Monthly Archives: February 2014

American Amber Tasting

Earlier this year we brewed a Bock as our first attempt at a lager.  If you don’t remember, we split the batch and pitched half with US-05 to create an American Amber ale.  Today we’re going to taste that.

No lager here...
No lager here…

Appearance: this brew was actually kegged and carbonated in late January, so it’s long-since crystal clear.  Color is a spot-on reddish-amber.  Pours with a nice foamy head, not too dense, which gradually falls back.  Some lacing is present, but not as much as our Rye IPA.

Smell: all spice, no fruit, but not overpowering.  This is expected due to the use of “noble” Saaz and Hallertau hops which tend to have a spicy character.  Since this batch was not drop-hopped, no aroma explodes out of the glass like you’d get with an American IPA.

Taste: good taste, great bitterness for the style, and very easy drinking.  Spicy notes from the hops, no overpowering caramel flavors or cloying sweetness from the extra crystal we tossed in.  We think it’s well-balanced towards the bitter side.

Mouthfeel: there’s room for improvement here.  The brew finished at 1.024 SG, likely due to the higher mash temperature.  Next time, we’d keep the mash temps around 150 – 151F for less body.

Temperature Zones

A HERMS system (like we have) has multiple temperature zones.  First you’ve got the mash tun itself, and second you have the Heat EXchanger (HEX) in your Hot Liquor Tank.  They are not always the same temperature, and that means that both zones can affect the fermentability and mouthfeel of your beer.

If you’ll recall, mashing at a lower temperature (like 148F) increases fermentability because it favors the beta-amylase enzyme, which breaks starches into simpler sugars that yeast convert to alcohol.  Higher mash temperatures (like 154F) favor alpha-amylase, which breaks starches into larger chunks that yeast cannot process as easily.  Thus, higher mash temperature yields a less fermentable wort, and more unfermentable sugars, which create a fuller-tasting beer.

So, if your mash tun is at 149F and your HEX coil is at 154F, you’ll be getting starch conversion in both places, but quite possibly favoring different enzymes.  You need to keep the temperature between the mash and the HEX as close as possible to ensure the mash profile is consistent.  This is how we got more mouthfeel and less ABV on this brew without intending to.

For the future brews, we’ll try to hit mash temps more precisely, and reduce flow rates through the HEX to ensure that the wort in the coils isn’t a higher temperature than the mash itself.

Land of Pils

Poutnik Světlý Ležák
Poutnik Světlý Ležák

While recently in the Czech Republic, Brew It Right™ was clearly required to sample various Moravian brews and provide a full report.  This task was not taken lightly and required considerable sacrifice and concentration.  Obviously, almost all of the beer in Czech pubs are lagers, so you’ll find a precious few taps pouring ale unless it’s a hefeweizen.

First, a glossary:

  • Ležák – lager
  • Světlý – light
  • Pšeničné – wheat (usually hefeweizen)
  • Pivovar – brewery
  • Černé – black, meaning dark or dunkel
  • Tmavý – dark; see Černé
  • Kvasnicový – yeasty, unfiltered
  • Polotmavý – amber or gold

Copy this list to your phone and take it with you.  Or just do what we did; order one of everything on the list and try it.  You might be pleasantly surprised.

The Standout

While the local Starobrno brewery is great and their Starobrno Černé is (in our opinion) one of the better tasting regional brews in Moravia, the brewery is actually owned by Heineken. So if you’re trying to stay away from anything macro-related, they aren’t what you’re looking for.

Instead, try the Hotel Pegas in Brno, a hotel and restaurant with its own brewery.  Walk in and copper brew kettles are already on display right behind the bar.  And the beer is actually quite good, showing more variety than you’ll find in a lot of the pubs.  Pegas gets bonus points for attempting the only ale (besides hefeweizen) we found: a special porter.  But we’re deducting some of those points because it’s served in a smaller glass than any of the other brews, and after a week of lager we really, really wanted a full glass of ale.  The food is pretty good good too, though in typical outside-of-Prague Czech fashion, vegetables are nowhere to be found unless pickled.

Another to look for is Pivovar Poutnik which makes a couple pilsners.  For a respite from pilsner, try the Černé (dark) from Velkopopovický Kozel (though owned by Pilsner Urquell/SAB Miller).  Beware that many of the regional or local breweries (like Kozel or Starobrno) are all owned by international conglomerates, but many still make good beer.


Of course we had to try and find a homebrew shop, and found one we did: Pivo Ogar.  Unfortunately we got there five minutes late, but we did see a shelf of homebrew stuff and some sacks of malt behind the counter.  No kits though…