Our homebrewing columnist, Josh Weikert, offers this recipe for a beer that is low-alcohol, delicate, and lightly flavored. Rather than being an American mass-produced lager it is, instead, a modern take on a traditional German style
Josh Weikert 5 months ago
Some of you are brewing and beer snobs. That's fine - I'm not saying you shouldn't be. It does, though, mean that some of you are simply never going to brew up, for example, my Light American Lager recipe because you think it's too pedestrian and parochial for your tastes.
I'm not here to pass judgment on that, but suffice it to say I think it's a shame only because I think that recipe is pretty great, and the style can be, too. How about this for a compromise, though: what if I were to provide you a recipe for a beer that is likewise low-alcohol, delicate, and lightly flavored, but rather than being an American mass-produced lager it was, instead, a modern take on a traditional German style? Might that convince you to brew up a very light lager, despite your justifiable reverence for more-intense styles?
Meine Freunde, I give you the German Leichtbier.
The German Leichtbier is basically just a German version of the Light American Lager, but to be fair to the style (and the Germans) it doesn't have nearly the reluctance to feature beer-ish flavors that the Light American Lager does. Where they cross paths is in color and ABV: this is a very, very pale beer, and maxes out in the guidelines at a whopping 3.6 percent ABV. Despite these superficial, statistical similarities to American Light Lager, Leichtbier is actually far closer in flavor profile to German Pilsner than any American style.
For one thing, it's surprisingly bitter. Not in absolute terms, of course, with an IBU range of 15-28 (and our recipe below is at the higher end), but in its Bittering Unit to Gravity Unit (BU:GU) ratio. When we factor in the 22 IBUs in this recipe against a gravity of only 1.032, we get a BU:GU ratio similar to that of American Pale Ale or Helles Exportbier. It also features a fair amount of hops flavor to go with its bitterness, with particular emphasis on the kinds of herbal and spicy flavors that we associate with Saaz and other noble hops.
It is also, and importantly, a fully-attenuated, very light-bodied beer. In many session-strength styles we're going out of our way to create an impression of body and heft that just isn't there, to mimic stronger styles. That's not the case, here: we want an impression of lightness, that borders on (but stops just shy of) "thin."
Sometimes the guidelines catch up with you. I'd been brewing this beer for years before it was added to the 2015 guidelines: I just didn't know it. It went under the name of "Cheap German Blonde" because that's what it was: a beer with a low-weight and simple grist, made with leftover hops, using the remains of my yeast starters. I'd churn one out just to have a light, approachable beer on the taps before a lot of parties. It was easy to make, fermented out cleanly and quickly, and was easy to explain. And people really, really liked it (it won its share of medals, too).
I can take this time to wander down style-development-memory lane because this recipe is simple.
5.5 pounds of classic German Pilsner malt, plus half a pound of Victory malt. Done and done. We want some light, sweet grainy flavors to predominate the malt bill, and the Victory was just a little nudge of toasty background flavor that I'd often add to recipes and worked perfectly here.
Hopping, again, pretty simple: 20 IBUs of any Continental hops (I always liked Styrian Goldings - I imagined that a touch of that earthy, herbal flavor persisted into the finished product) at the top of the boil, then an ounce of Saaz with two minutes to go, plus half an ounce of Hallertau at flameout/in the whirlpool. It gives me a healthy amount of hops aroma and flavor without being overtly hops-forward (again, think "light German Pilsner").
And I'd routinely ferment this beer with a cool approach to my Wyeast 1007 German Ale yeast, though if I had half of a Bavarian Lager pitch to throw in, it was perfectly fine as well. The 1007 is nice, though, because it's quite a bit faster and almost as clean.
I'd recommend mashing 75 to 90 minutes to get a slightly more-fermentable wort, and then lauter/sparge and boil as usual. Chill, then pitch your yeast and drop the temperature to about 58F. That temp will be fine, whichever yeast route you've chosen, and hold it there for five days. At that point, let the beer free-rise to anything up to 70F, and wait it out. It won't be long: there's not much sugar in there, and this is a beer that is prone to "phantom fermentation," showing almost no krausen (though your mileage may vary).
Post-fermentation, cold crash to help clear it and package, carbonating to a nice, full 2.5 volumes of CO2. The carbonation will help fill the mouth and add a slight flinty bite, but leave the lighter flavors intact and detectable, especially in the finish/aftertaste.
Don't be too proud to brew a light lager. They can be a great way to show off your skills - after all, there's nowhere for faults to hide - and they're styles that you can offer to any and every drinker you run across.
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