Graf, beer for ACCE congress in Burgos

After the last gastronomical post, we come back to brewing. And this time for a special occasion, the Spanish Homebrewers Association (also known as ACCE) congress, that this year takes place in Burgos. I had been wanting to go to this congress for a couple of years and finally this year I decided to go to this homebrewers party. My initial idea was to go with my brother, my brewing mate, but he couldn’t do it, so I’ll go by myself. Anyway, we made together the beer we brewed for the congress, so if you like the beer, some of the credit will be his. As everything was more or less without planning, we didn’t have time to brew a refined recipe. There was a style that I’d been wanting to brew for some time, and since it coincided with Burgos 2017, we gave it a try. The beer I taking to Burgos is a Graf. And you will say: “What’s that?”. I’ll explain it in the next paragraphs.

Graf in Stepheng King’s “The Dark Tower”

Actually, Graf is a fictional beverage. Until a few years ago it only existed in the mind of Stephen King, author of the book saga “The Dark Tower”. I haven’t read these books, but it seems that Graf in described in them as some kind of dark ale, that incorporates malt and apple juice, and it can have a variable alcohol content. As it could not have been otherwise, it’s been in the homebrewing world where this style has become a reality. You just need to search the internet a little bit to see lots of versions of this drink made by homebrewers all around the world. Proportions from apple juice and wort vary from some recipes to others, being from 3-4 parts of juice for 1 part of wort to a ratio of 1:1 between them. There are also a lot of choices for the grains and yeast to be used.

Since the idea of brewing Graf seemed a curious and attractive option, and having into account that one of the beers I’ve recently liked most is Saison du Pommes from Tempest Brewing in Scotland, that shares in a way the same concept as Graf (although they brew beer and hard cider separately and then they mix them), we decided to give a try with our own version of Graf. Besides, as Chip Walton says in the highly recommended chapter of Brewing TV about it, being Graf a fictional beverage, it’s difficult to do something wrong since you don’t have something real to compare with.

Apple juice

Not wanting our Graf to be more like a hard cider, we decide to go with a proportion of approximately one half of wort and one half of apple juice (actually a little bit more of wort than apple juice, around 6 liters (1.59 gallons) of wort for 4 liters (1.06 gallons) of apple juice). With respect to the grains which were going to be mashed to get the wort that would be later mixed with apple juice, our idea was to use malts that could contribute color, malt flavor and, above all, some body to compensate the lack of it if only apple juice was used. As for the base malt we decided to go with Bohemian Pilsner from Weyermann. For specialty malts we chose aromatic malt, Caramunich I and melanoidin malt, apart from some flaked barley. All of them were able to supply some body to the final beer. For hops, theoretically Graf is not very bitter, so we limited our hop schedule to one addition of Northen Brewer 60 minutes before the end of the boil, to get around 22 IBUs. The recipe for the wort we used for our Graf is shown below (amounts for 6 liters (1.59 gallons) of wort).

Graf – wort recipe

1.20 Kg (2.76 lbs) Bohemian Pilsner (Floor malted) from Weyermann (4.0 EBC) (70.6%)
0.15 Kg (0.33 lbs) aromatic malt (150.0 EBC) (8.8%)
0.15 Kg (0.33 lbs) Caramunich I (95.0 EBC) (8.8%)
0.10 Kg (0.22 lbs) melanoidin malt from Weyermann (75.0 EBC) (5.9%)
0.10 Kg (0.22 lbs) flaked barley (3.3 EBC) (5.9%)
5.00 g (0.18 oz) Northern Brewer (11.20% AA) (boil 60 minutes, 22.2 IBUs)
69ºC (156.2ºF) for 60 minutes; mash out at 72ºC-75ºC (161.6ºF-167.0ºF) for 10 minutes
60 minutes

Wort boiling

Not everything went as expected, neither in the mash nor in the boil. Pre-boil gravity was lower than expected. Besides, we decided to boil the wort in our big kettle (38 liters, 10 gallons) and we lost more volume that we had estimated. When dealing with such volumes we usually boil in an 11 liters (2.9 gallons) kettle and evaporation rate is much lower. Well, nothing too bad to keep us going forward. To compensate for the excessive loss by evaporation, we boiled 2 liters (0.53 gallons) of water to add to the wort, so we finally ended with a little less than 6 liters (1.56 gallons) of wort. After cooling the wort, we added 4 liters (1.06 gallons) of apple juice (be careful! It should not contain any preservatives) and ready to ferment.

Graf, before fermenting

A nice color, quite similar to what we were looking for and, at least before fermenting, with a promising aroma and flavor. Original gravity was 1.040, lower than planned, so it will be a somewhat weak Graf. To ferment, we pitched the versatile M10 Workhorse from Mangrove Jack, looking for a clean fermentation. We’ll probably experiment with other yeast strains in the future if this Graf turns out well.

Graf, 48 hours after pitching yeast

After pitching yeast, we tried to maintain fermentation temperature around 17ºC-18ºC (62.6ºF-64.4ºF), keeping the demijohn in our little fridge. The next day the only sign of fermentation was a little activity in the air-lock. After 48 hours, bubbling was more intense and a considerable krausen was present. This activity, along with the krausen, were kept for one more day. From then on, both were decreasing with time. After 7 days fermenting we took a sample to read gravity, which was 1.009. I also took a sip, it was nice. Some apple aroma, some tartness and a nice flavor, with medium body, much more than that from a hard cider.

The last days before kegging, we gradually raise the temperature until it reached 20ºC (68ºF) so the yeast could finish its work completely and 13 days after brewday, we kegged it. Before that, new gravity reading with a final gravity of 1.006, for a 4.5% alcohol by volume, not bad. Having into account that it is not strange for hard ciders to finish even under 1.000, we considered this final gravity very good since it means this beer will have some body and residual sweetness to balance an excessive dryness and tartness that could come from fermented apple juice alone.

Graf, final result

We are no experts in kegging (I hope the kegging seminar in the congress will help us). In fact, we’ve only kegged once before this Graf, so we are still learning. After purging with CO2 our 9,45 liters (2.5 gallons) keg, we slowly transferred our beer into it. As the beer temperature was about 20ºC (68ºF), we left the keg in a fridge at 4ºC-5ºC (39ºF-41ºF) overnight. That way we would be able to force carbonate easily the next day. For carbonating, we set the pressure at 1.5 bar (21.76 psi) and rolled our keg on a table to encourage the gas to dissolve into the beer. We repeated this step until the pressure stabilized and put back the keg in the fridge. The picture above is 5 days after carbonation and both aspect and flavor are quite interesting. Right now apple is not so evident in the aroma, but is noticeable in the flavor. Some tartness is present, well balanced with the malts with a nice aftertaste. It seems that this Graf will be a very drinkable beer. I hope everybody in Burgos who has the chance to taste it likes this Graf.

*This post was first published in Spanish on 19 February, 2017

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