How To Brew German Helles Exportbier

by Steve Thanos | Updated: June 3, 2020

German Helles Exportbier refers to a pale lager beer founded in Dortmund, Germany. This style of German style of brewing might actually be the best example of German brewing.

Dortmund is located in northwest Germany on the Ruhr River, similar to Cologne and Dusseldorf both being situated along the Rhine River.

The three together form the second largest brewing area in Germany outside of Bavaria.

With the people from Cologne being loyal to Kolsch beer and the locals from Dusseldorf showing their allegiance to Altbier, Dortmund loyalists are supporting German Helles Exportbier, or simply Dortmunder Export.

In a city that is rooted deeply in the coal and steel industries, beer was a staple in this area. Dortmund’s beer was even popular outside of the city. It was exported so frequently that it was known simply as export.

Brewing history in Dortmund can be dated back to 1266. However, export as a style only happened since the mid 1800s.

Advancements in Brewing Science

Previous to this time, beers were pretty dark and murky. They often contained wheat and were top fermented. Exports were brought about during what became known as the “lager revolution” during the early 19th century.

Technological advances in brewing helped alter the complexion of beer.

The use of indirect heat, hot-air kilns, the better understanding of yeast, use of cold fermentation and lagering practices, and the invention of the hydrometer allowed brewers the advancement and tools that were otherwise unimaginable at this time.

Pale bottom-fermented beers became the new thing. It should be noted that Plzen in the now Czech Republic was known to be the birthplace of lager brewing.

However, areas such as Vienna, Dortmund and Munich were all able to join in on the fun and began brewing their own lagers.

Harmony in Beer

Over time German Helles Exportbier faded in popularity. In a land of many quality styles, it was difficult for Exportbier to stand out.

Devoid of the characteristics that many German beers possess, such as the bitterness of a pils, the warmth of bocks, or the tart fruitiness and spiciness of weizens.

However, the steady, predictable, smooth flowing nature of a German Helles Exportbier is a true testament to the harmony of beer brewing. No one single characteristic of this beer is stiff arming for attention.

Furthermore, the restraint and the subtle complexity of this beer is what makes it remarkable.

Malt and Water at the Forefront

Maltsters had their hand in making this wonderful beer. While growing their own pale malt and different malting techniques, resulted in unique malt for each city.

Places like Dortmund, Munich, Plzen, and other areas of Germany all brewed beers with a single malt. The characteristics of these malts were allowed to shine and be in the forefront of each of these distinctive beer styles.

The hard water in Dortmund also contributed to the characteristics of a German Helles Exportbier. The water, being high in calcium sulfate and calcium chloride, brings out the hop and malt flavors and gives the German Helles Exportbier its predictable firmness.

Style Profile and Characteristics of a German Helles Exportbier

Appearance

Light gold to deep gold and brilliantly clear. Contains a creamy, long lasting white head.

Aroma

Low to medium hop aroma, which can be described as floral, spicy, herbal. Moderate grainy-sweet malt aroma.

Clean fermentation. Slight sulfury notes at start that will dissipate quickly along with a very low background note of DMS.

Mouthfeel

Medium body and medium carbonation. Smooth but crisp finish.

Taste

The grainy sweet malt nor the floral, spicy, herbal hops dominate. Instead they work in complete harmony. The beer concludes with a crisp, yet refreshing finish.

Clean fermentation with some mineral character, but does not dominate.

German Helles Exportbier by the Numbers

  • Color Range: 4 – 7 SRM
  • Original Gravity: 1.048 – 1.056 OG
  • Final Gravity: 1.010 – 1.015 FG
  • IBU Range: 20 – 30
  • ABV Range: 4.8 – 6%

Tips for Brewing your own German Helles Exportbier

Grain

When deciding your recipe for a German Helles Exportbier, a good quality German Pilsner malt is the only grain you need for your grist. The grainy background of this malt plays well with the slight sweetness of a Pils malt.

Considering the SMR range is between 4-7 SRM, a German Helles Exportbier recipe really does not need any specialty malts.

Hops

German noble hops are the choice with a German Helles Exportbier. Tettnanger, Hallertauer Mittelfrüh, Perle, and Spalt are your choices. Hopping a German Pilsner is fairly simple. 20-30 IBUs for a 60-minute addition.

An ounce at 10 minutes left in the boil and then again another ounce at flameout. This will leave you with a clean, bitter flavor that is floral and herbal.

Yeast

White Labs WLP830 German Lager Yeast is a good starting point when looking for a yeast strain.

Also, Wyeast 2002 Gambrinus Style Lager and 2042 Danish Lager can also be good choices. Imperial Yeast strains, Harvest L17 and Global L13 are solid choices.

If dry yeast is your thing, then Saflager W 34/70 or S -189 are your choices; also Mangrove Jack’s Bavarian Lager.

Fermentation

Ferment at 50°F (10°C) or whatever your yeast manufacturer suggests until your final gravity is reached. It is a good idea to increase the temperature by a few degrees at the end of fermentation to assist in diacetyl cleanup.

Once the beer completes fermentation and after the diacetyl rest, you may want to cold crash it to 35°F (2°C) for about 4 weeks to improve clarity.

Martin Keen’s German Helles Exportbier Recipe:

Grain

  • 73% 8 lbs Pilsner; German
  • 18% 2 lbs Vienna Malt
  • 9% 1 lbs Munich Malt

Hops

  • 2.00 oz Hallertauer Mittelfrüh Pellets – Boil 60.0 min
  • 1.00 oz Hallertauer Mittelfrüh Pellets – Boil 10.0 min
  • 1.00 oz Tettnang Pellets – Boil 0.0 min

Yeast

  • 1.0 pkg German Lager (White Labs#WLP830)
How To Brew German Helles Exportbier 5

German lagers typically aren’t super high in the ABV alcohol department, but that’s not the case with German exportbier where the alcohol levels bumped up a little bit.

We’re going to brew one of those and talk about grain storage.

I’m Martin Keen and I’m taking the Homebrew Challenge to brew all 99 beer styles as defined by the BJCP guidelines. Now I’m working my way through a number of German lagers. So far I have brewed Munich Helis, Hellas Bach, and now I’m on German Hellas Exportbier. Hellas turns out that means “bright.”

Now this beer is also known as “Dortmunder export” and the thing that separates it from most other German lagers are, well, the hoppiness is just raised a little bit.

So we’re going to use Nobel hops here and they’re going to be a little bit higher than some of the other lagers I’ve done. And the other thing that’s going to be higher is the alcohol content. I’m brewing this one at 6% ABV.

The ingredients for this do not stray too far from a lot of the other German lagers I’ve brewed, so the base malt is surprise prize, German Pilsner the malt. I’m using eight pounds of that.

Then for specialty malts, I have two pounds of the Vienna malt and one pound of light Munich malt, or Munich 10. I’m looking to get a gravity of 1.054 from this beer.

How To Brew German Helles Exportbier 4

So this is where I store all my grain now. When I first started out home brewing, every time I was going to brew a beer, I put together the recipe, go to the home brew store and buy exactly the amount of grain that I needed for that brew. Now that I’m brewing every week, that is both very inconvenient and also quite costly.

So buying grain in bulk and then storing it at home means it’s a bit cheaper to buy per per unit. Uh, but also, and very importantly for me, it’s a huge time saver because I have the ingredients on hand, um, without having to go to the home brew store for each individual brew.

So I keep three base malts on hand at all times. I have American two row and German Pilsner and Maris Otter. And these are stored in Vittles vaults, which are actually intended for pet food, but they fit perfectly, a 50 or 55 pound sack of grain.

And this is where I keep my specialty grains. Now I have a couple of buckets here for large amounts of grain, but most of them I store on this little three court containers here. I got these from the dollar store and they can store about four pounds of grain each.

So every time I go to the home brew store and I need a grain, I’ve run out of something, I’ll buy four pounds of it, and store it in here.

Time-saving convenience is massively important to me. And when you get the chance to put together what’s basically a home brew shop in your own house. You know, it’s kind of neat.

How To Brew German Helles Exportbier 6

Well, I’m at a bit of a brewing disaster now. As you can see. Um, kind of got wort everywhere. This is 200 Fahrenheit wort by the way. So this is not good. Um, here’s what happened. Uh, I raised the, the grain bed here out of the pot, which is what I normally do.

I was just using a spoon here just to try to get the, uh, the, make sure all of the liquid was out by just sort of moving the grains. And what I ended up doing was sort of shifting this pot and uh, it ended up dropping straight back into the boil kettle and then the wort just exploded out of it.

So there’s, yeah, two kinds of issues here. The first issue is there’s a lot of wort on the floor and on the walls and so forth. So I’m going to be delivering a little bit less beer than I had initially expected.

Okay.The second issue then is that the grain from the beer, um, ended up in contact with the word at 200 degrees Fahrenheit for a minute or so. And I’m not sure what impact that’s gonna have on the beer either.

Now the other thing that’s happened is as the wort spilled over, it ends up landing right on the outlet for the 240 volt heating element, power input.

Um, and that ended up shorting this out. So this guy here, the light was off just now and I had to go to my breaker here and flick it back on. So probably not the best idea to get that thing wet.

Apart from covering myself and my brewery and sticky wort and potentially ruining the beer, and running the risk of electrocution, I think everything’s going okay.

So we’re going to go on to add the hops. Hops for this, our typical German Nobel hops and a fair amount of them. So two ounces of Hallertau Mittelfrüh for going in at 60 minutes as the bittering hop,… smells so good. Okay. And then for 10 minutes more Hallertau Mittelfrüh, that’s one ounce. And then right at flameout gonna add that spicy floral Tettnang, 1 ounce of that.

How To Brew German Helles Exportbier 7

Well, the finished beer came in at the expected gravity of 1.055. So that’s something. I ended up with about four and a half gallons in the fermentor.

That’s not too bad. The rest of it on my walls and floor, which I’ve done my best to clean up. Now I have the, uh, the fermenter in the fridge. It’s chilling. I’m going to get it to around 55 Fahrenheit. And then I’m going to add WLP 830 German lager yeast.

So that’s the end of brew day for now. And now I’m going to change my clothes.

I’ve got Roy here with me to taste the beer. Welcome Roy. Welcome. Thank you for having me. Absolutely. So the beer came out at a 1.006 Final gravity. I was fermenting at 50 Fahrenheit, moved up to 55, did a diastal rest at 68 and then crashed.

So we’re at a 6.4% beer.

How To Brew German Helles Exportbier 8

So, um, now Roy, I should mention sort of your um, technique. Yeah. Cause generally you don’t drink. Right, right. Except, except you have had a few of the beers. I remember you being quite fond of the, uh, the raspberry wheat beer we did. I couldn’t get that done quick enough. That was very nice.

Yeah. So, so it’d be interesting to see what you think of this one. So, uh, first of all, let’s just take a look at the appearance of this one. I like the white head. Yeah. I think the combination has come up pretty good.

Yeah. Um, I’m not really getting much of a sort of a hoppy floral smell at all from it, but a little bit malty perhaps.

Yeah, let’s try it. Let’s try it. I’m just checking you look down and the whole thing, that’s what I’ll definitely be asking for another one them. Yeah, I think it’s quite a malt forward. It’s not very hoppy.

Right. There’s not much, uh, hop flavor to it, but it’s still good. Still got his head in the color coat. Yeah. I think that goes with that other one. I, I like if it passes the Roy test, the non-drinking test, then I, I’m pretty happy with that, with that result.

If I went to a pub and got that, I’ll be very, very happy. Yeah, I really would. I’m pleased to hear it, so it’s still a cheers. Cheers.

That is really nice. What’s really nice. Next, next, I have my own technique for this.

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.