Dear Mr. Wizard:
I am lagering a Bohemian pilsner. The recipe calls for a smack pack to be added at bottling time. Is this an accepted method, and do you recommend it?
Mr. Wizard replies:
The problem with brewing lagers at home is that the yeast almost completely settles out during lagering. This means that when it is time to bottle there may not be enough yeast to carbonate the beer. To remedy the problem many homebrew recipes call for adding more yeast to the beer, usually in the bottling bucket, at the time of bottling. The method works well, but adding too much yeast in the bottle can lead to yeasty flavors from yeast autolysis (yeast death and decay) if the bottled beer is stored warm for long periods. If you want to bottle condition a well-aged lager beer, then adding more yeast at bottling is a good idea. If this doesn't appeal to you, an alternative is to age your lager in a keg and carbonate naturally during aging. This is how commercial breweries naturally carbonate their lagers, except they age and carbonate in large lagering vessels and then filter the carbonated beer prior to packaging. To age and carbonate in a keg, rack your lager from the fermenter to the lagering vessel (a soda keg) when the specific gravity is 1.016 to 1.018 and complete the fermentation in the sealed keg. This will create sufficient pressure to carbonate the lager. The beer is aged in the same container. After aging you can either rack the beer under counterpressure into another keg or use a counterpressure filler to bottle. If I had to choose a method to brew lagers at home, I would lager in a soda keg, rack the beer off the yeast after lagering, and either bottle it or serve it from the keg. This method avoids having to add more yeast, uses no priming sugar for carbonation, and removes the settled yeast before serving. The resulting beer would be a traditional lager beer that uses the same procedures as a commercial brewery minus the filtration step.
Dear Mr. Wizard:
I've seen various recipes, mostly for porters, that call for the use of brown malt. I have had no luck finding it at any of the area homebrew shops and was wondering if I could approximate it by heating a batch of pale malt in the oven for a while. I guess that it shouldn't be darker than chocolate malt, but just how dark should it be? Could I eliminate this dilemma altogether and use a chocolate malt in its place ?
Yes, you can make your own brown malt by roasting pale malt in the oven. You can also make chocolate malt and black patent malt by the same process. The difficulty in roasting your own malt is control, but it can be done if you are attentive and have a method to quickly cool the malt and prevent further darkening during cooling. Roasting temperatures for brown malt are 450° to 500° F. The malt should be taken out of the oven when the right color is achieved and quickly spread on a cooling rack. Brown malt is lighter in color than chocolate malt and has a distinctive nutty, roasted flavor. The original brown malts were made by drying the "green" or un-kilned malt over a wood fire and had a smoky flavor to them. This method is no longer used to make brown malts, and today's brown malts lack smokiness. Used in porters and other dark ales, brown malts impart flavors that would not be found if you simply replaced the brown malt with chocolate malt. Before jumping into home roasting, I would recommend checking around a little bit longer for brown malt. I know of few malt houses that make brown malt, but Hugh-Baird and Beeston in England both have malts that could be classified as brown. Check around with your local homebrew supply shops to see if they can order malts from these companies or check with mail-order companies, which often carry obscure products that small shops find hard to justify keeping in stock. I personally like the flavor of brown malt in porter and stout and think that buying it would give you better results than trying to make it yourself.
Mr. Wizard, BYO's resident expert, is a leading authority in homebrewing whose identity, like the identity of all superheroes, must be kept confidential.