How to Brew Amber Kellerbier

by Steve Thanos | Updated: April 11, 2020

Kellerbier literally translates to “celler beer” in German. It brings us back to Franconia, Bavaria in the latter half of the Middle Ages.

This was a time when brewers would lager their beers in caves because the refrigeration we take for granted these days was not invented yet.

German brewers would brew their beers during the cool months and then age them in the caves. These caves were naturally cool areas that would maintain stable temperatures, perfect for a slow maturation process for their beers.

Typically Kellerbiers are unpasteurized. To understand unpasteurized beers, it’s best to think about pasteurized beer.

Many commercial breweries will run their bottles and cans through hot water spray that will kill any bacteria and stop any yeast growth. An unpasteurized beer will skip this process.

As a result of this, the beer should be continuously chilled and consumed close to the production date.

Amber Kellerbiers (and Pale Kellerbiers as we will see next week) are traditionally conditioned in an oak cask that is open to the environment it is held in with an unplugged bug hols.

This will allow CO2 from secondary fermentation to escape and allow in anything from the surrounding environment. This would lead to differences in each Kellerbier.

The result of holding these beers in these casks results in a beer that is minimally carbonated and very cloudy with yeast and nutrients settling out in the beer. Usually the yeast and nutrients would be filtered out of the beer.

Kellerbier has survived the test of time largely in part of the Franconian love that exists in this region of Germany. It is remarkable that a small area in a country can be responsible for a beer’s history and have it continue over time.

Style Profile for Amber Kellerbier

Appearance

Color is deep gold to reddish amber. The clarity will depend on the beer’s age. I can be either slightly cloudy to clear.

If your beer is served out of a cask, there will be very little carbonation and therefore not much head. Otherwise, you can fully expect a small off-white creamy head.

Aroma

Malt aroma will consist of rich bready, toasty notes with bread crust notes. No roasty, biscuit or caramel on the nose. The hops contribute to the peppery and spice qualities.

A slight diacetyl presence is actually appropriate with this style. Very low green apple and medium to low sulfer notes from the yeast can also be possible.

Mouthfeel

Sweetness or cloying should not be present. A smooth creamy medium body mouthfeel is totally acceptable.

Again the carbonation of this beer comes into play here. A cask conditioned Kellerbier will lean toward a lesser mouthfeel.

Taste

Malt sweetness and toasted bread taste on the front palate is found with this style. A roasty or caramel taste is not acceptable.

Hop flavor should be limited to peppery, spicy, and herbal while varying from low to medium high.

There is a moderate to medium high bitterness. There can be a possible low diacetyl and low yeast flavors such as green apple. The aftertaste should be nothing but malty.

Food Pairing

A good Amber Kellerbier can pair well with a grilled steak, venison, and German fare such as sausage.

The sweetness of grilled vegetables can pair really well with the maltiness of this beer.

Creating Your Own Amber Kellerbier Recipe

Grain Bill

For a tradition Amber Kellerbier a recipe reminiscent of an Märzen recipe will be just right. Munich malt or even Vienna malt will give you the body that will give this malt forward beer the backbone to stand up against the hopes.

If using Munich, both light or dark Munich can be proper. Watch the lovibond levels of Munich.

Anything over 20°L will make this beer too dark. Stay away from biscuit or roasty malts as those would be inappropriate for the style. Melanoidin and Carafa specialty malts can be used for an Amber Kellerbier.

Melanoidin will add that malt flavor and aroma that this style is known for and Carafa will certainly add the color you are trying to achieve.

However, too much of a good thing really works against what you are trying to achieve; be light handed with both of these specialty malts.

Hop Schedule

An Amber Kellerbier as opposed to a Pale Kellerbier has a fairly decent hop presence. Traditional spicy aromatic German hops should be considered here.

These hops include Saaz, Tettnanger, Hallertauer, Hersbrucker, and Spalt.

Since there is a decent malt backbone for this beer, a fair amount of hop presence is appropriate. There should be a bittering, flavor, and aroma hops added to this beer.

Dry hopping is optional and sometimes done, this is left to the preference of the brewer.

Yeast

When considering what yeast to use, any German Lager yeast or Märzen yeast will do the trick.

More yeast to consider include:

Wyeast

  • Bavarian Lager (2206)
  • Munich Lager (2308)
  • Octoberfest Lager Blend (2633)

White Labs

  • Southern German Lager (WLP838)
  • Munich Helles (WLP860)
  • Old Bavarian Lager (WLP920)

Dry yeast

  • Fermentis Saflager W-34/70
  • Saflager S-23
  • Mangrove Jack’s Bohemian Lager (M84)

Amber Kellerbier Characteristics

  • Color Range: 7 – 17 SRM
  • Original Gravity: 1.048 – 1.054 OG
  • Final Gravity: 1.012 – 1.016 FG
  • IBU Range: 25 – 40
  • ABV Range: 4.8 – 5.4%

Martin Keen’s Amber Kellerbier Recipe

Grain

  • 64% 7 lbs Vienna Malt
  • 32% 3 lbs 8.0 oz Pilsner; German
  • 2% 3.0 oz Carafa II
  • 2% 3.0 oz Melanoidin

Hops

  • 1.00 oz Hallertauer Pellets – Boil 60.0 min
  • 0.50 oz Hallertauer Pellets – Boil 30.0 min
  • 0.50 oz Northern Brewer – Boil 30.0 min
  • 0.50 oz Hallertauer Pellets – Boil 10.0 min
  • 0.50 ozNorthern Brewer – Boil 10.0 min

Yeast

  • 1.0 pkg Octoberfest/Marzen Lager (White Labs #WLP820)

Frozen Stock Yeast Bank

A way to preserve yeast in the most controlled environment is to freeze the yeast. Before we all start chucking yeast packets in the freezer, there are specific steps that need to be taken.

These steps will help prevent ice crystals from harming your yeast and making the yeast unusable.

Benefits of Frozen Yeast Bank

Cost Savings – After the one time equipment cost, the savings on yeast alone is reason to begin a frozen yeast bank.

Availability of the yeast – too many times the local homebrew shop has run out of the yeast that is needed for a particular recipe. These things happen from time to time. This is not a problem with a frozen yeast bank.

Rare yeast that becomes available – Chris White from White Labs or the fine folks over at WYeast or even the newcomers, Bootleg Biology and Omega Yeast produce yeast that is very hard to obtain.

When buying one strain, you are able to break it up and have it available for multiple brewing sessions.

Helping a fellow homebrewer out – We’ve all been there. We run to the local homebrew shop and forget to grab one ingredient. As luck would have it, the one ingredient is very important in the brew process – The Yeast.

Having vials available will help out your friends. Who knows, may you receive some “thank you beers” in return.

Items Needed

  • Pressure Canner
  • Mason Jar
  • Sterile Test Tubes (15 ml Test Tubes – 50 Pack)
  • Glycerin (Vegetable USP Grade Glycerin)
  • Malt Extract (3 lbs of Dry Malt Extract
  • Sanitizer Spray Bottle
  • Measuring Cup
  • Test Tube Rack
  • Oral Syringe (6 ml Oral Syringes – 50 Pack)
  • Insulated Box or Lunch Cooler (choose a size that will fit freezer)
  • Reusable gel ice packs

The Process of Freezing Yeast

02:49 in the Video Posted at the top or How to Make a Frozen Yeast Bank here.

How to Brew Amber Kellerbier 5

Transcript: Kellerbier is an old German beer style dating back to the middle ages. It’s literal translation is “celler beer,” but unlike other beer classifications, this one is not quite as straightforward as the other styles I’ve brewed.

I’ll explain why and I’m excited to show you how to create your own frozen yeast bank. This is saving me a fortune in ingredients costs and it involves using sciency looking things.

Hi, I’m Martin Keen and I’m taking the Homebrew Challenge to brew 99 Beer styles as defined by the BJC P guidelines. But it’s those BJC P guidelines definitions that have got me scratching my head a little bit today. So typically each beer has its own number and letter assigned to it.

For example, when I was brewing Czech lagers, I had check pale premium Amber and dark lagers and they were each assigned their own code. Kellerbier however, has two different varieties, pale and Amber, but they’re both stuck under 7C. not really sure why that is, but I got to pick pale or Amber open for Amber because that sounded like a a bit more of an interesting beer.

While the pale Kellerbier]is already a light summery drink. The Amber Kellerbier beer is a much older style and it’s a bit more reminiscent of English cask ales, which sounds great to me. So that’s what I’m brewing.

The ingredients for this, for the base malts, I am combining a two to one ratio between Vienna malt and pislner malt. to give me a nice bready texture. So that means I have seven pounds of Vienna malt and three and a half pounds of German Pilsner malt.

Then just to deepen the color and give it a bit more flavor, I’m adding three ounces each of melanodin malt and Kara II. Mashing in at my usual 152 Fahrenheit for about an hour, I’m looking to get to a pre-boil gravity of 10 46 which will give me a beer of approximately 5.4% ABV.

Come on, then. While this is mashing, let’s go talk about my yeast bank.

How to Brew Amber Kellerbier 3

And that solution is stored here in my freezer. It is a frozen yeast bank. Now for each yeast strain, I’ll start off with 10 vials. So what each vile consists of is one 10th of the yeast in a given yeast starter. And when I want to use this for a new beer, I’ll take one of these vials out, defrost it for a few minutes and then pour it into a new starter to start my yeast being built.

The yeast in these vials is frozen, it is not dormant and it shouldn’t be dying off. So years from now I should be able to take one of these vials and use it in a year starter and have about the same viability as I would do if I use one today.

So let me show you how to do this because I need to do this now for the yeast that they have for today’s beer. That’s WLP 820 and I don’t have that in my yeast bank, so I want to add it. What you’re gonna need is some glycerin here and a pint Mason jar.

And what you’re going to do is you’re going to mix a combination of 25% of the glycerin with 75% of the water, and then you’re going to use a pressure canner where it will stay in here for about 10 minutes. Once you’ve done that, you will have your cryo preservative, which you can use multiple times.

So I have got here 10 vials. These are 15 milliliter in size just with a screw cap top. I have a six milliliter syringe. So this part is straightforward. You filled your yeast starter.

I’m using these fast pitch cans here as I’m too lazy to build my own yeast starter and then add the yeast to it, put the yeast on a stir plate, let it spin for a couple of days, and then put it in the fridge so that the yeast will settle to the bottom.

Decant your yeast, so there’s really just the yeast cake left at the bottom and just a little bit of liquid to cover it and then give that a shake to get it all mixed in. So if decanted everything except the yeast out of that flask and then moved into this sanitized pint glass and now what I’m going to do is take each one of these VARs, which I’ve also put in the star san here to sanitize and I’m going to put in six milliliters of the yeast.

I combine it with six milliliters of the cryo preservative.

How to Brew Amber Kellerbier 13

Now to freeze these, I can’t just throw them in the freezer, even with the cryo preservative in there, I want to do that using ice appropriate alcohol. So what I’ve got here is I’ve just poured some of that into here. I’m just going to throw these guys into the alcohol.

So this will limit the formation of any sort of ice crystals that are going to damage the yeast here by freezing them more slowly in this. I’m going to leave it in here in the alcohol for a day or so.

Then I’m going to pull them out by then put them back in here. I’d also, I tend to just write the on the label here, what the yeast it. It’s a pretty handy thing to know.

So the mash has gone as planned. I’ve got a 10 47 pre boil gravity. Now when it comes to hops, this style of beer is actually pretty hoppy compared to the other German lagers that I’ve worked on. I’m going for an IBU 35.

Now to get there for my bittering hops, I have one ounce of Hallerauer Mittlefruh, which I’m going to put in here at 60 minutes.

Then for the flavor and aroma hops, I’m combining Hallerauer Mittlefruh with Northern brewer hops, I have half an ounce each of Hallerauer Mittlefruh and Northern brewer and with 10 minutes left it’s the same thing, half an ounce each.

How to Brew Amber Kellerbier 15

The interesting thing about the Kellerbier there is how long the fermentation cycle is. Typically with a lager style beer, you ferment it for a couple of weeks and then you lager it for, you know, three or four more weeks on top of that, at least.

This style of beer is supposed to be drunk young. So when fermentation finishes in about 10 days or so, I’m going to move this to a keg, carbonate it and drink it much earlier than I would a normal beer. And see what I get from that.

So it’s tasting time. I have Rick with me. Welcome. Thank you. So what we’ve got here is a Amber Kellerbier. Uh, what do you see with the color? Oh, it’s a beautiful color. It’s, it’s very dark at first glance. I thought it was more of a stout, but yeah, it’s, it’s very nice.

It’s got a beautiful dark tone to it. Um, you know, as I, as I smell it, it smells like it’s got some honey in it, some type of honey or, or sweetness, but more of a honey honey smell to it. There’s a, another aspect to it as well, which I won’t mention and tell you the molasses kind. Yeah.

We mean it smells like that smell. So without tasting it. Yeah. Well if you can get through all of that foam. Yeah, it’s true. Let’s give it a try.

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So you still getting honey or molasses or something different? Oh, something different. Totally different. Yup. To me it’s, it’s quite malti, uh, sort of a dark malt flavor, not, not roasty. Um, also a little bit sweet as well. It’s a bit sweet and a little bit, a little bitter at the end.

So the thing that I told you about the beer that makes it a little bit different is this style of beer is served quite young. So, um, it’s a lager and typically with a lager you’d brew it and then you would lager it, which just means store it cold for, uh, six weeks or so.

Um, this style beer, you’re supposed to drink it young. So this is about, well actually this is four weeks old. That is much earlier than I would typically serve a beer for tasting. As it ages, what is, what happens as it ages?

Does that change as far as the flavor and taste of it? Yeah, I think as, as it ages, it would sort of round out a little bit more, be, um, less spiky and in the flavors that are there.

So like the bitter flavor. I can definitely taste that, especially with the aftertaste. Um, the aromas does smell a little bit young to me. Um, so, but that’s, that’s what the style is expected to be. So, um, I think if you were to try this beer in a month, it would be a bit more subtle, a bit more well rounded.

It’s very nice. I know with all the beers on the market, with all the hoppy beers and friends of mine know that I’m not crazy about the real hoppy beers when there are so many of them. Yes. But this was very smooth, very elegant. Yes.

Yeah. Cheers!

I am the former President of my homebrew club, Plainfield Ale and Lager Enthusiasts (PALE) in the western suburbs of Chicago, IL. I brew on my BIAB system with my incredibly patient and understanding wife, adorable 9 year old daughter, and 12 year old brew dog.