One beautiful afternoon a while ago now I had several beers in the Biergarten across the road from the brewery in Aying.
Sitting under a chestnut tree in a quiet Bavarian village and watching the sun set in the Alps over half-liter mugs of cloudy, incredibly fresh lagers pretty much ruined me forever. The bottled and draft beers available in the States are world-class and I've always been an Ayinger fan, but the unfiltered draft pours of Naturtrub Hell and Altbairisch Dunkel at Liebhard's spoke of an immediate connection to the land that seems to get lost in translation when bright beer goes through a filter: agrarian-associative smells of dairy farms, cheese from grass-fed cows, and new-mown hay layered under the bready malt and earthy hop, a whiff of the lager tank.
That's Kellerbier, citizens - preach it, now: evocative of the land, a beer of the moment, complex and alive.
Unfiltered and unpasteurized, young, and (usually) served on draft with low carbonation ... hey, this is British real ale, right? Same idea, but with traditional Bavarian session lagers. Soft and malty just like you'd expect from a standard-issue Muenchner Helles or Dunkel, but yeast-hazy instead of crystal clear, and a little on the flat side instead of sprightly effervescent. Somewhat hard to find in the states, but any Ausschank worth its Semmelknoedel from Aufsess to die Zugspitze will set you up with a ceramic mass of this murky delight.
I was hooked. I had to try it. You can too. Homebrew is almost by definition unpasteurized and unfiltered, so that's no problem. If you have a keg system, awesome. If you don't, hey - there's bottled Kellerbier too (still wish I had had more room in my suitcase for swing-tops of the Hacker-Pschorr Anno 1417) ... just go easy on the priming sugar and treat it like you would an English session ale: you want it kinda flat. You do need to ferment it cold though - definitely no higher than 60 F with a lager yeast. Wy2112 is the next best thing if you need to ferment above 60.
I make no claims to authenticity, and YMMV; this just is how I do it:
Kellerbier Nr. 1 - 5 gallons AG
- 8 lbs German Pils malt *
- 6 oz Weyermann Carafoam
- 0.75 oz Tradition (5.2%, pellets) - first wort hop
- 0.25 oz Saaz (3%, pellets) - 15"
- White Labs WLP833 German Bock, 2 liter starter **
Mash - 128 for 20", 149 for 30", 158 for 30", mashout. 60 minute boil with kettle finings at 15" if you're into that sort of thing (I am!), chill to fermentation temps, aerate and pitch yeast. Ferment at 55 F for 14 days. Rack to a keg and store at 55 F for two weeks. Pressurize with CO2 and dispense.
* - extract brewers can sub 6 lbs of Northern Brewer Pilsen malt syrup and do a full-wort boil
** - Wyeast 2487 Hella-bock is an extremely excellent alternative when it's available
Yeast selection is pretty critical to the success of this technique: if you enjoy the smell and taste of struck-match, rotten-egg farts, you will probably enjoy Kellerbiers produced with Wy2308 or WLP838 (both of which, by the way, make spectacular, non-farty Munich-style lagers when given a proper secondary fermentation and lagering phase).
And now, two weeks after racking - no diacetyl rest, no lagering phase, and at the princely age of 28 whole days - we evaluate:
Get your nose in there: it's complex. Flowery, malt-driven fruitiness with wet malted grain, wet hay, herbs, honey, rising bread dough, buttered fresh bread, dried clementines, and a whiff of yeasty sulfur.
The look of it is straw yellow and turbid with a dense stand of white glass-lacing foam. The flavor delivers on all the promise of the nose. Floral, super-fresh malt with a hint of yeasty sulfur tang at the end. Tastes sweet but finishes dry. A suggestion of earthy, herbal hops permeates. Mouthfeel-wise, it seems much creamier and rounder than the FG of 1.010 suggests (low carbonation enhances that impression); the dryness is all in the aftertaste.