February 28, 2011

Notes on a Brew Day: Helles VII

House beer: do you have one? A brew that you always keep on hand, or at least return to frequently? Perhaps it's a seasonal feature in your homebrewery's lineup? And, in a world where change is the only constant, is the recipe static? Or do you, like me, succumb to the urge to fiddle?

House beers, despite the implication that they're fixtures in your bottle fridge or draft lines, are actually a great place for experimentation: it's hard to find a more ideal proving ground for new ingredients or techniques than a recipe you know inside and out. Change the hops, manipulate the grain bill, try a different base malt or a different malt extract, switch out the yeast; or keep the ingredients fixed but change the addition times, add or subtract mash rests, adjust the fermentation temperature and/or schedule ... because brewing is so process-dependent, entire worlds of different (subtly or otherwise) beers reside in every bill of ingredients.

Also: any old hand or competition wonk worth his or her salt will tell you that a key to homebrew consistency is thoroughly knowing your system (everything from boil kettle to fermenters to packaging), so that you can more accurately gauge the effects of changing these variables in your house recipe ... or brew a consistent house recipe at all.

Now then, Helles VII. It's one of my house beers, but as the Roman numerals imply, it's a work in progress (remember? succumbing to the urge to fiddle); there's always a new hop, base malt, conversion to extract, yeast, or something that comes along that I want to try. There've been way more than seven iterations, by the way; patches have been deployed over the years to address IBUs, fermentation character, final gravity, etc., in previous versions.

I-III were to get the grist the way I wanted it. IV was pleasing to me and set the standard  hop schedule and yeast; other batches in the IV series experimented with different hop varieties. The V and VI series Helles played around with different  yeasts and fermentation regimens: WLP838, WLP920, Wy2308, Wy2124 ... All were quite tasty, but I'm old and set in my ways and went back to WLP833 (or Wyeast 2487 when it's around). 

The story of VII is a return to the elemental building blocks of a blonde lager - it's a single malt, single hop composition, test-batching a new-to-me Pilsner malt from Best Malz of Heidelberg. My preliminary impression is that what Warminster's floor-malted Maris Otter is to English pale malt (e.g., fracking awesome), Best Pils is to German lager malt.

Helles VII
10.5 gallons, all-grain
Target OG: 1.051

  • 17 lbs Best Malz Pilsner
  • 151 F for 75 min *
  • 1.5 oz German Tradition @ FWH
  • Chill to 48 F
  • WLP833 German Bock lager, 4.5 liter starter w/ stir plate
  • 50-52 F for 10 days
  • 33 F for 28 days
* Spare me your nerd rage, O my fellow lager louts - this ain't the mash schedule I set out to execute **, but due to familial obligations, strike water couldn't start heating until almost my bedtime. Factor in a mid-mash propane outage, and this became one of those brew sessions where done = beautiful. Helles VII.i will be a reboot with the multi-temp mash I wanted.

** Although going by the range of Kolbach index values Best gives on their generic analysis for this malt, a single-temp infusion could be totally fine.

Extract Version:
In converting some past iterations to partial mash and extract, I've had very nice results with Northern Brewer Pilsen malt syrup - the beer won't have the same depth of floral, slightly sulfury malt flavor that German pils malt gives, but it will have a great delicacy, attenuate well, and accurate straw-blond color. For a five gallon batch, substitute 6 lbs Pilsen malt syrup and 1 lb of Pilsen DME for the Best Pils malt.


So, that's the up-to-the-batch history of one of my house beers. Please use the response fields to share yours!


  1. Single grain Dawson strikes again!

  2. I know what you mean when you talk about your need to experiment. I have a house wheat I make regularly with alot of fans, but this time I'm going to be brewing it using s-04 and lots of amarillo and centennial. It seems every time i brew it there is always something different...I'll let you know how it turns out.

  3. Can't believe you haven't used Best before. Its hands down the best German Helles malt. Next time, try some hops towards the finish. All the best German ones have some hops to the nose.

  4. I hope this blog post means that NB is going to put the Best Malz Pilsner in the grain inventory.

  5. I don't brew enough to be able to have a house beer. Im struggling to get the hop flavour I want at the moment though, so Im thinking about doing a series of beers just with one malt and one hop, changing things like hop addition amounts and times etc


  6. @Kristen - I know, I'm late to the party. Thx for the late addition tip - after trying both over the years, I found I personally preferred FWH over small ~15" additions, but I will have to re-evaluate that preference with VII.iii.

    @Barliman - yes! Look for it online & in the stores in a matter of days.

  7. I'm still working on my house brew, on about version 5 of my pale ale. Just started the occasional 10 gallon batch so it will allow me to experiment even further before I finally nail it, if I ever do.