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Tuesday, January 20, 2015


I had intended to write this piece way back in early December. As family tradition dictates, we held our drawing on Thanksgiving to determine what style we would compete in on St Patrick's Day. The card came up (drum roll) Schwarzbier! The German black lager.

Our friend, judge, and Beer Snob, Will Siss, described it as an interesting choice, a beer that is  at the same time, dark in color, light in body.

This is my obligatory Will Siss plug. Please read him.

I had brewed one once, long ago. I had more hair, better balance, a house, a job. I felt it best to approach it as a new project, and not depend on memories of 20 years ago. In researching the style guidelines, I noticed that the fermentables looked very much like my favorite, a porter. An idea began to form.

What would happen, I wondered, if I simply took my porter recipe, and swapped out the yeast and hops? It sounded like fun, and an interesting experiment. I immediately put an order in with my brewshop, and that's where my problems started.

They were having trouble with their suppliers, and didn't have what I needed. I waited, waited, and waited a bit more. When it got close to a month, I called them. They were very apologetic, and tried hard to get something close to what I needed. In the end, the only change I had to make wasn't a big one. Instead of dark extract, I used amber. Still plenty dark enough.

Here's the final recipe -

Spaceballs: The Beer
Brewer: Joe Labeck
Style: Schwarzbier
Batch: 2.00 galExtract

Recipe Gravity: 1.049 OG
Recipe Bitterness: 41 IBU
Recipe Color: 45° SRM
Estimated FG: 1.012
Alcohol by Volume: 4.8%
Alcohol by Weight: 3.8%

Amber malt extract            2.00 lb, Extract, Extract
American chocolate malt       0.50 lb, Grain, Steeped
Crystal 120L                  0.50 lb, Grain, Steeped
Molasses                      0.33 lb, Sugar, Extract

Tettnanger                    1.00 oz, Pellet, 0 minutes
Tettnanger                    1.00 oz, Pellet, 60 minutes

Lager yeast                   1.00 unit, Yeast,

Anyone who knows me knows that one thing I love about brewing is naming my beer. Now, "Spaceballs" is not my favorite Mel Brooks movie. I do like how he takes aim at marketing. From Spaceballs: The Video to Spaceballs: The Placemat, you can see it everywhere. If you've ever seen the film, you know that as soon as I had a beer with  the word "schwarz" in it, the name was done.

Now, how to brew a lager? When I did it years ago, it was simple. Our unheated basement stayed around 50 degrees, perfect for a lager. A second floor apartment is a bit different. How do you bring the temperature down to lager level, without a massive cash outlay?

A roasting pan, a dishtowel, and a fan did the trick.

I checked the temperature after it had stabilized, and found it to be about 58 degrees. I think that should be fine.

Now, we wait. I know lager yeast works more slowly, so I won't even consider my next step until sometime in February.

I had brewed a porter some time ago, and I plan to hold a couple of bottles aside, for comparison.