Czech Pilsner

My homebrew club recently had a competition centered around Bohemian-style pilsners. I’ve done a few iterations, but haven’t quite hit where I want to yet. The primary issue concerns hop aroma–it’s really, really hard to get good Saaz as a homebrewer. Gotta keep trying.

Czech Pilsner

  • 10.5 lbs. Barke Pilsner malt (Weyermann)
  • 2.4 oz. melanoidin malt (Weyermann)
  • 0.3 oz. Carafa Special III malt (Weyermann)
  • 2 oz. Saaz hop pellets (3.0% alpha), 60 minute boil
  • 1 oz. Saaz hop pellets (3.5% alpha), 60 minute boil
  • 1 Whirlfloc tablet, 10 minute boil
  • 1 tsp. Fermax yeast nutrient, 10 minute boil
  • 2 oz. Saaz whole hops (2.8% alpha), 5 minute boil
  • 1 pkg. WLP800 Pilsner Lager yeast, prepared in starter

Target Parameters

  • 1.050 o.g., 1.010 f.g., 5.2% abv, 35 IBU, 5 SRM
  • 60 minute infusion mash, 150°, batch sparge
  • Water built from RO, to hit target of 20 ppm CA, 8 ppm Na, 15 ppm SO4, 35 ppm Cl, -61 ppm RA


  • I made a 2L yeast starter a few days in advance, and cold crashed it, followed by decantation of the spent wort.
  • I built up the mash water using 0.6 g baking soda, 0.4 g CaCl, 0.4 g gypsum, added to 8.5 gallons of RO water.
  • I mashed in with 3.5 gallons of water at 161°, to hit a mash temperature of 150.2°. I added 7 mL of 88% lactic acid, to adjust the pH of the mash.
  • After a 60 minute mash, I batch sparged in two steps (first of 1.25 gallons, second of 3.6 gallons). At each step, I let the mash sit for 10 minutes, vorlaufed, and collected the runnings.
  • In total, I collected 6.9 gallons of runnings with a gravity of 1.043, for 75% mash efficiency. Right on target!
  • I boiled for 60 minutes, adding stuff per the recipe, and then chilled after flame-out.
  • I transferred the wort to my fermenter, and put it in the fermentation chamber to drop down to 48°. This took a few hours. Then, I oxygenated for 30 seconds and pitched the yeast.
  • I fermented the brew at 50°. The brew date was 25 May 2019.
  • After three weeks, I raised the temp to 65° for a few days, then cold crashed. After a few more days, I kegged the beer using a semi-closed transfer (CO2-flushed keg, but just air-pushed the beer into the keg). Alas, I neglected to take a final gravity!


  • I didn’t get to do a formal tasting before the keg kicked, but did get a few quick observations.
  • The beer flavor was a bit too forward on the melanoidin; I will just ditch that in the future! I am still in search of good hop aroma…overall, the beer is just OK with good clarity, decent head; not quite there yet. Bitterness level is about right. Malt body is about right.
  • Overall, 6/10.

GBP70 – Bohemian Pilsner Recipe & Tasting

In honor of my dad’s 70th birthday (he introduced me to homebrewing, after all!), I brewed a Bohemian-style pilsner. It was pretty tasty, and sadly didn’t last long enough even for me to do a formal tasting. I made the mistake of serving it at a party, and the keg was finished before I could blink!

GBP70 (Greg’s Birthday Pilsner 70)

  • 10.5 lbs. Barke pilsner malt (Weyermann)
  • 2.3 oz. melanoidin malt (Weyermann)
  • 0.3 oz. Carafa Special III malt (Weyermann)
  • 2 oz. Saaz hop pellets (3.0% alpha), 60 minute boil
  • 0.75 oz. Saaz hop pellets (3.5% alpha), 60 minute boil
  • 1 Whirlfloc tablet, 10 minute boil
  • 1 tsp. Fermax yeast nutrient, 10 minute boil
  • 2.25 oz. Saaz hop pellets (3.5% alpha), 5 minute boil
  • 2 pkg. W34/70 Saflager Lager Yeast (Fermentis)

Target Parameters

  • 60 minute infusion mash, 150°, no sparge
  • 1.049 o.g., 1.010 f.g., 5.2% abv, 38 IBU, 5 SRM
  • Water built from RO to hit targets of 7 ppm Ca, 2 ppm Mg, 2 ppm Na, 5 ppm SO4, 5 ppm Cl, 15 ppm HCO3


  • To 7.75 gallons of RO water, I added 0.6 g baking soda, 0.4 g CaCl, and 0.3 g gypsum.
  • I heated the mash water to ~160°, added to the mash tun, allowed to cool to 155.4°, and then added the grains along with 10 mL of 88% lactic acid.
  • I hit 150.7° on the mash temperature–not too bad! It was down to 148.7° after 45 minutes.
  • After 60 minutes, I collected 6.5 gallons of wort with a gravity of 1.041. This works out to 67% efficiency. That’s a fair bit lower than my typical efficiency (73 to 75%), but not unexpected given the no-sparge methods. I added 0.25 gallons of RO water to bring up the volume in the kettle.
  • I boiled for 60 minutes, adding hops and other ingredients per the schedule.
  • I chilled the wort to 75° in the kettle, and chilled the rest of the way down to 49° after transferring to the fermenter. I oxygenated for 60 minutes at this point, and then pitched the dry yeast directly into the wort.
  • Starting gravity was 1.046 on 12 January 2019.
  • I raised the brew temperature to 64° on 26 February 2019, and cold crashed on 28 February 2019. I kegged the beer (using a closed-transfer technique, directly into the CO2-purged keg) on 9 March 2019.
  • Final gravity was 1.010, down from 1.046. This equates to 4.9% abv.

IMG_20190327_202833General Tasting Impressions

I didn’t get to do a formal tasting for this one, and it was finished before it really hit its ultimate peak, but overall I’m pretty happy with it. The malt flavor was spot-on, and I think I’ve finally iterated into a good balance of melanoidin malt within my no-decoction Bohemian pilsner recipes. The beer was pretty clear, but would have cleared to brilliant with another week or two in the keg. The head and head retention were fairly good also, but not the best I’ve ever had. Not sure why that was. I’m still chasing a perfect Saaz hop aroma in my Bohemian pilsners; it’s just a matter of finding the right hops with the right freshness. The ones I used in this batch weren’t awful, but they weren’t awfully exceptional, either. Overall, I would give this recipe 8/10, with targeted improvements to mainly chase the best possible hop flavor.

Beer Tasting: Try Again Bohemian Pilsner

My recent version of a Bohemian pilsner has been on tap for a few weeks, and is at its peak for enjoyment. Today, I did a head-to-head with the classic flagship for the style, Pilsner Urquell.


Head-to-head Bohemian pilsners! Pilsner Urquell is in the glass on the left, and my homebrew version is at right.

Try Again Bohemian Pilsner

  • The Basics
    • 1.053 s.g., 1.014 f.g., 4.2% abv, 36 IBU, 5 SRM
  • Appearance
    • Pours with a fine white head with excellent persistance. The beer itself is a golden hue, nearly an exact match for Pilsner Urquell but perhaps just a notch lighter. It is very clear, but not quite brilliant (Urquell has a slight edge here). In terms of appearance, mine is equal in color, better in head (and head retention), and needs slight improvement in clarity.
  • Aroma
    • My beer tips a little bit more towards malt prominence; there is a very slight spice note from the Saaz hops, but that’s still not quite where it should be. Urquell has the hop note perfectly, so I give it a slight edge on this count.
  • Flavor
    • Bitterness levels are not quite evenly matched between Urquell and mine; Urquell comes across as a bit more bitter. Mine has a nice malt character, but this is slightly at the expense of the hops. The malt on my homebrew is rich and bready, and the bitterness stands well against that. The finish is balanced well. Relative to Urquell, it tips more towards the malt than bitterness on the finish, and I prefer the hoppier Urquell version a bit more.
  • Mouthfeel
    • My brew has a medium body and moderate carbonation. Urquell is definitely drier than my beer, with a more extended and more bitter finish. The finish on mine is smoother yet I prefer the Urquell “bite” just a touch.
  • Would I brew this again?
    • Yes, with a few minor modifications! There is lots I like about my beer, such as the appearance and malt character. I do feel like it could be a bit drier and crisper (relative to Urquell), because the hops are just a tiny bit “flabby”. My main adjustment would be to increase the hopping, and mash at a slightly lower temperature to dry out the beer a bit. I might also try halving the melanoidin contribution; I think it might be contributing some unfermentables that keep the beer from being as dry as it might be. The Barke pilsen malt that I used in this recipe has plenty of character on its own, anyhow!
  • Overall
    • 7.5/10


Try Again Bohemian Pilsner

I’m craving a good Bohemian pilsner…especially that nice flavor and aroma of Saaz. My last effort was fairly disastrous, thanks to a bum batch of hops. Pro-tip: if it smells way too grassy before throwing them into the wort, throwing them into the wort won’t improve things.

In any case, I’ve got new hops, new grains, and a new recipe. I’ve cheated a bit with the grain bill, kicking in some melanoidin and Carafa III for a bit of extra malt flavor and color, respectively. For my interpretation I’ve amped up the Saaz a bit on the late-hop side, too.

Try Again Bohemian Pilsner

  • 10 lbs. Barke Pilsner malt (Weyermann)
  • 0.25 lb. Melanoidin malt (Weyermann)
  • 0.2 oz. Carafa III malt (Weyermann)
  • 2 oz. Saaz hop pellets (3.0% alpha), 60 minute boil
  • 1 oz. Saaz hop pellets (2.2% alpha), 20 minute boil
  • 2 oz. Saaz hop pellets (3.0% alpha), 10 minute boil
  • 1 oz. Saaz hop pellets (3.0% alpha), 5 minute whirlpool
  • 1 Whirlfloc tablet, 10 minute boil
  • 1 tsp. Fermax, 10 minute boil
  • 2 pkg. Bohemian lager dry yeast (Mangrove Jack’s M84)

Target Parameters

  • Infusion mash to hit target of 149°, 60 minutes, batch sparge.
  • 1.052 o.g., 1.011 f.g., 5.5% abv, 36 IBU, 5 SRM
  • Water built from RO with 0.5 g CaCl, 0.5 g epsom salts, with 6.5 mL of 88% lactic acid added to mash to adjust pH


  • I mashed in with 3.5 gallons of water at 160°, to hit a mash temperature of 150°. The mash was down to 145° after 65 minutes. I added 1.25 gallons of water at 185°, let sit for 10 minutes, vorlaufed, and collected the first runnings. I then added 3.5 gallons of water, let sit for 10 minutes, vorlaufed, and collected the remainder of the runnings.
  • In total, I collected 6.8 gallons of runnings with a gravity of 1.046, for 83% mash efficiency!
  • I started the boil, adding hops and various finings and nutrients per the schedule above. After 60 minutes of boiling, I turned off the flame and added the final charge of hops.
  • After 5 minutes of whirlpooling, I chilled down to 75° or so. Then, I transferred the wort to the fermenter, and let it chill overnight (~10 hours), down to 48°.
  • I brewed the beer on 12 May 2018. On the morning of 13 May 2018, I oxygenated the wort for 45 seconds and pitched the yeast (rehydrated in 1 cup of boiled and cooled water).
  • Starting gravity was 1.053, nearly exactly on target.
  • After pitching, I set the temperature on the fermentation chamber to 52°, letting the beer free-rise from 48°.
  • One day after pitching (14 May 2018), no fermentation activity was yet visible, but the fermenter gave off bubbles when I agitated it gently. By the morning of 15 May 2018 (48 hours post-pitching), visible krausen was forming.
  • On 20 May (7 days after pitching the yeast), I raised the fermentation temperature to 54°.
  • On 23 May, I raised the fermentation temperature to 56°.
  • On 25 May, I raised the fermentation temperature to 58°.
  • On 27 May, I raised the fermentation temperature to 60°. At this point, the gravity was 1.014.
  • On 2 June, I cold crashed down to 33°.

The Session #125 — Pale European Lagers: The Ultimate SMaSH beers

thesessionNote: This is my first time contributing to The Session, a monthly blogging challenge for beer aficionados. For The Session #125, Mark Linder chose the topic of SMaSH (single malt and single hop) beers.

SMaSH beers–those brews marrying a Single Malt variety and a Single Hop variety–are often promoted as something that’s interesting to try but not particularly versatile. As a homebrewer, I’ve usually thought of them as a tool to explore ingredients, perhaps fun as a technical gimmick but not necessarily a pathway to truly exceptional beer. Sure, you could get some good stuff, but it would lack complexity and get boring after a few pints. SMaSH beers were a way to turn out some pale ales with funky new hop varieties, but these were only a brief stop along the journey to a more worthy recipe. Don’t even bother entering them in a BJCP competition, because they won’t hold up well relative to their rivals with a longer ingredient list.

Then I discovered the Bohemian pilsner.

When I first sampled American-style craft beer, the cheap American lagers of my early days faded into mental oblivion. Why even bother with a watery fizz-drink, when you could blast your taste buds with a triple imperial IPA touting 190 IBUs, 12 percent alcohol, and five varieties of hops? Or what about a delightful English porter, with its malty backbone and slightly fruity yeast character? Clear beers were for quitters and college students. European lagers were mildly intriguing, but typified by badly aged and skunky six packs in green bottles. Why bother with that, when there was a world of fresh local craft brew and homebrew to explore?

An Archaeopteryx-linked beer requires the appropriate glassware.

My first homebrewed Bohemian pilsner (made with genuine Jurassic ingredients!)

Not too long ago, though, I decided to dip my homebrewing toes into the lagered waters. Bohemian pilsner (a.k.a., Czech pilsner, a.k.a., Czech premium pale lager in the 2015 BJCP guidelines) caught my attention early on…it was the original pilsner, after all! What better way to learn what this beer is all about?

Yet, I was shocked by the simplicity of the classic recipes! Bohemian pilsner malt. Czech-sourced Saaz hops. Soft water. Clean lager yeast. The rest is just up to technique–in particular, a good decoction mash was apparently the key to success.

My first attempt at a Bohemian pilsner wasn’t perfect, but wow, it was pretty darned good. This was the first time I consciously experienced Saaz hops, finally getting a name to match with that distinctive aroma and flavor. It was also the first time I experienced a genuinely fresh European-style lager in the United States, and I finally knew what the big deal was all about.

This spurred a realization. SMaSH beers weren’t just for pale ales. In fact, pale lagers are the most reliable ticket to SMaSH success. Quality malt. Quality hops. Careful water chemistry. A clean fermenting lager yeast. A bit of skill. All of this combines to a memorable and surprisingly complex brew. Of course, Czech pilsner isn’t the only lager style with a simple recipe. Munich helles, German pils, and others jostle alongside in the running. Any of these can be done quite well with a short shopping list. This is what makes them so hard to do exceptionally well, perhaps–any flaws can’t hide behind crystal malt and yeast esters.

So, what’s the style best suited to a SMaSH beer? I love all of my European pale lagers, but Bohemian pilsner wins for me every time.