It was ten years ago that Brian Vessa and I captured Best of Show in the Falcons Mayfaire Competition with our Dortmund-Style Lager entry. Since that time, it has also taken a Best of Show prize at the Los Angeles County Fair Competition in 2003, and it recently won First Place in the European Pale Lager category at the 2006 Mayfaire Competition (Tom Hamilton joined us for that brew), so it's an enduring recipe. The evolution of our ideas in crafting this recipe is an interesting story about what is, sadly, fast becoming one of the most obscure traditional beer styles.
Twenty-five years ago, here in Southern California one could sample as many as four or five different products from Dortmund breweries. Products were available from Union, Kronen (a personal favorite), DAB, and the unusual Ritter product found mostly in German restaurants. Nowadays, seeing any of the beers here is a rarity. As a consequence we're concerned that appreciation of this unique style may be fading.
The beers of Dortmund, Germany acquired a reputation long ago. They were widely appreciated and often referred to as "Export," a name one still sees attached to the style. Essentially, the beer was sufficiently stable to travel better than most of its competitors and it enjoyed a thriving export trade, much to the chagrin of the local brewers in its export markets. At times some of the draycarts delivering beer to markets outside Dortmund were attacked by bow-and-arrow assault! Thus went the beer marketing wars in earlier times.
The historical lager beers of Dortmund are unique among the various pale lager styles of Europe in one important aspect: the water source. Dortmund water is very high in "permanent" mineral hardness, particularly in calcium, sodium and sulfate ions, similar in some respects to the water source at Burton-On-Trent which is such a historically significant brewing center in Britain (think Bass Ale). This is unusual, however, as most lager beers are brewed with soft water, low in mineral content, which makes for a smoother beer and highlights the malt subtleties. The soft-water model was developed in Pilsen, Bohemia in the Czech Republic, from whence pale lager beers trace their origin and where great "Pilsner" lagers are still brewed. One published mineral profile for Dortmund water lists the following concentrations: 225 parts per million (ppm) calcium, 40 ppm magnesium, 220 ppm bicarbonate, 120 ppm sulfate, 60 ppm sodium, and 60 ppm chloride. That's 725 ppm of total hardness!
Our interest as homebrewers was to recreate the Dortmund profile in a home-brewed beer. We were drawn to this style because of its flavor appeal: a good "Dort" (as it is sometimes affectionately known) has a crispness that is wonderfully refreshing, without losing any of the great complex malty-grainy appeal that good German pale malt can provide. It's our favorite "lawnmower beer" that you'd really like to drink after working up a sweat mowing the lawn – quenching and sustaining, you can almost feel the minerals replenishing the electrolytes you just sweated out of your system.
We knew of the unique water profile and sought to recreate some of the key ionic concentrations by use of available mineral salts. We also had learned that many of the Dortmund breweries malted their own barley and used a malting method that resulted in a very pale, highly enzymatic and fermentable malt as the base for the beer. And, it was our perception that Dortmund beers were hopped for balance, rather than for hoppy flair like some pilsners are or for malty smoothness like the Bavarian lagers tend to be.
To address the malt recipe, we decided to use some American 2-row pale malt as part of the base malt, along with the expected German 2-row pilsner malt – we figured this would probably emulate the highlyattenuated result of the unique Dortmund malt and still allow us to brew an all-malt beer with good German malt character, since the American pale malt is highly fermentable and finishes with very little residual. We also added a dash of wheat malt to insure a light finish and good head retention, which is an old brewer's secret. A small amount of Vienna malt gave a bit of malty depth to the flavor without adding much color.
The hop bittering rate was kept moderate, between the levels one might use for a traditional Pilsner (more bitter) and a Munich Helles (less bitter), and with consideration for the tendency of sulfates in the water to promote the hop bitterness. A fairly neutral lager yeast that would attenuate well was also desired. We put all these elements together and hoped for the best.
Interestingly, and perhaps significantly, each time the beer has won Best of Show it had been aging in the bottle for about 18 months! Reasonably handled, this is a beer that can age gracefully. We think the acidic and sodium-rich character of the mineral profile may help in this regard. Here's the recipe, which is also posted in the recipe section of the Maltose Falcons website: Forever Brewery's Dortmunder Export
Water: Each 5-gallon fraction of reverse-osmosisfiltered or distilled water (i.e. soft water) is amended with: 31.2 grams gypsum, 11.04 grams sodium chloride (we like kosher salt as it is relatively pure and inexpensive), and 13.2 grams calcium chloride. The mineral salts will dissolve best when the water is heated, as in a mash or lauter state.
Grist: 50% Weyermann Bamberg German Pilsner malt, 35% Great Western Malting 2-row pale North American malt, 10% Weyermann Bamberg German Vienna malt, and 5% Weyermann Bamberg German wheat malt. For a 20-gallon batch, we use a total of 40 pounds of malt with an expected extract of 1.058 Original Gravity, so simple division indicates a 10-pound grist for 5 gallons of yield.
Hops: 28 IBU from Hallertau Mittelfrueh pellets in a 60-minute boil time. 3/4 ounce of whole-leaf Saaz hops for every 5-gallon fraction of wort yield are added post-boil for aroma.
Yeast: White Labs WLP 830 German Lager and Wyeast #2206 Bavarian Lager are good choices for a crisp fermentation character. Danish lager yeasts, when available, will also work.
Mash schedule: Dough-in at the rate of 1.25 quarts of mash liquor per pound of malt to strike 122 degrees F. and rest 30 minutes. Raise mash temperature to 148 degrees F. for about 60 minutes or until conversion is achieved. Raise to mash-out temperature of 170 degrees F. and proceed with lauter and sparge, then on to the boiling and chilling of the wort and pitching of the yeast.
Fermentation schedule: Primary fermentation at 47 degrees F. or so, for up to 2 weeks. Consider using a "diacetyl rest" by raising the fermentation temperature at the end of primary fermentation to 153 degrees F. or so for up to 3 days, to help the yeast finish out. Then rack to secondary and lower the temperature to 45 degrees. Classic technique calls for gradually lowering the temperature from there over the course of a week or two to just above freezing, i.e. 33 degrees F. and holding it there for at least 6 weeks for the true lagering effect. You are aiming to get good attenuation with a Terminal (Final) Gravity below 1.010 if possible.
Now, where's my lawnmower? I'm getting thirsty…