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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Heater Allen Update & Review

I scored a bottle of Heater Allen Schwarzbier last night, and the nice cashier at Belmont Station reported that Rick Allen had gotten his larger, 6-barrel brewery online (reducing somewhat my sense that I had scored! with the bottle I was holding). And so it is:

Brewer's Notes, July 7
We've been brewing on the new system for a little over a month now, and I think that we've gotten a pretty good handle on how to best make beer on this system. First, we've figured out that the system works best when we're using 300 to 350 pounds of grain. For most beers this equates to 6 barrel batches, not 7. Higher gravity beer batches will be even smaller. We also are mashing the grain in the Boil Kettle rather than in the Mash Tun. This gives us much better temperature control for our step mashes. We then pump the mash up to the Lauter Tun, clean out the Boil Kettle, and then strain the wort back into the Boil Kettle. This is classic modern German brewing, as opposed to the British tradition of single step infusion mashing, and as opposed to old-style German decoction brewing.

Today we're going to brew our second batch of Bobtoberfest. Each batch we're brewing will yield about 4 1/2 barrels. We'll combine the two batches in one of our 9 barrel lagering tanks (the first batch is currently lagering in one of our fermenters).
They had bottles of the pilsner, which I've had, and the schwarzbier, which I have not. My sense is that schwarzbier is one of the more popular of Allen's beers, and I've never been able to score it. It's one of my favorite lager styles, and a perfect crossover lager for ale-happy Oregonians.

Allen's version is pretty thick and chewy; one could be forgiven for calling it "porter-like"--though of course I would never offend a proud lager brewery with such rank denigration. He uses 9 malts in the beer, and I agree that it has "complex malt, caramel, chocolate, and espresso flavors." It is quite a bit meatier than the German schwarzes I've tried, but it fights flyweight: just 4.8% alcohol. It is a fine beer, and I hope that drinking Heater Allen will no longer be such a rare treat.


  1. Having Heater Allen is one of the benefits of living here in Mac. I'm glad you enjoy their beers so much, and that they're ending up in Belmont station.

  2. Did you see that they are doing a tasting Weds: \\

  3. I've had the Schwarz beer.I enjoyed drinking the beer, but it was a Porter made with lager yeast. It's clean and made well, but the body is way to big for something close to a traditional Schwarz bier. Too much like a Porter and aleish. Body is too big, chocolate is too big, roast is too big, body is to big.

    I even tried to taste the beer as a NEW version of a schwarz, an expanded and intense American Schwarz... Nope! Still to big.

    I always get heat when I say something is in or out of style, but if you're going to tag a beer with style name, it'll be judged within that style.

    BJCP STyle guild lines:

    Schwarzbier (Black Beer)

    Low to moderate malt, with low aromatic sweetness and/or hints of roast malt often apparent. The malt can be clean and neutral or rich and Munich-like, and may have a hint of caramel. The roast can be coffee-like but should never be burnt. A low noble hop aroma is optional. Clean lager yeast character (light sulfur possible) with no fruity esters or diacetyl.

    Appearance: Medium to very dark brown in color, often with deep ruby to garnet highlights, yet almost never truly black. Very clear. Large, persistent, tan-colored head.

    Flavor: Light to moderate malt flavor, which can have a clean, neutral character to a rich, sweet, Munich-like intensity. Light to moderate roasted malt flavors can give a bitter-chocolate palate that lasts into the finish, but which are never burnt. Medium-low to medium bitterness, which can last into the finish. Light to moderate noble hop flavor. Clean lager character with no fruity esters or diacetyl. Aftertaste tends to dry out slowly and linger, featuring hop bitterness with a complementary but subtle roastiness in the background. Some residual sweetness is acceptable but not required.

    Mouthfeel: Medium-light to medium body. Moderate to moderately high carbonation. Smooth. No harshness or astringency, despite the use of dark, roasted malts.

    Overall Impression: A dark German lager that balances roasted yet smooth malt flavors with moderate hop bitterness.

    I thought all the essential elements were present, just too much of everything.

    Just one mans opinion....

  4. A couple thoughts:
    First, I would agree with Dr Wort, that I can do better.
    Second, when concocting this recipe, I was more interested in brewing something that tasted like the German versions I've tasted rather than the BJCP standards.
    While many people have told me how much they enjoy this beer, in a perfect world it would have a better balance between the malt flavors and the roasted/chocolate flavors. This would improve balance and reduce the impression of body. I'll be brewing this again in the next couple of weeks, and hopefully I'll get closer to my ideal.