Key Points for Key Pints:
Broken record: German malt. At the risk of repeating myself, good malt is vital for a malt-driven style like this. Spring for a top-shelf German Vienna malt for this batch, and your Krugs and Willibechers will thank you this fall.
Broken record: happy yeast. Earlier I used the word “alchemical” to describe the effect of drinking a wort transformed into beer by lager yeast—a good lager strain maybe shouldn’t quite vanish without a trace, but at least leave a little mystery as to its process (as opposed to an ESB/Hefeweizen/Belgian strain, where a well-versed drinker can taste the finished beer and immediately pin down the signature ester/phenol/what have you and attribute the yeast, and maybe even make a pretty good guess at the fermentation temp and other particulars of the process). In order to do that we’ll need a big colony of cells in peak condition—make a starter, give the wort 8–12 ppm dissolved O2 prior to pitching, and mind the ferm temp!
Long, cold lagering phase. This more than anything else defines our märzen–several months in a carboy or corny keg at 35–40°F will yield a bright, haze-free, clean and snappy lager worth waiting for.
If you can’t ferment or lager at cold temperature: Go with a more temp-tolerant lager strain, like 2124 Bohemian Lager or 2112 California Lager, and don’t plan to wait til September to enjoy—of course there are Germanically strict rules about when a beer named for a month should be brewed and consumed, but frankly it’ll taste good at any time of year.
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.
Make a yeast starter prior to brew day—happy yeast, low esters, good lager, you know the tune.
On brew day, collect strike water (I use 1.3 quarts per pound, YMMV) and heat to approx. 165°F.
Mill the grains, or have it done for you at the shop.
Mash & Sparge
Add all grains to strike water and mix to achieve a uniform temperature of 151–153°F. Rest the mash at this temperature for 60–90 minutes.
While the mash rests, collect and heat sparge water.
When the mash rest is complete, heat it to 170°F for mashout.
Sparge and collect the wort in the boil kettle; add 1.5 oz Tradition hops to the boil kettle as the wort collects for a first-wort hop addition.
Bring the wort to a boil and regretfully pack away your 3-liter glass boot until September. Boil for 60 minutes.
Fermentation and beyond
Transfer the cooled wort to a sanitized fermenter, aerate or oxygenate, and pitch yeast.
Strive for a pitching temperature of 50°F, and a fermentation temp of 52–54°F. The beer should be at or within a few points of terminal gravity within about 14 days. Given the planned length of the lagering phase, we won’t worry about conducting a diacetyl rest.
Rack to a secondary fermenter and lower down to roughly 34–38°F for lagering—then do your best to forget it’s there.
Our märzen could be packaged after about 7–8 weeks of lagering if you need to free up carboy space, but should still be stored cold until your own personal Oktoberfest is ready to kick off.
Until next time: drink it like you brewed it.
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