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