I woke up early on January 15 to meet up with several members of my homebrew club, the Maltose Falcons, at The Home Beer, Wine and Cheesemaking Shop in Woodland Hills. Our mission: brew Falconsclaws, our version of Samichlaus, a dark Swiss lager that, at 14%, was once the world's strongest beer produced by Hürlimann Brewery in Zürich. The team: Drew Beechum (captain), Jim Meyer, Donovan Nebreklievski, Craig Shapland, Tom Sisolak, Matt Trumbo, and me.
Drew Beechum (foreground) orchestrated this Falcons brew day. I first met Drew in the summer of 2015 at the National Homebrewer's Conference in San Diego. He and Denny Conn are the authors of one of my favorite homebrew books, Experimental Homebrewing, Mad Science in the Pursuit of Great Beer.
Drew offered us various hop choices and, by popular vote, we selected Hallertauer Mittelfruh hops in addition to Magnum bittering hops. We used 70 lbs. of Weyermann Pilsner malt, 70 lbs. of Weyermann Munich malt, and 0.75 lb. of Weyermann Carafa III Special malt; we mashed in at 150 degrees F for 60 minutes.
The batch size was 29 gallons, produced on the club's 50-gallon system. The boil time was 90 minutes with an original gravity of 1.137. The team pitched in to cover the cost of ingredients and we each walked away with five gallons of wort and fast-beating hearts. Drew instructed us to "pray and wait one year before serving" as the original Samichlaus lager was brewed each year for the Christmas holidays. I don't doubt that every one of us prayed for a vigorous and successful fermentation. As for the one year wait? No.
I cooled the liquid to 45 degrees, pumped in pure oxygen, and pitched SafLager S-189 yeast. When I awoke the next morning, the airlock was burbling like nobody's business and it did feel like Christmas!
On March 24, the beer reached a final gravity of 1.025 (target was 1.020). I performed a closed transfer of the beer from the fermenter to a keg and lagered the beer at 35 degrees F. A few weeks later, I carbonated with C02 and placed the finished beer into the kegerator for dispensing. I had a number of firsts on this brew: first lager (25 ales and ciders up to this point); first use of an Ss Brewing Technologies fermenter (love it); first use of a kegerator; first use of a keg; first experience with C02 carbonation (glad to leave bottle conditioning behind); and first use of a dry yeast. The entire process was a white knuckles thrill. As for the taste, Christmas came early this year in Los Angeles. Cheers and thank you to Drew, our great Falcons brewing team, and the world-class Home Beer, Wine and Cheesemaking Shop.
Wine and beer event consultant at www.lynenoella.com