Aug 26 2011

Bohemian Pilsner – Czech Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself


This beer did not turn out to be a Bohemian Pilsner.

So, now that you’ve been warned, let’s talk about my entry for the Pilsner Urquell Master Homebrewer Competition. When the competition was announced, signing up for it was a no-brainer. Pilsner Urquell was running a contest in three cities (New York, Washington DC, and Chicago) to see which homebrewers could brew the best “Czech style” pilsner. The winner from each city would win a trip for two to Plzen to visit the Pilsner Urquell brewery, as well as attend the International Bartender Awards in Prague.

Hey. I’m a homebrewer. I’ve been meaning to brew a Bohemian Pilsner. I only live 2 hours away from Washington DC. I’m into free trips to Europe. It made all the sense in the world.

But I didn’t think this was going to be a slam dunk. I have experience making lagers and brewing for competitions, but light lagers are a different species. And I had never done a triple decoction, which is a mashing process that this style is known for. But I figured this would be a fun experiment and I could lean on my friend, and local pils and Czech beer expert, Velky Al.

The formulation of the recipe was pretty simple as this one is almost 100% pilsner malt and definitely 100% Saaz hops. For the base malt, I used the Weyerman Bohemian Pilsner Malt, which is a lower Lovibond barley with a bit more complexity than the standard German pilsner malt. To round out the malt bill, I used 12 ounces of CaraPils, to improve head retention and give the beer a bigger mouthfeel, and a few ounces of acidulated malt to lower the pH of the mash and wort.

The matter of the triple decoction was the difficult part of the brewday. I imagine triple decoction was born out of necessity back when the grains were much less modified than they are today. By pulling out the thickest part of the mash and boiling it three different times, it darkens the color of the mash, makes the wort more fermentable and gives the beer a more complex malt character. So I followed all the steps and pulled off thick portions of the mash into a little pot and boiled them to raise the larger wort up the next step temperature.

Triple Decoction: One of the step heatings

A rare sighting of Assistant Brewmaster Jasper 


I can give you a flowery passage right here that describes how wondrous the triple decoction mash process was. How it brought me closer to the origins and magic of brewing. It did. But I don’t see myself doing this again anytime soon.

Go ahead; tell me that triple decoctions do something special to the beer. Tell me that this archaic process is not just for show. I believe you. I really do. But sometimes that is not enough when I look at the limited amount of time I have to brew. But I’ll save my thoughts around triple decoctions for another post…

So how did the beer turn out? Disappointing.


The picture above was of a sample of my beer (the one on the right) that I pulled off and carbonated while the rest of the batch was still lagering. The color was on. The clarity of the beer got much better after weeks of lagering, but not to the level of a commerical example of PU.

The taste of the beer? Well, there wasn’t much taste at all, and aroma was underwhelming, as well. Honestly, professional macro-brewers would be blown away by how clean and free of flaws this beer was. It was amazing. And amazingly boring to me. Al astutely thought it was closer to a Dortmunder Export, but I’ve made those in the past and I didn’t feel that that style was a perfect fit either. Since I knew I didn’t have the time to re-brew and lager, I dry-hopped the beer with an ounce of Saaz just to give it a little something…more.

As I knew from the start, this beer isn’t in the recipe. It is in the process. I think, now having one triple decoction brew under my belt, I could do better with that process in subsequent brewings. Also, I would probably do a less dramatic diacetyl rest. Urquell has a definite diacetyl flavor, which I dislike, and keeping some of that butteriness would make it closer to cloned and maintaining a cooler temp would likely keep the final gravity a few points higher.

I did not, unsurprisingly given my tasting of the final beer, place in the final six homebrewers in the D.C. competition. But, again, I felt it was a longshot in the first place.

The event was very cool and classy, and wonderfully hosted by Smith Commons. For more information on the event there’s a press release and Tom (@LugwrenchBrew), who accompanied me to the gig, wrote a post about the Pilsner Urquell Master Homebrewer Competition, too.

It was educational, and I’m always down for a brew that throws me out of my comfort zone. And a Bohemian Pils is certainly that.


Czech Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself- (Bohemian

Starting Gravity: 1.056 (4/17/11)
Secondary Gravity: 1.012 (5/18/11)
Final Gravity:  1.012 (6/24/11)
5.9% alcohol (by volume)
Apparent Attenuation: 57.8%
Real Attenuation: 47.3%

Mash (See Below)
14 lb Weyerman Bohemian Pilsner Malt
12 oz CaraPils Malt
3 oz Acidulated Malt

Boil (80 min)
1.5 oz Saaz Pellet Hops (3.9 AA) (60 min)
2.0 oz Saaz Pellet Hops (3.9 AA) (30 min)
1.0 oz Saaz Pellet Hops (3.9 AA) (10 min)
1.0 oz Saaz Pellet Hops (3.9 AA) (10 min)
1 tablet Whirlfloc (Boil – 15 min.)

½ tsp Brewer’s Choice Wyeast Nutrient Blend (Boil – 10 min.)

Primary (50º F) 2 Weeks

2 packs Wyeast 2001
Urquell Lager – Starter Made

Secondary (33º F) 6 Weeks

1.0 oz Saaz Pellet Hops (3.9 AA) (Dry Hop) (6/15/11) for 7 days


May 4 2011

Organic American Wheat with Rakau Hops – Haka

In 2009, I made a Gumballhead clone that turned out great and not too terribly far off the mark from the original. It even got a silver medal in the Dominion Cup for the Light Hybrid Beer category.  I wanted to make it again but, being me, I couldn’t make the same recipe twice.

In the end, I changed more things than I expected.

I wanted to keep the same grain base, which was almost a 50/50 split between American 2-Row and Wheat malt with a touch of Crystal 20L. The first was a single hopped beer of all Amarillo, so the real question was what hop did I want to highlight with this batch?

After some random conversations and stumbling around, I came across a New Zealand hop called Rakau. I could only find it on the Seven Bridges Cooperative website and it was described as having a “fruity character with tropical aroma highlights of passionfruit, mango, and peach.”

That sounded interesting and, since the Seven Bridges Coop is all about organic products, I decided to make the entire batch organic. After further conversations, and some advice from Bison Brewing, it didn’t appear that brewing an organic beer was in anyway different from the my normal brew day.

The only wild card was that I ordered the wrong yeast for the beer. I meant to get the WLP001 California Ale yeast, but accidentally asked for the WLP060, which is an American Ale Yeast Blend. The WLP060 is a mix of the WLP001 and two others strains, and sounds like it brings more of a lager character to the beer. This would accentuate the bitterness and the hops.   

These are the three organic grains: Crystal 20L, American 2-Row and Wheat Malt

These are the Horizon hops since the Rakau were pellets and really boring to photograph

The final change in the beer was a major one and completely accidental. In fact, it would be better labeled as a sloppy mistake. While putting this recipe into my brewing software, the Horizon hops defaulted to 0.25 ounces and I simply forgot to adjust it up to 1 ounce. Since Horizon is a 10.2% alpha acid hop AND it was added for the full 60 minute boil, it blew the IBUs off the top of these beer. Instead of being ~25 IBUs, like a normal American Wheat, this one is probably closer to 60 IBUs, like an American IPA.

I don’t what that spells for the beer. From my pre-carbonation tastings, it isn’t overwhleming bitter, but it certainly isn’t an American Wheat anymore. The hops are evolving. It is certainly like nothing I’ve made before.

It is named “Haka” for a traditional dance form of the Maori of New Zealand. I first saw this dance performed by the New Zealand All Blacks before a rugby game, and it was nothing but intensity and intimidation.

Just like this beer so far.

Haka – (Organic Rakau American Wheat)

Starting Gravity: 1.057 (4/3/11)
Final Gravity:  1.012 (5/4/11)
6.0% alcohol (by volume)
Apparent Attenuation: 78.1%
Real Attenuation: 64.0%

Mash (@150º 70 min)
5 lb American 2-Row
5 lb Wheat Malt
1 lb 20L Crystal Malt

1.00 oz Horizon Leaf Hops (10.2% AA) (60 min)
0.75 oz Rakau Pellet Hops (12.7% AA) (15 min)
1.00 oz Rakau Pellet Hops (12.7% AA) (5 min)
Irish Moss (Boil – 15 min.)

Primary (66º F)  

WLP060 American Ale Yeast Blend – Starter Made
2.0 oz Rakau Pellet Hops (12.7 AA) (4/27/11) (Dry hopped for 7 Days)


Mar 17 2011

Scottish 80/- Homebrew – Piper Down

The next beer in my series of style driven beers, fermented at low temperatures and using the East Coast Yeasts, was my Scottish 80/-. This was the last of my ECY yeast and it was the Scottish Heavy:

“ECY07 Scottish Heavy: Leaves a fruity profile with woody, oak esters reminiscent of malt whiskey. Well suited for 90/shilling or heavier ales including old ales and barleywines due to level of attenuation (77-80%) – recommend a dextrinous wort. Suggested fermentation temp: 60-68°F”

The only problem was that I just wasn’t in the mood for a Wee Heavy, and I was more interested in turning a beer around in 4 or 5 weeks, rather than months. So I decided that I was going to make an 80 shilling, even though the final beer and recipe might border into the 90 shilling territory.

Although I will admit to drinking a lot of Killian’s Red in my misspent youth, I know very little about the Scottish and Irish ale styles, so this seemed to be a good time to brew one. (And, I apologize to all proper Irish Red beers by mentioning you in the same paragraph as Killians, which I believe is really an amber lager.)

Referring to the homebrew master, I checked out Jamil’s take on the style. He advised to do some kettle caramelization and a colder than usual fermentation. So I took the first gallon of runnings from the mash and boiled it separately until it was reduced to ½ a gallon, and then I poured that into the full boil.

My Youngest Holding the Only Specialty Grains in the Beer: Black Roasted Malt

Milling the Grains


I’m a Morning Brewer, But This Brew Day Ran Long. A Rare View of My Burner After Dark

It was later that I made my bonehead move of the day. (There is always one and it is always different with each brew day.) After crashing the wort down to 70º F, I put it in the cooler to drop the last 4 degrees, added oxygen and the yeast, and then simply forgot about it. The next morning, instead of finding it bubbling way, I discovered that the carboy had dropped to 54º F.

I rocked the carboy, turned the cooler off and left the door open, and let it warm up to 66º F. Luckily, the ECY07 was up to my cruel challenge, and began fermenting later that day.

I’ll try to come back to add some tasting notes, but I’m happy with how this beer has turned out thus far. It is still young, but it is malty, pretty clean and has a smoky note that came from the yeast.

This one is called “Piper Down”.


Piper Down – (Scottish 80/-) (6 gallons)
Starting Gravity: 1.062 (2/13/11)
Secondary Gravity: N/A
Final Gravity: 1.014 (2/28/11) Days
6.4% alcohol (by volume)
Apparent Attenuation: 76.5%
Real Attenuation: 62.7%

Mash (70 minutes ~154º)
12 lb Maris Otter
3 oz Black Roasted Barley

Boil (75 min)
1 oz EK Goldings Pellet Hops (4.5% AA) (60 min)

Primary (66º F)
East Coast Yeast – Scottish Heavy ECY07 – 125ml (No Starter)

Lagering (32º F)
No secondary, but it was crashed down to lager for 3 days


Mar 15 2011

Why are Commercial Breweries Afraid of the Berliner Weisse?

The Berliner weisse style is a favorite among homebrewers.

It’s a sour session beer, around 3% ABV, which originated in Germany back in the 16th century. I’ve brewed this style several times, with great results, and it always seems to popping up in homebrew tweets. Just last week, James from Basic Brewing Radio and The Mad Fermentationist talked about brewing the style in a podcast.

Yet, for all our love of the BW, there are very few examples of the style that are commercially available. If I am lucky, I might be able to find a few bottles from two breweries at the best local beer store. The Bruery’s Hottenroth and Fritz Briem’s 1809 immediately come to mind.

This had me wondering why are the commercial breweries so far behind the homebrewing community with this style?

And let’s not pretend that I have some inflated opinion of the homebrewing and its effects on breweries. Sure, most pro brewers started their careers with small batches made at home, and homebrewers have the ability to wildly experiment with new styles and ingredients without hurting the bottom line of a business. So there a safety net there in that only pride, and not a company, is hurt when a 5 gallon batch is poured down the drain.

This isn’t an experimental style. It is pretty clearly defined, and no more challenging to make than any other sour.  In fact, it can be turned around in a matter of weeks, rather than months, so that should be attractive to a commercial brewery from a simple logistical standpoint.

I can think of dozens of other reasons why and why not, but it seems like something better throw out to the community.

I say this in some jest, but why are commercial breweries afraid of the Berliner Weisse?