This month, by making use of some regionally grown grains (barley, corn, and rye—save that wheat for bread flour, yo!) we’re going to brew a Minnesota-rooted beer that, when seen through the lens of a modern BJCP beer nerd, would be pigeonholed as an International Amber Lager:
“A well-attenuated malty amber lager with an interesting caramel or toast quality and restrained bitterness. Usually fairly well-attenuated, often with an adjunct quality. Smooth, easily-drinkable lager character.”
In the grist we’ll use Rahr Pilsner, malted in Shakopee from barley grown in the Great Plains; a big percentage of corn, the adjunct of choice when lager brewers from Europe immigrated in the mid-19th century; plus, some caramel and roasted malts from Bavaria for a reminder of the home they left behind. Cluster hops, believed to be the oldest American variety and likely descended from a cross of some Colonial-era European transplant with a native landrace, will provide balancing bitterness and a suggestion of earthy, fruity flavor. We’ll finish with fermentation via a Bohemian-type lager strain (but if equipment or temps dictate otherwise, go for a California-type lager yeast instead).
A recipe to try
Backthrow Pre-Pro Triple Grain Amber Lager
Target OG: 1.052, Target IBU: 16–18
- 7 pounds Rahr Pilsner
- 1 ½ pounds flaked maize
- 8 ounces Weyermann® CaraAmber®
- 4 ounces Weyermann® Chocolate Rye
- ¾ ounce Cluster
- Wy2000 Budvar, WLP802 Czech Budejovice, or Saflager W-34/70
Key points for key pints
Yeast health. In a beer where “cleanliness” of fermentation character is a virtue and there aren’t a lot of strong malt and hop flavors to hide behind, we don’t need any wack Sacch cells spitting mad VDKs and acetaldehyde. We will need a large pitch of healthy yeast and oxygen prior to inoculation to make it sing.
Long and low mash. The unmalted adjunct in the grist will benefit from a longer duration mash time. If you normally do a 60-minute mash, aim for 75–90 minutes for this batch. Additionally, a low mash temp will help us achieve the high attenuation this style requires.
Optional: Dunkel-ify it. This could easily become an American dark lager by adding a bit of Carafa® or even a few ounces of very dark candi syrup.
To the homebrewery
Note: These steps are general guidelines and assume you’re already familiar with the all-grain brewing process. Refer to the instructions for your brew system and adjust as needed based on experience with your own particular equipment.
1. Make a yeast starter prior to brew day (alternately, use multiple packs of yeast).
2. On brew day, collect strike water (I use 1.3 quarts per pound, YMMV) and heat to approximately 160°F.
3. Mill the grains, or have it done for you at the shop.
Mash & sparge
1. Add all grains to strike water and mix to achieve a uniform temperature of 146–148°F. Rest the mash at this temperature for 90 minutes.
2. While the mash rests, collect and heat sparge water.
3. When the mash rest is complete, heat it to 170°F for mashout.
4. Sparge and collect the wort in the boil kettle.
1. Bring the wort to a boil and quietly reflect on Thomas Cole’s “The Course of Empire.” Add 0.5 ounce Cluster hops when the wort begins to boil, and boil for 60 minutes.
2. 20 minutes before the end of the boil, add 0.25 ounce Cluster hops.
3. Cool it!
Fermentation & beyond
1. Transfer the cooled wort to a sanitized fermenter, aerate well, and pitch yeast.
2. Depending on the yeast strain being used, aim for a maximum fermentation temp in the low to mid-50s°F. When fermentation activity begins to slow, allow the fermenter to warm up to approximately 60°F for a 2–3 day diacetyl rest. Depending on yeast and temp, this step should be completed in about 10–14 days.
3. Rack to a secondary fermenter and crash cool to lagering temps (a shed filled with ice cut from the lake would be authentic, but a fridge works too). Lager for 3–4 weeks (or longer, if time allows) and use a fining agent like gelatin or Biofine as needed prior to packaging.
4. Package once good clarity is achieved and enjoy while fresh.
Until next time: Drink it like you brewed it.