Pilsner Lager (all-grain)

It’s almost Oktoberfest season, and something in me just craves crisp, bready, delicious lagers around this time. I did an extract Oktoberfest lager last year and it was decent, but I wanted to try something a little lighter, more along the lines of a “festbier”, a style which has become a more modern counterpart to traditional darker, maltier Oktoberfest/Marzen style.

There are a couple things I want to get a sense of in this batch: 1) what does a good portion of vienna malt taste like? And, 2) what is melanoidin malt and what does it do for me?  If you’re seeing melanoidin and thinking it’s some kind of infectious skin disease, nay my friend.  Melanoidin is a compound that is formed when malted grains are brought to a boil on the side of the mash, then re-added to the mash to raise the temperature. Why the heck would you even do that? This is a traditional German method of brewing called a “decoction” mash, and it produces these interesting melanoidin compounds which bring out a unique malty sweet character very typical of German beers, while still being dry and crisp.  Decocting, however, is time consuming and is definitely not for beginners, so I’m saying away from that. Instead, you can actually buy and use small quantities of melanoidin malt for a similar effect. So, we’ll see how much, if at all, this works. I threw this recipe together by the seam of my pants, so this will be a good test of my recipe-creating intuition, too! (all German malts were used)

  • 7 lb Pilsner malt
  • 3 lb Vienna malt
  • 1 lb Carapils
  • 0.5 lb Melanoidin malt
  • 1 oz Hallertauer hops (60 min)
  • 1 oz Hallertauer hops (40 min)
  • 1 oz Hallertauer hops (20 min)
  • White Labs Pilsner Lager yeast

// 15.25 qt water (1.33 qt/lb) 165F strike, mashed at ~154 for 60 min. Sparge w/ 168F water to collect 8 gallons 1.033 pre-boil wort. Boil hard 90 minutes, end with ~5 gal 1.049 wort after leaving behind about 0.5 gal trub. Cool to ~75, let sit for 25 minutes to let hops settle before transferring to primary. Pitch a starter and aerate, then place in temp controlled area at ~50F. //

UPDATE #1:  Fermentation got going pretty quick, but was veeeery sluggish throughout. I gave it 11 days in the fridge at 48F, then removed it from the fridge and let it sit at room temp for 3 more days for a diacetyl rest.  At the end of the first 11 days, it was still bubbling at rate of about once every 15-20 seconds, and never really picked up past that during the whole time it was in the fridge. After the next three days at room temp, it had slowed to once every 30-40 seconds, but was still apparently rockin’. Opening up the primary, there was still a good layer of yeast krausen on top, and the beer was suuuper cloudy. A quick gravity reading showed 1.013, so I’d say it was pretty much done. To taste, it’s less than perfect. Despite having fermented so cold, it’s got a lot of fruity flavors going on. It does have a nice German pilsner-y taste, but the amount of yeast still hovering in the beer is presenting some off flavors.  I guess I could’ve given it longer in the fridge, but I needed to make space for the dopplebock that was up next in the queue (also to be lagered). I racked it to the secondary and placed in the fridge at ~35F, so hopefully this will mature a little more before it’s ready to serve after 4 or so weeks. After looking at the spec sheet for this yeast, it looks like I was fermenting a little too cold, so that might explain the slowness.

UPDATE #2 (10/15/12): Tried a few sips after 4 weeks in secondary. Aroma has a sweet little buttery-ness to it, and is almost champagne-like. Not overpowering, but actually very resemblant of some types of Helles German lagers (like a Dab), rather than pilsner (like an Urqell).  It tastes really nice. Again, a tiny bit buttery up front, but afterwards has a nice malty, bready, slightly toasted sweetness which is backed up by a hint of bitterness. It’s fairly crisp, but still even a tiny bit cloudy, so I think it’ll only get crisper and more delicious with time. I added 1 oz of Hallertauer hops in a cloth bag with a few marbles to sink it to the bottom, which made a loud clunk when it hit the floor of the secondary (hopefully this didn’t kick up too much yeast in the process.. :-X). This should add a nice little hop nose to compliment the maltiness. Really impressed with how much this has turned around!


Well, the dry hops weren’t such a good idea after all. I left them in there for 1 week, then racked to the keg. It’s weird. A little grassy taste.. definitely hoppy, but not as subtle as I thought it’d be for this particular lager. Definitely not like a dry-hopped pale ale either – it’s more floral and citrusy.  It really hides everything I liked about this before I dry hopped, so that sucks. In the finish you get some of those bready/buttery flavors, but not nearly as much. I’m hoping that, with some time, this hoppy grossness will die off and leave me with more of what I had prior. Also, it even seems cloudier than before, so that kind of puzzles me. Pretty pissed at myself, given how much time I spent lagering this, but hey, live and learn. I can sort of visualize this dry hopping being a nice touch in smaller quantities (maybe just 1/2 oz for just a few days), but still, I’m having a hard time grasping how this would taste good in a clean, crisp lager anywhere. From now on I’ll probably not dry hop this style, especially if it turns out more on the buttery and cloudy side.

ANOTHER UPDATE: So, after 3 weeks in the keg, the dry hopping became much more subtle and this beer is very, very enjoyable now. It’s very anti-classic-pilsner – still very cloudy, and a bit fruity tasting – it actually reminds me more of a wit-beer (minus the wheat) than a pilsner in both aroma and taste. Strange, but delicious. The aroma has developed a sweet, lemon-y, fruitiness which reminds me of a nice wit. The yeastiness is likely also contributing to this correlation. I might even decide to dry hop my next wit with Hallertau! In terms of mouthfeel, it has tremendous body which might even be too much (it’s borderline chewy and really coats your tongue) likely from the carapils and melanoidin malt combo. Might want to scale back slightly on these.






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Filed under German, Lager, Pilsner

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