#34 Lousy Smärzen No. 2

Lesson of the week:

It is literally impossible for a brew day to go off without a hitch.

That wasn't intended to be a pun, but this was the first of three beers I brewed for my wedding. It's been an iterative development through my Kolsch and the first Lousy Smarzen to end up with a clean, heavily carbonated malty Teutonic lager.


2kg Pilsner malt
2kg Munich I malt
1kg Munich II malt
WLP029 German Ale yeast
100g Hallertau Mittlefruh 2.9% AA @ 60min
OG 1.042 (WTF?)
FG 1.012 (WTF?)
ABV 4%

Beguilingly, almost, this was nearly the cleanest, swiftest brew day I've ever had, with a time of about 4 hours from flicking the switch on the kettle to finishing the clean-up. I set up my equipment the night before, even measuring out 12.5 L of mash water into the kettle.

After spending an unreasonable amount of money on brass plumbing fittings, I was proud to finally have a mash tun manifold that stays in place and which poses no risk of becoming dislodged as a result of vigorous mash stirring. It was probably pretty unlikely without spending all that money, but hey – what price for mental comfort?

With my slight OTT manifold in situ, I was mashing within what seemed like minutes of hitting the switch on the kettle. I guessed and probably guessed wrongly the temperature of my grain when completing the mash calculator on Brewer's Friend, so I would be exaggerating slightly if I said that the temperature of my mash was a solid and comfortable 65 C, but I've learned not to worry about that type of thing.

While mashing, I heated 19.5 L of sparge water and after 60 minutes, tipped it all into the mash tun. Comfortably raised to 80 C, I cranked the tap open and (for the first time ever!) was pleased to see wort running quickly out the tap. This was somewhat in contravention of the batch sparge manifesto: I should have used only a small amount of wort to raise the temperature, drained completely, and then added the remaining hot water, but with my 3/3 history of stuck sparges I wasn't taking any chances. I collected a comfortable 27 L of wort, if not a bit more.

It's here that the story takes a treacherous turn, although I wasn't to know it at the time. I recorded my pre-boil OG as hovering at around 1.042. Happily, I brought the wort to a boil, added my single dose of hops, and boiled for 60 minutes without cut-out or incident. Using the (now, very obvious) technique of deploying the chiller to agitate the wort, I brought the wort down from boiling temperature to about 35 C in just 15 minutes, took a gravity reading, and - 1.042 - what?! How is that possible?

I've spent a lot of time thinking about how I managed to boil my 1.042 wort for an hour and end up with less wort of exactly the same density. There was considerably less wort in the kettle, and a lot of water dripping from the ceiling by the time I finished, so it definitely was more dense. Another obvious candidate is that I read my pre-boil OG wrong, but it sat on the counter cooling down from the moment I started bringing the wort to a boil to the minute I flicked off the boiler. I must have read it several times and I have to think I would have noticed if I was 10 points off where I should have been. The other possibility is that the hydrometer has simply given up the ghost. I remember hearing a slight cracking sound when I added the hot pre-boil wort to the measuring cylinder, almost like glass breaking. There aren't any obvious signs of injury to it, but I have to wonder whether it's just no longer accurate (even if it does read 1.000 in tap water at room temperature). Annoyingly didn't think to keep any pre-boil wort, so I will never know.

I pitched what can only be described a lot of yeast the following morning after cooling over night. I'd harvested the yeast cake from the first Lousy Smarzen and kept it in a conical flask, then added two charges of 100g DME/1L water over a few days. There was a fluffy thick krausen within 12 hours, and the beer seemed to be fermenting at a turbo charged pace at around 16 C (the fridge was set to 14).

Disappointingly, the yeast ran out of steam when the gravity reached 1.012, which was a few points higher than hoped. The ambient temperature in the cellar wasn't high enough to make me think unplugging the fridge would make any difference, so I waited until the beer had spent a full 3 weeks in the carboy. Still at 1.012, I put the entire carboy in my keezer to crash cool to about 2 C.

I added 1 tsp gelatin in 100 ml of hot water in the keg on day 21, then kegged about 6 days later.

The beer was - sadly for the purposes of this post, but joyously for the purposes of the beer itself - a real hit at the wedding. A genuine German even commented that it tasted like a German lager! It was however so good that the keg was totally drained before I got a chance to snag a photo. I guess I'll just have to make another batch!