Mashing for Great Lager
Q: Hi, Matt. I have a question about mash schedules for lagers. When do you see it useful to do a single-infusion versus a step mash versus a decoction mash? —Mo in Denver
MB: I’ve had the great fortune to predominantly work in breweries with mash mixers, so I’ve always had step mashing available to me. So, just about every beer we make involves some type of a step mash. Even if we’re doing the equivalent of a single infusion, we add a mash-off step. But when it comes to lagers, I’ll just tell you straight out what our mash program is, and then we can work around that. So, we actually mash in [for] a protein rest at 122°F (50°C). One, you get to take advantage of proteolytic enzyme activity. There may be some other enzyme activity that’s at work there, but it also allows you the ability to get all in below [saccharification] temperature, and then ramp up and control your complete conversion program—whatever that might be.
Most of the lager we brew these days—even our Oaktoberfest—we want to be pretty dry. And often we’re mashing for maximum fermentability or attenuation. So, we would then ramp up to 145°F (63°C) in our program, and we would adjust the timing there. For Pivo, [for example,] we’re standing at about 45 minutes. And then I like to ramp up to some place north of 155°F (68°C), so that we can finish conversion. What we find with some of the European pilsner malts is that they like an even higher temperature—something closer to 162°F (72°C). And then a final rest, a relatively low mash-off rest. Some might argue it’s not high enough, but we’ve traditionally gone to only about 169–171°F (76–77°C) for our mash-off temperature. To take a step back, we spend 45 minutes at 145°F (63°C). In this particular regimen, we might spend 20 or 30 minutes at the higher saccharification temperature—the alpha-amylase temperature—and then when we get to mash-off, we don’t spend a lot of time at that rest. We’re then dropping to the lauter tun as quickly as we can after that.
So, we always do step mashes. We’ve integrated this protein [rest] in just about every one of the lagers we do. I think you could legitimately argue that there isn’t a lot of need for a protein rest, especially with modern malts, and that quite possibly you’re doing a little bit of damage to foam-positive proteins. However, it’s always worked for us, and we’ve been able to make these really lean and elegant lager beers that way. So, to answer your question about single-infusion mashing, I would probably employ that only when I had to, if I had a mash-lauter combo or your tools wouldn’t allow [a step mash]. And I think you can make a perfectly beautiful lager that way. I’m sure there are plenty of examples. But we would lean toward the step infusion.
I’ve never been a huge decoction fan. Funnily enough, I did a lot of it when I was homebrewing. Because I had to create step mashing, I would do decoction to do my steps. And then once I got into steam-driven mash mixers, I kind of forgot about it. But Sam [Tierney, at the Firestone Walker Propagator brewery] has been having some really big success [with decoction]—his system is set up for it. So, a lot of the beers that he’s been brewing lately on the lager side have incorporated some decoction. And I had a really great trip to Prague in the Czech Republic recently, where I tasted a number of the top decocted beers that were beautiful. So, no doubt, great beers can be made that way. Is it necessary? I don’t know. I haven’t tried decoction with Pivo—don’t ask me why. Maybe we should try it. Eric Toft [at Schönramer in Bavaria] always says that every year he does a brew without decoction, but he always goes back to the modified single decoction. He claims he gets better attenuation when he does the decoction. He’s not looking to add a lot of flavor that way, although I think he does get some malt complexity, no doubt. But he’s doing it for attenuation reasons, which I think is really interesting and legitimate. Here in the United States, you might argue, there are enzymes that do that for you, if you really need that. So, a couple of different ways to skin a cat, depending on what you’re looking for.
Adjuncts in Stouts
Q: I was wondering about making a stout. What grains or adjuncts do you like to use to thicken your beer? —Josh from Afterglow, a brewery-in-planning in Norfolk, Virginia
NF: I’d say mouthfeel is the most important single area to focus on when producing and designing recipes for stout. I think that’s the biggest delineation between really good stouts and just okay stouts. And it’s not exclusive to barrel-aged stouts—it’s across the board. Whether you’re brewing a 4 or 5 percent [ABV] oatmeal stout or sweet stout, all the way up to 12 to 15 percent barrel-aged stout, I think the ones that really start to stand out are ones that focus on mouthfeel. It’s not just sugar, it’s not just attenuation, it’s not just how much residual gravity’s left. It’s a mouthfeel component.
For Medianoche, in particular, we still depend on oats a lot—flaked oats. They’re just under probably 8 percent of the total grist. Our gravities are pushing sometimes as high as 38 to 40°P (1.169–1.179), [but] we’re probably averaging closer to 35°P (1.154). And then, how we attenuate, we’re actually using dry yeast [Fermentis SafAle US-05] for Medianoche, mainly because of how high a pitch rate we need to get. Our attenuations can range, and that has a big impact on mouthfeel as well. What we’re really trying to avoid is [being] dependent too much on final gravities for your mouthfeel. That’s where you’d lose a little bit of that design and intentionality with stout.
I think oats are great. But there are plenty of other malts that would add to it. We’ve done some wheat-focused batches of Medianoche, if we know we’re getting wheated-bourbon casks—Weller, for example—or even some wheat-whiskey casks. We really try to accentuate the base barrel character and put a little bit more emphasis on the wheat. So in those recipes, we use flaked wheat. We’ve used wheat malt as well. And those two tend to have—just like wheated bourbons—a more distinct mouthfeel. It’s not thicker or fuller, but it definitely seems a little bit more distinct from our base oatmeal style. So, you can play around with a lot of different options for malt for mouthfeel.
When we’re designing smaller stouts with mouthfeel in mind, we’re depending on the grist even more, and targeting the right attenuation—we don’t want it cloyingly sweet. [We’re] trying to make sure we’re fully attenuating those beers. We have a lot of tolerance with Medianoche because we know we have blending, we know we have age and all these other components that aren’t on our side with a fresh beer. For a 7 or 8 percent [ABV] pastry stout or something else that we’re going to do some adjunct treatment to, we’ll make changes with those adjuncts in mind. So, if [it’s] coffee, we’ll dial back on the roasted barley or even chocolate malts a little bit. And we can even push some of those roast characteristics if we know we’re going to be adding sweeter adjuncts, [such as] coconut, for balance.
Flaked products [oats, wheat, etc.] are all pointing toward the same thing, as is dextrin malt, your Carapils. [These are] malts that we know are likely not going to attenuate very far. You don’t have to just use flaked oat, flaked wheat, flaked rye, or anything else. Rye’s another one though. Chocolate rye, in particular, is probably one of my favorite malts in stout because it has that roast character. The expression of chocolate rye compared to some other chocolate [malts]—even some of the lighter chocolates—definitely comes across a little bit more milk chocolate–driven, which is a little bit more in line with what you’re looking for in something that’s not going to age forever. And it also does have a mouthfeel component to it. That’s distinctly different from your pale or dark chocolate malt, so we’ll use that in tandem.
We haven’t done a lot of trials with corn or flaked corn, but I have talked to others who have said flaked corn has a distinct component. If we wanted to really dive into that, we’d probably see what kind of expression we get from corn. The connection between corn and bourbon is not quite the same as what it is with malt and beer, but there are definitely some of those flavor components.
Questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.
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