Category Archives: Lager

American Pils Tasting Notes

This was a really enjoyable beer that got a lot of compliments. It was very much a simple, crowd-pleasing lager but I’ll be the first to admit that brewing clean beers like this is not my forte and frankly isn’t all that easy, for me at least. The malt flavor was a little big and sticky in the end and it may have under-attenuated just a bit (I still need to get a refractometer to get a fair reading of final gravity). Using 2-row likely gave a little more flavor and body than using pilsner malt, so adding the melanoidin malt was probably unnecessary, too. The hops were appropriate – they jump out and prep the palatte before letting the malts shine with a crisp finish. My taste for beer pH is still a work in progress, but I think a touch more acidity would have brightened the beer a little. Some acidulated malt would do the trick.

I’ll definitely be using the Saflager 189 dry yeast again. I’m not a frequent lager-brewer but the results with this yeast make me want to make more lagers. Super easy to use (no starter!) and it performed fairly clean in the 55-60F range. There was a slight green apple note in the aroma but it was not off-putting. I didn’t do a diacetyl rest, so the beer did have a slight buttery flavor/aroma, but I prefer a little of that in lagers and think it compliments the malty-ness.

In my quest to brew a Steam Whistle clone beer, this came pretty close and I have a good idea of what the change for next time. Basically just skip the melanoid malt (or decrease just slightly) and maybe try adding a diacetyl rest. This is a good prototype for a German pilsner, too; just increase the bitterness and sub in pilsner malt for 2-row. Maybe even a 2-row/pils mix would be appropriate.


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Filed under Almost SMASH, Lager, Malty, Pilsner, Tasting

American Pils

One of my favorite beer tasting experiences was going to the tasting room at Steam Whistle Brewing in Toronto. The beer was so fresh, crisp, and delicious that I still have dreams about that pilsner. I’ve been wanting to make something that comes close, and, given that it’s tough to find Steam Whistle in bottles near me, I did some research online to see if people know what was in it. This recipe is a representation of those findings.

  • 11 lb US 2-row Pale malt
  • 0.17 lb Melanoidin malt
  • 1 oz Perle 60 min
  • 0.4 oz Saaz @ 5 min
  • 0.4 oz Spalt @ 4 min
  • 0.5 oz Spalt @ 2 min
  • 1 pkg Saflager-189

// Mash-in w/ 4.5 gal at 150 for 60 minutes. 2.5 tsp CaCl2 to mash. Mash-out,  sparge to collect around 6.6 gal 1046 wort. Boil 75 minutes. Chill to 55F, collect 5 gallons 1053 wort. Oxygenate 60s, sprinkle yeast on top. Brewed 1/13/17. Left to ferment between 55F and 60F in the basement. //

1/20/17:  Gravity at 1020, great malt flavor and subtle hop profile. Letting it finish out.

1/27/17:  Gravity at 1012. Moved to fridge.

1/30/17: Doesn’t taste nearly as “fresh” as the first tasting, wondering if i let it sit a little too long. Added gelatin finings.

2/1/17: Kegged. Fairly clear, still some hazy beer left near the bottom of the carboy. Tasting notes.

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Filed under All-grain, Almost SMASH, Blonde, German, Lager, Malty, Pilsner


img_1562I’ve been in lager-mode recently, so I started looking around for a recipe of something that I’ve never brewed before: schwarzbier. I came across a good looking recipe on Brulosophy’s website, so I brewed it almost exactly as-is, except I used Perle instead of Saaz (just what I had laying around).

  • 7.5 lb Pils
  • 2 lb Dark Munich (10L)
  • 0.5 lb Carafa II
  • 0.38 lb Crystal 60
  • 0.25 lb Chocolate (Briess)
  • 0.4 oz Magnum hops (60 min)
  • 0.5 oz Perle hops (15 min)
  • WLP029 (Kolsch/German Ale) 1L starter

// Mash-in 1.6 qt/lb at 152 for 60 minutes, sparge to collect around 6.6 gallons 1044 wort. Boil 90 minutes, collect around 6 gallons of 1052 wort. Chill to 64F, oxygenate, pitch decanted starter. Let to ferment around 62F. Brewed 12/3/16 on grainfather. //

1.25 tsp CaCl2 to mash.

Having not brewed in a little while, I had a bunch of flubs during this batch. First, I didn’t remember to add the mash salts until I was about 40 minutes in. Hopefully late is better than never. Then, right at the end, as I’m almost done chilling the wort, I saw that my temp probe wasn’t fully inserted into the thermowell throughout the whole brew session. Awesome! Hopefully my mash temp wasn’t too far off from what it read.

12/6/16:  Tons of blow off, but finally subsided and yeast seems to have dropped out. Gravity at 1018, slightly sweet but respectable flavor. More roast than I anticipated, and also fairly clean. Moved upstairs to around 68F.

12/10/16:  Gravity at 1014. Really liking how this is tasting. Moved to fridge at 40F. Tasting notes.

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Filed under Balanced, German, Lager

Festbier – review of the new Grainfather system!


My brewing setup consists of converted kegs/keggles, two propane burners, and a chugger pump — a pretty standard RIMS setup which has done me well for the past four years. It definitely comes with its challenges, though. Brewing outdoors exposes you to the elements, so any extreme hot or cold makes things difficult, i.e. hoses freezing up, ground water not cold enough to chill the wort, etc. Any slight breeze or gust of wind diminishes the flame heating the kettle (which is already an inefficient heat source) so keeping a constant mash temp without a temp controller is spotty, and maintaining a steady rolling boil is tricky although manageable. My efficiency is naturally low (usually 65%-68%) because I batch sparge, and my total wort loss from mash/lauter tun and boil kettle combined is around a gallon and a half due to dead spaces, so I lose a good bit of perfectly good wort on every batch.

Sounds like I’m complaining, but it’s a solid system that has produced really good beer (which placed several times in comps). It’s a piecemeal system that wasn’t expensive to put together, but all of its drawbacks have led me to look into overhauling my setup and switching to an all-electric system. I’m not so much worried about the consistency of the beer as much as maintenance and making the brew day easier. Start to finish, a 5-gallon batch on my propane system takes around 6 hours – it’s a long time, and although I’ve accepted that it will take up a good portion of my Saturday, that is a FULL 6 hours of work – constantly checking the strike temp, mash temp, boil level, assembling and disassembling parts for storage… you get the point. Having some automation in the system will allow me to get other stuff done during the day while brewing. The idea of brewing indoors all year round is attractive, and to do so would require ditching the gas burners. There are a lot of electric options for retro-fitting kettles with heating elements, but I came across the Grainfather system and was immediately attracted to its design and compactness. I did some research on what it would cost to build something similar from scratch. It would cost well over $2000, and the Grainfather is competitively priced at $890. So I made easily the biggest brewing purchase I’ve ever made and gave the Grainfather a shot.

The first recipe is a Festbier for Oktoberfest. It’s a simple recipe, and I’ve made this with good results the past few years.

  • 6 lb Pilsner malt
  • 3 lb Dark munich
  • 0.3 lb Caramunich I
  • 1.5 oz Hallertauer (2.5 % a.a.) at 60 and 30 minutes
  • White Labs Munich Lager (2L starter)

// Mash-in 1.5 qt/lb at 152 for 60 minutes, mash out at 168 for 5 minutes. Collect around 7.5 gallons pre-boil wort, boil 90 minutes. Collected around 6.75 gallons of 1037 wort. Chilled down to 82 with ground water, put in the fridge overnight to chill. Pitched decanted starter the next morning with wort at 62F and put in fridge at 48F. Brewed 8/30/16. //

Before I get into my notes of first impressions of the Grainfather, let me say that it’s not surprising to have some hiccups and unexpected issues when completely overhauling your existing brewing setup with an entirely different system. That being said, here are my main notes from first use of the Grainfather. Overall I enjoyed using the Grainfather. The components are extremely well designed and thought-out. You can tell someone who brews a lot made this. The size is awesome and really appealing for someone who doesn’t have a lot of space. Looking forward to continuing to brew on it and make some good beer!


The mashing method for the Grainfather is like a metal brew-in-a-bag. They wisely have the metal basket raised off the bottom of the kettle where the heating element is (to prevent scorching), but there’s probably around a gallon of water that sits below the basket. I used my standard mash-in ratio of 1.5 qt/lb. Before you start the recirculation pump, the mash is THICK. I mean really thick. Once the pump has some time to move the liquid around it’s OK. I later learned that the brewing calculator on their website helps you choose the right ratio for their system based on your grainbill. Highly recommend this.


If you’re like me and switching from a propane system, be forewarned that the boil on the Grainfather is not strong. It’s puny. Barely even what I would call “rolling”.  After doing some research online, several people in forums have noted the same issue. Some say that using an extension cord can drop the power slightly and weaken the boil. I tried both ways – not much difference. After talking with my LHBS expert (who has used the Grainfather extensively), he said that this “weak” boil is both typical for the Grainfather and most commercial breweries. He said that the crazy boils that homebrewers get aren’t common in a commercial brewery simply because its not necessary. I still have qualms about whether you’ll getting a good hot break, though. Regardless, using the Grainfather calculator will help you get your volumes right to account for the true boil-off rates.


This was probably the most seamless part that worked especially well the first time. The inline chiller was able to get the wort down to the temperature of my ground water (85F) and go directly into the fermentor. The hop filter did a good job of keeping back nearly all of the hops from going through the pump. Beats having to stand over the kettle with a copper immersion chiller, stirring constantly for about 20 minutes. The hoses and adaptors for the cold-in hot-out feel a little cheap, but they work.


I should have done more research beforehand, but I totally over estimated the losses. First, the boil-off rate is low (i would guess 6%) compared to the propane setup. Second, there’s much less dead space in the vessel so I only lose about 1/2 gallon to trub/hops. So I wound up with way too much wort (probably 7 gallons or so instead of 5) after the boil so this first batch is a little thin. At the time I didn’t realize that their online calculator accounts for all those parameters to figure out what volumes you need.


The electric controls are easy to use – one switch to activate the pump, the other to toggle between mash mode (temp regulated) and boil mode (full heat). There’s another switch on the bottom of the unit away from the control panel, however, which can be set to “Normal” or “Mash”.  Apparently this switches between using the full electric power or a lower power unit, respectively. Not sure why this type of switching logic wasn’t built into the temperature control electronics, but they provide instructions on when you should use the different modes. It’s not super inconvenient, but it just provides a thing you can potentially forget to set before you use it.


8/31/16:  Lots of activity, no yeast on top yet. Fridge at 48F. Rotten egg smell in the morning, but by night smells clean.

9/7/16: Gravity at 1020. Fridge at 50F.

9/14/16: Turned the fridge off to let it rise up to about 60F.

9/16/16: Gravity down to 1014. Still fruity and cloudy, but with a pleasant bread flavor. Lots of airlock activity still.

9/22/16: Gravity at 1012. Slightly off aroma (sulfur) but flavor is wonderful. Set temp to 36F, will let this sit for a week and then keg!


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Filed under All-grain, Amber, Equipment, German, Lager, Malty

Oktoberfest Lager (all-grain)

DSC_0715Ah, Oktoberfest. All malts are Weyermann. Anticipated OG 1.057, 21 IBU, 11 SRM, 5.6% abv.

  • 6 lb Pilsner malt
  • 3 lb Vienna malt
  • 2 lb Munich dark (10L)
  • 1 lb Caramunich III
  • 1 oz Hallertau hops (German) 60 min 4.1%aa
  • 0.5 oz Hallertau, 20 min
  • 0.5 oz Hallertau, 5 min
  • 2 packs WYeast 2306 Munich Lager

// Mash in 2 qt/lb at 146-148 for 30 min, 158-160 for 30 min, and 168-170 for 10 min. Sparge to collect 7.5 gal 1.041 wort. Boil 90 minutes, collect 5.5 gal 1.057 wort. Chill to 70, pitched yeast and put in fridge at 48F. //

I actually waited about 3 hours after pitching before transferring to the fridge. For some reason, I remember someone saying it’s OK to leave it warm until you see the first signs of activity, then begin to take it down to ~50F. So that’s what I did. Fermentation was fairly active, and, since I didn’t have enough space in the carboy, it overflowed. But not in the normal way. It created this yeast growth thing on top of the carboy because of the cold temperature.

It’s hard to say what temperature primary fermentation occurred at; I was shooting for 50F, but my fridge only goes up to about 42F on the highest temperature setting without shutting it off completely.

UPDATE (9/10/13): After 10 days in the primary, the gravity read 1.02. Tastes nice so far but definitely too sweet and not finished. Took it out of the fridge to do a diacetyl rest for about 2 days, to clean up the beer and get it down to a reasonable gravity. At this point I had to leave for a 2-week vacation, and the beer only got down to about 1.018 in those 2 days. Back in the fridge at around 45. Gravity got down to 1.015 after two more weeks. Tastes great at this point – big, bold caramel aroma flavors with a good amount of bitterness. Not much hop aroma or taste. and it’s nice and clear – most of the yeast dropped out and I think it actually started to lager in the primary. Racked to a secondary and turned down the fridge as low as I could to about 38F.


Overall, a solid recipe for an Oktoberfest. My lagering processes still aren’t great, so there was a little fruitiness, but overall very nice crisp lager taste. It could use a hair more Munich malt (less vienna), or maybe even some aromatic to really beef up the malt aroma. The beer does have good body, but comes more from the mouthfeel and less the malt flavor. The caramel sweetness is a little much, so I’d definitely scale the caramunich back to just 1/2 pound. The hops really didn’t come through at all, which I think would have helped to round out the beer a little more, so next time I’ll probably increase the flavor and aroma hops to 1oz each.

After listening to Gordon Strong’s podcast on Oktoberfest beers, I realized that mine didn’t finish crisp and dry enough to be considered “sessionable” (which is what an Oktoberfest should be!); there was really too much sweetness in the beer to leave you with that crisp lager feeling and desire to have another. Next time I’ll increase the mash time at 146 and decrease at the time 158 to give the yeast some more fermentable sugars.

UPDATE 11/29/13: I entered this in a BJCP competition, so I copied the “Overall Impression” notes below. I think they pretty much sum up all of my feelings about this beer, too, so I’m happy to see that my personal evaluations are in line with those of the trained judges!

“A good example and overall drinkable beer. Fermentation character is evident – lagers should be very clean – ensure full fermentation before racking to secondary.” 29/50

“A nice beer with a good malt profile that could benefit from some additional carbonation.” 33/50

“A very pleasing beer. Needs more malt aroma and less caramel to be closer to style. Ferment several degrees cooler.” 35/50


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Filed under All-grain, German, Lager, Maerzen, Malty

Bock (all-grain)

DSC_0781The next beer I concocted for Oktoberfest was an experiment – a Bock.  This is a German style that’s malt forward, slightly darker and a bit stronger than a Marzen/Oktoberfest beer but all around delicious.  This was my first attempt at a beer that uses nearly all Munich as the base malt, so I was anxious to see the result.

  • 10 lb Munich type 2 malt (9*L)
  • 2.5 lb Pilsner malt
  • 0.5 lb Crystal 120 malt
  • 0.5 lb Melanoidin malt
  • 0.5 lb Honey malt
  • 1 oz Tettanger hops (3% aa, 60 min)
  • 1 oz Tettnager hops (3% aa, 30 min)
  • WYeast Bavarian Lager

// 17.5 qt water @ 165F (1.25 qt/lb), brought mash to ~155F. Let rest for 60 minutes, then batch sparge with 3 rounds of ~2 gallons of 170F water to collect 7.75 gal 1.041 gravity pre-boil wort. Boil hard for 90 minutes, adding hops at the times above. Cool to 75F, then let sit for ~20 minutes to let hop trub and proteins settle out. OG 1.061. Pitched a yeast slurry from the previous pilsner lager, along with the fresh WYeast pack. Let initially sit at room temperature. //

UPDATE: Fermentation started quick – about an hour after pitching – and after 3 hours at room temp moved, it was bubbling once every 2-3 seconds, so I moved to the fridge. Checking out the spec sheet for this yeast, the temperature range is 46-58F, so I’ll put it smack in the middle at 52F. Let it sit 2 weeks at this temperature, then let it warm to room temp for 2 days before racking to secondary. Placed in the fridge at ~25F. Gravity read 1.011.

Coming out of the primary, this doesn’t taste spectacular. Aroma-wise there’s a little sulfur, and some faint maltiness, but overall nothing that jumps out.  Color wise, light brown to dark amber, slightly lighter than I anticipated.  It’s still cloudy as hell, so naturally it still tastes very yeasty.  Otherwise, it’s distinctly fruity, kind of a generic “malty” taste, and has a little bit of a hoppy bite which adds some crispness. Overall, not really impressed, and slightly confused as to why this is not tasting as I picture it. As always, time will tell.

UPDATE 10/18: Took a sip after 3 weeks in the secondary at subfreezing (~28F). Aroma: very malty, almost a stereotypical maltyness. Color: a beautiful ruby red.  Taste: upfront it’s faily bland and watery, but it finishes very sweet and has a nice breadyness to it. You can really notice the honey malt, and it gives it a nice sweetness. At this point I’m not super happy with it, but I think a few more weeks will let it develop. It’s definitely malty, but I’m not sure I like the style.

UPDATE #2 10/24: Transferred to the keg because I needed to clear up space in the fridge. I definitely taste some improvement – the finishing sweetness is nice. A little bit yeasty tasting, but still some nice overall bready flavors. I’m starting to get a better sense of Munich malt. Nice clarity too.


::sigh:: It’s always frustrating when you make a beer that’s considerably not-as-good as ones you’ve made previously. You feel like you’re making good progress, understanding things well, then all of a sudden, you’ve taken a few steps in the wrong direction.  The first all-grain lager I made came out unexpectedly amazing (this was, I think, due to a little luck in terms of ambient temperatures, a solid recipe, and a good amount of yeast to help).  This beer is definitely good, but it is not great.  The aroma is of malt, caramel, toasted bread, and a typical “homebrew-y” yeasty smell. To taste, it follows the nose pretty well – very malty up front, a rich sweetness with a little spicy hop sensation in the middle to end. Nice amount of body, not too light or heavy, right in the middle. I honestly think the Crystal 120 is where this one starts to go wrong. The more beers I make, the less I like caramel crystal malts. They’re definitely fine in small quantities (1/2 lb is still pretty small!) for color, but I think with a lager it really stands out too much given all of the other fairly mild ingredients in this. 1/2 lb would probably suit well in an American Brown Ale or even a porter for some depth.. but in a darker traditional German lager, I’d probably prefer some dark munich, or caramunich III.  I think with better fermentation temps, sub in dark munich for crystal, a dash of chocolate malt, and maybe even change the munich:pilsner ratio to be a less munich-heavy, this beer will be well on its way to a better bock.


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Filed under Bock/Dopplebock, German, Lager

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