Silver Lining Series 1: I Heart Lager Collab With 4 Hearts Brewing
Silver Lining Series 1: I Heart Lager Collab With 4 Hearts Brewing
In keeping with our motto of “the least hidden operation in the brewing process”, we want to share all of our brewing stories with you, both good and bad. Brewing doesn’t always go according to plan, but as we’ve discovered, sometimes that can be a good thing!
We’ll be doing a series on the blog about examples of misfortunes in our brewing that led to surprises. As an example, I like to drink beer.
Anyone who has brewed beer at home, whether it was your first Coopers kit or a contestant in the 500th All-Grain HERMS competition, will know that it’s not always an exact science.
In 2015, we worked with the great team at Four Hearts Brewing Company in Ipswich to develop a new beer, and let’s just say things didn’t go as planned!
Our own Eddie and Wade’s conversation in Four Hearts turned into a beer binge on a late night Uber trip to Melbourne during Beer Week in May 2015. Before they reached their destination, a magical beer collaboration was born. We were thrilled at this turn of events. Wade has been a big supporter of ours from the beginning, and he’s always happy to answer tough questions like, “How do we get a liquor license?” And “Where the hell do you buy heat exchangers?”
A few months later, Wade called and there was an opening in his brew collaboration program, and now it’s on! We talked about what style of beer to brew and came up with the concept of “black hops meets four hearts,” and we knew it had to be black! As summer approached, we didn’t want to make it as rich as a fat man or a porter, and we wanted to try something innovative. So we came up with the idea of a hoppy stout – like an IPA, but dark and lager, because, well, why not?!
Then it was time to whip up the magic recipe. It’s a funny thing when you’re preparing a new beer – sometimes the name comes first, sometimes the recipe comes first, and one usually helps determine the other. In our case, it was both.
The name “I (Black) Heart Lager” was inspired by the iconic “I Heart NY” slogan and is a great play on words for both of our breweries.
The recipe was simple, we wanted a hoppy, refreshing beer that was dark as night but didn’t taste as “roasty” as your typical stout. We wanted it to create an illusion that would make the drinker start questioning their senses from the first taste. To do this, we planned to use Midnight Wheat, a peeled and roasted wheat that is known for its deep, rich black color, but doesn’t bring too much flavor to the table. It’s a balance of a blend of German bilsner and some floor malt Munich grains. There, one would add a generous amount of Centennial to the whirlpool and add Amarillo Dry to the mix.
What went wrong, I hear you ask? First, we couldn’t buy midnight wheat, a key ingredient in our beer. As a small craft brewery that buys quality ingredients from artisanal malt suppliers, you quickly discover that like the famous Mick Jagger song you can’t always get what you want but fortunately that’s not the end of the song, “You might find you get what you need. “. And finally
So no Midnight Wheat? No problem! We can instead use Carafa III Special, a hulled barley malt usually found in schwarz biers – the German name for dark beer! But again, no cigars were available – at least not in stock for a month.
Later Goffs got the suggestion to use sinamal from Ian Watson of Tough Brewing Company, who was still working there at the time. This is a liquid malt, made from Carafa grain according to the strict German Reinheistgebot method of beer purity. The bottom line is that we can actually get some of it, so it’s full steam ahead.
By brew day, everything was going according to plan. Our syrup pH and gravity were perfect. We hit our target temperature and water-to-ash ratio. We ran from the mash bucket into the kettle in record time, which, in hindsight, was probably too soon!
From there, things quickly spiraled out of control. Our alcohol concentration was well below the target concentration before the boil, which meant we would not get the desired alcohol concentration of 6% and would end up at 5%.
What could we do? Besides boiling the wort (unfermented beer) for several hours to evaporate and concentrate it, we needed an innovative solution. Goffs took out his calculator and started crunching numbers. But we could be bold with it if we added some typical gravity to help our bodies approach dry beer.
The raw sugar solution was just that. But after checking those numbers three times, a bit of a panic began to set in. Our Frankenstein recipe almost contained too much sugar, which would make the beer taste drunk and bitter. But Govs assured us we were still in the safe zone. Just
Eddie jumped in the car, ran to the local grocery store, and bought it with raw sugar – 20 kilos worth! We added it at the end of the boil, checked the gravity, and estimated it would be 5.8%. This was within the +/- 0.2% tolerance we wanted.
But there was one major problem that we didn’t count on. Our wonderful stout turned a cloudy brown color. In our haste to add sugar, we didn’t add enough cinnabar to get the color we wanted. We were totally devastated – there was no way we could sell this beer as a hoppy brown ale or ever be known as a brown hop brew!
Fortunately, Sinamar is a sterile ingredient, which means it can be added to the fermenter with the dry hops without boiling. We immediately took the call and ordered another 5-gallon keg to be shipped out immediately.
We then sent the beer to the fermenter, cranked up the brewer’s yeast, set the tank temperature to 12°C, and after cleaning the beer, the brewer sat down with Wade and Rob and asked for a well earned beer.
A week later, we contacted Wade to find out about the availability of the beer. We expected fermentation to take 1-2 weeks and planned to add our dry hops on days 5 through 7. Gravity dropped as expected and we added Amarillo hops, as well as additional Sinema hops to darken it.
After another week, it was time to drop the temperature in the tank to 0°C in order to condition the beer. Wade and Rob tested the beer and told us something we didn’t want to hear – the beer had a “weird spicy taste”. It was heartbreaking. Was it the Sinamar? Did we use too much Amarillo?
But we were reassured by the wise head of government, who told us that it was too early and that we should wait until the beer had time to cool until we got too worried. As it happened, two weeks later, we had ourselves a cold beer, just as we had imagined it would be months before. It was as dark as charcoal, and the first sip was delightfully complex – refreshing and crisp like a beer, but with a lovely hoppy flavor, accentuated by lemon, orange and grapefruit notes. It averaged 4 stars on Untappd, making it one of our best beers of the year.
Now the challenge is to brew the beer the same way again! We decided to do another collaboration with 4 Hearts Brewery on Thursday,
August 11, this time at the Dark Hops Brewery. So the challenge is to make the same mistakes all over again at a brand new brewery, producing I Heart Lager all over again.
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