This recipe appears in Michael Dawson’s book, “Mashmaker: A Citizen-Brewer’s Guide to Making Great Beer at Home.” Learn more at mashmakerbook.com.
If it’s winter in Minnesota—and at the time of this writing, citizens, it most assuredly is—then for many of us homebrewers it is lager season.
Lager, as regular readers probably know, is one of the great families of beer, characterized in the brewery by slow, cold fermentation. The agent of fermentation is lager yeast, a specialized subset of Saccharomyces. The exact taxonomy of lager yeast has shifted over time, known variously as S. carlsbergensis, S. uvarum, and most recently S. pastorianus. Nomenclature aside, what these strains all have in common is a higher tolerance for cold temperatures than their ale-making cousins over in S. cerevisiae; the genetic ability to completely ferment the sugars raffinose and melibose (pushes glasses up bridge of nose); and a tendency to produce low to very low levels of aromatic compounds like esters and phenols, creating the characteristic “clean” profile of beer styles like helles, märzen, bock, and this month’s project, pilsner.
Pilsner is the most international of beers. Originating from and named for the town of Plzen, in the Czech Republic, Pils (or at least a pale, light-bodied lager inspired by/in imitation of it) is now brewed ubiquitously around the world. The classic versions are either bronzy-gold, full of Saaz, and off-dry with decoction-mashed richness (Bohemian Pils); or straw blonde, bone-dry, and crisply hop-bitter (German Pils). Using German Pils as a template we’ll take a globetrotting approach to hops for our cold-weather, slow-fermented pale lager.
Going by numbers
Pale, crisp, and hoppy—those are the bywords. German Pils occupies a pretty narrow niche of 1.044–1.050 OG, with a sessionable alcohol content of 4.4–5.2% by volume. Drier and leaner than its Czech counterpart, German Pils is well-attenuated, with final gravities down around 1.008–1.013. Color for this all-malt lager runs from a barely-there 2 SRM to a bright golden 5 SRM, mandating the use of very pale malt. Hopping ranges from a fairly modest and balanced 25 IBUs up to a decidedly bitter and flavor-dominant 45 IBUs.
What makes it tick
Textbook German Pils makes use of noble hops like Hallertauer, Hersbrucker, Tettnanger, and Saaz. Low in alpha acid and cohumulone, these hop varieties all have a wonderful, delicate aroma and yield a very mild, easygoing bitterness, even when used at high rates in the kettle.
We’re going to explore a slightly different paradigm with a couple New Zealand varieties that share some of this noble ancestry: Motueka and Pacifica, which have Saaz and Mittelfruh parentage, respectively. These Southern Hemisphere hops add a layer of funky tropical fruit (which will be comforting and familiar for IPA nerds) to the warm, earthy herbal character of the Old World landrace varieties. Regardless, emphasis in German Pils is on hop bitterness over hop flavor and aroma, so we’ll keep hop additions away from the very end of the boil.
The other requisites will stay in place: pils malt and a hop-accentuating lager yeast strain. More on these below …
A recipe to try:
Target OG: 1.047
Target IBU: 35-40
8 lbs German Pils malt
8 oz Weyermann Carafoam
2 oz of your choice of NZ Motueka, NZ Pacifica (may be labelled as Pacific Hallertau), or a mix of both
Wyeast 2124 Bohemian Lager or Wyeast 2042 Danish Lager (see Key Points, below)
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