August 6, 2010

Piwo Kielich -- Grätzer-style ale, Part I

Being of Polish (and German) descent, it's a little embarassing for the Polish side of the family that the only contributions to brewing we seem to have is Lublin hops. (Being part German, I have tremendous brewing history in the lineage.) I'm not one for geneology, but I am a fan of learning history, so I can't help but explore the history of beer. Germany's massive contributions to brewing tend to overshadow much of Europe in the world of beer (save Belgian and the UK and arguably the Czech Republic).

I was pleased to discover that Poland actually did have brewing traditions separate from Germany. Particularly, it developed a beer style within the town of Grodzisk. I'm not sure exactly what the original style name is, but it's known today as Grodziskie, the name the last commercial brewer sold it under when they stopped producing the style in the 1990s. Germans, in their cultural superiority, have a way of converting things into German language, and converted the name of the town Grodzisk to Gratz, and in turn refer to the style of beer as grätzer. I'll refer to the style as grätzer -- despite recognizing the style as Polish -- because it's easier to say (and type) and it is more commonly referred to with this appellation.

Grätzer is a smoky, hoppy, clear wheat beer with high carbonation (up to 4 vol), which is why it was referred to as Polish champagne. I'm not sure exactly what this beer tastes like, but discriptions are fairly clear that it is smoky, wheat, clear hoppy, bitter, and highly carbed. That's good enough for me to go after giving a whirl to preserving a little Polish heritage (if even given a Germanic style appellation). The internet gives varied descriptions of recipes and fermentation, but some commonalities develop enough to offer a starting point for building a recipe:

* it is a wheat beer
* it requires smoked grain
* it is around 30-35 IBU, generally of Polish or north German hops
* it should be highly carbed
* it was mashed with an infusion mash
* isinglass was used to clarify the beer
* it is an ale, fermented with common northern German ale-style yeast, such as alt or kolsch yeast
* ABV is a sessionable volume at 3-5%

Some recipes seemed to go overboard on the hops, others were embarassingly low on the alcohol, others were in dispute over the type of hops appropriate to use, and many -- if not all that I found -- gave an alternative grain bill for the traditional bill. Although 30-35 IBU isn't considered "hoppy" compared to today's hop bombs, when compared to pilsners more common to eastern Europe (and popular beer brands), it was a hoppy beer for its time.

To build my recipe I immediately decided I would use my trusty 1338 yeast -- good for altbier and all sorts of other styles. I also wanted to use the hops that would have been traditionally available that I could obtain. I didn't have any Lublin available, but I did have some Saaz in my fridge, so I built the recipe using all Saaz. Also, I don't have isinglass, so I went with irish moss as a clarifying agent.

The traditional grain bill for grätzer is 100% smoked wheat malt. Wheat malt is easy to come by, but I've never seen smoked wheat malt for sale. Specifically, grätzer relied on wheat malt dried in a lot of smoke -- thus making it very smoky malt -- over a white oak-based fire. If I could have found a smoked wheat malt, it likely would have been smoked over beechwood or some other soft wood, as rauchmalt is. The wood is important because it contributes a flavor of its own to the smoke.

Modern interpretations suggest one can come reasonably close to the traditional bill by using 60% wheat malt and 40% rauchmalt. Although I am interested in comparing a batch brewed with this bill versus a traditional bill-brewed batch, I had to reject this path because I had very little rauchmalt at home and the local homebrew store does not sell rauchmalt.

Either way, I would have had to smoke malt (or be more patient and buy smoked malt), so I decided to go the traditional route. Having never smoked malt, or used a smoker for that matter, I set out to learn. I didn't do a great job -- not being patient in brewing leads to inferior results -- but I did learn a lot for next time. Smoking malt requires:

* soaking your grains overnight
* soaking your wood overnight
* smoking over a very cool fire

I didn't soak either very well. The purpose of soaking the wood is that it will smoke and burn slowly when wet, versus dry wood that burns hot and fast. Making the wood produce more smoke is very important when your goal is to impart smoke into the beer. Soaking the grains is necessary for two reasons. One, smoke sticks to water so it will stick to your grains. Two, it means the grains will dry out in the smoker, replicating the kiln process (which is how grains become smoky when a maltster does it), and preventing them from getting roasted, rather than smoked. The cool fire (around 120F)also makes sure that the wood burns slowly and that you don't roast the grains.

Fortunately, my dad has a smoker and oak trees, so finding fresh oak to smoke with was very easy. Unfortunately, because I didn't get to soak either, I ended up getting more roasty flavor than I would have wanted. When the grains were warm they didn't have a lot of smoky smell, but as they cooled the smoke smell became more prevelent. We smoked half the grain for one hour and half for two hours, because it wasn't getting smoky enough after one hour.

I brewed a one gallon batch with this home-smoked wheat malt. Since I was just doing one gallon I didn't do an infusion mash. I just did it BIAB-style with a step mash. The recipe below is for one gallon:

Grain bill:

1.75 lb wheat malt, home-smoked

Mash schedule:

2.2 qt at 98F for 45 min
Raise to 122F for 60 min
Raise to 158F for 60 min

Batch sparge with 7.7 qt at 174F

Boil volume: 2.2 gal
Boil time: 90 min

Boil additions:

.30 oz Saaz at 90 min
.20 oz Saaz at 20 min
.05 tsp Irish moss at 10 min

Ferment with 1338

Batch info:

32.6 IBU
4.63 ABV
3.5 SRM
1.051 SG
1.015 FG

The beer went into the fermenter about the color you would expect of a wheat beer -- kind of orange-ish -- and fermented with the usual vigor of a wheat beer. Interestingly, in spite of the hops and smoke, it doesn't have a particularly smoky smell coming out of the fermenter. Actually, it smells a lot like fresh brewed coffee. (Take that coffee stouts/porters!)

I will be bottling the beer after work tonight. Unfortunately I don't have the proper set up to carb up to 4 vol. I don't have enough thick wheat beer bottles, a corker for Belgian bottles, or an agata bench capper I could modify to cap champagne bottles. So, I am going to bottle in regular bottles at 3.5 vol. It's risky, but they will be carbed under very tight temperature controls at 74F. Actually, I'll probably bottle in whatever hefe bottles I have and other sturdier bottles just to be on the safe side.

I'm torn on whether I want to let it condition for a short period of time, as is common with wheat beers, or let it bottle condition 3-5 weeks like I normally do with beers. I'll probably crack one open in a week or two to give it a taste.

I called this beer "Piwo Kielich" which means "chalice beer" or "goblet beer" in Polish. I figure if it's Polish champagne, it should be drank out of a goblet like a fine Belgian. I refer to it as a grätzer-style ale because I can't say definitely that I captured "grätzer" but I do believe I'm in the neighborhood.

Ok, that's enough writing...part II will include final notes and pictures!

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