Home brewing in Connecticut Discussions - CT Beer Trail

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Oktoberfest, Altbier, or dirty useless water?

It takes a village to raise a beer...

Last night's brewing experiment was fun, but may not have the results I was looking for. In case you missed it, I was attempting to brew up an Oktoberfest inspired Ale. Brewing is always more fun with company, beer and food...

Erik is not much for brewing, but he's a good sport none the less...

Leroy considers sampling some of Erik's Oktoberfest... Sharing is caring...

No beer for Christine, she was content to warm herself by the wort as Dave and Ken brewed...

Kenn was kind enough to buy all of the ingredients for this brew, thanks Kenn!!!
Here's some trivia: Kenn was a stunt man for Vanna White back in the early 90s...

I decided we would venture away from brew kits this time around, it was time to take off the training wheels. So, I searched through the recipes on beertools.com and chose one based on how many times it was chosen as a favorite by the site users. I don't have the requirements for Lagering, so we went with an Ale yeast instead. I was curious, what would the change in yeast do to the beer? Obviously it would no longer be an Oktoberfest/Märzen, so what would it be?

Shawn over at the Beer Philosopher said, "...probably be something near an amber ale and if you can control the esthers a bit, you should have a pretty clean, Marzen-like ale I think."

Slothrob over at BeerTools.com said, "It's not going to taste much like an Oktoberfest, but you look like you have a decent Alt recipe there..."

Rob DeNunzio agreed on the style interpretation, "Looks alt-ish to me. You could always use a California Common lager yeast to cut down on the ester profile. It won't be a Marzen, but it'll likely be quite tasty!"

Slothrob may have a point...
As I added the extract to the wort, it did seem a wee bit dark for an Oktoberfest.

Let's hope the extract makes up for the possibly non-converting grains...

So, this recipe may not have been the best choice for the original intent of this brewing exercise. Oh well, life goes on... Slothrob also informed me that Munich and Vienna Malts needed to be mashed, and would likely not convert in the steep. In fact...

"...they'll leave starch in the beer. Starch can cause haze and, since yeast can't eat it, provide food for growth of contaminating bugs."

Darn you grains! Darn you straight to hell! I order you to convert!

Crap! Looks like I have some reading and learning to do for future brews... But all may not be lost...

"It's possible that they can convert in the steep, since they also provide enzymes, but the weight is low and the steep volume is probably high for efficient conversion.

Again, the recipe will probably make a decent Alt, and there's nothing wrong with that. It's one of my favorite ale styles," said slothrob

Erik was kind enough to run home and grab his digital scale to help us measure out the grain.

I wish we know about the mash versus steeping issue. I think it's time I got off my butt and finally built that home made mash tun I was going to do earlier in the year. I also need to get Dave to help me build a wort chiller, this time around it took forever to chill. So very tedious..

So what is an Alt? Or rather what is an Altbier?

According to Beer Advocate...

"A Düsseldorf specialty, an Altbier is a German style brown ale, the “alt” literally translates to "old" in German, and traditionally Altbiers are conditioned for a longer than normal periods of time. Other sources note that "alt" is derived from the Latin word "altus," which means "high" and refers to the rising yeast. Take your pick, but the extended conditioning mellows out the ale's fruitiness and produces an exceptionally smooth and delicate brew. The color ranges from amber to dark brown, medium in carbonation with a great balance between malt and hops.

"Sticke" is a stronger version of an Altbier, thus a bit more malty and hoppy to boot.

Average alcohol by volume (abv) range: 4.0-7.0%"

I found the German Beer Institutes description a bit more inviting...

Pronunciation guide for English-speakers:

One of only a handful of traditional German ales. Altbier is Copper-colored, cool-fermented, cold-conditioned, clean-tasting, with an aromatic hop presence, a firm creamy head, a medium body, and a dry finish. It is indigenous to the Rheinland, which is part of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia in the northwestern part of Germany, near the Dutch border. The best known Altbiers come from the Düsseldorf, the state capital.

Well if it comes out like that, I'll be happy. The thought that there maybe too many hops for my intended results did cross my mind, but I went with it... I like hops... Sounds like they may lend themselves to a balanced Alt if all goes well...

"Do we really want this many hops and this early in the boil?" he thought as he looked up at the adoring camera... You're damn right we do Mister, now dump those puppies!

Time to add the hops! If this whole beer thing fails, maybe I can go out for hand modeling.

Itzbeen about 39 minutes since the baby ate, and about 9 minutes since the beer started to boil...

While my wife and child napped, I snagged the baby's "itzbeen" feeding, changing, napping, etc timer... We don't use the wild card asteric timer, so I used it to time the boil and ingredients adding times, etc. Not to worry, I kept accurate time of the little one's feeding cycle. I thought this was a funny idea, multi task the baby's timer for feeding and brewing... LOL! But when the wife woke up, she failed to see the humor my buddies and I saw in this. Nothing another nap wouldn't remedy...

I'm cool with the hops, but what the heck are those pesky yeast up to this morning?

Most of the comments and feedback I got warned me that esters could add an unwanted fruitiness to this beer, and that temperature control would still play an important roll in the life of this beer, despite the use of Ale yeast. To that end, I swiped the air conditioner from my baby's room, and installed it in my office to create an environment I could keep a bit cooler than the rest of the house. I needed a room that wouldn't lead my wife into killing me in my sleep if I stored a carboy full of fermenting beer in it. My office is already a pigsty, so no harm done.

Suddenly that warning on the old fermentation bucket hits home...

Run baby run! It's an evil fermentation bucket coming to get you!!!

Now before you call child services on me, just relax! Our baby sleeps in our room still, so the AC in his room is not really required at the moment. Not to mention we keep that level of the house fairly cool with open doors and multiple air conditioners running. With that said, I needed a room I could close off and keep close to 65
°... The window in the room down in the basement where I normally ferment my brews was too small for the AC, so I moved the operation upstairs to my home office.

I can't wait for the lad to be old enough to brew up a batch of rootbeer with me. That'll be a lot of fun! But I digress...

All is quite in the airlock... A little too quite, it's a trap!!!

So here's the rub, it's now nearly 5 PM a day later, and still no activity in the airlock! Did I mess something up? Was the temp in the room too low to get the fermentation going? Did I over compensate for the esters and make the yeast sleepy in the process? Did something unfortunate happen while brewing to harm the yeast? I'm hoping they're just getting off to a slow start, but only time will tell...

The brew is swaddled like a baby to prevent any harmful light from mucking things up...
I need to wake this baby up and get some fermentation going...

Stay tuned for an update on the lazy yeast as things develop, at least I hope they develop. By the way, I'm open to suggestions if anyone has any... Am I doomed here? Do I need to do something to kick start the fermentation? Is it too cold now in the room?

UPDATE! At 5:05 PM, just as I was about to publish this post, some slow bubbling started in the airlock.

Franken-beer is alive, it's alive!!!!!!!!

I'm still open to feedback and suggestions though... Am I out of the woods now, or should I be doing something to help this creation of ours survive and thrive?

There maybe some life in this brew after all.
But if not, at least my beard and stache are starting to come in...


  1. Bryon,

    I think you'll be fine. The dry stout, which is now behaving nicely in the secondary, I recently brewed took a good 48 hours to become active in the primary ... I was checking it every 15 minutes it seemed! I used the same type of airlock (preferable for the primary) you have - Rob is right, they don't always show as much activity, as quickly, as the "squiggly" kind do. Right on. Keep us informed on the progress.

    By the way, that "drowning baby" warning label on the bucket cracked me up. Remember, no open fermentation in the bucket! You'll end up with more than wild yeast strains in there!

  2. Thanks for the vote of confidence Shawn... If I've learned anything this time around, it's that I have a lot to learn, but it's still fun none the less...

    I was actually considering using a secondary fermentation phase for the first time in my young brewing life. Might help with the clarity... I've only used this kind of airlock, and typically its always been very active. But I'll cool my jets and keep you in the loop.

    Glad you saw the humor in my odd sense of what is funny and appropriate... Note to self, no babies allowed in the fermentation bucket... Makes for a nasty brew and a wet baby...

  3. Friday night I brewed up a "winter ale" type recipe and made a boo-boo.

    I noticed the powdered ale yeast I had was slightly expired, so I added 1/4 of champagne yeast I had left over.

    Sources tell me that isn't the greatest of ideas.

    You live and learn. Just hope its drinkable.

    Good luck on the Octoberfest/altbier.


  4. True enough Steve...

    I just checked the airlock around 3:30 AM East Coast time and I have some fairly active bubbling now... So perhaps things will be OK.

    Time will tell though... What are the draw backs of using champagne yeast?

  5. Couple of things:

    1) if you are using an alt or german ale yeast, you need to both ferment at a lower temperature (60 - 65F to reduce ester production) AND you need to do a secondary (unless you want a cloudy beer) because those strains are VERY poor flocculators.

    Altbiers are actually pretty simple beers to make, especially if you are an extract brewer. All that you need is amber malt extract, bittering hops, water, and the yeast strain. All-grain is pretty simple as well. You could EASILY do an all Munich altbier. Remember an altbier (and kolsch) are psuedolagers, so your character is coming from your yeast strain, not your grainbill. Clean malt profile and nice bitter aftertaste. THAT'S what makes a good altbier.

    2) Sounds like you are underpitching if your beers aren't starting within 24 hours. If you take up the practice of making yeast starters you will not have this problem.

    3) Why, in God's name, would you want to use champagne yeast? The only reason that your beer wouldn't attenuate as well as you want it to is because of the unfermentables in your extract. Only way to solve that is to add table sugar OR go all-grain. Even if it doesn't attenuate to your liking, it's OK. Just alter your recipe next time. No biggie. Better to keep it simple than ruin your beer late in the process.


  6. I think I will do a secondary, just don't have one to use at the moment... Need to get a new fermentation bucket or carboy for that purpose...

    How long should it sit in the secondary? I'm told weeks, but I'd like to expedite things a bit...

    My yeast was a late bloomer, but now it is still going fairly strong...4 - 5 days so far of bubbling...

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  8. Leave it in the primary until it clears. Transfer it to a glass secondary and leave it for AT LEAST two weeks, a month if you can. That should get most of the yeast to flocculate and give you a clearer beer. If you are not concerned about clarity, you can leave it in there for a week or less. It'll taste similar, but it won't be clear and it won't allow your yeast to "clean up" byproducts of fermentation. With this strain your major concern is a sulfer character when you ferment cooler.


  9. Well thanks for clarifying... Regarding the secondary, do you ever add a little sugar to your secondary? I've read that some folks do to, "produce a thin layer of carbon dioxide over the top of your beer which will help stop infections and stop your beer from oxidizing."


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