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“Come on, we’ll brew a Unity Beer”

I would never have dreamed that my first attempt at brewing would be under this rather unlikely motto. Nevertheless, I’ve brewed a Unity Beer. On purpose. And not because I have anything against unusual aromas and creative beers.

But let me start at the beginning: hitherto, I’ve tended to focus on the theoretical part of brewing and the practical part of drinking. With some expert assistance, this has now changed. You see, Johannes Rückerl, one of my colleagues at Krones and a qualified brewer, had invited me to do some brewing together on the Day of German Unity – which explains the term “Unity Beer”.

So on 3 October, in Johannes’ garage, we created approximately 50 litres of wheat beer and a smaller brew of IPA. That I venture to tell you about this before fermentation has been completed is primarily attributable to my confidence in Johannes’ experience and brewing skills.

For the wheat beer, we used “big” brewing equipment that wasn’t actually automated, but had repeatedly proved its practical utility: an approximately 70-litre vessel on an induction hotplate as a boiler, a lauter tun with a false floor, and a plastic container for the primary fermentation. We brewed the IPA in parallel with the beginner’s equipment – kitchen-compatibly in a mulled-wine boiler and with a mash bag instead of a lauter tun.

For the malt mixtures, Johannes’ experience as a brewer comes into play: he estimates the quantities and the compositions in his head. For the wheat beer, we mill a total of 11 kilos, composed of light and dark wheat malt and barley malt. The mixture for the IPA is significantly lighter. The mill, by the way, is not all that technically sophisticated, but it’s all the more pragmatic and efficient: a funnel-shaped vessel, two rollers, a bucket and a cordless screwdriver do the job.

Mashing process in two variants

We start mashing the milled malt mixture for the wheat beer at about 35 °C and increase the temperature by 1 °C per minute. At 62 °C, we hold the temperature steady for 25 minutes: the first rest, in which the enzymes break down the long sugar chains. The next five-minute rest at 68 °C isn’t really necessary, grins Johannes: “But nevertheless I always like doing it”. The 20 minutes at 72 °C as the second “proper” rest, by contrast, are all the more important, so that later on the yeast can work with the split sugar chains. After that, we heat the mash up to 78 °C and then we lauter it.

When it comes to mashing the IPA, I get to know the “English Mashing Process”, which was entirely new to me: we keep the mash at a constant 68 °C for what is called a combi-rest during the entire process.

I had hitherto regarded the thing with the split sugar chains as basically a bit of chemical theory I had picked up in textbooks and conversations with brewers. When I tried it for myself, I now actually tasted what was happening in the process: as I sample the brew at regular intervals, I notice, how it becomes progressively sweeter as the temperature rises. During mashing, too, we have time to calculate the amount of hops we need – but more about that later.

A test of patience: lautering

We lauter the wheat beer in the traditional way, by draining off the brew into the lauter tun. During the 10-minute lautering rest, the husks, meaning the residues of the milled malt grains, descend to the false floor, and thus form an organic filtering layer. And then the waiting and transferring begin. We capture the lautered wort underneath the lauter tun and collect it in the boiler (which has meanwhile been cleaned). At the same time, we repeatedly pour in some more hot water, so as to really get all the sugar out of the malt and arrive at the desired quantity of liquid. Then we use a spindle to measure an original gravity of a good 12 degrees Plato, which Johannes greets with a satisfied nod.

In the case of the IPA, thanks to the mash bag things are easier, although our yield is probably less optimal as well. We simply lift the net with the leached malt out of our boiler, and try to extract as much wort as possible with some additional water.

Johannes takes the spent grains, by the way, meaning the leached malt residues, to the neighbouring farmers for feeding the animals. Anyone brewing in small quantities or doing a lot of baking will also find numerous recipes for bread and other foods based on spent grains.

Enter the hops

Only now – as soon as the wort is boiling – do the hops come into play: Johannes’ rough recommendation was approximately 13 bittering units for the wheat beer and 55 bittering units for the IPA. The 13 grams of bitter hops (Magnum) thus calculated for the wheat beer is not an imposingly large quantity, but nonetheless the fragrance immediately fills the garage. For the IPA, we take 22 grams of Magnum; what’s more, aroma hops play a larger role here. After that, we let both of them simmer for 90 minutes.

Trub out, yeast in

After these 1.5 hours, it’s time to add aroma hops, and to remove the hop and protein residues from our brew. This is called trub, which we separate from the liquid in the whirlpool, where it settles in the middle of the vessels. Here, too, we adopt a more manual mode again for the IPA and simply stir it, whereas for the wheat beer we’re assisted by an agitator. The result is the same: we can drain off our brew into the vessels for primary fermentation, while the trub stays behind in the boilers. With the aid of a cooling coil, we cool the liquids down to about 25 °C, close the vessels, and store them in the cellar with the hops already added. For the IPA, we also admix a handful of aroma hops for primary fermentation, in order to obtain that hoppy fragrance so typical for IPAs. After a week, Johannes fills casks with the green beer, where it’s stored for another 2 to 4 weeks – after they’ve been bottled, I’ll be reporting on the results.

Meanwhile it’s time for a brief review of my first attempt at brewing: what I remember most is the fact that brewing is less of a sorcerous mystery than I had long supposed, and is therefore a relaxing pastime. And that there’s an unbelievable amount of cleaning involved. I have to say, I find the first two points more motivational for venturing on another attempt.


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