Our Love Affair with Czech Pilsner

Plzeňský Prazdroj Open FermentersPlzeňský Prazdroj Open FermentersIn this article, we talk about Czech Pilsner, and why we love it so. We then talk about how to make the original style at home.

It all started on our honeymoon to the Czech republic back in 2005. Being beer lovers, we spent a couple of days in Pilzen, where the original pilsner beer was made.

While in the Czech republic, we ate out frequently, and enjoyed the Czech beers. They were very drinkable and balanced. They were hoppy by historical standards, but not when compared to the craft beers popular in the northwest US at the time. The Czech people drink the most beer per capita, by a wide margin. Part of this is culture, but part of it is the supreme drinkability of the Czech pilsners. Keep reading below...

Map of Lagering Caves in PilzenMap of Lagering Caves in PilzenClick images to enlarge. If you are ever in Pilzen, CZ, we recommend taking the Pilsner Urquell (Plzeňský Prazdroj) brewery tour. The modern production facilities are pretty impressive, but we found the old way of brewing and lagering even more interesting. There are hundreds of miles of tunnels which were excavated under the rock to naturally provide a cool environment for bottom fermentation and lagering. There, you may try the pilsner in its original form; unfiltered, open fermented, and served from a wooden cask. It is amazing.

Pilzen Lagering CavePilzen Lagering CaveSince this trip to Pilzen, our love of Czech pilsner has not faded. Now that we run a brewing supply store, we often try to recreate the original Czech pilsner recipe. There are four areas to focus on, of course: Water, malt, hops, and yeast.

You have two main choices for your malt: an under-modified floor malt, or a more modern pilsner malt. For the most authentic flavor, our Czech pilsner recipe uses a floor malted barley, which requires some extra care in mashing. In this case, the malt bill is just 100% floor malted pilsner barley. The double decoction mash schedule, along with the floor malted barley, creates all the complexity and balance you should need. If you are going with a more modern pilsner malt, you may want to add 10% vienna malt for extra color and malt complexity. You can also add a couple of percentage points of a dextrine malt (e.g. carapils™).
Weyermann® has a good article on floor malted Bohemian pilsner malt, and how you should mash it.

Pilzen water is soft. It contains only 10 ppm Ca, 3 ppm Mg, 3 ppm HCO3-1, 4 ppm SO4-2, 3 ppm Na+1, and 4 ppm Cl-1. Portland's tap water is also very soft and has similar concentrations. Our approach will be to stick with our soft water (low mineral content), and adjust the pH with the addition of acidulated malt (2% of malt bill, as Weyermann® recommends).

For more about mash water and important ions, see Palmer's How to Brew chapter. The latest edition book is even better, and is available in our store.

Saaz hops. Done.

Wyeast recommends four possible yeast strains for your Bohemian (Czech) pilsner. As with all lager fermentations, make sure you pitch plenty of yeast to control things like diacetyl. Our handy page on Pitching Enough Yeast has recommended pitch rates. Make a starter or use two packs of yeast. Diacetyl control can be challenging, especially with the Bohemian Pilsner strain.