Why It Works
- Boiling the wort for an extended period dissipates dimethyl sulfide—a common byproduct of pilsner malts which can cause off flavors.
- A 50/50 mix of tap and distilled water replicates the mineral composition of the water used to make authentic German pilsners.
- Using a large quantity of yeast and precise temperature control produces a refreshing, clean-tasting pilsner.
Crisp pilsner is the perfect summertime beer. Traditionally this medium-bodied style has a rich, grainy malt flavor that is complemented by a spicy and floral hop character. The dry finish should vanish on the tongue and leave you wanting more. Unfortunately, big breweries have changed the pilsner to be a boring and watered-down representation of the original classic. But homebrewers can make this delicious lager to show their friends and family what a great, fresh pilsner can taste like.
Pilsner is a lager, which means it is fermented cold and goes through a cold storage phase before it is ready to serve. You will need to have a temperature-controlled refrigerator if you want to brew this style of beer at home.
Two common types of pilsner are the German pilsner and the Bohemian pilsner. They primarily differ from each other in terms of the region the ingredients come from. The Bohemian pilsner is the older of the two styles, and its unique flavor is often attributed to the unusually soft local water.
The Grain Bill
More than almost any other style of beer, the varieties of grain used in a pilsner should be limited and simple. In fact, using 100% pilsner malt is the best way to go. Pilsner malt produced in Germany works well for all styles, but if you want to make a very traditional Bohemian pilsner you should try to find Moravian malt produced in the Czech Republic.
If you've never used pilsner malt in a homebrew recipe before, you might be surprised at the rich flavors that you get from this grain compared to the standard American 2-row. I like to taste a few of the kernels of grain before I add them to the mash, just to get an idea of where the different characteristics in the final beer come from.
When brewing with pilsner malt, I recommend boiling the wort for 90 minutes instead of the usual 60 minutes. Pilsner malt produces more dimethyl sulfide (DMS) than other grains, which contributes a cooked corn or vegetable flavor to the beer. Boiling for an extra 30 minutes with the lid off will drive away this unpleasant compound.
If you can't find pilsner malt of any kind, or if you are making an American-style pilsner, 6-row malt is a good substitute. The 6-row malt has more of a grainy flavor than 2-row, and it does a little better job of mimicking the character of the European malts.
Flowers and spice are the hop flavors we're looking for in a pilsner. Noble hops, with their low bitterness and complex aromas, should be used exclusively. I recommend using the same variety for bittering, flavor and aroma. When brewing a German-style pilsner, Hallertau or Tettnanger are good hop varieties to use. If you are making a Bohemian-style pilsner, then Saaz hops are the most traditional choice.
You can use any yeast labeled German, Czech or Pilsner lager yeast—they will all produce similar results. The real key to brewing a clean lager is to start with a very large quantity of yeast and having closely controlled fermentation temperatures. If you use a liquid yeast then I would recommend a 3- or 4-liter starter to get the best fermentation and flavor. Since such a large starter is usually impractical for most homebrewers, using 2 packages of dry lager yeast is an excellent low-cost alternative.
For most styles of beer made by homebrewers, tap water provides a pretty good tasting and cost-effective option. The soft water used to brew traditional pilsners, however, produces a very soft hop flavor in contrast to water with higher carbonate levels. One of the easiest ways to soften your tap water is by simply combining it with distilled water from the grocery store. A 50/50 mix of tap and distilled water does a pretty good job replicating pilsner water without getting too complicated. You should never brew with 100% distilled water, however, since both the mash and fermentation require some of the natural minerals to do the job properly.
- 7 pounds pilsner malt, crushed
- 8 gallons of water split - blend 4 gallons tap water and 4 gallons distilled water
- 1.5 pounds extra light dry malt extract
- 1.5 ounces Saaz hops - 90 minutes
- 1 ounce Saaz hops - 20 minutes
- 1.5 ounces Saaz hops - 5 minutes
- 1 ounce Saaz hops - 0 minutes (flame out)
- Two 11.5 gram packages of dry lager yeast (Saflager S-23)
Line the 7.5 gallon kettle with the mesh bag, fill with 2.5 gallons of tap water and bring to 157°F (69°C). Remove from heat.
Mash-in by slowly adding 7 pounds of pilsner malt into the water and inside the bag. Stir for 2 minutes to prevent balls of grain from clumping together, creating a consistent mash. The temperature should equalize to about 148°F (64°C).
Cover the mash, only uncovering to briefly stir every 20 minutes. Heat 3 more gallons of water to 190°F (88°C).
After 60 minutes, mash-out by carefully pouring the 190°F (88°C) water into the mash, stirring to equalize temperature to about 170°F (77°C).
Slowly raise the grain bag out of the liquid, allowing the wort to drain from the grain. Hold the grain bag above the kettle for 5 to 10 minutes as the wort drains. Top the wort off with water to 6.5 gallons and add 1.5 pounds extra light dry malt extract.
Bring wort to a vigorous boil. When the boil begins, add 1.5 ounce Saaz hops in a mesh bag.
After boiling for 70 minutes, add 1 ounce Saaz hops in a mesh bag.
After boiling for 85 minutes, add 1.5 ounce Saaz hops in a mesh bag.
After total of 90 minutes of boil, remove from heat and add 1 ounce Saaz hops in a mesh bag. Warning: After wort cools below 180°F (82°C) everything that touches it should be sanitary, and exposure to open air should be limited as much as possible.
Cool wort by placing pot in ice bath or by using a wort chiller until it is below 70°F (21°C). Transfer to sanitized fermentor (either a carboy or a fermentation bucket) and place in a temperature-controlled refrigerator set to 48°F (9°C).
Use a sanitized auto-siphon racking cane to remove enough wort to take a gravity reading with your hydrometer. Make a note of this number, since you will be using it to calculate the actual alcohol content when it's done fermenting. The reading should be around 1.054. Cover fermentor with a sanitized stopper and airlock.
After wort cools to 50°F (10°C), agitate vigorously for at least 5 minutes. Add two 11.5-gram packages of Saflager S-23 yeast.
Ferment for at least 3 weeks at 48°F (9°C).
After fermentation is complete, rack to a sanitized secondary carboy and allow the beer to raise to room temperature for 12 hours for a diacetyl rest.
Lager for 4 to 6 weeks by placing carboy in a temperature-controlled refrigerator set to 35°F (2°C).
Bottle after lagering is complete, using enough priming sugar for a medium level of carbonation.
7.5 gallon kettle (or bigger), extra-large mesh grain bag, the basic homebrewing equipment setup and a temperature controlled refrigerator