27. Historical Beer

All Bets Are Off

Historical Beer: Roggenbier, (27)  BeerSmith Recipe file lost to the sands of time.


I’ve never even tasted a commercial example of this style, but I haven’t exactly looked hard for it either.  This is strange, now that I think about it, because I love Rye IPAs, and I love throwing a dash of Rye into lots of home-brews.  So, of course a beer made with 50% Rye will be awesome, right?

I’m also going to build the water profile from scratch again.  The first go at this for me was Wee Lad, but the use of CaCO3 (chalk) was a flop.  CaCO3 doesn’t dissolve very well, even at mash pH levels, and Wee Lad ended up being “chalky” to me.  To get Ca in this recipe, I’m using CaCl, and to reach the HCO3 levels, I’m using baking soda.   My target profile was a range from a style vs. water profile chart from Palmer’s water chemistry book (1).  The Brewers Friend website has proved helpful for me in predicting mash pH and figuring out brewing salt additions (2).

I’m  going a little outside the style guidelines by pitching both German and American Hefe yeast strains.  WLP300 takes so long to finish primary (in my experience), so I’m hoping to move the ferment along and get this thing out of primary in about 10 days.

And ANOTHER thing, I’m performing a 3-step decoction mash here, which is the traditional method for this type of beer, I gather.  I’ve done decoctions before as a way to multi-step an infusion mash without adding any more hot liquor, but I haven’t done anything this complicated.  Noonan’s book is a good resource on all things decoction related, and my temperature steps and procedure are influenced strongly from his text.



7 lbs. Rye Malt
3 lbs. Munich Malt
2 lbs. German Pilsner Malt
1 lb. Caramunich
0.25 lb. Carafa II

3 Step Decoction Mash: 1) 125° for 20 min, 2) 149° for 40 minutes, 3) 158° for 20 minutes

Boil for 60 minutes

1 oz German Tettnang (4.0%) boil for 60 minutes
1 oz Saaz (3.8%) for for 10 minutes

WLP300 and WLP320, German and American Hefe Yeasts, 800mL starter.
Fermentation Temperature:  62-68°

The actual data on this beer was lost.  I think I left BeerSmith open, never saved the file, and restarted my computer.  When I went back looking for my Roggenbier recipe, and it was gone.  ABV should be around 5%, the SRM was designed to be about 16 SRM


Brew Day

So, this was one of those brew days where nothing really went as planned.  I missed nearly every temperature target (not by a ton, but 2-3 degrees each time), and was struggling to adjust accordingly.  I was hosting two new-to-brewing friends, and I think I was a little more distracted than I should have been.  Also, my BeerSmith file of the recipe somehow was corrupted, and is gone.  So I’m not entirely sure what the actual mash temperatures were, since I recorded it all there.  My actual OG, while I don’t remember it, I’m pretty sure was around my target.

Brewery Mascot enjoys cosy firesides.
Brewery Mascot enjoys cosy firesides.

I built the water from scratch using BeerSmith’s tool and Brewersfriend.  The mash pH was dead on 5.4, so that was nice.

Roxy 2 fireside

I’m not really sure that my decoction temperature mistakes will bear out in the final product, but it is frustrating none the less.  I used the decoction tool in BeerSmith to calculate my volumes/temps, so I don’t think the problem lies there.  Also, I think if the first rest step is off, every successive step is going to be off if you don’t adjust your equations.  So, we actually ended up doing an extra decoction to catch up to where we were supposed to be.  I plan on doing decoction mashes again, so I’ve got to get back to the drawing board and nail this process down.



So, how did this beer get its name, you ask?  24 hours into primary, at a temperature of 62 degrees, this guy blew the lid off the fermentor.  For a low ABV beer, with yeast strains not known for their vigor, and the low fermentation temp, the activity of this fermentation had me flabbergasted!

What the what?!
What the what?!  Looks like I have some cleaning ahead.

So, combined with the jacked decoction mash procedure, the missing BeerSmith data and now this… All Bets Are Off!

I’m beginning to have serious doubts about my temperature control setup, especially considering the dings I got for YourmomToberfest.  My thought process is this:  I have the temperature controller probe taped to the outside of a plastic bucket fermentor.  The beer inside begins to warm, but plastics conducts heat VERY poorly, so it takes time for the outside fermentor temp to reflect the internal temp.  By the time this happens, the beer inside is likely outside the ideal temperature range.  The fridge kicks on, begins cooling, but again the plastic doesn’t conduct this decrease in temperature effectively to the wort, and the temp controller cuts power to the fridge before the wort inside is really cooled sufficiently.  My hypothesis seems to bear out in some of The Stig’s comments, and he agrees that I have a minor fermentation temp problem with most of my ales, and definitely have a problem with the one lager.

So, for now, when I notice fermentation beginning to ramp up, I will set the controller 3 degrees below the lower recommended temperature by White Labs for the strain. That’s my short term fix.  Long term, I’m considering a thermowell, a small stainless steel tube that is put through the lid and into the wort that you put the controller probe into.  The advantage here would be that the controller/fridge would be much more responsive to actual beer temperature.



I carbonated to approximately 2.8 volumes to achieve the high carbonation The Guidelines recommend.

I ended up serving this at another veterans event.  The brew went over well, and I think I converted a few more non-beer drinkers!


My Take

Das Roggenbier
Das Roggenbier

The beer ended up having more fermentation esters than I really wanted (moderate to high).  Overall though, I enjoyed the beer, but I have a feeling The Stig is going to take me to task on the esters.  Speaking of The Stig…


The Stig

And now it’s time to turn the beer over to our Team Tasting Imbiber.  Some say His sparge never gets stuck, and that fermentor lids blow in fear of His wrath.  All we know is, He’s called The Stig!

Aroma: Ripe banana and clove-like esters. Rustic, rye spiciness is very apparent, but not too grainy.

Appearance: Hazy copper body with an orangeish, rust tinged head. Moderate head retention and resilient lacing as head gradually dissipates down to a fairly solid film. ~ 14 SRM.

Flavor: Highly fruity with esters of banana, clove, and rose water. Scorched brown sugar with banana/rye breadiness. A tad phenolic (bubblegum).

Mouthfeel: Creamy, soft, mouth coating carbonation with a pronounced dryness, and some alcohol warmth in the finish.

Overall: Pretty on point for the style. Would like to see if the esters could be dialed back a bit with a different yeast strain or cool fermentation.



Yeah, fermentation temperature control:  the bane of my existence.  Despite that, The Stig seemed to moderately enjoy the beer (“pretty on point” is Stig-speak for decent).  I’m glad to see my haphazard decoction mash procedure didn’t affect the beer too much, and now that I think back on it, it shouldn’t have made THAT much of a difference.  I was never outside of plus or minus 3 degrees, which (while not ideal) isn’t out of control.

So, all bets were off, but it turns out wagering on this beer being tasty would have been a safe bet.  Better decoction calculations & controls, with better fermentation control might have taken this guy from good to great.


(1)  Water: A Comprehensive Guide for Brewers – This book is nuts.  I have just recently finished two semesters of college level chemistry, and one chapter into this book, I was screaming “just tell me how to do it Palmer”!  In short, water chemistry is complicated.  In long, only purchase this book if you live on a ground floor, and keep yourself away from sharp objects.  I could elaborate for those with some chemistry knowledge, but just read the book if you’re a masochist.

(2)  Brewers Friend 

Books I referenced for this recipe:
Zainasheff & Palmer. Brewing Classic Styles. 2007.
Palmer & Kaminski. Water: A Comprehensive Guide for Brewers. 2013.
Noonan, Greg.  New Brewing Lager Beer.  1996
2008 BJCP Guidelines


  1. Wuh-wuh-waitaminit… are you using a… propane burner… INSIDE YOUR HOUSE???? You realize this could KILL YOU and YOUR FAMILY and YOUR DOG, either by burning your house down but much more likely from CARBON MONOXIDE and other fumes, yes?

    1. A bit dramatic? I open all windows (they open both ways i.e. both panes slide to allow hot air out the top and cool air in the bottom), have a large box fan in a window circulating, an overhead fan, and I have a fire extinguisher in every room except the bathroom. I was also in the US Navy for 10 years, spent many hours in fire-fighting simulators, and have fought an actual fire.
      I’ve done this technique for 3 years. Still alive.
      I realize any fire department would tell you not to do this, but they also assume you’re an idiot. My setup is essentially a DIY of every large kitchen in every restaurant that exists.

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