Springtime Schwarz

Springtime Schwarz

I have always had a passion for traditional German beers. Maybe it is my German Heritage (my last name is Weiss after all) or maybe it is the fact that the first craft beers I enjoyed came from a German oriented brewery, The Weeping Radish. Either way, I cannot deny my love for the German beer styles. One style that I had yet to try brewing at home was a Schwarzbier or Black Beer which can be thought of as a black pilsner. My friend Joe and I decided to tackle this one together and split the batch. We decided that we wanted a version that had a bigger malt presence than simply a pilsner with debittered black malt so we chose to add about 30% Munich with a touch of caramunich and chocolate.  To help draw out this malt complexity we performed a double decoction mash.

Joe and I doing a decoction

Joe and I doing a decoction

Decoction mashing is probably one of the most fun things a home brewer can do on a brew day. A decoction is done by removing a small amount of you mash (wort and grain) from your mash tun, placing in another pot, heating to a boil, and then returning to the main mash. This allows you to move through different temperature steps without having a directly heated mash tun.  The volume of mash to be pulled is determined by temperature change you are trying to achieve. You can perform multiple decoctions to move through different temperatures. For this batch Joe and I used a hybrid decoction/recirculation mash schedule to move through 4 different temperatures. This really helps to develop a rich and complex malt profile through breaking up the starch granules in the grains allowing more enzyme contact. There is some debate in the brewing world about the need for decoctions with the highly modified malt we have access to these days. My take is that the process is fun, the smells emanating from that decoction pot are enchanting, and I enjoy the malt flavors that are developed.

Here is our recipe with details about the decoction in the process notes.

 German Schwarzbier (Batch Number 149)

4C – Schwarzbier (Black Beer)
Recipe for 11.5 gallons Post Boil


13 lb/62.7%   Weyerman German Pilsner
6 lb/28.9%     Weyerman German Munich
1 lb/4.8%      Breiss Blackprinz
8 oz/2.4%     Weyerman Caramunich II
4 oz/1.2%     Breiss Chocolate Malt


1.6 oz German Northern Brewer     10.7 %          60 Min


WLP 830 – German Lager


Strike: 7 gal, 1.8g caso4, 3.5g cacl2, 1.4 ml phosphoric 85%
Sparge: 9.5 gal, 2.4g caso4, 4.8g cacl2, 4.1 ml phosphoric 10%
CA 72
MG 7
NA 23
SO4 52
CL 66
HCO3 62

Mash Schedule

Strike at 131° and hold for 10 min. Raise by decoction to 149° and hold for 40 min. Raise by decoction to 158° and hold for 20 min. Mash out to 168° by recirculation.

Measurements and Calculations

Wort Volume Before Boil: 13.0 US gals
Wort Volume After Boil: 11.5 US gals
Volume Transferred: 10.75 US gals
Volume Of Finished Beer: 10.0 US gals
Pre-Boil Gravity: 1.047 SG
OG: 1.052 SG
FG: 1.013 SG
Apparent Attenuation: 74 %
ABV: 5.2 %
IBU (Rager): 30 IBU
Color (Morey): 24 SRM
Mash Efficiency: 79 %
Mash pH: 5.44
Fermentation Temp: 53 ?F
Fast ferment test: 1.010

Process Notes

Mashed in to stabilize at 131?. Held for 10 min then pulled a 2 gal thick decoction. Took that directly to boil over 13 min and forgot to pause for 5 min at 158?. Held at boil for 10 min. Meanwhile, stopped recirculation but heated HLT for next step at 149. Added decoction back and restarted recirculation for 30 min to hold at 149?. PH measured 5.44 @72?. After 30 min pulled a 1.25 gal thin decoction and brought to 158? for 5 min, then brought to a boil over 13 min. Held at boil for 10 min. Meanwhile, stopped recirculation but heated HLT for next step at 158?. Added decoction back and restarted recirculation for 20 min. Then raised temp through recirculation to 168? mash out.

Ran a 25 min lauter and a 15 min sparge. Hit 13 gal but gravity was high at 1.050. Added 0.5 gal water to dilute to 1.047. Ran a vigorous boil for 90 min. Hops added at 60. Added Supermoss HB and Wyeast nutrient at 10 min. Boiled off almost 2 gal so added another half gal with 10 min left. OG was 1.053. Final boil PH was 5.21.Ran through plate chiller to conical at 54?.

Filling kegs

Filling kegs

Oxygenated with O2 stone for 3 min. Pitched 1L of slurry from a series of starters. Approx cell count was 650 billion. Started forced ferment test. Pitched at 54 and dropped temp down to 53 by next morning and held there. Solid fermentation action within 24 hr. Heavy fermentation action at 48 hr and smelling strongly of sulphur. Fast ferment test came in at 1.010. FFT tasted offensively phenolic from high ferm temp and oxidation. Forgot to measure pH. Day 3 gravity was 1.037. Day 4 hit 1.021 and ramped temp to 62 over 24 hr and held for diacetyl rest. Day 6 hit 1.014 and continued to hold at 62. Day 7 started 24 hr cold crash. Held at 35 for 1 week. Most of the yeast dropped out. Racked into two kegs. Lagered for 6 weeks at 35?. Carbonated to 2.5 vol co2.

Tasting Notes

Schwarz in the sun

Schwarz in the sun

The appearance on this beer is awesome. It is dark brown with ruby highlights and holds a nice tan head. Clarity is excellent. Aroma has strong notes of Munich breadiness with very light roast and is lightly sweet. The flavor is dominated by the Munich malt with a whisper of sweetness from the caramel and chocolate. I think using almost 30% Munich coupled with the decoction made this beer a little larger than I wanted for a Schwarz. Next time I make this I will either skip the decoction or cut the Munich down to about 10%. I like the blackprinz as an American substitute for carafa special as it seemed to impart a smoother roast character.

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