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Crafting a Beer: Execution – Fünke a Mint Blueberry Kölsch (2013)

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About a week after our careful recipe planning (which you should read about by clicking here), it was time to brew our Fünke a Mint Blueberry Kölsch. Well, technically we would just be brewing a kölsch base beer at this point. Quickly, for those who do not know, a kölsch is a traditional style of German beer originating in Cologne. It is brewed with an ale yeast but is lagered for a time linking it with some other central Northern European beers such as altbier. Our mint and blueberry additions won’t be mixed with the beer until it is time to put the brew into the cask. The kölsch recipe we came up with was a hybrid culled from various influences one being Brewing Classic Styles (which is a book all aspiring home brewers should pick up). With this beer we would have one foot (ok, maybe a few toes) in tradition and the other deeply in experimentation, new ideas and thirsty optimism. Using Brewing Classic Styles and it’s theories on brewing a kölsch as well as Bobby’s vast experience in brewing to style we would have a solid foundation upon which to paint with our flavor palette.

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Since all of these ideas were about keeping an eye on tradition but ending up with something fresh, an example of the style that could stand up on its own but would really sing with the fruit and herb added we all knew we had a lot ahead of us. We arrived at Bobby’s brewery at 9 am, ready for a full day of exchanging ideas and brewing. We were not only excited to brew our first beer which would be served from a cask, but also were curious to see how the experience of brewing a traditional(ish) recipe would differ from the brewing of our (well received) Saint Remo Gruit Ale. This would be a chance for us to brew with a highly experienced, award winning home brewer and to take a stab at crafting another beer from start to finish. With everything ready to go and our good friend Bobby set, we all dove in (figuratively we assure you).

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We started much the same, by making sure everything was thoroughly sanitized, as this is one of the most important steps to brewing a tasty, successful beer. Even the slightest oversight in this process can lead to an infected product with a myriad of off flavors. Once sanitization was completed, it was time to mill our grain, which consisted of pale malt and a bit of dark munich malt. This essentially just means passing your grain through a mill to turn it into a finer substance that will be easier to extract sugars from. The resulting substance is your grist. During this step, you can actually taste a kernel or two of grain to become more familiar with the ingredient that will become an integral part of your beer. It has a fairly plain, bready taste but oddly enough makes a tasty, addictive snack which is even served to patrons at the popular Moeder Lambic in Brussels, Belgium.

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With everything now ready to go, the next step was to steep the grain. In brewing terms this is our mash and this process is “mashing in”. This involved taking the grain we had just milled (our grist) and adding it to one of the brew kettles, along with water that we kept at a consistent temperature. This temperature is usually kept a bit higher because adding the grist to the water causes the temperature to drop, which you do not want. Having it a few degrees higher balances this effect out. The purpose of adding the grist to the hot water (now called liquor) is to extract the sugar and color from your grains, creating the backbone of your future beer. This also will become the tasty meal our good friend yeast will consume during the fermentation process in turn producing alcohol and carbon dioxide.

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Once the mash is completed and you essentially have a giant pot of sugary oatmeal, it is time to sparge, which separates your liquid (and importantly sugars) from the grain. There are several methods which can be used to complete this process and all work well. This time we used a “fly sparging” process which is shown below. Bobby feels that this method gives him the most efficient sparge, extracting the most fermentable sugars from the mash. Basically a “fly sparge” or “continuous sparge” (conveniently enough) continuously introduces water at the top of the mash (sugary oatmeal mix). The water then moves down through the mash bed, increasing in sugar concentration along its way. This liquid or wort (oddly pronounced wert) is drawn off into another container where it will be boiled with our hops.

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Now that we had our liquid wort in the boil kettle, it was time to add some flavor to it in the way of hops. We used spalt hops and did a 60 minute boil. Throughout the process we tasted the liquid a couple times and actually felt that there was not enough hop presence coming through, so we added a bit more to the hop sack. This is something that can be done during the brewing process but should be done with a bit of caution. The wort is much sweeter than what your final product, after fermentation, will taste like so you have to be careful not to make your beer too bitter trying to overpower the sugars that are still present. If you go crazy with the hops now just to balance out your wort, once the yeast eats all the sugars you will be left with a very bitter brew. This is not always a terrible thing, but would not have worked for our mint blueberry kölsch so we added hops in a very controlled fashion. We were hoping to achieve nice hop characteristics and the variety of noble hop we chose plus our (slight) bump in additions would provide that for us.

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After boiling away and ensuring that the hops had time to adequately impart a crisp flavor into our kölsch base, it was time to cool off our liquid. To do this, we ran it through a plate chiller which quickly drops the temperature. Just like you never want to seal hot food and put it right into the refrigerator, you do not want your beer to be hot when you put it into storage to ferment. Once the liquid adequately cools, yeast is added to it. We used a kölsch yeast starter which Bobby had already made earlier in the week. The yeasts main job is to come into our fermenting tub and eat the sugar in our liquid, hopefully leaving behind a delicious kölsch. Of course, we sampled the beer before putting it away and though it was on the sweet side, we definitely saw promise and could taste the clean kölsch that was trying to emerge. Now, it was time for the beer to sit and ferment.

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After a few weeks, we were ready to transfer our beer from the plastic fermenter into two five gallon glass carboys. We did this with the use of an auto siphon, taking care not to disturb the thick yeast cake that had settled to the bottom of the fermenter. At this point we drew off some of the beer (which still had some fermentation to go through) and gave it another sample. It had many of the kölsch characteristics already in place that we would be hoping to build upon as we added to the beer and it developed further. We were next able to try the beer when we met up with Bobby one night to see how things were going with the Mint Blueberry Kölsch. we met up at a local brewpub and had a chance to try the kölsch in its natural state and also with the mint & blueberry added. This was still not the final product as there was a bit more to be done (casking the beer) and it would have more carbonation coming but at this point we could tell we all had brewed a winner here. The kölsch itself was tasty, refreshing and had nice malt and noble hop accents. The kölsch with the mint and blueberry additions was the closest yet to what would be our final product and it did not disappoint. The mint and blueberry married well with the malt and hops of the kölsch. A brightness and freshness came from the mint which mingled with the herbal qualities of the hops while the fruitiness of the blueberry harmonized with the malts. A pleasant surprise was a tart twang provided by the blueberry juice we used (which was organic and 100% juice). Fünke was coming along nicely!

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After those steps and all of the effort and time the beer was finally ready to move into it’s final home, the cask. Regretfully, we were unable to be there for this part of the process since we were in Ireland enjoying a beer or two (poor us), but Bobby was kind enough to give us his thoughts on it. He racked the beer into the cask the same way you would put it into a keg, with the use of a siphon. However, unlike a kegged beer, this would have to be naturally carbonated, so no CO2 is ever added to the cask. Instead the secondary fermentation that occurs in the cask adds carbonation to the beer. This can be sped up a bit by adding priming sugar while casking your brew. This beer is also unfiltered, unpasteurized and is all natural. We suggest, if you have not already, trying a cask brew. These are defined as “real ale” by some folks (specifically by CAMRA or the Campaign for Real Ale). The beer has wonderful nuanced flavors, delicate carbonation and is most times as fresh a beer as you can get. We are looking forward to trying this cask ale as well as the countless others that have been brewed for this years (sold out) Blue Point Cask Festival.

So don’t forget to stop by the B.E.E.R table at Blue Point on Saturday, April 13 and try our Fünke Mint Blueberry Kölsch. This is a great event and we hope you have a ticket or if you do not go find a friend who cannot use theirs. Lots of amazing breweries are attending this year and as always there will be a great atmosphere. This event will also feature a donation box for local charity Long Island Cares. At the Cask Fest they will be accepting donations of canned food (other times they accept various every day items as well). Please, if you are heading to the fest bring a can of food to donate for those in need. We are lucky as attendees to be able to do something like this and should make every effort to bring a can along to show our appreciation for our good fortune. Ok, that all said we hop to see you there so you can try the kölsch!

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P.S: As you can see by the name of our beer, we are all looking forward to the return of Arrested Development. Now excuse us while we go get the diamond dust suctioned out of our lungs.

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