Oak Smoked Lager Recipe & Brewday - Brain Sparging on Brewing


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August 2, 2021

Oak Smoked Lager Recipe & Brewday

Smoked beer. Is any class of beer more despised than smoked beer? Even sour beer has risen from an isolated corner of beer geekdom into the mainstream. Plenty of people still don't enjoy sour beer but at least we've most past the this-batch-is-infected-we-brew-sour-beer-now era of brewing. Smoked beer, however, remains an isolated class of beers deeply beloved by a small sect of beer drinkers and the target of ridicule for virtually everybody else. Count me among the fans. Most people think of smoked beer as the bacon-y, densely smokey beers from Schlenkerla but that is too narrow. Smoked beer, like sour beer, represents a broad class of styles and really any beer style could become a smoked beer. Smoked beer can range from slightly smoky to aggressively smoked. All sorts of wood can be used to bring different smoke flavors from light and fruity to heavy and rich. 

With that in mind I set out to design a smoked lager with a present but mild smoked flavor. I ran away from the bacon-y beechwood smoked malt and the fruit-forward flavors of many other available smoked malt. Using a smoker I smoked pilsner malt over oak which I hope will provide a mellow smoked flavor that will be delicious but not hang in my mouth like I've been eating BBQ all day. I am not going to pretend I did an ideal job of smoking the grain at home here but I believe I did well enough to get the job done. After wetting the grain (and rewetting every ten minutes or so) I smoked it over oak as cool as I could get my smoker for about an hour and a half. I don't trust that I kept the temperature low enough for the diastatic enzymes to survive so I will add a small amount of unsmoked grain and mash for longer than normal. As you can see from the smoked malt some of the grain burned severely but the overall color is considerably darker than the unsmoked malt beside it. 

Smoked grain on the left, original on the right

To round out this smoked lager I added a little mount hood hops, mostly because I have them on hand and they are close enough to noble hops to get the job done. This is more of an experiment with whether oak smoked malt makes a good beer outside of grodziskie rather than trying to create a polished beer recipe. 

For yeast I opted to try out a new yeast lab. I'm normally a Wyeast fan when buying yeast from a lab merely because I've had nothing but good results using their products. Here in Denver we have our own yeast lab that has been around for a few years but generally seems to only supply local breweries and homebrew shops: Inland Island. Their products are not the easiest to find even around Denver homebrew shops but I found a fresh shipment on my last trip to refill a CO2 tank and decided to give them a try. 

I selected INIS-711 Monk Lager. Unfortunately Inland Island doesn't provide much details about the yeast strain but by pairing it up against other lab offerings I believe this is an analog to the rare White Labs 835 German Lager X which hails from Kloster Andechs. The strain is described in various places as "well behaved" and versatile which is what I'd like in a potential house lager strain. The BSI equivalent is used by a lot of pro brewers (especially around Colorado, it seems) which is probably due to these two factors. A smoked lager isn't the best test of the qualities of the yeast but I'll split the vial and reserve the rest for a more delicate lager. 

One gallon oak smoked lager recipe

Batch Size: 1 gallon       
Est. ABV: 4.9%       
Est. IBU 32       
Est. OG: 1.048       
Est. FG: 1.010       
Est. SRM: 9       
Expected Efficiency: 72%       
Grain BillPounds Ounces SRM Pct. Grist
Pilsner malt0 8 2 27.60%
Oak smoked pils malt1 5 9 72.40%
Water Profileppm      
Bru'n Water Dusseldorf (boiled)       
PH: 5.5       
Water Additions    Mash Sparge
Gypsum    .1g .1g
Epsom Salt    .5g .8g
Canning Salt    .2g .3g
Baking Soda       
Calcium Chloride      .1g
Chalk    .2g  
Pickling Lime       
Lactic Acid    .4ml  
Mash ScheduleStep Temp.   Step Time  
Single Infusion Batch Sparge       
Mash volume: 3.26qt       
Sparge volume: 1.23 gal       
Infuse 3.26qt at 161F150   75  
Sparge 1.23 gal180      
Boil ScheduleVolume Unit Time IBU
60 minute boil       
Opal [6.5%]0.2 oz 60 29.3
Mt. Hood [6%]0.1 oz 5 2.7
Irish moss0.25 tsp 5 0
Fermentation Schedule# Days Temp.    
Yeast: Inland Island INIS-711 Monks Lager       
Pitch at 50F1 50    
Free rise to 54F and hold until 1.010? 52    
Free rise to 65F for diacetyl rest7 65    
Reduce temperature to 36F3 36    
Lager30 36    
Keg at 2.3 vol      

Brewday & Fermentation Notes

Brewed 8.30.20.

Preboil gravity: 1.032
Preboil volume: 1.8 gal
Mash efficiency: 76%

(Got sidetracked and forgot to get postboil numbers...)

Pitched INIS-711 at 53F at the end of the brewday and hoped for the best.

You can tell from the wort the poor smoking technique produced enough dark grain to significantly change the color. This is dunkelweizen territory on color. I'm not bothered by the color and curious about the end flavor. There is definitely smoke present in the aroma and flavor of the wort with some munich-like and a touch of roasted barley flavor that actually work really well with the smoke. Perhaps a happy accident in the making. 

Checked gravity 9.9.20 at 1.008 which is right about where final gravity should fall. The beer has a nice sweet ham-like smoke flavor that isn't quite as bacon-y as beechwood smoked rauchmalt nor as aggressively smoky. It is a touch sweet right now but I am hoping once the beer has lagered and undergone carbonation it will be brighter and a little more balanced. So far, so good. 

Oak Smoked Lager Tasting Notes

Appearance: Dark copper color with a slightly tan head. Beer is clear and the head is lasting with good lacing all the way down.

Aroma: Soft smoke, toasted bread, light fruit.

Flavor: Light, gentle oak smoke is the dominant flavor but it isn't aggressive Schlenkerla type smoke. Behind is toasted oak, slightly sweet caramel, toasted bread, saltine cracker, subtle hint of citrus fruit. The flavors are crisp and distinct. The bitterness is just present enough to keep the beer balanced and refreshing. The smoke lingers in the aftertaste. 

Mouthfeel: The body is slightly denser than a 100% pils beer should be which might be my personal impression that smoked beers feel thicker than they actually are. The body is smooth and very easy to drink in volume.

Overall: Although my poor smoking technique produced a beer different than what I planned it turned out quite well. I like smokier beers but this is a good balance between a beer with a clear smoke presence but you can drink several without feeling like you ate several plates of BBQ followed by a cigar which is great. Overall it reminded me of a smoked rendition of an Oktoberfest lager. If I scored the beer it would be mid to high thirties but in a smoked category it wouldn't score well over its moderated smoke character.

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