Tuesday, 1 September 2015


Beer style corner: Bohemian Pilsner

By Mikko Pludra

Cold fermentation with bottomfermenting yeast has been known in Bavaria since about 1380. Due to the low temperatures required, brewing was limited to the colder season: as soon as temperatures started rising in spring, brewing with bottomfermenting yeast had to be suspended until autumn. A ducal edict from 1553 allowed brewing only from St. Michael (29. September) to St. George (23. April).

In order to have the popular, thirstquenching brown beer available in summer, barrels would be stored in large cellars or caves cooled with glacial ice from the Alps: this is the origin of the name lager beer, which means stored beer.

In the mid19th century, two new lager beer styles were introduced, which would have a profound impact on worldwide beer development. In 1841, Austrian brewmaster Anton Dreher used the Bavarian fermentation method together with golden Vienna malt to brew the first pale lager beer – Vienna Lager. Only a year later, in 1842, the newly founded Burgher Brewery in Pilsen, Bohemia, became birthplace to the Pilsner beer style, which would play a dominant role in the worldwide beer market for over a century. The original beer was, and still is today, known as Pilsner Urquell, as Bohemia was then part of the German speaking AustroHungarian empire.

The raw materials available in Bohemia are part and parcel of this success story; Moravian brewing barley is low in protein, Pilsen water is extremely soft and low in minerals, and Saaz hops is well known for its delicate aroma and flavour.

According to beer writer Michael Jackson, Bohemian Lager should be between 4 and 5% alcohol by volume, have a herbal, flowery hop aroma and a long, dry and hoppy finish. He also provides us with an overview of the historic brewing method at one of the most famous Bohemian breweries: Budějovický Budvar, the original Budweiser brewery. At Budvar, the brewers used 100% Moravian floormalted Pilsner malt, a double decoction mash and lauter lasting 6 hours, a 2 hour boil with whole Czech hop flowers and a 3 month lagering period after fermentation with Czech lager yeast. This provides the characteristic smooth mouthfeel, full body and creaminess that is so typical of the beers of the region. Brewing Bohemian Pilsner at home With the 2015 revision of the BJCP guidelines, the style Bohemian Pilsner has now been renamed Czech Premium Pale Lager.

Brewing Bohemian Pilsner at home
With the 2015 revision of the BJCP guidelines, the style Bohemian Pilsner has now been renamed Czech Premium Pale Lager.
The vital statistics are:                 
• OG: 1.044 – 1.060
• FG: 1.013 – 1.017
• IBU: 30 – 45
• SRM: 3.5 – 6
• ABV: 4.2% – 5.8%

There are two possible approaches to recreate an authentic Bohemian Pilsner at home: use a classic recipe and method with decoction mash, or apply modern brewing techniques with modern ingredients. Most modern breweries use the second approach for economic reasons, however there are still breweries like Pilsner Urquell that brew using traditional methods.
Soft Melbourne water is well suited to brewing Pilsner style beers. Use minimum salt additions (preferably calcium chloride) to achieve a concentration of max. 50ppm calcium.
Traditional floormalted Bohemian Pilsner malt, but a good quality European Pilsner malt will do in a pinch. About 5% of Acidulated malt ensures good mash pH. Double decoction method. Sparge very slowly. Alternatively, use a modern malt bill with a regular temperature step mash (50°C62°C72°C78°C).
Example: 60% Bohemian Pilsner malt, 20% German Carapils, 15% light Munich malt, 5% Acidulated malt.

Best quality Saaz hops, preferably whole hop cones. Two to three additions to approx. 3540 IBU; the final aroma addition should be around 1g hops per litre. First wort hopping is traditional: place the first bittering hops charge into the boil kettle before starting the lautering process.
A healthy pitch of of Czech lager yeast like Wyeast 2278 or White Labs WLP800. Cold fermentation at 10°C13°C and a long (min. 6 weeks) maturation period will provide the right flavour profile and mouthfeel. Use a pitching rate calculator to determine the right starter size.

Sources: H. Hanghofer: Gutes Bier selbst brauen; H. Dornbusch: Weyermann Ultimate Almanac of World Beer Recipes; M. Jackson: Beer Hunter; BJCP Guidelines 2015

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