October 5, 2013

Ratchet: A biere de mars that was a dunkelweizen

Biere de mars is a French style that doesn't get nearly the attention of its more popular cousin, biere de garde. The only biere de mars that I see in distribution in my area is the occasional appearance of New Belgium's Biere de Mars, which is a brett-spiked version. Biere de mars is similar in many ways to a marzen or oktoberfest beer but with a really important difference: hops. Beyond the hop character of a biere de mars, both beers tend to be malty with a big caramel note but a clean yeast finish.

March plays a special time of year for both biere de mars and marzen/oktoberfest beers but for different reasons. Marzen or oktoberfest beers were traditionally brewed at the end of the brewing season as a summer and fall beer. They are not hoppy and common sense would suggest that by that late in the brewing season the majority of hops would have been exhausted and marzen or oktoberfest beers would have enjoyed the end of the available hops. Biere de Mars, on the other hand, was traditionally an early winter beer to be enjoyed in spring. Biere de Mars contains a smooth hop flavor that common sense would suggest that the greater availability of hops at that time in the brewing season would allow French brewers to feature their hops in this beer. So although Biere de Mars and Marzen are both styles that refer to March, they refer to March in a very different manner.

Another key difference between these beer styles is that biere de mars can enjoy some alternative grains from barley, particularly enjoying a large percentage of wheat in the grist. It is this key difference that would allow me to transform my dunkelweizen recipe into a biere de mars. I have had the grains for my dunkelweizen recipe laying around for a while and I have been meaning to brew it but my current supply of weizen yeast is in my frozen bank at my parents' house. I don't have time to fish out the yeast and I also need to grow up my culture of Pschorr lager yeast so adding a little extra grain and hops to the dunkelweizen recipe gives me an excuse to put my lager yeast to work and use the dunkelweizen grains plus some other stuff I have laying around the house. I don't expect this beer to be a top notch biere de mars but at least a fairly tasty way to use several ingredients I have sitting around the house while building up the lager yeast. I plan on brewing a superior biere de mars recipe for 2014 that will incorporate a more complex hop blend and less wheat but for now let's see how this one plays out.

As an aside, I decided to name this beer Ratchet, after one of my favorite Transformers as a kid. I had the toy. It was awesome. Ratchet could kick your ass and then transport your broke ass to the nearest emergency room for medical attention. It was a sweet toy, too. I figured since I am transforming a recipe for one beer into the recipe for another beer it would make sense to borrow a name from Transformers, which was the most awesome cartoon in the 1980s. Technically I guess I should have picked one of the Transformers where multiple robots come together (or Voltron) since all the pieces of this beer came from other brews but fuck it, I really liked this Ratchet toy.

Most of the recipe is fairly basic. There's a huge slug of wheat malt from the dunkelweizen recipe and probably far more than there should be for a biere de mars but it should be ok. There's also crystal 60 in the recipe from the dunkelweizen; if I were building a biere de mars from scratch I'd use caramunich instead. One thing that may stand out as unusual is the hopping schedule. The first bittering charge comes in at 35 minutes. Part of that is because I have an ounce of Spalt I want to use up and this schedule allowed me to balance using the full ounce with the right amount of bitterness, flavor and aroma. I also wanted to front load the flavor and aroma so I thought it would be interesting to try something akin to the late hopping-only pale ale technique in a lager. I'm not trying to make a world class beer with this one so it's a good opportunity to play loose with the rules and see what I make.

The mash schedule is a bit unusual. I am mashing for ninety minutes at 147F to produce an easily fermentable wort. I am doing this for two reasons: (1) the Pschorr yeast is a low attenuator so I am trying to increase attenuation by making a more fermentable wort; and (2) with all the wheat I want a drier beer so it is not too full bodied. I don't want to mistake this beer for a hoppy American dunkelweizen (not that it would be the worst thing to have). I'm going to whip out a decoction at the end of the mash to raise the mash temperature to 168F for a mash out so I can make sure fermentation has completed and I like the way decoctions add to beer. 

Ratchet Biere de Mars

Batch size: 1 gallon
ABV: 7.1%
SRM: 12.8
IBU: 37.4
Est. OG: 1.067
Est. FG: 1.013
Est. Efficiency: 72%

Grain Bill

40% 1lb. German pale wheat malt [2 SRM]
30% 12oz. U.S. two row pale malt [2 SRM]
20% 8oz. Munich malt [9 SRM]
10% 4oz. Crystal 60 [60 SRM]

The Mash & Sparge

5 quarts of water infused at 153F for 146F mash at 90 minutes
Decoct 1.93 qt of mash at 70 minutes into the mash
Bring decoction to boil and return to mash at 90 minutes to raise mash temperature to 168F for 10 minute mash out
Sparge with 1 qt at 175F

Mash water

Water profile: Bru'n water Brabant boiled

0.2g gypsum
0.8g epsom salt
0.2g canning salt
0.2g baking soda
0.3g calcium chloride
0.5g chalk
1.5ml lactic acid

Sparge water

0.1g epsom salt
0.1g calcium chloride

The Boil

60 minute boil

0.35oz Spalt [4.5%] at 35 minutes 23.4 IBU
0.35oz Spalt [4.5%] at 15 minutes 14 IBU
1/4 tsp Irish moss at 10 minutes
0.30oz Spalt [4.5%] at 0 minutes 0 IBU

The Fermentation

Pitch 45ml Hacker Pschorr lager yeast
Ferment at 46F until 1.020 (estimated 10-14 days)
Raise to 68F until fermentation complete (estimated 3-5 days) for diacetyl rest
(Pseudo) Lager at 46F for 14 days
Bottle at 2.5 volumes

Brewday Notes

Lost some grain to a spill so will be under on gravity. Tried wet milling for the first time, which was a PITA on a corona mill. Probably over-soaked a little. Due to lost grain hard to know whether it had any effect on efficiency.

First runnings: 1.051
Pre-boil gravity: 1.049
Pre-boil volume: 1.3 gallons
Post-boil gravity: 1.051
Post-boil volume: 1
Efficiency:  54%

Fermentation Notes

Dosed the beer with all the lager yeast -- slightly overpitched, which is ok. Fermentation began after roughly eight hours at 46F.

10/11/13: Gravity reading 1.039. I must have misread the refractometer with the post-boil gravity because there is no way it has only dropped 12 points in a week. This wasn't that big of a beer and fermentation started very quickly.

10/18/13: Gravity reading 1.029. Tastes good, still slightly sweet.

10/29/13: Gravity reading 1.022. Beginning to dry out. Some hop flavor fade; caramel and bready notes coming through as the beer dries out. Moved to fermentation chamber at 69F for diacetyl rest and finished fermentation. 

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