Collaborations can really be the best thing sometimes.
Besides brewing beer in my Brooklyn apartment, I have also spent the last 15 + years attending underground hardcore shows. One of the bands that I still get the chance to go see is a Brooklyn based band called Indecision. Now, this is a band that played my very first local hardcore show and I have had the opportunity of playing alongside of them with various bands. I have also had the chance to get to know them as individuals. Bago, the bass player, is a man who also has another fantastic hobby, smoking incredible meats! He has been an avid BBQ man for some time now and has worked his craft to an awesome level. He is currently smoking under the name BAGOCUE and is starting to put out a line of delectable food, though not professionally as of yet.
Knowing that he had a substantially sized smoker, it wasn’t long before I asked if he would be willing to help smoke some grains for me to brew a rauchbier. A kickass perk was his readily accessible access to a variety of different woods to use in smoking.
We began deciding on a day for me to come on over to his place, drink some homebrew, eat some BBQ, and smoke some grains. Working with someone who already has experience with smoking really made it easy to land on 2 types of wood to use. First up was Applewood, which is very common when smoking meat, particularly Bacon. Secondly, we decided to go with Hickory, since oak can have a very strong/tannic character. Both types of wood created beer that is great to drink, but drastically different in flavor and aroma.
Smoking grain really doesn’t seem hard to do, and in many ways it isn’t challenging, however, being that this was my first time going through the process, mistakes were definitely made that impacted the end product of my beer. But that is what this was all about, learning how to smoke grains myself, instead of relying on pre-smoked grains that I had no control over. My main mistake was not allowing the grains to completely air dry before storing them for brewing. I must officially apologize to Brooklyn Homebrew for gumming up their grinder for a good half hour. I really thought mildly moist grains wouldn’t be a problem, turns out it mushes in a weird dough consistency and sticks to everything. Whoops! Sorry guys! I ended up grinding about 5 pounds of grain by hand, which absolutely blew and I hope no one has to spend that much time with a rolling-pin, ever. Girlfriend Karen suffered through it with me, helping along the way Also, if grains are left wet, in a dark and moist area, mold grows on them. I lost nearly half of my grains to this problem and felt like a complete waste of life. That being said, I can only harp on the point more clearly: MAKE SURE YOU LET THE GRAINS DRY COMPLETELY BEFORE STORING!
Here is what we did:
1. Get a very small, low heat fire started with only about 5- 6 small pieces of wood going in a smoker
2. Soak all of the grains in water for a least 15 mins.
3. Lay window screen down on top of the top metal grill. Window screen is very cheap and easy to find at any Home Depot type store.
4. Pour the now moist grains (ditch the water) directly on top of the screen.
5. Cover and let smoke for approximately an hour, maintaining a very low but consistent smoke
6. Remove from the smoke and let completely dry (cough cough)
7. Let the grains calm down for a week. This is crucial, because the scent is tremendous when the grain is freshly smoked. My whole apartment smelled like a bacon campfire, which my vegetarian girlfriend really loved, for at least 5 days.
8. Grind up the grains and brew away!
The beer I chose to make is a rauchbier recipe that really lets the smoke shine. I find it reminiscent of the Aecht Schlenkerla Racubier Marzen. It’s a pretty straight for smooth rauchbier, with a lovely smoke character that really makes the beer stand out. I used only 1 type of smoked grain in each version of this beer.
Home Smoked Malt (Applewood or Hickory) 7.00 lb (71.4 %)
German Pilsner Malt 1.00 lb (10.2 %)
German CaraMunich II 1.00 lb (10.2 %)
Belgian Caramel Vienna Malt 0.70 lb (7.1 %)
German Carafa II 0.10 lb (1.0 %)
Mashed at 150 for 60 minutes
German Tettnang (4.5 % alpha) 2.00 oz Bagged Pellet Hops used 60 Min From End
German Tettnang (4.5 % alpha) 0.30 oz Bagged Pellet Hops used 5 Min From End
Yeast: Wyeast 1728-Scottish Ale
The outcome really blew me away with how drastically different the beers came out. The Applewood reminded me completely of ham or bacon. The Hickory really tasted like a campfire (in a good way).
Left: Hickory Smoked Grain
Right: Applewood Smoked Grain
Applewood Smoked Rauchbier
Appearance: A light amber brown color with a slight hint of orange. Clear with very thin layered head
Nose: A slight metallic hint to the overwhelming ham aroma. No significant hop character, but sometimes hops remind me of metal. A sweeter scent underneath the smoke
Flavor: A slight bitterness smooths out into a slightly wet grain flavor. It finishes with a smoke that is very reminiscent of smoked meat. A bacon vibe but some clinging tannin flavors
Mouthfeel: Very thin bodied but a smokey dryness that lingers on the tongue.
Overall: I enjoy the smoke flavor of the beer, but there are some definite flaws coming out in the balance and mouthfeel. 4.5/10
Hickory Smoked Rauchbier:
Appearance: A very similar clean brown color with moderate low carbonation
Nose: A pleasantly balanced nose of hickory shines through the beer. Mild caramel undertones support the smoke with no significant hop aroma
Flavor: A wonderful blend of Hickory, tannin, smoke, and malt.The smoke lends to a perceived bitterness or sharpness but with no hints of astrigency.
Mouthfeel: Full bodied for a lighter ABV beer. A long lasting flavor stays on the tongue
Overall: This beer is significantly better that the Applewood, however it is much more reminiscent of a campfire than of smoked food. This beer rests comfortably in between smoke and smoothness 8/10
Big thanks to Bago for taking the time to play with some beer!