Boondocks Brewing
                    Tap Room & Restaurant                                                                       West Jefferson, North Carolina 

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Belgian Wit

Belgian Wit is a wonderful light, refreshing beer that narrowly avoided extinction to become a popular hit here in the United States.  This week we’ll take a look at the history, brewing and recipes for Belgian Wit and White Beer.

History of Wit

Belgian Wit goes by many names, all variations of the term “White Beer”.  In French it is called “Biere Blance”, while the Flemish name is Wit or Witbier which is pronounced “Wit” or “Wet) [Ref: BT]  While the style was likely derived from the Belgian Monastary tradition, it reached widespread popularity in the 18th and 19th century in the towns east of Brussels.  The two beers “Biere Blanche de Louvain” and “Blanche de Hougerde” were brewed in Louvain and Hoegaarden respectively.  The Louvain version was more popular.

After the lager revolution in the 1800′s and into the 1900′s, Wit gradually declined in popularity and in fact disappeared when the last Belgian brewery went out of business in 1957.  Nearly 10 years later Pierre Celis raised money from family members to open a brewery called De Kluis and began brewing a traditional Wit called appropriately “Hoegaarden”.

In 1985, the De Klius brewery burned to the ground, again threatening Witbier with extinction.  Pierre Celis was able to raise money from commercial sources to rebuild the brewery, but by 1987 these larger brewers essentially took control from Pierre Celis and altered the recipe to appeal to a broader audience.  Pierre Celis, disappointed, moved to Austin Texas where he opened a new brewery making “Celis White” based on the original Hoegaarden recipe.

Brewing The Wit Beer Style

Belgian Wit is a light, wheat based beer with light to medium body, slight sweetness and a zesty orange-fruity finish.  It has a clean crisp profile, low hop bitterness and high carbonation with a large white head.  Traditional Wit is slightly cloudy due to the use of unmalted wheat, and pale to light gold in color.

Original gravity is in the 1.044-1.052 range, bitterness in the 10-20 IBU range and color in the 2-5 SRM range. Carbonation is high.

Belgian Wit is made from a base of around 50% pale malt, and 50% unmalted wheat.  Often 5-10% rolled or flaked oats are added to enhance body and flavor.

Unmalted wheat presents some challenges for the single infusion homebrewer.  Pure unmalted wheat will not convert well with a single infusion mash.  This can be rectified by using a multi-step infusion or multi-step decoction mash, but simpler solutions exist.  If you substitute flaked or torrified wheat, you can perform a single infusion mash easily, while still preserving the distinctive flavor of unmalted wheat.

If you are brewing from extract, wheat extract might be an acceptable option, but all grain brewers should avoid using malted wheat as it will not result in the authentic wit flavor.  Rolled oats are best if you are brewing all-grain as these two will work well in a single infusion mash.  Where possible, high diastic pale colored malt should be used as the pale base.

Hops are typically chosen to minimize the hop profile.  Low alpha hops such as BC Goldings, Hallertauer, Fuggles or Saaz with just enough hops to balance the sweetness of the malt.  Late hop additions are inappropriate, as hop aroma is not a feature of the style.  I personally prefer about 1 oz of BC Goldings boiled for 60 minutes in a 5 gallon batch.  Dry hopping and large late hop additions are not really appropriate for this style.

Spices play an important role in Wit.  Traditionally, Coriander and Bitter (Curaco) orange peel are used in small amounts at the end of the boil to add a bit of spice.  In some cases, small amounts of sweet (traditional) orange peel are also added, though sweet orange peel should not be a dominant flavor.

The coriander should be cracked, but not crushed, whole seeds.  I run my coriander seeds through the grain mill to crack them in half.  Bitter Curaco orange peel is not the type you find in the supermarket, but is available from most major brewing supply shops. I recommend about 3/4 ounce of bitter orange peel and 3/4 ounce of coriander for a 5 gallon batch added 5 minutes before the end of the boil.

Belgian Wit Recipes

Here is a collection of Wit and White beer recipes from our recipe site:

And here is a link to my personal Wit Recipe:

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-- Brad Smith


Scotch Ale 

Scotch Ale brings forth visions of fog filled bogs, dimly lit pubs and a hearty pint of ale.  Scotland has always had its own distinct brewing style with an array of unique beers from the 60/- shilling light Scottish ale to the "wee heavy" strong ales.  This week we examine the history of scotch ales as well as some Scottish ale beer recipes.

Scotch ale can be divided into roughly four categories.  The standard ale is available in three strengths: light, heavy and export.  A fourth category is often broken out for strong Scottish ales or "wee heavy" ales.  These ales are also often named by their 19th century per-barrel price in schillings (now obsolete) as 60/-, 70/- and 80/- for the light, heavy and export and higher numbers of 100/- to 160/- for strong and "wee heavy" styles.

The History of Scottish Ales

Scotland has traditionally produced a wide array of beer styles including many that are either English or Irish in character.  During the 18th and 19th centuries Scotland was a major exporter of all kinds of beer to both England and also its colonies, and Scotland was first in the British isles to begin producing lager in large quantities.

Despite the influence of neighbors, Scotland's unique geography and political situation combined to produce a uniquely Scottish style of beer that we now know as scotch ale.  According to Daniels, two of the major factors were the availability of malt and hops.  Barley has always been grown in Scotland, with a large portion dedicated to the production of whiskey.  However, in Southern Scotland significant portions of the yearly crop were dedicated to beer production.

Hops, however, has never thrived in Scotland.   The soil and conditions are poor for hop production, so hops had to be imported often from England at high expense.  As a result a variety of hop alternatives were traditionally used including spices, herbs and quassia.  Later when hops were used, they were added only sparingly resulting in a distinctly malty character.  In contrast to the South in England malt was heavily taxed and hops plentiful resulting in more highly hopped styles such as IPA.

A look at traditional brewing of Scottish ales reveals that these ales were mashed with one or at most two steps, usually at high temperature (often above 160F!) and sparged slowly and often fermented at relatively cold temperatures.  The combination no doubt produced a beer full of body and resulted in very low attenuation of the yeast.  Bitterness was low, resulting in a malty full bodied beer.  The finished beer was aged only a few weeks and then shipped directly to pubs for consumption.  When aged, the beer was often kept cold which aided in enhancing clarity.

Brewing a Scottish Ale

As mentioned above Scottish ales have four major categories.  The three traditional scotch ales are distinguished primarily by strength and bitterness: original gravitie for 60/- light is in the range 1.030-1.035, for 70/- heavy it is 1.035-1.040 and 80/- export comes in at 1.040-1.054.  Strong scotch "wee heavy" ales have very high gravities in the 1.070-1.130 range.

Bitterness is low - with about 10-15 IBUs for light and ramping up to 15-30 IBUs for the export version.  Even the strong ales has a low bitterness in the 17-30 IBU range.  Malty and caramel flavors dominate the style with little to no hop aroma or flavor.

Scotch ales have an amber to light brown color.  All have a target color in the 9-17 SRM range, though the strong ale may be darker (up to 25 SRM) due to the large amount of malt added.

Formulations for scotch ales very, but they all start with a pale malt or pale extract base, generally making up about 70-80% of the grain bill.  Crystal malt is used in both commercial and homebrewed recipes making up from 5-10% of the grain bill.  Black or roast malt provide color and character in the 2% range, though most purists prefer roast malt over black malt.

Interestingly almost all commercial examples use either wheat malt or sugar in the 5-10% range, though sugar is rarely added to homebrewed versions.  Other commonly added homebrew grains in small amounts include chocolate malt, cara pils for body, munich and amber malts though these are not commonly added to commercial browns. [Ref: Daniels]

There is no specific hops tied to the scotch style, though low alpha traditional English or Continental hops are considered most appropriate.  Goldings, Williamette and Fuggles are often used commercially, though noble hops such as Hallertauer or Saaz can also be used.  Bitterness and hop flavor should be kept to a minimum, so use just enough hops to balance the malt.

The selection of scotch yeast is not as important as the fermentation method. Scotch ales are fermented at much lower temperatures (50-60F) than traditional ales, and the fermentation can take several weeks to complete as a result.  After fermentation the ale is cold aged to aid in clarity.  This produces a very malty but clean beer profile.  You also want to select a low attenuation yeast that can handle the lower temperatures.

Though Edinburgh is famous for its pale ales and hard water, high sulfate water is not a critical element in brewing scotch ale and in fact can be detrimental as it brings out the hop sharpness too much.  I personally recommend a moderate neutral water profile low in sulfates that will support the malty base and not enhance the hops excessively.

Scotch Ale Recipes:

Brad Smith

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Russian Imperial Stout


Imperial Russian Stouts were actually brewed in England for the export to the court of the Tsars of Russia in the 18th century.  A high, malty alcohol content and high hop rate were intended to preserve the beer and also prevent it from freezing during its shipboard trip across the Baltic sea.  Thrale’s brewery of London brewed the style preferred by Catherine II’s court in Russia.

Later Thrale’s brewery changed hands and was taken over by Courage, renaming the beer as Courage Imperial Russian Stout.  The style has a high alcohol content of 9-10% alcohol by volume.  High gravity Russian stout’s are also brewed by Guiness and Boston Beer Company (Samuel Adams). [Ref: Wikipedia]

While the style was regularly brewed in the 18th and early 19th century, this beer has enjoyed a resurgence the last few years with the rise of microbreweries.

The Russian Imperial Stout Style

Russian Imperial Stout is a rich, deep, complex beer with full bodied flavor.  It has a rich dark malt flavor that may vary from dry chocolate to slightly burnt.  A slight alcoholic warmth is normal.  It may have a fruity profile including complex dark fruits such as plum, raisin or prune flavors.   Like many British beers, it can have a caramel, bready or toasted flavor as well with roast malt complexity.

Color ranges from dark brown to jet black (30-40 SRM).  Alcohol content is usually high (8-12% alcohol by volume) with a high starting gravity (1.075 to 1.115 OG).  Bitterness generally runs high to balance the malty flavor (50-90 IBUs), but hop flavor should only be low to medium overall.   Many US versions have higher bitterness. Carbonation is generally low to moderate. [Ref: BJCP Style Guide]

Brewing an Imperial Stout

Imperial stouts start with a well-modified pale malt base, generally using UK pale malts.  The pale base typically makes up 75% of the grain bill.  Roasted malts of all kind are added, usually comprising of a mix of moderately colored caramel malt, chocolate malt and roast malt to provide complexity, body and flavor.  Together these make up the remaining 25% of the malt bill.  Other malts such as Munich and aromatic are occasionally used, though roast malts make up the bulk of the specialty grain bill.

Traditional variations use classic English hops such as Fuggles or BC Goldings, though American microbreweries often also use US hop variants.  Hops are typically added as a single boil addition, since a lingering hop aroma and flavor is not needed here.  Instead a high hop rate during the boil provides the bitterness needed to offset the malt.

Since roast malts provide a very acidic addition, it is not uncommon to use slightly alkaline water when brewing imperial stouts.  Traditionally, English Ale yeast or Imperial Stout yeast provides the fruity complexity required for this style, though again some American variants use high attenuation US yeast variants for a cleaner finish.  Very high gravity options may require high gravity yeast such as champagne or barley wine yeast.

Imperial stouts are fermented at ale temperatures in the 63-68 F range, carbonated at low to moderate carbonation rates, and stored at ale temperatures or lower (as they were during the icy trip across the Baltic).  Often Imperials require an extended aging period to achieve full maturity due to the high starting gravity.

Imperial Stout Recipes

Here are some sample recipes from the BeerSmith Recipe Page:

Brad Smith

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Irish Stouts

The History of Stout

Irish Stout traces its heritage back to Porter. As described previously in our article on the Porter Beer style, Porters were first commercially sold in the early 1730s in London and became popular in both Great Britain and Ireland.

The word Stout was first associated with beer in a 1677 manuscript, with a “stout” beer being synonymous with “strong” beer (Ref: Wikipedia). In the 1700′s the term “Stout Porter” was widely used to refer to a strong version of Porter. The famous Guinness brewery in Ireland started brewing “Stout Porter” in 1820, though they previously brewed both ales and Porters. Around 1820, Stout also began to emerge as a distinctive style, using more dark brown malt and additional hops over popular porters of the time. At around the same time, black malt was invented and put to good use in Porters and Stout Porters. (Ref: Daniels)

Throughout the 1800′s Stout continued to refer to “Strong” – therefore one could have “Stout Ales” as well as “Stout Porters”. However, by the end of the 19th century, “stout” became more closely associated only with dark Porter, eventually becoming a name for very dark beers.

Traditional stouts of the 1800′s and early 1900′s differ considerably from their modern counterparts. The characteristic Roast Barley that gives Irish stout its dry roasted taste was not widely used until the early to mid 1900′s. Some Stouts had very high gravities – 1.070 to 1.090 for many recipes from 1858 cited by Ray Daniels. They also had very high hop rates, in some cases approaching 90 IBUs.

As Pale ales and later European lagers became more popular in the 1800′s, sales of both Porter and Stout Porter declined, remaining popular in Ireland and a few other localities in the UK.

The definitive modern Irish Stout is Guinness Extra Stout. Other popular commercial stouts include Beamish Irish Stout and Murphy’s Irish Stout. Founded in 1759, Guinness brewery at St James gate in Dublin Ireland has operated continuously for over 250 years under family ownership. Guinness is a classic Irish or Dry Stout style, with a distinctive dry, almost coffee like flavor derived from Roasted Barley. Guinness is brewed in two main forms, the domestic draft version having much lower alcohol content (3.9%) than the export bottled version (6%). (Ref: Daniels)

A number of other stout styles are popular including (Russian) Imperial Stout, Oatmeal Stout, Milk Stout, Chocolate Stout. However for today, we will stick with the classic Irish Stout style.

Designing and Brewing an Irish Stout

I rish Stout has an original gravity in the 1.035-1.050 range, with domestic versions being at the low end and export versions at the high end of that range. Bitterness is moderate, but must balance the strong flavor of the dark grains used. It should be hopped at a moderate rate of 1 IBU per point of OG (so a beer with 1.040 OG should have 40 IBUs). Color is an extremely dark brown that looks black in the glass – from 35-200 SRM. Traditionally Irish Stout is served at very low carbonation (1.6-2.0 volumes) and often served warm.

The key ingredient in a classic Irish Stout is Roasted Barley. Roast Barley gives Irish Stout its classic dry coffee-like flavor, deep dark color, and white foamy head. Unlike other dark malts, Roast Barley is made from unmalted barley grain that is roasted at high temperature while being lightly sprayed with water to prevent it from burning. Roast Barley is intensely dark, around 500-550 L, but amazingly the unmalted barley produces a white head on the beer as opposed to the darker head made by other malts.

In many commercial dry stouts, Roast Barley is the only specialty grain used. For a Dry Irish Stout, Roast Barley makes up around 10% of the grain bill. Those that don’t use Roast Barley will almost always used Black malt as a substitute.

Irish Stout is famously full bodied, so the second most popular ingredient is a specialty grain to enhance the body of the beer. Guinness uses Flaked Barley at a proportion of around 10% of the grain bill. Flaked Barley adds significant body and mouthfeel to the beer, but it must be mashed. If you are a malt extract brewer, crystal malt or Carapils would be a good substitute for Flaked Barley.

Many award winning all grain stout recipies also use oatmeal (6% of grain bill range) or wheat (6% range) either in place of flaked barley or as an addition to further enhance the body of the finished beer. Other popular specialty grains include black and chocolate malts, though these are used in small proportions primarily to add complexity to the flavor. (Ref: Daniels)

English pale malt (or Pale Malt Extract) makes up the bulk (60-70%) of the grain bill. For all-grain brewers, a medium to full bodied mash profile is desirable. A single step infusion mash is sufficient for well modified English malts. Conversion mash temperatures in the 153-156 F range are appropriate.

The most popular Irish Stout hops by far is East Kent Goldings, though other English hops such as Fuggle, Challenger, Northdown and Target. American varieties such as Cascade are sometimes used by American microbreweries. Traditionally a single hop addition is made at the beginning of the boil for bitterness. Hop aroma is not a significant factor, so aroma hops are rarely added to Irish Stout.

Irish Ale yeast is traditionally used in Irish Stout. An ideal yeast would yield an attenuation around 76% for dryness, but many Irish ale yeasts yield a lower attenuation. Some brewers select neutral yeasts with a higher attenuation to achieve a drier flavor profile. London and Whitbread yeasts are also popular choices.

Some Irish Stout recipes, including Guinness use a small amount of soured beer to add a little extra bite and flavor. To make soured beer, pull a small amount from the unfermented wort and let it naturally sour over several days by leaving it exposed to air. Boil the sour beer sterilize it thoroughly and then cool it and add it to your fermenter well before bottling.

Finally, few stout fans will forget the smooth creamy head that a draft pint of Guinness has on it. The secret is that Guinness on tap is not served under CO2 alone, but has a mix of CO2 and nitrogen. The nitrogen gives it the extra creamy long lasting head. You can serve kegged beer with nitrogen and CO2 at home, but it requires a separate tank of nitrogen in addition to a tank of CO2 and also a special “stout tap” to mix the gas when serving.

Irish Stout Recipes

Here are some sample recipes of Irish Stouts, as well as a few other Stout styles thrown in for variety:

All Grain Irish Stout Recipes:

Extract Irish Stout Recipes:

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Porter is first mentioned in writings in the early 1700′s, and the name Porter is derived from its popularity with London’s river and street porters. There are many stories surrounding the origins of Porter, such as one about it being a blend of three other beers, but more likely Porter was derived from strong brown ales of the period. Original porters were substantially stronger than modern versions. Wikipedia mentions that hydrometer measurements on 18th century Porters indicate original gravities near 1.071, or 6.6% ABV – about twice the alcohol of a modern beer.

Taxes during the Napoleonic wars drove the alcohol content down to modern levels. Porter was also the first large scale beer to be entirely aged before delivery, often remaining in vats or casks for 18 months before shipment to pubs. As the 1800′s started, breweries mixed aged porter with new porter to reduce storage times. Stouts started as a stronger, darker version of Porter, with most including the name “Stout Porter”. Eventually the “Porter” tag was dropped giving the modern style of “Stouts”. (Re: Wikipedia)

In another interesting side note, Porter’s popularity was so high that it was stored in huge vats in the late 1700′s, and there was an arms race of sorts between major breweries to see who could build the largest vas. According to Ray Daniels book, the largest vats approached 20,000 barrels (860,000 gallons) at the end of the 1700s. This compares to the largest in the world today which clocks in at around 1600 barrels, less than 1/10th the size. In October of 1814, a huge vat at the Meux brewery ruptured and reportedly wiped out an adjacent tank and devastated the neighborhood in a 5 block radius. In the ensuing chaos at least 8 people were killed.

Designing a Porter Recipe

Designing Porter recipes can be a lot of fun as the Porter style includes room for experimentation. Porters have an OG of 1.040 and up, color of 20-40 SRM and bitterness of 18-35 IBUs for Brown Porter, or up to 55 IBUs for higher gravity Robust Porter. The color is brown to black, and they have low to medium hop flavor. They are almost always brewed with a full bodied mash schedule (higher mash temperature of 154-156F) to give a full body taste. They have low ester, fruitiness and diacytl, are well balanced and have low to medium carbonation.

Traditional porters start with a Pale malt base, and typically add a mix of Crystal, Brown, Chocolate and Black malts to achieve a dark color and taste. Roasted malts are used only in Robust Porter styles. Pale malt makes up 40-70% of the grain bill (60-80% for malt extract brewers). Dark Crystal/Caramel malts are used for color and body and provide at least 10% of the grain bill. Chocolate and Roasted malts each average around 5% of the grain bill, with roasted malt less common in Brown Porter.

A variety of grains including Munich malt, Roasted malt, wheat and additives are also used. I will occasionally brew “kitchen sink” Porter which consists of whatever malts I have laying around over a pale malt base. Traditional Porter also made heavy use of Amber and Brown malts, though these are less commonly used today. Ray Daniels recommends a mash temperature of 153F, though I often go a bit higher (156F) to provide a full bodied beer.

Traditional English hops are the appropriate choice for Porter, with East Kent Goldings being a favorite of mine. Other good choices include Fuggles, Northern Brewer, Northdown and Williamette. Light dry hopping is appropriate to the style, though hops aroma should not be dominant. English ale yeast is traditionally used for Porter for its fruity flavors, though other high attenuation yeasts are appropriate. Irish ale yeast is also occasionally used by homebrewers. Adjuncts are only rarely added to specialty Porters. A London water profile (high in carbonates) is best.

Porter Recipes

Sample Porter Beer Recipes (All Grain) from our recipes archive:

Sample Porter Recipe (Extract) from our recipes archive:

Brad Smith

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Saison Beer - Belgian Farmhouse Ale

Saison is a light, refreshing ale originally brewed in farmhouses in the French speaking regions of Belgium for field workers.  Now the beer is brewed in many locations around the world.  Its a complex style with a mix of fruity aroma and flavor, some spiciness and even a hint of tartness.  Today I'll take a look at the history of Saison, how to brew it and some Saison recipes.

The History of Saison

Saison originated in Wallonia, the French speaking southern half of Belgium.  It was traditionally brewed for the fall season to refresh farm workers during the harvest.  "Saison" is the French word for season, as Saisons were most frequently brewed in the fall/winter seasons and then stored for the following fall's harvest.  It shares some characteristics with its cousin, Biere de Garde.  Saison was also moderate to highly hopped to survive the long storage period.

While modern Saison's range from 5-8% ABV, traditional Saison had a much lower alcohol content of 3-4% ABV.  The lower alcohol content made the beer refreshing during a hard work day and kept the workers relatively sober, as some farmhouses had daily allotments of 4-5 liters per worker.

Saison's were usually brewed locally in the farmhouse for the workers, and was bottle conditioned.  Many Saisons in Belgium are still bottle conditioned.  Some Saisons were even blended with Belgian Lambic to increase the acidity and add complexity to the finished beer.

The Saison Beer Style

There is a fair amount of variation with Saison - with light to darker variants, some Saisons using spices, and some blended or soured slightly.  The BJCP style guide describes Saison as highly fruity with a fruity-ester aroma reminiscent of citrus fruit such as oranges or lemons.  It may have a moderate hop aroma and some spice aroma but only from the addition of spices.

A low to moderate sour-acidity may be present.  It may have a light malty flavor with no diaceytls.

The color is golden to amber in color (4-14 SRM).  Alcohol content ranges from the traditional 3.5% to a more modern 6.5%.  Original gravity runs from 1.055-1.080 (14-19.5 plato).  Hop bitternes is moderate to moderately assertive (20-40 IBUS) and should balance the maltiness of the beer for both the lighter and heavier versions of the style.

Saison is usually bottle conditioned, and may have a slight chill or yeast haze and is highly carbonated.

Brewing Saison

The bulk of a Saison's grain bill is based on Pilsner malt.  Vienna and Munich malts are most often added (up to 10%) to contribute color and complexity to the beer.  Wheat malt is used in some Saisons but is not always included.  Darker Saisons also sometimes include darker Crystal malt for color.  Candi sugar or honey are sometimes used to add flavor and alcohol without increasing the body of the beer.

Some Saisons are soured or acidified using acid malt, sour mashing techniques, Lactobacillus bacteria or by blending the finished beer with Lambic.

Noble hops, East Kent Goldings and Styrian hops are most often used in Saisons.  The hops should balance the malt, but not dominate the flavor of the beer.  Some Saisons are dry hopped.  Also some stronger versions of Saison do use spices of various kinds to add additional complexity.  Most brewers recommend starting without spices, but corriander and bitter orange peel are popular additions for stronger Saisons.

The use of hard water (or gypsum), which is common in Wallonia, can accentuate the dry finish and bitterness of the finished beer.

Unique Saison or Belgian yeast strains are an important ingredient for true Saison as they generates a large portion of the fruity esters and complex flavor that defines Saisons.

Body for saisons varies from light to medium, so a mash profile in the range of 148F-154F is most appropriate.

Saison Recipes


Here are a few Saison/Farmhouse Ale recipes from the BeerSmith Recipe site:

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For many years, I’ve wanted to do a better job of matching my beer brewing with seasons and major holidays.  But I always found myself behind.  When October rolled around it was too late to brew that Oktoberfest, and my green beer was always a bit too late for St Patty’s day.  My stouts were always finished for the warm summer months.

To combat this, I’ve assembled a brewing schedule of sorts to help me have mature beers ready for the right holiday or season.  To keep it simple, I’ve listed popular styles of beer for different seasons by quarter, and a corresponding list of which quarter you need to brew them in.  The assumption here is that 3 months lead time is enough for me to assemble the ingredients, brew the beer, and have it mature properly.  While I don’t brew all of these styles each year, it gives me a list to choose from.

Winter Beer Styles – Beers to Brew in Fall, Drink in Winter:
  • Holiday Ales
  • Christmas/Winter Beer
  • Stouts, Porters and other Dark Beers
  • Barley Wine (needs long aging – start a year or more in advance)
  • Winter Wheats
  • Smoked Rauchbier
  • Scotch Ale
  • Old Ale

Spring Beer Styles – Beers to Brew in Winter, Drink in Spring

Summer Beer Styles – Beers to Brew in Spring, Drink in Summer

Fall Beer Styles – Beers to Brew in Summer, Drink in the Fall

Brad Smith

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German Altbier

German Altbier or Alt is a top fermenting beer that originated in the German Westphalia region and later grew in popularity around the Rhineland.  This week we take a look at brewing Altbier at home.  The term "Alt" or "old beer" refers to the old methods of using a top fermenting ale yeast at ale temperatures but then cold aging the beer to form a slightly bitter, malty, well attenuated German ale.  The term Altbier first appeared in the 1800's to differentiate this traditional ale from newer pale lagers getting popular in Germany.

The BJCP recognizes two distinct style of Altbier, the Dusseldorf Alt is primarily produced near the town of Dusseldorf, and is slightly more bitter than the more widely brewed Northern German Altbier.  The Northern version generally has a slight caramel flavor and is sweeter and less bitter than the Dusseldorf.  Some Altbiers are also produced in small quantities in the Netherlands near the German border as well as Austria, Switzerland and the US microbreweries.

The Altbier Style

As mentioned above, Altbier is an amber colored ale with a very smooth, well attenuated finish.  The beer should be well balanced with some bitterness and some maltiness.  Fruitiness from the ale yeast is appropriate.  Color is generally bronze to brown (11-17 SRM).  There is low dyacetyl flavor and the beer generally has moderate to high carbonation.

There are differences between the Northern and Dusseldorf Altbier styles.  The Dusseldorf style has medium bitterness and medium to high maltiness and is often brewed with moderately carbonate water.  The Northen style may have a malty, grainy, biscuity and even slight caramel maltiness.  The Nothern style is generally less bitter than the Dusseldorf and is sometimes made with a mix of ale and lager yeasts or even a highly attentive lager yeast alone.

The BJCP style guide specifies an original gravity of 1.046-1.054 and final gravity of 1.010-1.015 for both styles.  The Dusseldorf color runs bronze to brown, or 11-17 SRM.  The Northern can be slightly darker at 13-19 SRM.  Carbonation is a bubbly 2.5-3.1 volumes of CO2.

Brewing an Altbier

The base malt for Alts is German Pilsner malt, which typically makes up 80% of the grain bill.  A small amount of Munich or Vienna malt is often used to add some malty flavor.  Dark Crystal malt is used in the Northern style to reach the appropriate color and add a small bit of caramel flavor.  The Dusseldorf style uses less crystal malt, and instead substitutes small amounts of chocolate or black malt to achieve the desired color.

The traditional mash schedule is a German triple decoction, though a single step infusion mash is more than adequate if you are using modern highly modified malt.

Both styles require a highly attentive yeast with a clean finish.  The Dusseldorf style always uses a high attenuation ale yeast such as White Labs WLP036 Dusseldorf Alt Yeast or WLP001 California Ale or Wyeast 1056 American Ale.   The Northern Alt style also requires a high attenuation yeast, and most often lager yeasts are used though occasionally a mix of ale/lager or ale yeast may be used.  Interesting yeasts to use include various German Lager yeasts, Kolsch yeasts from both labs, and the Alt ale yeasts listed above.

Spalt hops are traditionally used for the Dusseldorf alt, though many noble hop varieties are suitable as well.  The Northern style uses noble hop varieties as well and there is some variation between breweries on which is best to use.  The Dusseldorf style may use moderately carbonate water to accentuate the bitterness of the hops while the Northern style typically does not use carbonate water.

Altbier Recipes

Brad Smith

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Cream Ale

Cream Ale is a distinctly American beer style that is refreshing and smooth.  It has enjoyed a resurgence recently as many microbreweries have taken up the style and even improved upon commercial versions.

Cream ale enjoyed broad popularity in the pre-prohibition era, and was particularly popular in the Midwest.  The distinct style emerged in the latter half of the 19th century as a variation of increasingly popular pilsners.  A darker, slightly sour variation called Dark Cream Common or Common Beer was brewed in the area surrounding Louisville Kentucky. (Ref: Wikipedia)

In the UK, the term “cream ale” is also used to describe nitrogen-dispensed beers that have a rich creamy head, though these ales bear little relation to the American style.   The term “smooth ale” is now more commonly used to describe these beers.

The Cream Ale Style

Cream ale is essentially an ale brewed with lager yeast at warm ale temperatures, much like its California cousin, Steam Beer.  The beer is brewed from American 6 row barley usually with corn adjuncts.

The flavor profile of a cream ale has a hint of malt, along with a sweet corn-like aroma.  A hint of DMS is common due to the lager yeast.  The hop and malt should be balanced with neither dominating.  They generally have a crisp body with a clean finish.

Starting gravities are in the medium 1.042-1.055 range, and color ranges from pale to moderate gold color (2-5 SRM).  Bitterness is subtle but balanced, in the 15-20+ IBU range.  Cream ales are served refrigerated and highly carbonated.

Brewing a Cream Ale

The bulk of the grain bill (80%) for any cream ale is American malt, usually 6 row pale barley malt, though sometimes 2 row is used.  Corn adjuncts such as  flaked maize may be used for up to 20% of the grain bill.  Corn based sugars in the boil are also commonly added in the place of corn.  Other adjuncts are less common, but some recipes use carafoam or very light caramel malt to add body.

American hops should be used, but it is wise to avoid high alpha modern hops which can unbalance the pale malt flavor.  Noble hops are also acceptable.  The normal hop schedule uses both boil and finishing hop additions to add to the flavor profile and aroma.

The choice of yeast and control of fermentation temperature is perhaps most important to this style.  Some modern brewers often use a mix of ale and lager yeast strains, though historically just lager yeast was used.  American lager strains, perhaps mixed with an American strain ale work best.

Fermentation temperatures should be controlled, though fermentation is done well above normal lager temperature ranges.  Generally fermentation in the 65-68F range provides a reasonable balance without excess ester production from the lager yeast.

Many modern cream ales are cold lagered to enhance clarity and flavor, though historically cream ales were not lagered in this way.  If you do lager, I recommend keeping the beer at cold temperatures (around 40F) for several weeks once your beer has completely fermented and has carbonated if you are bottling before lagering.

Cream ale is designed as a cold refreshing drink on a hot day, so it should be served cold and well carbonated (2.6-3.2 vols) much like a lager beer.

Cream Ale Recipes

More recipes are available on the BeerSmith Recipes Page.

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American Amber Ale

American Amber Ale, also known in the Pacific Northwest as Red Ale is a uniquely American beer that is robust, rich and enjoyable.  A fairly recent style, Ambers have become very popular with mainstream beer drinkers in the US.  

American Amber became popular in the Pacific Northwest before spreading nationwide, primarily through microbreweries and small regional brewers.  These beers are also called Red Ales or West Coast Ales in some regions, and the style itself overlaps somewhat with American Pale Ale.  However Amber ales have a stronger caramel flavor, more body, are darker and color and have a balance between bitterness and maltiness, where Pale Ales tend to have a stronger hop flavor.  Amber ale is also popular in Australia, with the most popular being from Malt Shovel Brewery (James Squire Amber).

The American Amber Ale Style

The Amber style is considered somewhat richer than pale ale, and is recognized by the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) as its own style (10-B).  Ambers can have moderate to high hop flavor, but the hops should not be dominant.  American hops are most often use which can result in a somewhat citrusy flavor.  Malt sweetness and a caramel flavor are desirable, but Amber should not have the roasted character of a brown ale.  Few esters and no dicetyl is desirable.

Stronger versions may have some alcohol warmth, but the finish should be smooth.  Medium to full body for the beer is normal, with moderate to high carbonation.  The BJCP specifies an original gravity of 1.045-1.060 and final gravity of 1.010-1.015 giving 4.5-6.2% alcohol by volume.

Bitterness is between 25-40 IBUs, giving an average bitterness ratio of 0.619 BU/GU which places amber ales slightly on the malty side as far as overall balance.  Color is amber to copper brown, with an SRM of 10-17, though some mass produced ambers run at the low end of the color range.

Ambers are moderate to highly carbonated - and typically have good head retention.

Brewing an Amber Ale

Amber Ale is traditionally made with American two row pale malt as the base, making up 60-85% of the grain bill.  Medium to dark crystal malts are used to provide color and caramel flavor, typically making up 10-20% of the grain bill.  Small amounts of other specialty grains such as a tiny amount of roast malt (for red color versions), aromatic malt, carafoam, munich or victory malts may be used to add unique character to the brew.

There is no fixed water profile associated with Amber ale, so a variety of waters can be used.  However, as the water does not add significantly to the flavor for this style, a moderate water profile (not too high in sulfates or carbonates) is desirable.

American hops are traditionally used, with citrus varieties such as centennial being popular.  Like pale ale, it is not unusual to use multiple hop additions during the boil as well as a moderate amount of fresh dry hops to provide some hoppy aroma, though overall the beer should be well balanced, with the balance slightly to the malty side.

As a full body Amber is desirable, one generally uses a full bodied single step infusion mash with the conversion step at 156-158F for approximately 45 minutes to an hour.  Since the beer is generally 100% barley malt, no special techniques are needed.

Most amber ales are fermented with American ale yeast, which provides a fairly clean finish with high attenuation.  Some of the more robust and rich Ambers may also feature use of lighter English ale yeasts that can contribute low to moderate esters and complexity to the beer without unbalancing it.  Ambers are fermented and aged at normal ale temperatures (64-68F), and should be bottled or kegged with moderate to medium-high carbonation.

Amber Ale Recipes

Here are a few Amber Ales from our BeerSmith recipe archive:

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English Pale Ale

English Pale Ale is a classic beer style and a personal favorite of mine.  This week we take a look at how to brew this classic style at home including the history of the style, formulation of recipes and brewing of English Pale Ale.

The History of English Pale Ale

English Pale Ale shares much in common with classic English Bitters.  The defining example of the style is arguably Bass Ale from Bass Brewery in Burton on Trent, England.  The Bass brewery was established by William Bass in 1777 as one of the first breweries in Burton on Trent.

Pale ale and bitters both are derived from English "real ales" which were widely produced in England in the 18th and 19th century, and originally served with little to no carbonation from hand pumped cellar kegs.

Pale ale can also trace its origins to the start of the industrial revolution in England.  The availability of both coal fuel and high quality steel allowed the production of pale colored malts in the early 1700's.  Previously only brown and dark malts with smoky aroma were available due to the use of wood in malting.

The English Pale Ale Style

English Pale Ale has a medium high to moderate hoppy flavor and aroma.  Often a malt or caramel flavor and aroma is present, with a slight alcoholic warmth.  The hops should balance the caramel and malt flavor at a minimum, though many examples have a slightly hoppy balance.

The body of a Pale Ale is medium to full, and carbonation is generally low except for some bottled commercial or export ales.  The finish is generally dry with no secondary malt flavors, and no diceytl.  Fruity esters, often a byproduct of English ale yeast, is often present.

Original gravity is generally between 1.048 and 1.062, with 30-50 IBUs of bitterness.  Color is golden to deep copper (6-18 SRM).  Alcohol by volume is a healthy 4.6-6.2%.

Brewing an English Pale Ale

The base malt for English Pale Ale is english pale malt.  The classic type is English two row barley malt with low nitrogen content, traditionally a bit darker than classic pale malt due to the use of higher kilning temperatures.  Pale malt composes about 90% of the total grain bill.  For extract brewers, start with a pale base extract and add the appropriate color steeped caramel malt to achieve your desired color.

Crystal and caramel malts are used in most pale ales, both to add color and body.  Crystal generally makes up 5-10% of the total grain bill and is selected in a color to balance the overall target color.

Maltose syrup is used in many commercial pale ales, but is hard to find for use in home brewing.  Corn or cane sugar can be used in small quantities (generally less than 10%) to give a similar effect.

Wheat, cara-pils, or flaked barley are occasionally used in pale ales to add body.  Generally only a few percent are added, as any larger amount will result in a cloudy finish to the beer.  Chocolate and black malts are used very rarely in some recipes, but I recommend not including them in your pale ale.

BC Goldings and Fuggles hops are the favorite varieties for Pale ales.  Target, Northdown and Challenger are occasionally substituted.  My personal preference is BC Goldings.  Often three hop additions are used - one for boiling/bitterness, an aroma addition at the end of the boil and finally dry hops for added aroma after fermentation.

A single step infusion mash is sufficient for mashing a pale ale, as the highly modified English malt will convert easily.  A medium to high body mash profile (153-157 F) will give you an authentic rich bodied beer.

For Burton style English Pale Ales, the water profile is extremely high in Calcium Carbonate and Bicarbonate.  Burton water has 295 ppm Ca, 725 ppm Sulfate and 300 ppm Bicarbonate.  This exceptionally hard water accentuates the bitterness in the hops giving a sharp finish to the beer.  However, achieving the appropriate water balance can be difficult for homebrewers.  Usually a small amount of Gypsum (CaSO4) added to the brewing water is sufficient to give a slightly sharper finish.

English Pale Ale yeast is used for traditional Burton ales like Bass, and the major liquid yeast manufacturers even carry a special strain for Burton ales.  Other english ale yeasts are also popular with homebrewers for all types of pale ales.  Finally, many homebrewers use American ale yeast for its clean finish and neutral flavor.

Pale ale should be fermented and aged at traditional ale temperatures (generally 62-68F), lightly carbonated and served slightly warm if you are a traditional ale fan.  American brewers may prefer higher carbonation and a colder serving temperature.

Pale Ale Recipes

Here are some recipes from our BeerSmith Recipe Archive:

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Brad Smith

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Trappist, Dubbel and Tripel

Trappist ale is a beer brewed originally by Trappist monks.  The style and its substyles (Enkel, Dubbel and Tripel) have also been popularized by many microbreweries over the last 30 years.  This week, we take a look at the popular Trappist style and how to formulate recipes to brew this beer at home.

History of Trappist Beer

Trappist ale has its clear origins with Trappist monasteries.  From the early middle ages, monastery brew houses produced beer throughout Europe both to feed the community and later for sale to fund other church works.  The Trappist order, which took its name from La Trappe Abbey in France, was founded as part of the Cistercian order in 1663, though it did not formally separate from the Cistercian order until 1892.  The La Trappe Abbey had its own brewery as early as 1685.

Today there are only seven Trappist monasteries that brew beer and six of them are located in Belgium while one is in the Netherlands.  The six in Belgium are the most well known, which is why Trappist ales are categorized as Belgian ales.  In the late 20'th century, many breweries worldwide started labeling their beer as "Trappist" in response to the popularity of the ales, forcing Trappist abbeys to form the International Trappist Association who's goal is to prevent non-Trappist commercial companies from using the name.  They created a logo and convention for true Trappist beers, which must be brewed within the walls of a Trappist abbey by monastic brewers, and the gains must go to charitable causes and not financial profit.

Due to the popularity of Trappist ales, many commercial brewers still brew similar style beers which are typically sold under as Belgian Dubbels and Tripels.  (Ref: Wikipedia).

The Trappist Style

Trappist beers may be divided into four sub-styles.  By tradition, most of the true Trappist ales are bottle conditioned.  These include:

  • Patersbier - "Father's beer" which is brewed for the monks and intended for consumption by the monks within the abbey walls.  Occasionally this may be offered on site to guests.  It is a relatively weak beer in the tradition of Trappist austerity.
  • Enkel - "Single" beer which was traditionally used to describe the brewery's lightest beer.  This is a very close relation to the Patersbier.  Currently the term is rarely used, and I am not aware of any abbeys that currently produce this style for commercial sale.
  • Dubbel - "Double" beer.  Dubbels are a strong brown ale with low bitterness, a heavy body, and a malty, nutty finish with no diacytl.  These beers have a starting gravity of 1.062-1.075 and 6.5-8% alcohol by  volume.  Color runs the range from dark amber to copper color (10-17 SRM) and bitterness from 15-25 IBUs.  This style is also widely brewed by commercial brewers.
  • Tripel - "Triple" beer.  Tripel's are the strongest Trappist ales, running from 7.5-9% alcohol by volume with a starting gravity of 1.075-1.085.  They are highly alcoholic, but brewed with high carbonation and high attenuation yeasts to reduce the taste of alcohol.  Color runs lighter than Dubbels in the range of 4.5-7.0 SRM and bitterness from 20-40 IBUs, though most Tripels have 30+ IBUs.

Brewing Trappist Style Ales

I'm going to focus on the Dubbel and Tripel styles as these are the only ones brewed commercially today.  For both Dubbel and Tripel, Belgian pilsner malt makes up the base ingredient.  For Dubbels, sometimes Belgian pale malt may also be used as a base.

For Dubbels, the grain bill can be complex with Munich malts added for maltiness (up to 20%), Special B malt to provide raisin falvor and CaraMunich for a dried fruit flavor.  Also dark candi sugar is used both to boost alcohol and add rum-raisin flavors.  The sugar also allows for a cleaner finish and less alcohol flavor than would be possible with an all-malt beer.  Despite the complex spicy flavor of the finished beer, spices are not used.

Tripels being lighter in color typically use a less complicated malt bill.  Starting with a pilsner malt base, they add up to 20% white candi sugar but typically lack the complex array of malts used for Dubbels.

One of the main ingredients that makes Trappist ales unique is the yeast.  Both Dubbels and Tripels use special Belgian yeast strains that produce fruity esters, spicy phenolics and higher alcohol.  Often the Trappist ales are fermented at higher than normal temperatures for an ale yeast which increases the array of complex flavors from the yeast.

For hops, noble hop varieties or Styrian Goldings hops are commonly used.  Occasionally low alpha English hops may also be added.  Despite the hop rate of Tripel needed to balance the malt, hops is not a major flavor in either finished beer style.  Large amounts of finishing and dry hops are not typically used for this beer for the same reason.

Water used for brewing is typically soft - without a large quantity of hard minerals present.  Both styles are traditionally bottle conditioned with medium to high carbonation which adds to the beer's presentation.

Mashing is typically done with a medium to full bodied mash profile, as Trappist beers are full bodied.

Trappist Style Recipes

Here are some Trappist style recipes from the BeerSmith Recipe Site:



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Bock and Doppelbock

Bock beer is a classic German lager that is smooth and very drinkable.  Traditionally bock was brewed in Winter, so it is appropriate for a winter beer article.  This week we take a look at some bock beer recipes and how to brew the classic Bock beer style.

History of Bock


Bock traces its origins back to the town of Einbeck in Northern Germany as early as 1325.  The beer of Einbeck was not only popular but widely distributed to Hamburg and Bremen.  Lightly kilned wheat and barley was used in the original Einbeck beer, which had only a remote similarity to the modern bock style.  Wheat was used for approximately 1/3 of the grain bill, and barley malt made up the rest.

Alas, Einbeck was ravaged by two fires in the 16th century and then suffered greatly in the 30 years war (1618-1648), so little of the original style survives. (Ref: Daniels)  In the 16th century, Munich tried to emulate the great beers of Einbeck and started brewing variants that were called "Ainpoeckish Pier", named in the Bavarian dialect for the city of Einbeck.

Later the name was shortened to "Poeck" and ultimately "Bock", which means "Goat" in German.  In the 1800's bock enjoyed a resurgence as brewing techniques and science improved.  The addition of the hydrometer and thermometer, controlled lagering and other techniques helped dramatically.  Bock also spread well beyond Munich to Vienna and throughout Germany.

German immigrants brought Bock to America in the late 1800's where it, along with Pilsner became popular.  Best & Company (later Pabst) became one of the first to brew it broadly in America. (Ref: Daniels)  Bock, traditionally quite strong in Europe, was brewed at lower strength after Prohibition in America.

Variants of the bock style include Doppelbock, Maibock, Eisbock, American bock and Weizenbock.  Doppelbock means "double bock" and is brewed with a minimum original gravity of 1.074, which is slightly stronger than traditional bock and typically has complex chocolate and caramel flavoring.  Maibock, or "May bock" is tapped in the Spring and has a much paler color than traditional bock, and is traditionally made from a mixture of Munich and Pilsner malts.

Eisbock, or "Ice bock" which has a minimum OG of 1.093 is a very strong bock that is highly alcoholic and malty.  Though made in the tradition of regular bock and Doppelbock, the strength of the beer approaches that of some barley wines.   American bock is made primarily in the Midwest and Texas, are typically somewhat lighter in gravity than traditional German bock and may be a bit less malty in flavor.  Weizenbock is perhaps better characterized as a Dunkel-Weizen brewed to bock or Doppelbock strength, and not technically a bock beer.  It is composed primarily of around 60% malted wheat with Munich or Vienna malt filling the rest of the grain bill, and fermented with wheat yeast rather than lager yeast.

The Bock Style

The modern bock style closely tracks the traditional German style of the last hundred years.  Bock has a fairly strong original gravity of 1.064-1.072 and a dark amber to brown color between 14 and 22 SRM.  German bocks must have a minimum starting gravity of 1.064.  The flavor of the beer is malty with a slight chocolate or toasted edge.  Bocks have medium to full bodied profiles, but no roast flavor.

The carbonation is moderate, and hop flavor is minimal.  Typically German hops are used to balance some of the maltiness of the beer with an IBU level of 20-27 IBUs.  Lager yeast is used along with cold temperature storage (lagering) at temperatures near freezing.

Brewing a Bock

Munich malt makes up the bulk of the grain bill for any Bock.  In fact, most traditional Bocks are made from a single Munich malt, with variations in kilning determining the color and character of the finished beer.  Daniels recommends using Munich malt for 75-93% of the grist,with pale or lager malt making up the balance. For all grain brewers, this is your best route to an authentic bock. Where possible, choose a two row Munich malt as the base.

Analysis of many award winning homebrewed recipes indicates that crystal and chocolate are often added - especially for the dunkel (dark) bock varieties. Crystal makes up 10-15% of the grain bill and chocolate approximately 2% - primarily to add color.

For extract brewers, try to secure a munich based malt extract if possible, as it is difficult to achieve the proper malty balance without it.  Extract recipes often use some crystal or chocolate malt to achieve the appropriate color and body, but these should be used sparingly.  If you are brewing a partial mash recipe, the addition of munich and pale malt will add authenticity to the recipe.

Not surprisingly, German hops are used extensively in Bock.  Hallertauer hops is the traditional choice for bock, though Tettnanger, Hersbruck or Saaz are occasionally used.  Do not use high alpha hops in a bock as it will upset the malty balance.  Bock is not a hoppy beer, so the bulk of hop additions are used during the boil for bitterness.  Small flavor or aroma additions are OK, but hop flavor and aroma is not a dominant feature in this beer.

The traditional mash schedule for a German bock is a triple decoction, though with modern highly modified grains a double decoction will suffice. Decoction does help to enhance the color and body of the beer to bring out the strong malty profile of a traditional bock.  The protein rest should target around 122F, while the main conversion should be done at a slightly higher temperature of 155-156 F (68C) to bring out the desired medium to full body beer profile.  A single infusion mash is also an option, again in the 155F range.

Munich water profiles have a high proportion of carbonate which is why hops are sparingly used to avoid harsh bitterness.  However, most domestic brewing waters can produce a good bock style since the darker bock malts help provide the proper mash pH balance, and adding carbonate really does not enhance this particular style.

Munich/Bavarian lager yeast should be used for your bock recipe.  Cold lagering during fermentation and storage is critical.  The fermentation temperature should match the recommended range for your yeast, but fermentation is usually done around 50F.   Once fermentation is complete, the actual lagering should take place close to freezing, and continue for 4-10 weeks as these lager yeasts often take some time to flocculate (sediment).

Bock Recipes

Want to try some great Bock kits?  Check out MoreBeer's complete line of kits and ingredients. They also are BeerSmith supporters.

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