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!


Blogger Steven said...


How'd this turn out? Reading the recipe brainstorm process has me intrigued.

12:38 PM, July 08, 2011  
Blogger Russ said...

Still lagering. The last time I tried it I found it to be a little fuller than I had hoped, but I'll check it again in another week (I'm having issues with the keg--I'm barely getting a trickle out of the outlet--which is why I haven't been, um, "sampling" more frequently).

9:48 PM, July 20, 2011  

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