Nick Carr on October 11, 2014 0 Comments History of Bohemian Pilsner The entire world owes a depth of gratitude to the brewers of Plzen (Pilsen), who, in 1842 created a beer that would take the world by storm. Founded by King Wenceslas II in 1295, Plzen became a center of Bohemian brewing after its founder granted its citizenry the right to brew. The first commercial brewery opened in 1307. Guilds formed around this most influential of professions and both the economic and artistic importance of brewing became so ingrained in Bohemian culture that King Wenceslas was raised to the status of patron saint of brewers. History chugged happily (and not so happily) along for a while. With the 18th century came advancements in brewing technology. The Czechs were supposedly the first to use the thermometer and hydrometer to any great extent. Also new malting processes were making it possible to create lighter, mellower malts. Despite these advancements, much of the fermentation process remained a mystery. In 1838, a group of brewers deemed 36 barrels of ale undrinkable, rolled them into the street, and dumped them. Maybe it was watching so much hard work go down the drain, but in 1840 a bottom fermenting lager yeast was smuggled out of Bavaria by a monk. Serendipitously (or maybe not) this event closely coincided with the arrival of Josef Groll, a Bavarian brewer hired to teach the Plzen brewers the lagering methods becoming famous in Germany. Two years later the Pilsner Urquell brewery began operations. The clear, light colored beer stunned a brewing world used to murky darker beer. And the rest, as they say, is (more) history…. Style Profile Quick Characteristics Color Range: 3.5–6 SRM Original Gravity: 1.044–1.056 Final Gravity: 1.013–1.017 IBU Range: 35–45 ABV Range: 4.2–5.4 Aroma: Clean With a Rich & Complex Sense of Malt; Spicy Notes; Slight Diacetyl Tones Flavor: Complex Malt; Spicy Tones; Possible Diacetyl; Clean, Noticeable Bitterness Appearance: Clear Pale Gold to Dark Orange Gold; Dense White Head Mouthfeel: Medium Bodied with Medium Carbonation Food Pairings: Ham & Cheese Sandwiches, Bratwurst, Corn, Rice, Rhubarb Pie Though copied and reinvented across the world, a true Bohemian Pilsner has little of the character most people, especially Americans, associate with the name Pilsner. It is nothing like the watery, predominately tasteless, lack-luster, mass-marketed expression so common on our shelves. The guidelines for the Bohemian Pilsner beer style are set by the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) Style Committee. The below details are a summary of what you should expect from a Bohemian pilsner. Appearance: A good Bohemian Pilsner will be very clear pale gold to darker orange gold. The head is dense, creamy-white, and should last a good amount of time. Aroma: Aroma is clean, with a rich and complex sense of malt. The Saaz hops will contribute spicy notes to the whole. There can be slight diacetyl (butter-like flavor) tones, but no fruity esters should be present. Mouthfeel: If diacetyl is present mouthfeel may seem fuller. Otherwise, a good example will be medium-bodied with medium carbonation. Taste: Taste will be rich, with complex malt rounded nicely by spicy tones from the Saaz hops. Diacetyl may be part of the flavor profile, but should be restrained if present at all. Bitterness is noticeable but with no hard edge and should run cleanly into the aftertaste. Finish is clean, crisp, with no noticeable fruity esters. Examples of the Style Pilsner Urquell (Pilsner Urquell Brewing, Czech Republic)The definitive example of the style, brewed at the same place since 1842. Pravda (Ninkasi Brewing, OR)Great American Beer Festival winner 2013. Available January through April. Czech Style Pilsner (Gordon Beirsch Brewing, CA)Great American Beer Festival winner 2013. Available year round. Radegast Premium (Radegast, Czech Republic)World Beer Cup winner 2014. Velkopopovicky Kozel O11 (VelkePopovice, Czech Republic)World Beer Cup winner 2014. Parda Echt (Budweiser Budvar, Czech Republic)World Beer Cup winner 2014. How to Brew a Bohemian Pilsner Recipe If you’re interested in making your own Bohemian pilsner recipe at home, here are a few things you should know before brewing. Water: Plzen water is probably the softest water used in brewing. The easiest way to replicate Plzen water is to use distilled. Remember you will lose some water through the brewing process, so buy extra. Around 7.5 gallons should do for the all-grain brewer. Extract brewers can probably get by with a gallon less. If you go the water treatment route instead, know that the Parts Per Million (PPM) levels for all common minerals need to be in the single digits. Malt: For authenticity, European pilsner malt is a must and if you really, really, really, want traditional, under-modified Moravian malt may be hard to come-by, but is around. Remember though that using under-modified malt is going to make your brew day longer and much more complicated (more on this below). The original triple decoction Plzen mash is a thing of complex, diabolical beauty. Three different times during the mash a third of the whole is removed, boiled, and added back to in increase the overall temperature. This was done, at least in part, to deal with the under-modified malt, which required more energetic boiling to release sugars and reduce the larger amounts of protein. If you decide to go this route, you are a true traditionalist (masochistic too) and I tip my hat to you, but you will have to do some serious reading on this, most complicated of mashing schedules, before taking the leap. One alternative to going all out authentic while still keeping true to the single malt idea is to do a single decoction. This is done by taking one third of your entire mash during the protein rest and raise its temperature to between 148-154°F. Hold this for around 15 minutes, raise it to boiling and hold for another 15 minutes. During the boil stir like your beer depends on it, to prevent burning. After the boil add it back to the rest of the mash. Because some caramelization happens during boiling, doing this single decoction will give add complexity, even when using only Pilsner malt. Another alternative is to complicate your grain bill a bit. The bulk of the grain bill will still be pale pilsner malt, but add maybe 10% very pale caramel malt (for mouthfeel), and up to 8% of Munich for some added color. Even some acidified pilsner may be in order to lower mash pH. There are plenty of good pilsner recipes out there, find one you like, and give it a shot. The good thing about most of these recipes is that they can be accomplished with a far less complicated mashing process. Extract Brewing If you are using malt extract, freshness will make a huge impact on the finished beer. Use dry extract over liquid, but whichever you end up with, remember, use them fresh. Hops: Traditionally, Saaz hops are used for bitterness, aroma, and taste. Sterling and Tettnang have similar profiles though, and could make up all or some part of a recipe, especially if Saaz are not available. Yeast: Yeast should be a Czech lager yeast such as White Labs Czech Lager or Wyeast Czech Pils. Fermentation: Strict lager fermentation temperatures should be adhered to, with primary at about 50°F, secondary at 35 to 40°F, and a couple days late in fermentation at 60 to 65°F. Cheers!