Raw Ale Brewing Techniques and Recipes

Raw Ale Brewing Techniques and Recipes

Raw ales are brewed without the wort boil. If that sounds truly medieval I don’t blame you. Before the late middle ages, the ale was usually raw. However, raw ales are not medieval in the sense of brutality or knowing any better. Nordic and Baltic farmhouse ales, such as sahti, koduõlu, gotlandsdricke, kornøl, and kaimiškas are still brewed with this technique and they can be extremely tasty.

This old farmhouse brewing technique is a great tool for creating various kinds of new beers. I introduced this idea in the first part of this guide, Brewing Modern Raw Ales. This second how-to part of the guide dealing with practical techniques and recipes.

So, now the emphasis is on raw ales that aren’t perfectly traditional. I blend freely old and new techniques to get the best possible beer. Nevertheless, you’ll find many valuable tips for brewing traditional and historical raw ales as well.

After tasting hundreds of traditional raw ales and brewing them for over a decade, I have started to apply the old farmhouse brewing techniques for creating new beers. I call them modern raw ales.

Other Resources

Brewing Modern Raw Ales is the first part of this guide, and the foundation for understanding these brewing techniques. When brewing either traditional or modern raw ales, two of my earlier guides are highly useful: Guide to Kveik and Other Farmhouse Yeast and Brewing With Juniper, Spruce, Fir and Pine. Check out also Jereme Zimmerman’s guide Brewing Nordic Farmhouse Raw Ale, written from a perspective of North American homebrewer.

I highly recommend reading about traditional raw ales that are still brewed in parts of the Nordic and Baltic countries. These living traditions teach you a lot about beer history and make you a better raw ale brewer. My Viking Age Brew and Lars Marius Garshol’s Historical Brewing Techniques are the most up-to-date sources on traditional and historical raw ales.

These are not coffee table books. They are beer table books.

Raw Brewing Gear

These days people brew with myriads of brewing systems and almost all of them are suitable for raw ales. I’ll discuss now some plusses and minuses of different mashing and lautering equipment.

I prefer to mash raw ales in a kettle. My raw ale batches are often small and external heat helps in maintaining mash temperatures. I like the convenience of heating the mash as high as I want, regardless of the water amounts. A heated mash tun is especially useful with high-gravity ales.

Nevertheless, a mash tun heated with only water (or juniper) infusions will work well. Many traditional raw ale brewers have this kind of brewing setup. Some modern brewers heat their wort in a kettle after lautering to ensure a high enough pasteurization temperature.

I have also tested the popular brew-in-a-bag (BIAB) for raw ales. The test ale fermented explosively and ended up very murky. OK but not great. BIAB lacks the wort-recirculation step for clarifying the wort and that makes the method suboptimal for raw ales. Without the wort recirculation lipids and other turbid stuff end up into wort. With the boil, the turbid stuff is not an issue because it precipitates in the boil.

If you want simple brewing with minimal brewing gear, raw ales are perfect for you. I’ll discuss that next.

Brewing raw ale in the kitchen
I have a fancy brewing setup for boiled-wort beers but often I brew raw ales with simpler brewing gear in the kitchen. I mash in a kettle and scoop the mash into a lauter tun bucket. The wort flow from the lauter tun to a stainless steel fermenter where an immersion chiller waits.

The Simplest Brewing Setup for Raw Ales

When writing Viking Age Brew, I tested simple brewing methods for sahti. I wanted to show that raw ales can be brewed with very simple equipment mostly requiring typical kitchenware. A big enough household kettle was an obvious choice for a mash tun. I tested kitchen colanders and nylon mesh bags for lautering but the results were suboptimal. I decided to build a lauter tun from stuff that I already had: I slotted a piece of copper tube with a hacksaw and inserted that on the bottom of a plastic bucket with silicone tubing.

This frugal setup worked so well that started to do test brews with it. Then I made a second bucket-lauter tun so that I can brew two raw ales in tandem. Each batch yields 6–14 liters (1.5–3.5 US gallons) depending on the gravity. With two of these setups, I can brew two batches in less than five hours.

An absolute minimalist approach is this: clean the kettle when you have scooped the mash to the lauter tun. Then you can run off the wort to the kettle. If you don’t have a wort chiller you can cool the wort in the kettle for example with a water bath. You can even ferment the beer in the kettle. With fast farmhouse ale fermentation that will work well!

Simple brewing equipment for brewing raw ales
If I don’t need a lot of beer, I brew raw ales with this setup: ten-liter household kettle for mashing and lauter tun made from a bucket, slotted copper tube, and silicone tubing. Normally the slots of the copper tube are facing down. Photo by Mari Varonen.

Maximum Mash and Wort Temperature

I discussed the importance of proper mash and wort temperatures in the first part of the guide. Hot enough temperature ensures that the wort is pasteurized. Heating the wort too hot releases DMS make your ale less raw. What is the optimum?

Some traditional farmhouse brewers don’t ever go above 70°C (158°F) with their mash and wort. I have done good raw ales by mashing at 66–69°C (151-156°F) and then raising the wort temperature above 70°C (158°F) with hot sparge water (as described in Brewing Sahti at The Ale Apothecary). This has worked well for me and one hour at 70°C (158°F) should be enough for pasteurization.

Nevertheless, I’d rather finish mash 75–80°C (167-176°F). High final mash temperatures aids in sugar extraction efficiency, and this important in high gravity ales. Secondly, with a low maximum temperature, some malt enzymes can survive into the fermenter and continue to chop sugars in the fermenter. This can lead to very dry beer which may or may not fit the recipe. Thirdly, hot enough wort pasteurizes also the equipment it touches.

Some modern brewers want to ensure pasteurization by heating the wort in a kettle after lautering. With some brewing setups and especially in commercial breweries this might be necessary. I don’t see a need for the wort heating If the mash can be heated hot enough. If you heat the wort, don’t go above DMS generating temperatures of 80–85°C (176-185°F).

Sahti master Olavi Viheroja strirring the mash
Award-winning sahti master Olavi Viheroja stirring mash. He doesn’t measure mash temperatures but allowed me to check them. The maximum mash temperature was 80°C.

Sanitation

With raw ales, there’s no clear distinction between the hot and cold side of brewing. This raises some additional sanitation questions.

Many traditional raw ale brewers clean mash and lauter tuns as well as mash paddles carefully. They haven’t read this from brewing books but it makes sense. How do you know that the mash and wort will be hot enough to pasteurize also your brewing equipment?

I trust that the heat will pasteurize my mash tun, lauter tun, and mash stirrers. I sanitize the wort collection vessels. These days I spray my immersion chiller with a no-rinse sanitizer, although many times I have counted on the raw wor to sanitize it.

Brewing sahti raw ale with a wooden kuurna
Occasionally I wonder how clean the unboiled wort is. For example when we tested how traditional sahti lauter tun known as kuurna works. I didn’t boil the wort but I cleaned the kuurna in traditional way with hot juniper infusion. The sahti was clean and tasty.

Water and pH Adjustments

Adjusting water minerals and brewing pH makes modern boiled-wort beers better. Brewing science and practical experiments have made this very clear. These studies do not necessarily apply to raw ales but I believe some kind of adjustments can also improve no-boil ales. 

When brewing traditional ales such as sahti, I don’t adjust water minerals or pH. My soft low-mineral water has produced good beer that way. When brewing modern raw ales, I adjust water and pH similarly to boiled wort beers: 

  1. I increase the calcium content with gypsum and calcium chloride. 
  2. For pale beers, I bring the mash and sparge water pH down with phosphoric or lactic acid. I prefer to keep the mash pH below 5.5 and sparge water pH below 6.0. 
  3. If roasted malts drop the mash pH below 5.2, I bring it up with baking soda. 

These are minimum adjustments merely to control calcium and pH. I don’t add sulfates to hoppy beers and I like my beers better that way. 

Raw Ale pH

This is additional information for beer geeks who are passionate about beer pH.

Raw ale pH is a little-studied topic. I have done some measurements and tests but so far I don’t know what would be the optimal control pH for raw ales. Let me give you two examples:

I brewed a raw gruit ale with Vienna malt, Sigmund’s kveik, and bog myrtle. I adjusted the mash pH to 5.4 with gypsum, calcium chloride, and phosphoric acid. After sparging and before fermentation the wort pH was 5.45. The final beer pH was 4.3 which is also typical for my boiled wort beers. This a good beer pH as far as I’m concerned.

The second example is sahti from pilsner malt, juniper, and Sigmund’s kveik. This was a historical raw ale where I heated the mash with hot stones. I didn’t adjust or measure pH during brewing but I measured the final beer pH to be 4.75. That is very high beer pH but the flavor was good. Would it have been better with a pH of 4.3? I suspect so.

Note: both of these beers were fermented with kveik. Escarpment Labs has noticed that kveik drops more pH than brewer’s yeast.

Mashing

When the wort is not boiled, you need to brew with less water. In addition, raw ales often have high original gravity. For these reasons, I like to mash raw ales slightly longer than boiled-wort beers. Longer mash gives higher extract efficiency with less water. With most raw ales, these mash schemes work well:

Single infusion: mash at 66–70°C (151–158°F) for one hour and then bring the temperature up with hot sparge water.

Two-step mash: mash at 65-70°C (149-158°F) for one hour and then raise the temperature above 70°C (158°F). If you can, finish the mash at 75–80°C (167-176°F). Hold at this second temperature for 30 minutes.

When the original gravity is above 1.080 (19 Plato) the three-step sahti mash described next is unbeatable.

High original gravity favors a thick mash. Less water in the mash leaves more water for sparging, which helps in extracting the malt sugars. 2.2–2.3 liters of water for a kilogram of malt ( 1.05–1.1 quarts per pound) gives a nicely stirrable mash and saves water for sparging. Thick mashes also allow you to brew with small mash tuns (such as kitchen kettles), or to brew more beer.

Thick mash for raw ale
High gravity raw ales are best brewed with a thick mash. Photo by Mari Varonen.

High Gravity Mashing

I have tested various mashing schemes for high gravity ales, with both raw and boiled-wort ales. This mash has been the most effective:

Mash at 60°C (140°F) for 45 minutes and then at 70°C (158°F) for another 45 minutes. Finish the mash at 75–80°C (167-176°F) with a 15-minute rest.

This scheme gets the most sugars out of your malt. Mash temperatures below 60°C do not seem to increase sugar extraction but if the recipe contains more than 10 % of rye in the mash I recommend adding a step at 35–40°C (95–104°F). This breaks down the beta-glucans of rye.

I often brew also moderate gravity raw ales with this 60-70-80°C mash because it allows me to hit the target gravity consistently. Some craft malts need more heat and time and this mash handles them well. With my brew system, it’s not much more effort, and I can do it in two and a half hours.

Sahti master Eila tuominen mashes for eight hours. I’m glad that she brews this way. Her sahti tastes outstanding and that’s how her family has always brewed sahti it. I can’t and don’t want to replicate that flavor. When brewing modern raw ales, 2-3 hours is enough.

Lautering, Sparging, and Cooling

As mentioned in the section on equipment, recirculation of the wort through the mash bed plays a bigger role in raw ales. If the wort is not clarified with recirculation and if also the boil is skipped, plenty of turbid stuff ends up in a fermenter. This turbid stuff can harm the flavor, in addition to a very murky appearance.

Keeping sparge water fairly hot helps in sugar extraction and pasteurization. Usually, I sparge with 75–80°C (167-176°F) water. Higher temperatures can leach tannins from malt husks. In high gravity raw ales, the sparge volume is small and mild tannins can even add pleasant complexity to the flavor. Therefore, I sparge high gravity raw ales with 80–90°C (176–194°F) water.

Remember: diluting the wort too much by oversparging is a common mistake in raw brewing. You cannot concentrate the raw ale wort with boiling.

Without a boil, there’s no trub. Just dump all the wort into the fermenter.

Because raw ales are so freakingly easy to brew, I often brew two ales at the same time. Here I’m lautering two of my homebrew classics: raw pale ale and Trolldryck juniper ale.

Hop Tea for Raw Ales

Most raw ale brewers get their hop bitterness from hop tea. This means simply boiling the hops in a small amount of water instead of the full wort boil. This is my standard hop tea method: 

Boil the hops in water for one hour and dump the tea into the mash with hops and all. Use one liter of water for 30 grams of hops (quart for an ounce of hops). If you use high-alpha hops, double the water volume.

Based purely on taste, I estimate that this method gives roughly half the bitterness of a typical full wort boil. I have gotten surprisingly consistent bitterness levels this way.

If you are the kind of person who likes formulas and calculations, you can be even more consistent by using this formula:

liters of water = grams of hops × hop alpha acid percentage / (30 × 5)

This formula takes into account that hop bitterness yield tends to decrease as the concentration of alpha acids increase. Hence you should increase the water volume not only per grams but also per alpha acid units. For example, if you have 30 grams of hops with 10 % AA, use two liters of water. When calculating bitterness for the hop tea method, I use a hop utilization value of 0.12.

Hop tea for raw ales
Boiling hops in a small amount of water work surprisingly well. The bitterness extraction is less than with the full wort boil but still substantial. Photo by Mari Varonen.

Hop Aroma and Flavor

In the quest for great hop aroma and flavor, I have added hops to the mash, wort, and fermenter. After all experimentation, this simple method is by far my favorite:

Add the flavoring hops to the wort at the beginning of lautering. Let them infuse in hot wort while you collect it. You can put hops in a cloth bag or sieve them out before fermentation but dumbing everything with hops and all into the fermenter works fine. 

I haven’t noticed any negative flavor impact from dumping the hops into the fermenter and hops are not blocking my brewing system. Therefore I do what’s simplest, that is nothing. When I plan to harvest yeast, I try to avoid large amounts of hop matter in the fermenter.

This method is much like the hop stand for boiled-wort beers and the effect is very similar. It gives such an awesome hop aroma and flavor that I rarely see a need for dry hopping. Admittedly, the dry hops give a different kind of flavor that is required in some beer styles. 

With this method, it is almost too easy to make every beer hoppy. If you don’t want to overpower other flavors, I recommend keeping the flavor hops at a gram per liter or skipping the flavor hops altogether. 

The recipes below demonstrate this method with both delicate and strong hop character. 

Brewing Raw Herbal Beers

The hop flavoring method described above works well also for most brewing herbs. Usually I just throw the herbs into the hot wort and skim them off the next day when fermentation lifts them to the top. You can put the herbs in a cloth bag and lift them out before fermentation, if that’s easier for you.

Some woody plants, such as juniper branches and spruce tips, work better with longer infusion times, as described in my other guide Brewing Techniques for Juniper, Spruce, Fir and Pine.

Brewing raw gruit beer with bog myrtle
Steeping bog mytle in the wort during lautering. This is how I brew raw gruit ales, see the recipe below.

Raw Ale Fermentation

I like to ferment raw ales with Norwegian kveiks and Lithuanian farmhouse yeasts. Most of these yeasts have been collected from raw ales and they are perfect for the job. The beer goes grain to glass in one week. Nevertheless, I highly recommend fermenting raw ale with your favorite brewer’s yeast – it will be an eye-opening experience.

My Guide to Kveik and Other Farmhouse Yeast is very comprehensive on fermentation and now I’ll just wrap up the main points specific to raw ales.

Raw ales ferment faster than boiled-wort beers. When I brew below 8 % ABV raw ale, I expect that fermentation takes one or two days. With similar strength and fermentation conditions, boiled-wort beer typically ferments 2–4 days (warm fermentation with kveik). I add nutrients for boiled worts but not to already nutrient-rich raw worts. If I start a yeast with DME I always add nutrients to the starter wort. Some of my high gravity raw ales (gravity above 1.085 or 20°P) can ferment for up to five days.

For raw ales below 8 % ABV my typical schedule is:

  1. Ferment for 1-2 days
  2. Wait for the fermentation to cease and yeast to settle.
  3. Bottle or keg on day 3 or 4. 
  4. If bottle conditioning, carbonate at warm for around 3 days. 

If everything goes as planned, kegged raw ale peaks in five days, bottle conditioned beer in six or seven days. You don’t need to sport with time but most raw ales benefit little from conditioning. All you need is to get fermentation done and yeast settled.

Carbonation and Packaging

Traditional raw farmhouse ales usually have low or still carbonation. Often this is done by capping the residual fermentation. When brewing modern raw ales for I want more control. I let them finish fermentation, at least mostly, then either bottle condition with sugar or carbonate in the keg. 

Soft carbonation seems to fit well to most raw ales. Kind of carbonation where you see a gentle foam on top. That is fairly close to traditional British cask ale. For bottle conditioning, this means 3-3.5 grams of priming sugar per liter. When kegging, apply 1.5-2.0 volumes of C02. 

Packaging goes much as I described in my Guide to Kveik and Other Farmhouse Yeast

Raw gruit beer
A thick frothy head looks good on social media but raw ales taste perfect with smooth carbonation and thin lacing.

Raw Ale Recipes

The following raw ale recipes are my homebrew favorites. These are beers that I like to brew and drink again and again. I have written all the recipes for the simplest two-step mash. You can easily adjust the mash for your equipment and preference.

Before going into the actual recipes, let me remind you that many of my other Brewing Nordic stories contain fine raw ale recipes too:

Raw Pale Ale

This is a raw equivalent of a highly drinkable classic pale ale. Malt, hops, and fruity yeast in perfect balance. The raw ale character is clearly present and the gravity is slightly pumped up for that. This beer is an excellent showcase of raw ale hopping techniques.

For me the recipe is perfect as is, without dry hops. If you like hoppier ales, you can bump up the wort-addition and add dry hops. If you keep on adding more and more dry hops you’ll get a premium New England IPA.

Drinking raw ale in the snow with a Scottish deerhound
This raw pale ale is now six weeks old. Light begins to shine through and fresh flavors begin to fade. The flavor is still fabulous but I can sense that it’s better to finish this and brew more. Photo by Mari Varonen.

Raw Pale Ale – Recipe for 20 Liters

Original gravity: 1.061 (15ºP)
Final gravity: 1.015 (3.8ºP)
Alcohol by volume: 6 %
IBU: 20

5.3 kg Pale ale malt
45 g flavor hops
Bittering hops for 20 IBU (hop tea)
Kveik or ale yeast (fruity or clean)

Mash at 66–68°C (151–154°F) for one hour. Once you have mashed in, prepare the hop tea: boil the hops in a small amount of water for one hour, and then dump the whole tea into the mash.

Raise the mash to 75–78°C (167–172°F) for 30 minutes. Begin lautering, and recirculate until the wort runs clear. Add the flavor hops to the hot wort as soon as you start collecting it. Sparge with 75–78°C (167–172°F) water until you have collected 20 liters.

Chill the wort to fermentation temperature and pitch yeast. Let ferment completely and bottle or keg when most yeast has flocculated. Smooth carbonation similar to cask-conditioned ale is perfect for this beer. For bottle-conditioning, I recommend 3.5 grams of table sugar per liter of ale.

Raw Wheat Ale

In the past wheat was a luxury grain in northernmost parts of Europe. If it grew at all it was used rather for baking than brewing. For this reason, raw wheat ales are not traditional in the Nordic or Baltic countries. Nevertheless, wheat malt makes a stunning raw ale.

In as raw ale, wheat imparts soft and mellow taste. Hence the gravity can be lowered without a watery or unpleasantly dry impression. The recipe below is fairly robust in gravity and flavor but you can safely drop the gravity if you want less alcohol.

I tested this recipe with Lithuanian farmhouse yeast Simonaitis (The Yeast Bay version). This yeast produces a fruity-phenolic flavor different from Belgian or German wheat beer yeasts. Nonetheless, the ale reminded distantly Belgian and wheat beers. If you want a more obvious wheat flavor use moderately fruity or neutral yeast.

Fo my palate this beer has enough going on without flavor hops. Nevertheless, a delicate flavor hops addition works fine, especially if you use less expressive yeast.

raw ale recipe for a wheat ale
Wheat ales suit every occasion. This raw wheat ale is no exception. Photo by Mari Varonen.

Raw Wheat Ale – Recipe for 20 Liters

Original gravity: 1.057 (14ºP)
Final gravity: 1.014 (3.6ºP)
Alcohol by volume: 5.6 %
IBU: 10

Ingredients:
2.4 kg Pilsner malt
2.4 kg Wheat malt
15 g flavor hops (optional)
Bittering hops for 10 IBU (hop tea)
Kveik or ale yeast

Follow the brewing process in the raw pale ale recipe.

Hell Bent for Pilsner

This is an ale for an impatient pilsner lover. It goes from malt to pint in one week. Of course, it is no replacement for a real pilsner but it has the outstanding flavor of pilsner malt and noble hops. Instead of the lagering process, it is the extreme freshness that makes this beer so freaking delicious!

Hell Bent for Pilsner is my pilsner-like raw ale recipe
I got the idea for this beer while drinking pilsner and listening to Judas Priest classic Hell Bent for Leather. Photo by Mari Varonen.

Hell Bent for Pilsner – Recipe for 20 Liters

Original gravity: 1.055 (13.5ºP)
Final gravity: 1.013 (3.3ºP)
Alcohol by volume: 5.5 %
IBU: 25

Ingredients:
4.8 kg Pilsner malt
30 g Noble type hops for flavoring
Bittering hops for 25 IBU (hop tea)
Kveik (clean)

Brew with the raw pale ale process.

Raw Gruit Ale

This no-boil ale showcases wildcrafted or gardened herbs instead of hops. After the initial “What the hell is this?” impression the ale very drinkable and accessible. This is a great example of beer without hops.

I brew this beer because I like the flavor but the recipe is also a good starting point for re-creating medieval gruit beers. See Susan Verberg’s site Medieval Mead and Beer for more information. My Viking Age Brew has also a section Re-creating Medieval and Viking Ales that discusses historical brewing techniques and the brewing herbs.

I like to brew this ale with a single herb. The recipe below gives options for my favorite brewing herbs (besides juniper and hops of course): bog myrtle, yarrow, ground ivy, and sage. The herbs can be used either fresh or dried. Drying can change the flavor of these herbs considerably. The amounts in the recipe are for noticeable but not pungent flavor.

This beer has room for expressive fermentation flavors. Sigmund’s kveik (commercial isolates are often named something like Voss kveik) is my favorite. Its woody-umami flavors make this ale even more unusual. Other fruity kveiks or Lithuanian farmhouse yeast work well too.

No-boil gruit ale brewed with bog myrtle
I brew raw gruit ales with various herbs, yeast and malt. This version was brewed with Vienna malt, bog myrtle and Sigmund’ kveik.

Raw Gruit Ale – Recipe for 20 Liters

Original gravity: 1.071 (17.3ºP)
Final gravity: 1.018 (4.6ºP)
Alcohol by volume: 7 %
IBU: 0

Ingredients:
6.1 kg Pilsner or Vienna malt
Kveik or ale yeast (expressive)

One of these herbs:
40 g fresh bog myrtle or 20 g dried bog myrtle
60 g fresh yarrow or 20 g dried yarrow
60 g fresh ground ivy or 20 g dried ground ivy
24 g fresh sage or 8 g dried sage

Follow the brewing process of the raw pale ale. Just skip the hop tea and add your choice of herb to the hot wort instead of flavor hops. You can put the herbs in a cloth bag and lift them out before fermentation. Usually, I throw the herbs into the wort as-is and skim them off the next day when fermentation raises them to the top.

3 thoughts on “Raw Ale Brewing Techniques and Recipes

  • May 9, 2021 at 4:51 am
    Permalink

    Thanks Mika for this post! Now I feel ready to brew some raw ales.

    I have a couple questions: do you add the hop tea to the mash (water and hops)? Or do you add it to the collected wort after mashing (filtering the hops)?

    I imagine you don’t use any modern clarification agent to the wort or beer, right? Do you cold condition the beer before packaging to promote yeast settling?

    I know my questions are more related to modern brewing techniques, but I was curious about your opinion about them… Skål!

    Reply
    • May 10, 2021 at 5:06 am
      Permalink

      Skål Johann! These days I add the hop tea to the mash. I used to add the hop tea to the wort and sieve out the hops. Sieving works better with whole hops but is less convenient with pellets. These days my local homebrew shops sell mostly pellets. If you want to use the spent mash for baking or give it to animals the wort addition is better.

      I don’t add any clarification agents to raw ales. Usually I cold-condition raw ales for 1–3 days before bottling or kegging. It is easy for me because I ferment in a heated box in a cool cellar. Most kveiks flocculate very well even without cold conditioning.

      Reply

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