Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Brewing a Classic American Pilsner

Going by my usual method/approach to brewing lagers, I'm following up my Munich Helles that I brewed in late January with another lager, to re-use the Wyeast 2124 Bohemian Lager yeast. This time, it's back to something a bit hoppier: a Classic American Pilsner (CAP).

I'm not sure if there's another beer style out there that is harder to find from craft breweries and brewpubs. I know that living in this area of Canada greatly inhibits how much good beer you can find, but I've been lucky enough to have been on a fair amount of trips in the U.S., all of which involved beer to some degree. And I don't think I've EVER had a CAP; at least, not one that was identified as such. I mean, check out the above link to the BJCP description of this style... under "Commercial Examples", they can't even come up with a specific one, only listing "Occasional brewpub and microbrewery specials".

This really is (from what I can tell) more of a pre-Prohibition Pilsner. It basically came about when German immigrants to the U.S. were forced to brew their beloved Pilsner style with the ingredients they had available to them in their new country. For example, using 2-row or 6-row pale malt instead of Pilsner, local hops like Cluster instead of Saaz, Hallertau or Tettnang. More on the style in the discussion below.

For this CAP recipe (my first ever), I again checked Jamil's Brewing Classic Styles. His recipe is quite simple, with the majority of the grist being 2-row; the rest is a healthy amount of flaked corn. This is common for this style; like other American Lagers, a fairly high proportion (up to 30%, according to the BJCP) of flaked corn or flaked rice is used as an adjunct, to cut back on the amount of base grain needed. This provides, of course, a "corn-like or sweet maltiness" in both the aroma and flavor of the beer. Jamil's recipe called for close to the maximum of flaked corn, coming it at about 28% of the grist. I actually changed the base malt to Pilsner; I wasn't too concerned with being completely authentic here, and have a lot of recipes coming up that require 2-row malt, so I thought I'd go with Pilsner malt instead. So, maybe that makes this beer more of a Classic American-German Pilsner? I also added some Acid malt to the grist to bring the mash pH to a proper level (hopefully). The malts and adjuncts are mashed quite low (here, 148 F) to provide a well-attenuated beer with a dry finish.

Lots of flaked corn in there
For the hops, there are several additions in this recipe. Jamil does make a point of mentioning that there are too many hop additions, but that he feels it works well for this style of beer. I've never been one to stray from hop additions, so I followed his recommendation (I see that in his more recent, Brew Your Own recipe, he's toned it down a bit). All of the hop additions are Saaz, which really is a fantastic hop to use in Pilsners; the floral, spicy characters work great in the style. Wait a minute, you're thinking... I thought this style of beer called for American hops that mimic European noble varieties? Yep; but this recipe called for Saaz, and I had a lot of it on hand.

So, yes, this beer is starting to look more like a strict German Pilsner. But wait, it's not just the ingredients that set this style apart from a German or Bohemian Pilsner. It's the higher gravities (up to 1.060) and often-higher hop flavors, due to more late-hopping than you usually see in other Pilsners. Either way, as I'm writing this I'm beginning to understand why the style is often ignored by commercial brewers. It's kind of confusing. If you take away anything about this style, just think of it as a "bigger" Pilsner, with a good amount of hop aroma and flavor, and a firm bitterness. Don't get too hung up by the source of your ingredients.

For the water, I was a bit in the dark. I knew that you didn't want high-mineral water to provide harshness to the beer, but I imagine that a "classic" CAP didn't have really soft water similar to that used in a Bohemian Pilsner. Since I'm obviously not too concerned with being classic here, I decided to simply add some Gypsum to the mash, to bring my calcium up to reasonable levels, and hopefully provide just a touch of extra bitterness to the beer. Nothing major.

As I mentioned, I cultured the slurry of the Wyeast Bohemian Lager from my Munich Helles. I actually washed the yeast to end up with about 200 mL of a thick, mostly-trub-free slurry. Whenever I brew lagers, I always try to brew two that will make good use of the one yeast strain, and pretty much back-to-back so that the yeast slurry is fresh. Also, if you follow this method, of course it usually makes sense to brew the lower-gravity beer first, so that you don't have an even larger yeast starter to make (a 1.058 lager like this would require a whopping 6.5 L starter - or at least several smaller ones - with intermittent shaking... and that's assuming you have a really fresh pack of yeast).

So, yeah, there you have it. I really enjoy a good pilsner, and a slightly-bigger, hoppier one sounds great to me. Hoping to lager this for about 6-8 weeks after fermentation is complete; I'll likely just rack it into a keg and use that as the secondary, and then hopefully have it on tap by the spring.

Recipe targets: (5.5 gallons, 75% efficiency) OG 1.058, FG ~1.012, IBU 35, SRM 3.7, ABV ~6%

3.6 kg (69.2%) Pilsner malt
1.45 kg (27.9%) Flaked corn
150 g (2.9%) Acid malt

Saaz - 70 g (2.6% AA) @ 60 min
Saaz - 35 g @ 20 min
Saaz - 28 g @ 10 min
Saaz - 28 g @ 5 min

Saaz - 28 g @ 0 min

Misc.: 1/2 tab Irish moss @ 5 min

Yeast: Wyeast 2124 Bohemian Lager (thick slurry cultured yesterday, ~200 mL)

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; 8 g Gypsum added to the mash

- Brewed on February 11th, 2014, by myself. 70-minute mash with 13 L of strike water, mashed in at target temp of 148 F. Mashed-out for 10 minutes with 7.8 L of boiling water, resulting temp 165 F. Sparged with ~4.25 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of slightly of ~7.25 gallons.

- SG high at 1.046 (target 1.044). 90-minute boil. Final volume ~5.75 gallons. Chilled down to 55 F, then poured/filtered into Better Bottle. OG a bit high at 1.060. Set BB in fermentation chamber with temp set at 46 F. After about 6 hours, temp had dropped to 46 F. Aerated with 120 seconds of pure O2, pitched yeast slurry. Placed BB back in fermentation chamber with temp set at 50 F.

- 13/2/14 - 17/2/14 - By morning of the 13th, fermentation was pretty active, airlock bubbling every 2 seconds. Stayed this way through to the 17th. Over these few days, I gradually increased the temp to 54 F.

- 18/2/14 - In the AM, activity had slowed to bubbling every 5-6 seconds. Took the BB out of the chamber and left it at ambient to raise the temp for a diacetyl rest. Temp was about 62 F by the evening.

- 20/2/14 - BB back in the chamber, decreased the temp by a few degrees each day until it was back to 50 F. Gravity reading a few days later showed 1.014.

- 26/2/14 - Racked to a keg for secondary, beginning lagering period now. Decreasing temp in chamber by 1-2 F every day until down to 38 F.

- Tasting notes posted; pretty happy with how this came out, grainy and malty, with a really nice hop presence from the Saaz.


  1. Looking forward to how this turns out. I haven't had any luck on brewing lagers at all.

  2. Cheers! How did this recipe turn out? I am anxious to try it and see what needs tweaking. Thanks MC

    1. Just kegged it a little while ago, and started drinking it over the last few days... turned out pretty tasty, I think! I'll have the tasting notes up ASAP.