Tuesday, November 18, 2014

#44 - Pilsner Brew Day - My First Lager

With my keezer finally in place and currently only occupied by 1 5 gallon keg and an assortment of bottles now is the first time in my life that I have a great chance to ferment a lager.  I'm also heading to New Zealand at the end of the week, giving a perfect time period to crank the chest freezer temp up a little for lager fermentation temps.

Knowing that now was the time to brew a lager the only question was, what lager would I start with? While I've long wanted to brew a BMC-ish "plain" beer (complete with adjuncts and light hopping), my recent trip to Europe introduced me to so much lagered goodness.  While I originally thought about brewing my favorite newly discovered style from Europe, the Czech Černý (which seems to sit somewhere between a Munich Dunkel and a Schwartzbier), I thought better of it due to already having a dark, roasty beer on tap and wanting something more pale and balanced.  The German Oktoberfest style beers I drank in the Wiesn tents, and the Helles and Dunkels I drank in the bars and beer gardens, were well crafted and easy drinking, but I've already had more of them than I would want for a few years.  So then, what lager to brew? Why not the most influential lager that set the bar for countless styles and the vast majority of beer consumed: Bohemian Pilsner.

While in Prague I was fortunate enough to enjoy a number of Pilsners including the original, Pilsner Urquell, in both its usual filtered and special unfiltered version (the unfiltered version is rarely seen outside of the city of Plzen but I happened to be in Prague the same weekend as Pilsner Urquell's brewing anniversary of October 5th).  Both of these, and a number of the other Pilsners offered in the Czech Republic, were excellent and I wanted to go for as classic of a Pilsner Pivo (beer, in Czech) as possible.  In my eyes there are 5 traits that make a Bohemian Pilsner what it is:
  • Soft water
  • Pilsner Malt
  • Lager Fermentation
  • Saaz Hops
  • Decoction mash
While I had these characteristics in mind, in order to fully design my recipe I looked at the most recent issue of Brew Your Own magazine which focused on German and Czech Pils. I also reviewed the four Bohemian Pilsners to have won gold at the NHC. Some notes that I found interesting:

  •  In addition to Saaz, Sterling was a common hop choice
  • Nearly every recipe used a small percentage of slightly darker malts in addition to Pilsner (often Vienna and/or CaraPils)
  • Not all recipes required a decoction with some using a single infusion mash
  • Diacetyl rest was often (though not always) mentioned as necessary
  • Long, extremely cold (~32F) lagering periods and extremely soft water were musts
With all of this in mind I decided to stick with the traditional Saaz, use a little CaraPils and CaraMalt (would have been CaraHell but HBS didn't have it), but avoided doing my first decoction and instead used a slightly more complicated grain bill and a step infusion mash.

2 days before brew day. I built a 1 gallon starter at room temperature (~68) with 2 packs of Wyeast 2000 Budvar Lager.  While 2 packs might not have been necessary, lagers typically require significantly more yeast than Ales and I wanted to make sure that mine took off without a hitch.

Brew day. I purchased 6 gallons of distilled water and added in 3.5 gallons of filtered Arlington, VA water, with no other water chemistry treatments.  Cooled wort to ~60 post fermentation before moving wort and starter to 42F chest freezer.  Will pitch yeast tomorrow once cooled and bring temps up a little.

Yeast was pitched yesterday morning and chest freezer temperature raised to 48F. Fermentation slowly showing signs of life.

Temperature increased to 60F for diacetyl rest.

Temperature decreased to 35F for lagering.

Gravity down to 1.013 (exactly what was predicted pre-brewing!).  Taste is moderately hoppy and grainy, maybe a slight off-flavor, not sure if it is due to using some older Saaz for bittering or an aspect of the Budvar yeast but it comes off a bit earthy.  Hopefully a month or so at lagering temps will bring this down but already tasting like an interesting and respectable pilsner.

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