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Notes on a Brewday: Weyermann® Oak-Smoked Pale Wheat Malt

My observation after 18 years of brewing and judging beer is that folks either hate smoked beers or love smoked beers, and even those that love them often can't agree on what's a tolerable amount or source of smoke character. Personally, I fall into the "love 'em" camp with a tendency towards unconditional. If you are in the “hate 'em” camp, I respect that - you can read this blog entry as an academic exercise or as something to do while soaking the crust out of your primaries and sipping a non-smoked beer. But if you are with me on rocking the Rauch, then I encourage you to try this at home ...

Grätzer: the German name for a top-fermented beer originating in the town of Grodzisk, Prussia (now Poland) sometime in the 1400s; it was known as Grodziskie in Poland, where it survived commercially into the 20th century. So it’s a 600 year-old ale from Poland, big whoop - but (in the words of Randy Mosher) Grätzer/Grodziskie was also:

“... a light, highly-hopped wheat beer made entirely from [oak]-smoked wheat malt, and usually described as having an apple-scented aroma … at about 1.032 original gravity. Grätzer has been extinct in Germany since the 1930s, and the one brewed until recently in Poland under the name Grodzisk is no longer in production.”

And in the words of Kristen England, whose recipe I tweaked:

“Find a way to do this one.”

Time was if you were an American home- or craft brewer and wanted to brew a Grätzer, you’d have to smoke your own wheat malt. But now that Weyermann is producing this heirloom malt commercially, life just got a lot easier. Since this is a brand new malt to me, and possibly to you as well, I’ll do my best to describe the sensory experience as we go. Grab a mill and get crushin’ like a Prussian:

 

Krünksöß Grätzer

10 gallons, all-grain
Target OG: 1.028

Crunksauce Grätzer: it shall be sipped from rhinestone-encrusted chalices while sitting on the hood of a car, tradition be damned. More umlauts!

 

Grist:

10 lbs Weyermann® oak-smoked wheat malt
1 lb rice hulls

The first thing that hit my senses cutting open the first sack of this malt was the pungent, woodsy campfire smoke aroma with an undertone of that bread dough that you’d expect from malted wheat. It’s unlike the bacon-hammy beechwood of Weyermann’s Rauchmalt. The kernels are small with a pinkish-orange smoke pellicle.

That much wheat makes a gummy mash - in his recipe in Brewing with Wheat, Kris recommends at least 5% rice hulls; I went higher, and also added some mash hops for a few more IBUs and a little more filtering power. It was a problem-free sparge.

 

Mash:

1 oz Czech Saaz (whole) 3% aa
122 F for 30”
148 F for 60”
170 F for 10”

Upon meeting hot liquor in the MLT, the mash wafted waves of warm smoke with earthy, damp, woodsy impressions - a working smokehouse on the edge of a hardwood forest on a rainy day. Stirring in the mash hops layered spicy, pungent Saaz notes on top of the slightly acrid smoke. At this concentration, the wort was a golden-orange color (think 100% Vienna malt, or pale malt with a bit of light crystal), although sparging it down to preboil volumes would lighten it way, way down to pale straw.  

 

Boil:

1.5 oz German Perle (pellet) 7.8% aa @ 60 min
0.5 oz German Perle (pellet) 7.8% aa @ 15 min

The boil offered up a heady mix of doughy wheat, smoke, and Continental hops. I kept track of the olfactory associations called out by passing co-workers; here are some riffs on the most common theme:

“Li’l Smokies!”

“Sausages”

“My dad’s bangers and mash, made with ring bologna.”

 

Fermentation:

Cool wort to 64 F and pitch with Wyeast 1007 German Ale.

Offgassing started after about 16 hours, with sulfur- and smoke-tinged CO2 escaping the fermenting wort. A gravity sample on day 2 was hazy straw and very effervescent with the SG already down to 1.010 - almost done. And how’d it taste? Awesome. Young, but awesome: smoky, quite bitter, fluffy wheat-grainy, and still yeasty. Let’s give it a few more days to clean itself up and get presentable …

Finishing gravity of 1.004,  3.4% abv, pale straw in color with a youthful haze that'll clear up with a bit more time. If it lasts that long.

Imagine the light, attenuated body of an American lager but with the fatter texture of a wheat beer. The smoke profile in the nose is quite mellow, meshed with some doughy wheat and a bit of yeasty bright-tank sulfur. I don't get the apple aroma noted in Mosher's citation - maybe with a different yeast strain? On the palate the smoke becomes bolder but not out of control; my wife, who on the issue of smoked beers has at most one foot in the "love 'em" camp, could drink this. The acrid aspect of the smoke character I detected in the first few minutes of the mash is gone, blunted by yeast and chewy wheat. The Perle additions leap out in the form of firm bitterness - given the BU:GU ratio, the perception is a bit reminiscent of a northern German Pils. Then a whisper of hop spice and more woodsmoke in a racy finish. Protruding throughout is a bready, doughy, yeasty character - that Germanic expression of Wyeast 1007 plus wheat.

So? The verdict - it's good. Damn good. Ten gallons is a big batch, but this is a very light beer and I have thirsty friends.

If you have brewed Gose and Berliner Weiss and are looking for the next Northern European quasi-extinct oddity to impress the jaded palates of your beer nerd friends, boom, Grätzer. If you like smoked beers, boom, Grätzer is right up your alley. If you're looking for a lawnmower beer unlike anything you've ever had before, boom, Grätzer. Do like Kris England said and find a way to do this one (it's easier now than it was when he wrote those words).

If, like me, you just got the smoker out for the season, Kris's Grätzer would be amazing alongside and incorporated into barbecue - a brine, mop, or sauce component, plus big frothy glasses to pair with the finished product. And if you're in the mood to mess around and tradition be damned, methinks Grätzer would be a good platform for a chile pepper infusion ... grab the chipotles moritas, my Prussian friend.

Northern Brewer
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