It’s one week until the Super Bowl. You have a house full of people heading your way. They’re going to expect that you, Ms./Mr./Dr. Homebrewer, will have some great beer on tap. You walk over to the kegerator to check your levels and…you’re short. Maybe you had a keg bleed out all over the place, the bright hops aroma mingled with the smell of stale beer, taunting you. Maybe your sister went to town on that English IPA when she was over for dinner last week because you cheaped out on the wine and she’s just not that into Chianti. Whatever the reason, you need a beer – fast – and you’re short on ingredients. What do you do?
You brew yourself up a Pale Kellerbier.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Kellerbier is a lager. What are you, insane?” Perhaps. But let’s also keep in mind that Kellerbier is also a style that allows for a reasonable amount of “young” beer character. When we discussed Amber Kellerbier I suggested that you avoid those characters – I find they clash pretty sharply with the toasty, slightly-caramel-like flavors found there – but in the light, grainy, floral Pale Kellerbier I think they make the beer seem fresh rather than unfinished.
For those who aren’t familiar with the style, Kellerbier is functionally similar to British pale ales in that it was/is often cask-conditioned and served young and unfiltered, often with very low carbonation. It comes in Amber and Pale varieties, the amber exhibiting deeper malt and melanoidin flavors, the pale being more like a raw version of Munich Helles. Since the beer is served fresh off of (or even before) completion of fermentation, it lacks the clean, snappy “lager” character that it would gain from a traditional lagering period. Not only are the yeast still in suspension, but they haven’t even finished cleaning up from the party. Trace amounts of diacetyl (butter), DMS (corn), and even acetaldehyde (green apple) are acceptable, and strange as it sounds, it really does work. A local brewery that shall remain nameless makes a large slate of so-so beers with a lot of these little “rushed beer” faults, but for a couple of months each year they have a Keller Pils on tap (not exactly what we’re doing here, but close – double up the hopping in this recipe and you’re there), and it’s fantastic. Turn into the skid.
Good news on recipe here: it’s very similar to the straight Helles recipe, which makes it pretty simple, with just a couple of small tweaks required. Since a lot of the flavor is coming from fermentation characters, you won’t need a bunch of character malts, either – a lot of you probably have most of this in your grain library already!
The grist is roughly the same: only eight pounds of Pilsner malt and one pound of Vienna, but we’re not adding the Victory malt that I use in Helles to add a bit of toast and accentuate the dryness. Instead, add a scant one ounce of…I can’t even believe I’m writing this…honey malt. I despise honey malt; there’s no denying that it works here, though. My working theory is that it prevents the acetaldehyde in the “finished” beer from coming across as too grassy and instead seems more like a sweet apple flavor.
Hopping is bumped up just a bit, but not too much – the beer won’t age very long, so although we want more bitterness than in the Helles we don’t necessarily need to add a lot more hops to get it, since the IBUs won’t have as much time to settle out. Increase the 60-minute addition to 22 IBUs, and keep the half-ounce addition at 15 minutes, all Hallertau.
Yeast – bear with me here – is Wyeast 1275, Thames Valley Ale. Bavarian Lager or Munich Lager strains might seem like a more natural fit, but I don’t feel like either one is actually quite right – both are reasonably quick flocculators, leave the beer a little too malty for my taste, and can crank out a ton of diacetyl and sulfur in their pre-lagered state. The Thames Valley Ale (formerly Thames Valley ESB) yeast, by comparison, is a great attenuator, takes its time “floccing out,” and ferments quickly and relatively cleanly, but with a touch of diacetyl.
Mash and boil as usual, the one caveat being that if you’re in the habit of 90-minute boiling for beers with a lot of Pils malt, really don’t bother here. We want the beer to seem a little unfinished!
Fermentation might seem a little irresponsible in this recipe. Start at 65F, but as soon as you see activity on the surface (or airlock), let temperature free rise to 70F. In 4-5 days, check your gravity. If you’ve hit 1.014 or lower, package it up – if not, check again tomorrow, and you should be there. Carbonate low, at about 1.5 volumes of CO2 at the most, and start getting it into glasses! Remember, this is a drink-it-while-it’s-hot beer style.
This beer is not only different in color from the Amber Kellerbier, it’s substantively different in flavor. You should have a grainy-sweet beer with some interesting accent flavors, that nevertheless finishes dry, attenuated, and smooth. If you’re getting more of those off-flavors than you prefer, stick to this recipe and process but dial back the fermentation temperature a few degrees. It might take a day or two longer, but you’ll reduce the production of those precursors, and get less of the flavors in your final product. Prost!