Key Points for Key Pints
• Get the good malt. High-quality German Pils malt makes or breaks Helles. You’re worth it!
• Get the good hops. Hallertau Mittelfruh, Hallertau Hersbrucker, or German Tettnang are all classic options for Helles, while other good choices are German Tradition and Spalt. Just because this won’t be a hoppy beer doesn’t mean old or low-quality hops are good enough: fresh and fragrant will be delightful, cheesy will be tasteable.
• Mash low, aim high. I personally favor a multi-temp mash for beers like Helles, in order to make the most of both beta and alpha amylase enzymes in the mash, to yield a wort that can be well-attenuated and dry without tasting thin or watery after fermentation. Having said that, I have been known to bust out a single-temp infusion when time is not on my side. If time is not on your side, or equipment won’t permit, you’ll do great with a single infusion at 151–152°F or so.
• Treat the yeast right. I hate to be a broken record, citizens, but disruptions or tics of the fermentation will show right through. Big starter, plenty of O2, and minding the fermentation temp will pay big dividends in the glass.
To the Home Brewery
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 nice big yeast starter prior to brew day to show your Saccharomyces culture how much you love it (Note: if you do sincerely love it in a way that I hinted at by accident and cannot even actually imagine, don’t French kiss it—that’s not advisable for a clean fermentation).
2. On brew day, collect strike water (I use 1.3 quarts per pound, YMMV) and heat to approximately 147°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 135–136°F. Rest the mash at this temperature for 40 minutes.
2. While the mash rests, begin collecting and heating sparge water.Using either direct heat or infusions of hot water, raise the mash temp to 158–160°F. Rest the mash at this temperature for another 20–30 minutes.
3. When the second mash rest is complete, raise the mash temp to 170°F for mashout.
4. Sparge and collect the wort in the boil kettle.
1. Bring the wort to a boil and remind yourself that it will be much, much warmer out when this beer is ready to drink. Add 0.75 oz Hallertau Mittelfruh hops when the wort begins to boil, and boil for 60 minutes.
2. Add 0.25 oz of Hallertau Mittelfruh 30 minutes before the end of the boil.
3. Cool it!
Fermentation and beyond
1. Transfer the cooled wort to a sanitized fermenter, aerate well, and pitch yeast.
2. Depending on the exact yeast strain you chose, aim for a maximum fermentation temp in the low to mid 50°s F. When fermentation activity begins to slow, allow the fermenter to warm up to approximately 60°F for a 2–3 day diacetyl rest. Confirm that the beer is at final gravity (should be somewhere in the neighborhood of 1.010, depending on yeast).
3. Rack to a secondary fermenter and crash cool to lagering temps. Lager for 3–4 weeks and use a fining like gelatin or Biofine as needed prior to packaging.
4. Our Helles will be ready for zum Wohl roughly 6–8 weeks from brewing day; stored cool and away from light, it should stay in good condition for several months. Maybe even long enough for us to get what passes for a suntan.
Until next time: Drink it like you brewed it.
Like this recipe? You can find it and 63 other witty and detailed homebrew recipes in Michael Dawson’s book, “Mashmaker: A Citizen-Brewer’s Guide to Making Great Beer at Home.” In each recipe, Dawson includes suggestions on how to modify and customize each beer, along with all-new essays on Malt, Hops, Yeast, and Water, giving readers critical insight into the building blocks of every successful brew. On sale now for $24.95 at mashmakerbook.com.
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