Author Topic: Bo-pils frustration (saaz problem??)  (Read 2080 times)

Offline braufessor

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Bo-pils frustration (saaz problem??)
« on: December 30, 2013, 08:21:01 AM »
Hey -

Not sure if I am looking for help, troubleshooting, hoping to find someone who can relate, or just venting.  I am becoming increasingly frustrated with my Bo-pils.  This is a beer I brewed successfully many times in the past..... basically, right up until 2013.  It has always been a beer that I brewed pretty well, and was a consistent crowd-pleaser.  The last batch I brewed that was "up to par" was a year ago, at the end of 2012.  In early 2013, this beer placed 2nd at Upper Mississippi Mashout, 3rd at KCBM, 1st at Midwinter and 1st at Dredhop (2nd BOS), scoring over 40 multiple times..... So I know this is (was) a good beer.

I had been google searching info in regard to some other light lagers that I will be brewing soon (dortmunder and german pils) and came across a couple different posts on here and HBT in the last year that seemed to be something I could relate to.  Basically, I have brewed this beer 5 times in the last year and each has ended in disappointment...... and the drain for several batches.  It is hard to put my finger on it exactly, but it has just not tasted quite right - leaving the beers ranging from mediocre to bad. There is an off-flavor that I would describe (in general) as "harsh."  Perhaps a bit astringent/vegetal/maybe even a touch metallic...... but, overall, it leaves the beer sort of harsh and unpleasant.

Like I said, I noticed a few other threads that caught my eye, and keeps me coming back to the same thing - Is it possible that the 2012 Saaz hops are not very good?  That is the one thing that was different about all these beers and the last ones - As soon as I opened my new 1 lb bag of Saaz late last winter, my bo-pilsners went to crap.  I have noticed a few other posts of people having trouble pinning down problems they were having with saaz-brewed beers.  Perhaps I am grasping at straws..... But I just don't know what else to bring it back to.  I just tasted pilsner #5 (day 16 in the fermenter)..... it is better than some of the others, but it is not "great" - although it is early on this one, so it seems to have a chance.  Or, perhaps it will go downhill over time.  I have waited on my other pilsners for 16-24 weeks before giving them up for dead.  Have not finished any of the 5 gallon kegs.  A couple were not horrible, but the whole point of a pilsner it is drinkable.... and if it is not, I am not drinking it.

Here is the beer:
Pilsner 87%
Rahr 2 row 7%
Carapils 4%
Acidulated 1.5%

Hops:
1 oz. Pearle @60
1 oz. Saaz @ 30
1oz. Saaz @20
1-2 ounce Saaz @ 0 (this varies from time to time 0 but the last good batch had 2 ounces)

Czech Pils yeast

Mash @152, Ferment at 50 for 15-18 days.  D-rest for 3 days, Keg, Lager for 8-12 weeks, force carb.

Water -
For the last good batch I used yellow bitter on Brun' water
Ca = 61
Mg = 7
Na = 8
Sulfate = 77
Chloride =29
Bicarb = 62

Projected mash pH of 5.2, Kolbach of +5 to +10 just below dusseldorf on RA chart on B'run Water

My very first thought was the water profile.  So, I have varied this water over some of the recent batches as I was trying to trouble shoot my problems - going with a more typical "pilsn" profile of 100% RO water and just some CaCl to bring up calcium to 30-40.  Still had some of the same underlying off flavor issues to various degrees. 

Like I said, I am kind of grasping at straws and just waiting for my new supply of 2013 Saaz to come in.  My Helles (hallertau) has been coming out fine during this same time frame.  Just wondering if any others have had some frustration/problems with 2012 saaz..... or maybe it is just me and it is something else entirely.  Any thoughts or other ideas?  My only idea at this point is waiting for my 2013 Saaz.....

Thanks

Offline morticaixavier

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Re: Bo-pils frustration (saaz problem??)
« Reply #1 on: December 30, 2013, 09:47:16 AM »
I didn't use saaz this year but it seems like you might be on to something. Hops are a driving force in the style and if they are off your in trouble. Have you tried getting a few ounces from another supplier to see if it helps? If you don't normally buy organic maybe try ordering a few ounces of organic saaz as they will almost certainly be from a different grower then. If you DO normally brew organic then (shudder) try a few ounces of conventional for the same reason.

Offline denny

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Re: Bo-pils frustration (saaz problem??)
« Reply #2 on: December 30, 2013, 09:51:39 AM »
I'm skeptical....
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Offline braufessor

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Re: Bo-pils frustration (saaz problem??)
« Reply #3 on: December 30, 2013, 10:22:02 AM »
I'm skeptical....

To be totally honest, I am skeptical too Denny.  The hops smelled good....  I have no reason to suspect/confirm that is the issue.  I do think Saaz can be a funny hop and it is easy to overdo them. Just getting frustrated with my all my pilsners are suddenly bad.  Just wondering if others have noticed any issues as I really don't know where else to look, and was taking a stab in the dark.

I did think about getting a different batch to compare.... but I didn't.  They were not organic (that I know of).  They are through a very reputable dealer though..... I don't think that is it.  I was more wondering if the acid levels were different last year or something like that.

Offline Alewyfe

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Re: Bo-pils frustration (saaz problem??)
« Reply #4 on: December 30, 2013, 10:52:46 AM »
Probably not the answer for you, but I have experienced the same disappointment in my 2013 Pilsners.
I order all my years hops in advance and usually from the same supplier. A previously multiple 1st place
German Pils recipe has been most unsatisfactory this year. Brewing my last batch, I was out of the repacked
smaller amts. and went back to the original bag. It was US Saaz not the imported which I have always used in the past. A little brain fade when I ordered I guess, and I just never caught it.
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Offline morticaixavier

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Re: Bo-pils frustration (saaz problem??)
« Reply #5 on: December 30, 2013, 10:57:52 AM »
I'm skeptical....

To be totally honest, I am skeptical too Denny.  The hops smelled good....  I have no reason to suspect/confirm that is the issue.  I do think Saaz can be a funny hop and it is easy to overdo them. Just getting frustrated with my all my pilsners are suddenly bad.  Just wondering if others have noticed any issues as I really don't know where else to look, and was taking a stab in the dark.

I did think about getting a different batch to compare.... but I didn't.  They were not organic (that I know of).  They are through a very reputable dealer though..... I don't think that is it.  I was more wondering if the acid levels were different last year or something like that.

this is the thing, if what you are describing is just a difference from what you are used to that you don't like it seems reasonable that the nature of agricultural products to vary from harvest to harvest and even from plant to plant would likely be to blame. It's not to say that the supplier is less than trustworthy or that the farmer is doing something wrong, just that the conditions that year resulted in a different flavor character than the year before.

The only reason I suggest organic is that it is unlikely that the organic saaz grower and the conventional saaz grower experience exactly the same conditions in 2013 so if it is the hops you should at least see a change. It may not result in the good old bo-pils but if it is significantly different it's a way to go.

Small batch brewing is going to vary. As Denny has said, 10 brewers can brew the same recipe to the tee with all the same ingredients and turn out 10 different beers. a corollary is that if 1 brewer brews 100 batches of the same recipe they are going to turn out, well maybe not 100 different beers but certainly not 1 identical product 100 times either. Not even ABInBev can manage to make one batch the same as the next. this is why they blend to achieve perfect standardization

Offline ynotbrusum

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Re: Bo-pils frustration (saaz problem??)
« Reply #6 on: December 30, 2013, 12:42:14 PM »
I'm skeptical....

I would be, also, but I had a pound bag of German Select and after using about half of it, I realized that either the hops were bad or I just didn't like them.  I went back to Magnum and no problem.  Still not sure whether they went "bad" or were just not to my liking....but I wouldn't discount hop differences from year to year being noticeable in an award winning recipe from a brewer who brews that particular style very well. 

Last thought - could it also be a little of your palate changing?  I know I have suffered palate fatigue and need to "reset" it by foregoing a style for a couple weeks.  Just a few thoughts to consider.
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Offline beersk

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Re: Bo-pils frustration (saaz problem??)
« Reply #7 on: December 30, 2013, 01:29:18 PM »
I'm skeptical....

I would be, also, but I had a pound bag of German Select and after using about half of it, I realized that either the hops were bad or I just didn't like them.  I went back to Magnum and no problem.  Still not sure whether they went "bad" or were just not to my liking....but I wouldn't discount hop differences from year to year being noticeable in an award winning recipe from a brewer who brews that particular style very well. 

Last thought - could it also be a little of your palate changing?  I know I have suffered palate fatigue and need to "reset" it by foregoing a style for a couple weeks.  Just a few thoughts to consider.
True, but I'd be hard pressed to think he'd have palate fatigue for a whole year. I felt that the 2012 crop of chinook were harsh. Sucks because I have a bunch of them in my freezer...
So it very well could be the crop. I've also heard that 2013 Amarillo are harsh. Damn it, because I've got a pound of them in my freezer.
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Offline mabrungard

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Re: Bo-pils frustration (saaz problem??)
« Reply #8 on: December 30, 2013, 02:14:49 PM »
I have a half keg of problem Bo-Pils at home right now. Its not terrible, but there is an odd flavor to it that makes its far less than stellar. The hops were Czech Saaz from Hops Direct. They smelled fine in the mylar bag.

The malt flavor is nicely pils-like and the hops are spicey and assertive. There is just that odd flavor that isn't right. I've had the beer in front of a couple of Masters and a half dozen National judges and there is no consensus as to the flaw or its origin.

With all of that said, I've been wondering if water has something to do with it. I've had discussions with AJ Delange about the effect of mineralization and flavor. Many of you know of AJ's concerns with the interaction of sulfate and noble hops. This certainly could be an example. For the beer under discussion, I created a pseudo-Bo-pils water profile that bumps the calcium content to 40 ppm and keeps sulfate at 30 ppm and chloride at 50 ppm. That is still a low sulfate content.  So I have to question if the anions are working against the flavor in this beer.

But then I look at the low calcium content used by a number of lager brewers. For some of the mega-brewers, they routinely use less than 20 ppm Ca. In addition, Bavarian brewers also use less than 20 ppm Ca. We know there are problems with having low calcium content in brewing water, but this does not mean you can't do it. You just have to work around those problems. So I'm thinking that boosting calcium content is not necessarily desirable in these light malt-oriented lagers. Possibly there is a flavor impact?

So those of you that have noted undesirable taste in your light lagers, review if your calcium and other ion content was a little higher. For those that had favorable results and they have diminished in subsequent batches, was the water profile changed? I would like to get more data points regarding this idea I've presented.
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Offline kylekohlmorgen

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Re: Bo-pils frustration (saaz problem??)
« Reply #9 on: December 30, 2013, 02:27:49 PM »
Where do you get your RO water? If its from home, you might have an issue with the unit. If its store-bought, you may try building up from distilled.

When I think 'metallic' or 'astringent' in light beers, I usually point towards water profile (or conditioning on excessive amounts of yeast/trub).

How are you checking pH? Meter or strips?
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Offline tomsawyer

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Re: Bo-pils frustration (saaz problem??)
« Reply #10 on: December 30, 2013, 02:58:10 PM »
I'd suggest oxidation as a potential culprit.
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Offline braufessor

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Re: Bo-pils frustration (saaz problem??)
« Reply #11 on: December 30, 2013, 08:52:17 PM »
I'd suggest oxidation as a potential culprit.

Are Saaz hops more susceptible to oxidation?  It is possible..... but, I only use a primary (bottling bucket), I drain directly into a CO2 purged keg that I lager in and serve out of.  I have not had any significant problems in any other beer I brewed this year for the most part (50 batches).  I don't know why oxidation would only be a problem in my pilsners I guess.



Offline braufessor

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Re: Bo-pils frustration (saaz problem??)
« Reply #12 on: December 30, 2013, 09:25:16 PM »
Where do you get your RO water? If its from home, you might have an issue with the unit. If its store-bought, you may try building up from distilled.

When I think 'metallic' or 'astringent' in light beers, I usually point towards water profile (or conditioning on excessive amounts of yeast/trub).

How are you checking pH? Meter or strips?

I use RO water from store - culligan refill machines at walmart or organic co-op.  I even sent the walmart water into Ward labs because..... well, I am paranoid like that:)  Any tap water I use (which is 20% or less with a light lager) is carbon filtered - although my water is quite hard.

I thought of water first too.  It is not your typical "astringent" - more of just a generic harshness.  Plus, the thing is - in 2011 and 2012 when my pilsners were turning out good-great, I was using the "yellow bitter" profile on B'run Water which has more minerals than what one would typically use for a pilsner.  As for pH, I do have a meter.  But, after quite a few times of comparing the meter to my colorphast strips to the B'run Water predictions - everything was coming in about the same.  So, I really don't bother with the pH meter much anymore.  I could break it out again though for future pilsners/light lagers.

Fermentation procedure is 3 weeks in primary and a 2-3 day D rest.   Then I transfer to keg for lagering and serving.  I suppose I could be transferring some yeast/hop particle to the keg - but not much.  I leave almost a gallon behind in my boil kettle - so not much trub/hop material even makes it into the fermenter, much less the keg.

I can also look back at my water numbers in regard to calcium.  But, again, the odd thing is that I was using a rather high mineral profile for a pilsner when they were turning out good. I suppose maybe my pH could be getting away from me during sparge??? I use the same 80-100% RO water with the same CaCl/gypsum additions.  Sparge water to about 170, so I only get into the low to mid 160's during mash out.  I don't do anything to further acidify my sparge water though....

I have a Helles (hallertau) lagering right now - it was good out of the fermenter.  Getting ready to keg my last pilsner..... which was pretty solid when I tried it out of the fermenter today ( I did use a low mineral profile for this last pils).  Brewed a Dortmunder (hallertau) today.  Will be brewing a german pils with pearle and maybe tettnang in the next week...... so, I would think those beers would all suffer the same problems if it is a process issue of some sort.

Thanks for the feedback.


Offline punatic

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Re: Bo-pils frustration (saaz problem??)
« Reply #13 on: December 31, 2013, 03:07:32 AM »
Has there been a noticeable drop in quality in this year's commercial German biers using Saaz hops?  Not that I have noticed or have been made aware of. 

Either the hops are not the culprit, or commercial brewers are able to adapt well to changing raw materials quality.

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Offline tomsawyer

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Re: Bo-pils frustration (saaz problem??)
« Reply #14 on: December 31, 2013, 07:30:02 AM »
I don't necessarily mean oxidation of hops although this is a possibility, different hops have different storage characteristics.  Saaz is listed as fair.

Brewing in a bucket means your beer can get exposed to some oxygen.  This is going to show up more in a light delicate beer like a pils where there are no bold flavors to cover the flaws.  The lack of pigments means there are fewer anti-oxidants to scavenge up dissolved O2.

I'm not saying this is definitely why you are having trouble.  Obviously before you were happy with the beer.  I'm just throwing out there that you might focus on all aspects of the process, not just water.  Water is being more discussed in these forums and I think to some degree we are over-focusing on it when it comes to solving problems.  I'd check freshness of hops and malt, and make sure your process is sound.  I'd do it all at once, including an assessment of water.  I've found that you have a much better chance of improving a process if you redouble efforts on several fronts.  Yes it prevents you from knowing exactly what the culprit was, but doing things one at a time can take forever and you may never figure out what changed before it changes again.

Lastly, a harshness or slightly off flavor can also come from a low level infection of your brewhouse.  I'd give everything a good cleaning and soak, and maybe consider replacing plastic lines as much as possible.

Thats my two cents, worth most of that anyway.

Lennie
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