Sunday, June 12, 2011

Brew day: Wizard of Saaz Czech-style Pilsner

A couple months ago somebody in my homebrew club forwarded an email from the folks at Pilsner Urquell. They are having a homebrew competition where the winner gets a trip to the Czech Republic. It’s only being held in three cities, and is limited to 30 contestants per city, but Chicago happens to be one of the locations and I got my email in quickly enough that I made the cut.

Now it’s sort of an odd competition. It’s one style only—Bohemian Pilsner (duh)—and 70% of the score is meeting the style guidelines. But 15% of the score is for “artistic interpretation.” So how do you artistically interpret a style as rigid as a Bohemian/Czech Pils? Beats the hell out of me, but fate has helped me out… a little, at least. My original idea was to add a pound of malted rye to give it a little extra spiciness. Unfortunately, some time between brewing our Somethin’ Else India Black Ale and yesterday, the rest of our rye disappeared.

Also, as I sat down at the table at 9pm last night to come up with my recipe, I discovered that most Czech Pilsners have a small addition of crystal malt (usually a half pound of 20L per five gallons). I didn’t have any, and wouldn’t have time to run to the LHBS in the morning, so it was time to improvise.

Here’s what I came up with. First, instead of the rye, I decided I would add a little crushed peppercorn at knock-out to give it some spice. Just a little (3/4 tsp.) so it’s not obvious, but hopefully it’ll give it an unidentifiable kick that will make it stand out.

Second, instead of crystal, I decided to use 3/4 lb. dark Munich plus 1/4 lb. of turbinado sugar. I figured the Munich will give it some sweetness you’d expect from the crystal while the turbinado would give just a little thinness to cancel out the richness of the Munich. Will it work? Probably not, but there’s your artistic interpretation.

The actual brew-day went fairly smoothly. I mashed in at 131°F for a 30-minute protein rest (side note: mashing in at .75 qt/gal. sucks because it's REALLY hard to get a consistent temperature reading) and then did an infusion to get the mash temperature up to 153°F for a 45-minute saccharification rest. Didn't do a mash-out.

One quick note on malt and water, two distinct features of Bohemian Pilsners... The Czech Republic traditionally had under-modified malt (which wasn't a problem when doing decoctions) and Pilsen in particular has very, very soft water. I sort of half-assed both of these features. Since I didn't do a decoction but did do a protein rest, I decided to go with 50% Bohemian malt in my bill. And for the water, I didn't feel competent to build up a water profile from scratch so I used carbon-filtered city water for the mash but then used distilled water for sparging.

I sparged for a half-hour and boiled for 90 minutes with hop additions at 90 minutes, 60 minutes, 45 minutes, ten minutes, five minutes and knock-out (sextuple-hopped!). All were Czech Saaz--the traditional hop for Bohemian Pilsners--except for a little bit of Horizon hops I used in the first addition. I chilled down to 60°F and threw the carboy in my chest freezer to get it down to 45°F. Oh, and I added Irish moss and the turbinado sugar at 15 minutes but totally forgot about the peppercorn. I'm now thinking of adding it to the primary after a few days.

I collected 5.25 gallons and my final gravity was 1052, which is a point above my target. However, I forgot to calculate my starter in my calculations, so after I decant most of my starter and pitch the final quart, I should be at 1051. I'll aerate and pitch this morning and then rack off the trub in a couple days. Will it be Saaz-tastic? I guess we'll find out in August!

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Back from Germany... time to brew again!

So, my plan to blog while in Germany didn't really pan out, partly due to a lack of internet access and partly due to being too busy doing the whole vacation thing. I was hoping to do a wrap-up post or two when I got back, but work's been kind of crazy lately and with various summer commitments (including softball three days a week) I haven't gotten around to it yet.

In the meantime, however, I do have a few brewing updates to post about. First, we just kicked both our Altbier and Gose, which means we only have our Dunkel on tap right now. We actually have three kegs to put on (our Pilsner, Belgian IPA and Black IPA--yes, two IPA's at once; I think it's a sign of the apocalypse) but none are carbonated. Oops. Gotta get on that.

The other immediate plan up our sleeves is to brew our Czech Pilsner this weekend. The Czech Pilsner is for a competition sponsored by Pilsner Urquell. If we win, we get a trip to Pilsen in the Czech Republic! No pressure, right?

So that's the short of what's going on. I promise to post about Germany eventually, but for now here's our vacation summed up in one picture: