This is the first post in a new series we have lovingly titled Yeast Confections! We are going to document our brewing, baking, kombucha-making, and microbial explorations semiregularly!
The cycle of beer continues with the successful depletion of our Scotch Ale (a.k.a. Girvan Bevy). With that, I called up the crew to make a new batch of beer for football season. We opted to do an Oktoberfest-like beer, though not 100 percent true to style. Oktoberfest Märzen is a popular fall-style beer, known for its use in German festivals across the United States. It is a sure sign of the impending fall season when grocery stores change from the light lagers and Mexican cervezas to the pumpkin-filled and Oktoberfest selections.
Oktoberfest Märzen is traditionally brewed in preperation for the fall, usually in March (hence the name Märzen), and are stored in colder cellars and lagered (cold fermented) over the course of the summer. This is a much slower fermentation than typical ale, using a bottom-fermenting yeast, and produces a clean, dry finish.
Because I am bad at planning, and lagering beer is actually quite difficult for homebrewers because of lack of great temperature control, I am fermenting at a higher temperature. This means I may lose a little bit of the clean finish. Fingers crossed it pans out.
The key to home brewing is sanitation and sterilization. Everything must be absolutely sanitized, because bacteria is the enemy of beer. The goal of brewing is to produce an environment as favorable to yeast as possible, and by removing all bacteria, it allows yeast to flourish.
My recipe had a couple of speciality grains for steeping. Steeping grains adds complexity to your beer. It allows for additional color and flavoring, and gives it a level of freshness that extract brews sometimes lack. Extract brewing is a process that uses already-extracted sugars rather than going through the extraction process manually. This is much easier to do for homebrews with limited setups.
Once the grains have been steeped, we bring the whole batch to a boil and begin the actual brewing process. We did a 50-minute boil, with a two-step hop addition. The first at 50 minutes, and the second with 10 minutes left. This two-step process allows for a bittering phase first, and then the finishing phase. By letting the second hop addition boil for only a short amount of time, it increases the aromas present in the beer.
Once the boil is complete, it is important to cool the wort (liquid after grains, sugars, and hops are added) as fast as possible. I use a copper wort chiller (thanks, Mom and Dad!) to accomplish this. Cold water is fed through the copper tubing, rapidly cooling the liquid surrounding the pipes. The idea is to get the temperature of the wort to under 80 degrees or so as fast as possible.
Once the temperature is in the safe zone, yeast can be added, the wort can be aerated, and we can take a gravity reading. Measuring the starting specific gravity lets us know how much fermentable sugar is present in the liquid. Taking this measurement tells me the approximate alcohol content and, in a couple of weeks, it'll reveal how well the fermentation went.
I was right around the mark with my starting gravity. So that's a good first indication that I didn't horribly screw up the brew process.
With that, a successful beer-brewing session came to a close. We now have to wait a week before I transfer the beer to another container for secondary fermentation, and then another week or so before I put it in a keg. With any luck, by mid-September, we will be having a first taste! Another batch for Janky Paws!