Larger – An Imperial Pilsner

Person Number 1: “You spelt it wrong, it’s l-a-g-e-r.”

Me: “No, I didn’t. It’s Larger. It’s like a lager, but it’s bigger.”

Person Number 1: “Oooooh, I see what you did there!”

Me: “Yes, yes you did and I am funny.”

Person Number 1: “No, you’re not. Puns are never funny.”

Me: “I’ll have to agree with you. They’re not funny… they’re punny.”

Person Number 1: <Punches Kelly>

Me: “Ouch. Did you just punch me because that action includes the word, pun?”

I was going to leave this blogpost at the above conversation, but thought the avid readers out there would want a little more information about our new beer, Larger and were less concerned at the fact that someone hit me for using puns. So, I’ll do what I always do and tell you a little story about how this beer came to be.

Our pretty new label...

Often here at Epic we get enquiries via email asking what beers we have, sometimes it may even be a sales order and sometimes, there are spelling mistakes. It’s most likely that the word that is spelt wrong is lager, where an erroneous “R” makes it’s way in. So, it made sense that if we were going to brew a big Pilsner-style beer, that we would annoy everyone out there and call it Larger.  This now means we’re likely to get a load of people ordering the wrong beer at bars, bottle-stores getting confused and generally, a bunch of folk being miffed at us. Which is why it meant we had to make this beer taste awesome enough, that people wouldn’t worry about it’s slightly frustrating name.

So how does one go about doing this? I’ll be honest. My lager-brewing skills are somewhat limited. Sure, the first two years of my brewing career were spent with DB Breweries, pumping out hectolitre upon hectolitre of bottom-fermented lager-style beers and in my time at Thornbridge, we worked together with Birrificio Italiano and brewed a Pilsener called Italia. Here at Epic we brew our nice dry-hopped Epic Lager, but apart from that, my knowledge was sparse. The best thing to do in such a situation is taste beers similar to what you want to brew and read as much as you can about the brewing techniques.

Thornbridge Italia (courtesy of Leigh from goodpeopleeats.blogspot.com)

If we bounce back a bit to February 23rd of this year… Myself, Luke from Epic and a very important chap who ferries super-fresh bottles of beer from the USA to our own doorsteps, Dave “The Beer Mule” Summergreene sat down and tried a Port Brewing Panzer Imperial Pilsner. It had a big, rich malt backbone, quite sweet in character with a touch of caramel to help fight back against the huge noble hop character. It was big, bitter, balanced and beautiful. We were all super-impressed with the brew and pretty much decided there and then, that we wanted to do an Epic Imperial Pilsner at some stage. Dave had met Julian Shrago, Head Brewer and Owner of Beachwood BBQ Brewery in Long Beach whilst in Los Angeles and put me in contact with him. Julian had originally been a US National Homebrew champion with one of his IPAs. Obviously knowing his hops extremely well he then teamed up with the Port Brewing crew and they brewed the Panzer Imperial Pilsner as a collaboration. Julian told me how he’d been inspired by the Samuel Adams Imperial Pilsner back in 2003 and based on his knowledge of Double IPAs, went about creating the brew based on big hopping rates, but went with German Pilsner malt, German hops and a German Lager yeast strain. With that advice on board, we began thinking of a recipe…

Our inspiration! (Pic courtesy of fullpint.com)

April rolled around and The Beer Mule arrived with another selection of fine beers. We sipped our way through Uinta Brewing Company’s Tilted Smile and Karl Strauss Brewing Company’s Whistler Imperial Pils. I remembered back to a year before, drinking an Odell Double Pilsner that Doug had delivered to Thornbridge when working on a collaboration with us. They were all great beers and had seemingly taken the Double/Imperial IPA model and modified it with the use of cool fermentation, bottom-fermenting lager yeast strains and a big whack of hops more typically indicative of German and Bohemian Pilsner/Pilseners.

It was time to develop the recipe. We contacted Wyeast to discuss the possibility of getting a decent amount of Bohemian Lager Yeast sent over for us to grow up in a batch of our Epic Lager. We usually use California Lager Yeast in Epic Lager and were really interested to see how this strain would effect the flavour profile in this beer, as well as it being an essential part of the process in which we got a pitchable quantity of yeast for the Imperial Pilsner. The Bohemian Lager Yeast brewed Lager showed a slightly cleaner, crisper finish, a touch more bitterness and the tiniest amount of sulphur throughout fermentation. Although it was a longer fermentation and maturation with this yeast than it was with the Californian Lager strain, I was personally impressed with the characters that this yeast had brought to the beer. It probably wasn’t enough to make a considerable difference to the overall character of Epic Lager, but it exhibited characteristics that we knew would be perfect with our Imperial Pilsner.

The wonderfully fragrant, and lightly biscuity Pilsner Malt

For the grist, we decided on Weyermann Pilsener malt as our base. We wanted a nice, clean malt grain character and the German malt was perfect for this. It makes up part of our grist in the original Epic Lager (along with Bohemian Pilsener malt), so we knew how it behaved in a brew and were pretty pleased with it’s flavour profile. The aim for this beer was to hit around 8.5% alcohol by volume with an Original Gravity of 1.077 and a Final Gravity of 1.012-1.013. This would mean we’d need some good attenuation from the yeast to get the beer as dry and clean as we wanted it. I was nervous about this… the last thing we wanted was an underattenuated strong lager!

The bitterness we were aiming for was quite high at 70 IBUs, but this was tempered by the fact that we chose one of my favourite bittering hops, Pacific Jade. This hop exhibits an intense Noble hop character in that it is very low in a hop alpha acid called Cohumulone. This alpha acid is often responsible for a harsh bitterness, so a low level can give a softer perceived bitterness in the finished beer and in my opinion, Pacific Jade is one of the best at giving a well-utilised, soft, clean bitterness.

This little guy helps us with some nice, soft bitterness at low levels

Pacific Jade was paired throughout the brew with three hops of German parentage. Liberty and Santiam, both grown in the US and the hops used in our Epic Lager, were used liberally throughout the flavouring and aroma additions, their Hallertau ancestry lending well to the character we were after in this brew. These were joined by US Tettnang, another of the noble hop varieties and finally finished off with some Kiwi-grown Kohatu. The blending of US and NZ hops had worked well for us in our earlier Hop Zombie, so it made sense to do something similar with Larger. The plan was also to do a massive dry-hop with Larger, using Liberty, Santiam, US Tettnang and Kohatu over a number of dry hops based on how the flavour of the beer was progressing during the lagering process.

When it came to water chemistry and the mash regime, it was all down to compromise and trying to coax as many fermentables as possible from the grains. The temperature-stepped mash started low to really work the maltase, peptidase and β-glucanase enzymes and this was followed by an increase to push the proteases and β-amylases. The majority of the mash rest was done at 66°C to favour α-amylase activity and limit dextrin content. The grist itself was mashed quite thin, emulating the type of liquor:grist ratio that is used in continental decoction mashing (even though this was solely infusion). This thinner grist was chosen as it helps to aid amylase heat resistance at the water mineral content we were looking at using. Because Auckland water is very soft (in fact it is quite similar to the water profile of Plzen), it was decided to use only a small amount of Calcium Sulphate in this beer. The lower calcium concentration was part of the reason a thin grist was used and hopefully the low level sulphate ions would bring some crispness and dryness to the finish.

Just like the blog before this one, we now wait for our beer to be finished. It is sitting patiently in tank, exactly one month from brewday today and developing the flavours that we want. It’s slowly picking up the aromatics from the massive amount of dry-hopping. The finish and bitterness are exactly where we wanted them, the lower alpha acid hops are working in a different way than the big high-alpha beasts we used in Hop Zombie, providing us with something big, yet refined. The body is perfect, nice and light and summery, which is convenient considering this is to act as our Christmas release beer from now onwards!

Less than a month to go…

Our keg tap badge... who will be the lucky recipients of our small number of kegs??

Ratebrew…

What is Ratebeer, I here you all ask in unison. Being the laziest of bloggers, I did my usual wiki search and discovered that a guy called Bill Buchanan began the site in May 2000 to act as a focal point for beer lovers to have a virtual yarn about the breweries and beers that they love. Considering this is something that people have done for years in pubs all over the world, it makes sense I guess. Everything else was extending throughout the virtual world: dating, role-playing, football games, and the use of colons (the grammatical ones…) in a correct manner. It was bound to happen!

As the name suggests...

As the name suggests...

Ratebeer was subsequently taking over by a guy called Joe Tucker who runs this virtual beer collection site from the States, boasting over 2 million beer reviews! That’s a lot of drinking, recording and discussing!

 I’ve had a bit of a rant before (I’m prone to long, circular arguments with myself when I write) about Ratebeer and how in the fever of beer collection, many a ratebeerian will actually rate a beer even when it’s obviously not in tip-top condition, but I also understand that people can write what they like! Saying that, I find Ratebeer a fantastic resource for feedback. I like knowing what people think about our beers, good or bad… as long as they don’t try and tell me how I’ve brewed them, as I wrote about here.

So here we are in the middle of July and it happens that the Ratebeer crowd are having their European Summer Gathering just up t’road (yeah, pretty bad for a Kiwi to go all Yorkshire, somehow the accents just don’t mix) in Sheffield and two of the Ratebeerians, Simon Johnson from the brilliant Reluctant Scooper blog and Ian Harrison from the excellent Pubs and Beer site have come up for a brew day!

Matt, Ian and Si... rubber gloves at the ready?

Matt, Ian and Si... rubber gloves at the ready?

Simon has been here and brewed before and wrote a really nice blog that you can check out here. Actually if beer rating sites annoy you, as they do quite a few brewers, then I’d recommend Ian’s Pubs and Beer site. The interesting thing about this beer rating site is that they will often go into the same pubs and taste the same beers and rate them every time. This is how it should happen! Drink the beers you like and rate how the pubs themselves have kept them. It removes the possibility of the pub just having an average pint or it being the end of the barrel or the beer having being on the handpull for who knows how long. A great resource chronicling some good pub and beer information anyway. In fact, it’s definitely up there with the Ratebeer site in that the web address states exactly what the website is all about!

So with Ian and Simon here, it’s time to chat about the beer! I’ve been back and forth to Simon and Ian over the last month or so talking about ideas for the beer, what they envisage for this brew, what sort of hops, malts and other ingredients we have available, generally building up an image in my head of the type of beer that they want to brew. Because there’s a gaggle of brewers here at Thornbridge, we all have a diverse range of ideas and thoughts as to how beers should be brewed. It’s great to bounce ideas off one another and create and evolve a concept to its fruition. I gave all of the boys Ian and Simon’s ideas and we got to work.

Beer blog boys brew brilliant beer

Beer blog boys brew brilliant beer

First up was Simon and Ian’s initial concept… A light, pale ale, with Liberty and lemongrass / lemon balm to the fore, perhaps some mint in there? Make a real summer quencher!

That was the concept, so we got to work…

Kelly's plan

Kelly's plan

I thought of a beer around 3.6-3.8% using pale ale malt, some flaked maize instead of wheat to help head retention, and a little crystal rye, caragold and crystal wheat. Maybe hopped with Liberty and some german hops… potentially Northern Brewer or even Celeia, a Styrian offshoot. Dosed liberally with fresh lemon balm and mint at the end of the boil.

Matt's plan
Matt’s plan

Matt has pale ale malt, flaked maize also, and a little Vienna and pale crystal malts, with Liberty and lemon balm. Again, around 3.7%

Dave's plan... world domination?
Dave’s plan… world domination?

Dave has pale ale malt, wheat malt, Vienna and a touch of crystal wheat, hopped with Styrian Goldings and Saaz and maybe some pineapple sage and Sorachi hops and a bit of lemon zest, weighing in at 3.8%.

JK's plan
JK’s plan

JK has pale ale malt, Munich, caramalt and wheat for head retention with some Liberty and Amarillo hops with some lemongrass and around 4.5%. He also has an interesting concept for a “mint choc chip mild” with pale ale malt, pale chocolate, pale crystal, and fresh mint with Liberty and Challenger or Cascade hops. Interesting idea, though maybe something for the autumn months!

So by our powers combined we came up with a recipe! We went for Maris Otter Pale Ale malt, wheat malt, Vienna malt, Crystal Rye malt and Pale Crystal malt, giving us a lovely light orange wort. Once Ian and Simon arrived we hit the hops, nosing Liberty, Sorachi, Willamette, Santiam and Amarillo before deciding on a good whack of Liberty (5 kilos in 10 barrels) and a touch of Sorachi. Sorachi emits intense mouldy orange and coconut characters and comes across quite lemony in the beer, so we had to be careful with this hop. If we used too much it may overpower the gentle herb and lemon Liberty notes and overwhelm the delicate notes of the herbs and spices that we added at boil end.

Coriander seeds were the obvious choice with their wonderful citrus and powdered ginger characters to accentuate the hops but the next decision was which other herbs were I to raid from our fantastic Thornbridge gardens. It was off to see Chris, one of the resident gardeners. Like our brewer Matt, Chris was also a chef, and they both bring with them a great nose, palate and understanding of flavours and how ingredients work in food.

Off to the glasshouse, first to be used was some lemongrass (pictured below), freshly sliced from the soil. This was added crushed and sliced with the crushed coriander seeds before the end of boil to aid oil extraction.

                            Lemongrass in the Thornbridge glasshouse

After boil end, in went the lemon balm, the mint and the Tahitian lime leaves. All slightly more delicate in their aromas, with the Tahitian lime smelling incredible, much more scented and delicate than Kaffir lime leaves.

Lemon balm in our brewery herb garden

Lemon balm in our brewery herb garden

Good ol' garden mint... all crushed up, it reminded me of Rowley's Jaipur Mojito

Good ol' garden mint... all crushed up, it reminded me of Rowley's Jaipur Mojito

Wonderfully fragrant Tahitian lime

Wonderfully fragrant Tahitian lime

The aromas in the brewery were fantastic, especially as the herbs and spices were bashed to within inches of their lives with a mallet. We’re all hoping like hell that these flavours make their way into the beer and gives us a wonderfully fragrant, light, easy drinking summer ale!

We’re yet to name this brew and I’ll update the blog as we go… should be a good’n!

 

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