Thinking about Beer Recipe Formulation

by Darryl Richman

Republished from BrewingTechniques' May/June 1993.

Trials, errors, and creative thinking led to an award-winning dopplebock.

Brewing the doppelbock that led the bock category at the 1990 American Homebrewers Association (AHA) national competition (June 1990; Oakland, California) was no slap-dash effort. The beer was the second bock I attempted; the first was a disaster, stylistically speaking. By explaining the reasoning process that I followed in developing the recipe for this beer, I share an approach that can be used to formulate recipes for any style. If I give you my recipe in quantitative terms, I can teach you to brew for a day; if I share my recipe design process in qualitative terms, I can help you to brew for a lifetime.

First, I had a goal in mind: I wanted to make Paulaner Salvator. Having a goal is important because it allows you to think specifically about where you want to go, and because once the beer is made it lets you judge how well you've succeeded in getting there. I chose Salvator because it is big and malty as a doppelbock should be, but it isn't overbearingly so, like EKU 28, which I find to be cloyingly sweet and unbalanced. Salvator actually has a reasonably dry finish and a hint of hops in the aftertaste to keep you from getting tired of it. The beer is dark brown, but not opaque. It has no hop aroma and very little flavor from the hops in the mouth.

My first attempt at brewing a doppelbock began by looking at the beer and saying to myself, "It's dark -- add some black malt. And malty -- add a bit of Munich malt as an adjunct. And throw in lots of Klages malt to get the body I need." But all of that malt needs a lot of sparge water to get the full extract from the grain, lots more volume than I can fit into my boiling pot. "What technique will give me the original gravity I need?" Barley wines, sort of the ale family equivalent to bocks, are made from only the first runnings, and what's left is used to make low-gravity mild. That seemed like a good choice. Finally, I thought, "use only boiling hops -- I don't want any aromatics."

So I made a big, black lager beer. It wasn't opaque, which is just what I had wanted, but it wasn't the right color. It had body, but it didn't have the right malt character. It had that black malt bite that I knew wouldn't smooth out with aging. It was a new style altogether, a Schwartzstarkbier. In short, it was very little like Salvator. What was wrong? I turned out a fine beer. It was clean and big. But I had shot wide of the mark for the bock style. Clearly, I needed to understand the style better before I could make the beer I was after.

What malt is used in making bocks? The bock style comes from Bavaria; the Paulaner brewery is one of the big six breweries in Munich. I had used a bit of Munich malt -- about 10% -- as an adjunct. But Munich malt is a natural malt for Bavarian brewers to use. It is also darker than the very pale two-row Klages, although not tremendously so (7 degrees L for the Munich vs. 2 degrees L for the Klages). Munich malt is noted for its malty character, and malty aroma was precisely what my beer needed. Clearly I was onto something here: "Try to make the beer with more of the indigenous ingredients."

I was pleased with the hopping in my first attempt. It was the only thing about the beer that seemed to be right. I had used exclusively Hallertauer hops, and that seemed to work. It's best not to mess with things that work. (It's also the case that the Hallertau region, northeast of Nuernberg, is the closest major hop field to Munich. Sometimes dumb luck comes through for you.)

Fred Eckhardt, in The Essentials of Beer Style (1) said that bocks needed an original gravity in the mid-70s. I had accomplished that by using enough malt to make a wort with an original gravity in the 90s had all the extract been pulled into the required volume. Of course, barley wines are special beers, made only occasionally and in limited quantities. Bocks and doppelbocks are made much more frequently, and I reasoned that the thrifty brewer wouldn't waste valuable extract on a regular basis.

Well, if I couldn't get the needed extract into less water, I would have to remove some of the water afterwards, by boiling. Hmmm, a long boil would definitely caramelize some of the sugars and darken the beer. Bingo! By reducing the beer in the boil, I could get the extract and darken the beer to the right color while controlling the volume. The pieces of the puzzle fit into place.

So that is what I set out to do. Here is my grain bill for 15 gal of all-grain Bock Aasswards:

    24 lb. Munich malt
    6 lb. Vienna malt
    6 lb. Klages malt
    1.5 lb. 80 degrees L crystal malt

I treated my medium-hard water with 18 g of calcium bicarbonate (Munich water is extremely hard with carbonates, but the abundance of darker malts overcomes the alkaline buffering they provide). I mashed in with 10.5 gal of water, which is about 1 1/8 qt/lb -- pretty thick mashing! Mash thickness was dictated by the size of my mash tun, which I filled right to the brim. I followed a step-infusion mash program of 50 min at 50 degrees C, 20 min at 58 degrees C, 40 min at 65 degrees C, 1 h 30 min at 70 degrees C, and a mash-off for 15 min at 77 degrees C.

I sparged for almost 1 h 30 min, collecting 19 gal at the end. I determined the end point when I could no longer perceive any sweetness in the runoff (which turned out to be at a gravity of about 1.010).

I had to boil in two pots. I boiled for a total of 3 h 20 min, until the volume was down to about 13 gal. As the volume decreased in my regular kettle, I added back the wort from my other pot. Getting down to 13 gal was also dictated by my setup; I cannot get a good whirlpool at the end of the boil without 2 gal of headspace. I added hops (200 g of Hallertauer pellets) about 2 h into the boil, though when I added them I was unsure how long the boil would have to continue.

The result was a beautiful deep brown wort with lots of garnet highlights. I pitched this wort with 0.5 gal of starter that I retrieved from a batch of lager I had just made using an American lager yeast strain. I didn't originally plan to use this yeast, but the starter of Bavarian yeast I had made didn't smell right. The American lager yeast likes relatively warm conditions (10-13 degrees C), but I held it down at 8.9 degrees C for the primary fermentation. The original gravity, adjusted to 15 gal, was 1.075. After three weeks I racked it, topped it up to 15 gal with boiled (and therefore deaerated) and cooled water, and brought it down to 2.2 degrees C.

I bottled 5 gal six weeks later at a final gravity of 1.022 using 130 g of dextrose. That yielded a beer of about 6.5-7% alcohol (v/v), which is perfect. Then I put the bottled beer back into my thermostat-rigged chest freezer and held it at 2.2 degrees C until the last bottle was gone. The other 10 gal went into two kegs, which I carbonated by overpressuring.

Dumb luck helped immensely in helping me achieve the beer I was after. Without really understanding the actual German process or the underlying biochemical reactions, I managed to do the best job I could of imitating them. A Bavarian brewer would probably formulate such a beer from Munich malt and local two-row pale malt, which is normally darker than American two-row malts. I may have managed to simulate the Bavarian recipe with my combination of Vienna and Klages malts. And what of the caramel malt? The traditional two- or three-decoction mash that would almost certainly be used in Bavaria would cause a lot more color and malt aroma formulation from melanoidin production. However, the extremely long boil I used, combined with the dark caramel malt, helped to recreate this effect.

Although this is hardly an authentic recipe for a Salvator-like doppelbock, the results seem to bear out the value of the reasoning behind its creation. Luck never hurts, of course, and I did stumble onto more than my share in the course of this project. But I think that the key was the attempt to understand the contributing features of the style and the attempt to imitate them as closely as possible with my equipment.

This approach can be used with any style of beer. The key is to first choose a goal and then to try to walk a mile in the local brewer's rubber boots. The insight gained will allow you to use your equipment and available materials to the best effect.


(1) Fred Eckhardt, The Essentials of Beer Style
(F. Eckhardt Associates, 1989)

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