeking out about some of the more technical topics involved with brewing. Below, I’ve highlighted a few of the seminars I’m looking forward to. You can see the full list here.

Brewing with Coffee: Approaches & Techniques from Dry-Beaning to Home Roasting
Speakers: Amy Krone Jacob McKean Michael Tonsmeire

Brewing With Experimental Hops: A New Hop Variety Just For Homebrewers
Speakers: Jason Perrault Karl Vanevenhoven Vinnie Cilurzo

From 5 to 5,000 Gallons: What to Look for in a Brewery Space
Speaker: Scott Katzer

Intro to Professional Brewing Quality Assurance
Speaker: Rick Blankemeier

Ménage à Myces: Blended Yeast Fermentation
Speaker: Chris White

Czech Lagers: History, Brewing, Judging
Speakers: Bob Hall Randy Scorby

How to Brew, Blend and Maintain an Acid Beer
Speaker: Jeff Crane

Mastering the Art of Hop-Fu!
Speaker: Kelsey McNair

Say Hi!

This year I’ll be sporting some The Pour Report swag. If you see me, say hi! I’d love to chat with my readers and share a beer. Follow me on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter for coverage of NHC as well as pre-NHC beer exploits as I travel around California leading up to the conference.

2015 NHC First Round Results

Every year I enter the biggest beer competition in the world, the National Homebrew Competition hosted by the American Homebrewers Association. The NHC is a two-stage competition where the top three beers in each BJCP category from each of the twelve regional centers move on to compete in the final round, hosted annually at the National Homebrewers Conference. With twelve centers taking approximately 750 entries each, this is easily the most competitive brewing competition in the world.

IMG_4581

Every year, the AHA surveys its members and then sets a individual entry cap based on the level of interest. This year, that cap was set at five beers.

With the cap in place, I selected five beers which I thought had the best shot and sent them to the NYC regional center for judging:

For a variety of reasons (flight order, judge fatigue, judge bias, cellaring errors, etc.) there can be some variability with judging. Because of this, I generally feel really good when I’m able to place half my beers in a competition of this size. All in all, I’m pretty happy pushing two beers on to the next round. Although I slightly missed the high bar I set each year, I am reassured knowing that all the beers with exception of one scored quite well.

The outlier in the group was my Vienna Lager which was dinged quite hard for the perceived presence of diacetyl by one of the judges scoring the beer, and for being too ‘big’ by the other. I am personally very sensitive to diacetyl, and this illustrates how judges can sometimes confuse certain beer flavors (in this case, a light touch of caramel) with off-flavors (like diacetyl), particularly in a lager category where judges often search for off-flavors. Other than this scoresheet, the judging was quite good. My only other complaint would be that the bock category did not have any BJCP judges scoring the category.

For the curious, I’ve posted my scoresheets here. With some luck, I’ll be shaking Charlie Papazian’s hand during the awards ceremony at the National Conference.

German Pilsner Brewday and Review

pilsBrewing an outstanding Pilsner has been a bit of an enigma for me. I’ve done a number of Bohemian Pilsners in the past, and they always seem a bit off the mark. This time around, I decided to take a shot at brewing a crisp and hoppy German Pilsner. The goal was to produce an austerely dry beer that classically showcases the herbal and spicy notes found in classic German hop varietals and the crisp refreshing character that is a hallmark of the style. The recipe ended up quite good, although brewer error and less-than-optimal yeast management led to a beer that missed my target.

German Pilsner Recipe

Specifications:
Size: 3.25 gal
Efficiency: 83% (measured)
Attenuation: 78% (measured)

Original Gravity: 1.054 (was shooting for 1.050)
Terminal Gravity: 1.014 (measured)
Color: 3.95 SRM
Alcohol: 5.5% ABV (calculated)
Bitterness: 22.8 IBU

Malt Bill:
6 lb (96.0%) Weyermann Pilsner Malt
4 oz (4.0%) Weyermann CaraFoam

Mash Profile:
144 °F – 30m
Decoction
153°F – 30m
Decoction
168°F – 5m

Water Treatment:
Extremely Soft NYC Water
5g Gypsum (to mash)

Hopping:
20 g Hallertauer Mittelfrüher (4% AA) – 60 m
20 g Hallertauer Mittelfrüher (4% AA) – 10 m
80 g Hallertauer Mittelfrüher (4% AA) – Whirlpool 15 m

Kettle Additions:
0.5 ea Whirlfloc Tablets (Irish moss) – added during boil, boiled 15 m
.5 tsp Wyeast Nutrient – added during boil, boiled 10 m

Yeast:
White Labs WLP830 German Lager – Starter on stirplate to achieve 1.5 million cells per milliliter of wort per degree Plato. Use Mr. Malty to determine proper starter sized based on age of yeast package. Pitch into 44°F wort and allow to free rise to 48°F. Raise temp to 50°F after 2 days. As fermentation begins to slow, raise temperature to 62°F. Once complete, chill 5°F per day until 32°F is achieved. Lager at 32°F 6-weeks.

Tasting Notes:

Judged as a BJCP 2A. German Pilsner.

Aroma (6/12):
Medium grassy hop aroma with some herbal and slightly spicy qualities. Malt aroma is low, but has a pleasant slightly toasty quality. Soft malt is a touch sweet. No DMS or diacetly. Slight hint of alcohol warmth. Low amount of green apple (acetaldehyde).

Appearance (2/3):
Straw colored and crystal clear. Medium white head that quickly dissipates. Low retention.

Flavor (11/20):
Moderate grainy malt with a touch of honey-like sweetness. Firmly bitter with some definite mineral notes. Hop flavor is medium-low with some herbal character. Nice crisp dry finish that is the hallmark of the style. A touch of alcohol. Some yeast fruitiness.

Mouthfeel (4/5):
Light bodied and crisp. Moderate to high carbonation.

Overall Impression (7/10)
A very refreshing beer overall. There are some yeast derived flavors (slight ester, green apple, alcohol) that detract from the overall drinking experience. This slightly off fermentation is tough to not notice in such a simple and austere beer. Beer could benefit from additional lagering and the use of a healthier pitch of yeast. Additionally, during the decoction process, the main mash temperature dropped quit low, likely degrading certain foam positive proteins and causing deficient foam retention.

Good (29/50)