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WLP802 Czech Budejovice Lager Yeast – Slow Does The Trick

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White Labs produces Lager yeasts with nice malty profiles and WLP802 Czech Budejovice is one of them. As you can probably suspect from the name, it is best suited for Czech lagers. According to White Labs’ webpage, the yeast attenuates at 75-80% and ranks medium in both, flocculation and alcohol tolerance. The optimum fermentation temperature is between 50F and 55F (http://www.whitelabs.com/yeast/wlp802-czech-budejovice-lager-yeast)

The Good

This yeast has never failed me. It tears through a wort in roughly a week and leaves behind a fairly clean, very malty lager. Even without a starter, it never failed to eat the sugars I threw at it.

The Bad

Without a starter, it can be a bit nerve wrecking, because WLP802 takes it own sweet time to get things going. I am averaging between 48 and 60 hrs before I see activity in the fermenter.

Conclusion

For a malty Bohemian lager I can recommend WLP802 any time. Just remind yourself  that Czech Budejovice is a workhorse, but not a race horse.

Brewing a Bohemian (Czech) Pilsner

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Introduction

Sometimes tasks that seem to be overwhelmingly complicated are actually quite simple. And then there is the flipside: tasks that look like a cakewalk, have hidden complications that make us regret our earlier assessment. So what could be easier than take a few pounds of Pilsner malt, some hops, and yeast and brew a Pilsner? Well … brewing a Pilsner is not that difficult, I’ll admit that. Brewing a GOOD Pilsner however, that’s another story.

What makes a good Pilsner? Or better –  what makes a good Bohemian (or Czech in export markets) Pilsner?

Well, there is the robust bitterness, that is not harsh, but very smooth and drinkable. There is the grainy taste of Pilsner malt and thicker, more complex malt character. The color is light, but can lean to golden and the appearance should be clear. The Czech Saaz hops have infused the beer with a light, floral spiciness, that tickles the nose and the tongue, but the bitterness does not linger.

This is a cold beer for a warm summer day, sitting in the shade of a tree on wooden benches, a beer to be enjoyed slowly as

A Munich Biergarten

the wind ruffles the leaves above and the grass below, and conversations turn to anything else but work and mundane worries. Pilsners can very easily be noble dinner beers, but for me, the Bohemian Pilsner, has an unbreakable link to Biergartens and everything that is conveyed by the untranslatable German word “Gemuetlichkeit”.

Brewing a beer that evokes all these images puts a lot of pressure on the brewer. Skill and technique are big factors in achieving the balance between maltiness, bitterness, and drinkability. But it is also a question of  procuring the right raw materials, because Bohemian Pilsner, as many beers, is very much a product of its original environment.

Planning

Constructing a Pilsner means going back to the time and place where it all started. In 1842, Josef Groll brewed the first Pilsner in the city of Plzen (Pilsen) in Bohemia . But more about that in the History of the Bohemian Pilsner. Pilsen water is is especially low in minerals and that softness lowers the harshness of the hop bitterness and rounds out the flavor.

For hops Groll used Red Zatec (or Czech Saaz). These spicy floral hops were so highly priced in former times, that smuggling their rhizomes was punishable by death.

The basemalt was Moravian barley, that was only lightly kilned and made for a light, clear, flavorful beer.

Water

In order to replicate the soft brewing water of the Pilsen area, I dilute Arrowhead Mountain Spring Water, with 50% distilled water. Arrowhead does not give exact water tables for their Mountain Spring Water, but only ranges. By Diluting it with 50% distilled water, I should soften the water enough to come close to the Pilsen water.

Hops

Czech Saaz hops are readily available and I will target a bittering level of 37 IBU. Bohemian Pilsner ranges from 35 to 45 and I am trying to balance the flavor in the middle with an emphasis on the aroma addition.

Malt

Weyermann produces a slightly undermodified Bohemian Floor Malted Pilsner (38 on the Kohlbach index). I could try a step mash without a decoction, but in this case, to emphasize the malt component, I will use a double decoction mash.

In addition I will use 5% light Munich, and 5% Carapils for mouthfeel.

Yeast

I chose White Labs WLP802 Czech Budovice yeast for this Pilsner. It has a malty fermentation profile and should fit a Bohemian Pilsner perfectly.

Recipe

For recipe formulation I am using Beersmith. The volume is scaled from 5 gal to an experimentation batch of 2.5 gal.

The screenshot above shows that I am targeting the upper end of the OG. The bittering units however will be on the lower end. The beer will be malty, but not too bitter.

The mash will be a double decoction:

  1. 145F for the dough in step – hold 20 min
  2. First decoction, raise to 154 – hold 20 min
  3. Boil decoction for 20 min
  4. Add decoction back and raise mash to 154F – hold 30 min
  5. Second decoction boil for 10 minutes
  6. Add second decoction back and raise to 168F for mashout

Brewing

I am using a 10 gal Blichmann Boilermaker as mash tun with a false bottom. The boiling kettle is 8 gallons.

Mashing

  1. 11 qts are  heated in the mash tun to 151F. Dough in settles the temperature at 143F. I raise the temperature to 145F, holding it there for 20 minutes
  2. Within those 20 min I pull a small liquid sample and check the ph with a strip. It is at  5.1.
  3. After 20 min I pull the first decoction (approx. half of the thick mash). The main mash is held at 145F. The grains in the decoction pot are very light.
  4. The decoction is heated to 154F and held there for 20 minutes. The temperature is hard to control in decoction and it escalates to 160F. I turn the heat off and stir it down to 158F.
  5. The decoction is brought to a boil and is boiled for 20 minutes. At the end the grains are noticeably darker and the wort is very sweet from the Maillard reaction
  6. I add the decoction back to the main mash and rise it to 154. The mash is held for 30 minutes.
  7. I pull a second decoction (approx. ¼ of the thick mash). The decoction is boiled for 10 minutes and added back to the main mash. The grains in the decoction are now noticeably darker.
  8. The main mash is raised to 168F for mashout.

Sparging

The sparging water, same as the mash water is diluted 50:50 with distilled water. I recirculate the wort for 5 minutes to settle the grain bed and sparge with 175F water until I have collected 4.3 gal. The ph of the collected wort is at 5.3 and the gravity settles at 1.037.

Boiling

The time for the boil is 90 minutes due to the fact that the majority of the grain bill is Pilsner malt and Dimethylsulfide is present.

4 hop additions are added according to schedule (see Beersmith screenshot above). At 15 minutes before the end 1 tsp of Irish moss is added to the boils and 10 minutes a capsule of yeast nutrients.

Chilling, Settling, Aerating

The wort is chilled for 40 minutes in an icebath, down to 49F. Then I transfer it to a settling bucket and add a gallon of 50% water diluted with distilled water. The OG is now 1.048.  For the next hour, solids precipitate out of the wort. They layer of solids can be easily seen in the picture below as line near the bottom of the bucket.

My fermenter for small batches is a Mr Beer keg. To aerate the wort, I dribble it slowly from the settling bucket into the fermenter. Afterwards the fermenter goes into the fridge to lower the temperature.

Pitching

At 50F I pitch two vials of the liquid yeast. A starter is recommended, but due to time constraints I have to double up on the yeast instead.

The fermenter is now placed in a cooler and held as close to 50F as possible.

Update – Brewday Plus 5

Yeast took 56 hrs to start showing signs of fermentation. Wort now has a tightly laced foam crown on top. Holdeng at 50-53F.

Standby for updates.

History: Czech Pilsner – Bohemian Rhapsody in a Glass

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A Long Tradition Gone Bad

There was something foul in the Bohemian city of Plzen (Pilsen) in 1838.

Plzen in the 18th century

The citizen despised their cloudy, dark, quickly spoiling, top-fermented beer that was brewed in the region. They had good reason to do so. Not far away, in Bavaria, brewers were able to produce a delicious bottom-fermented product that was perfected by cold-lagering. The citizen were so upset in their thirst for good beer that they dumped 36 barrels of their undrinkable brew into the street.

So why were the Pilsners stuck with an inferior beer?

This situation  was especially puzzling and infuriating, since the kingdom of Bohemia has always been a shining star in the art of fermenting grains. Mainly the cities of Prague, Pilsen, and Budweis had a long tradition of brewing excellent beers. In Prague several monasteries were keeping up the good work, and in other parts of the kingdom brewing history can be traced back hundreds of years.

In the 13th and 14th century several Bohemian towns received the rights to brew beer (1). For Pilsen the time came in 1295 when King Wenceslas II. gave the 260 citizens the right to brew and sell the beverage. Located near trade routes to Regensburg and Nuernberg, the setup was ideal.(2)

The first written records of a distinct brewery in Plzen date back to 1307 . Evidence suggests that many of the early residents of Plzen formed joint breweries and even a community malthouse to make production more efficient, with individual brewers making their own wort and then dumping it into a large vat for fermentation .” [Ensminger 1997]

Another asset were the excellent spicy hops of the Zatec region. Those Zatec Red hops were so valuable , that it was a crime punishable by death to smuggle the rhizomes across the border. Eventually the Pilsener brewers formed a guild and took King Wenceslas as their patron saint. Brewing became more and more consistent, and it was the Czechs again that put it in black and white. Tadeas Hajek was a botanist, alchemist, astrologer (3) and he also wrote the first book on brewing in 1588: On Beer and the Methods of Its Preparation, Its Substance, Strengths, and Effects.

This attempt was only part of the quest for better beers that emerged in the 1500s. In Germany the Purity Law (Reinheitsgebot) was put in place to regulate the sale and production of consistently well brewed beer.

 So what had happened between that period and the moment in history, where 36 barrels of beer ended up in the gutter?

The answer is that somebody took a bad fall, and civilizations tumbled after..

Second Defenestration of Prague

 In 1618 the Bohemian Protestants were upset that their Catholic Habsburg king wanted to cut their religious rights.So a group of nobles went to the Hradschin Castle in Prague and threw two Habsburg Lord Regents and their secretary out of the window. They fell into a pile of dung and lived, but many would not, because this event, commonly known as the Second Defenestration of Prague (yes, there was a first one), started the Thirty Year War.

Decline

 The Thirty Year War did not only leave a terribly destructive footprint and took an immense human toll in Bohemia, it devastated all Europe. As for the Bohemian brewing trade it ”wiped out two thirds of the population and saw local town councils and nobility on the losing Protestant side. Brewing privileges were revoked and many breweries were taken over by Catholic nobility loyal to the Habsburg emperor.” (Oliver, 2011, p.140)

Recovery after the war was slow. While the late 1700s and early 1800s brought scientific exploration and better understanding of yeast and the fermentation process, it was still not enough to revive the ailing brewing industry in Bohemia. The beer remained subpar and that is what lead to the eclat in 1838.

New Beginnings and a Bavarian Master

Something good came out of this upheaval, because the good citizens of Pilsen had enough of the bad beer brewed in their vicinity and decided to build their own city brewery, the Buerger Brauhaus. But a brewery alone does not make good beer. It needs good ingredients and the knowledge of brewing. 

Josef Groll

As mentioned before, with the Moravian barley and the Red Zatec hops the stage was almost set for Pilsner beer. It justneeded the right yeast and the right brewer. The German lager yeast had already reached Bohemia through smugglers. It is however doubtful that the right technology and knowledge was in place for cold fermentation. However, the climate and the facilities in Pilsen were similar to the caves that were used in Germany to lager the beer.

 The knowledge came in the form of a  Bavarian brewer by the name of Joseph Groll. The son of a Bavarian brewery owner had the talent to work with bottom fermenting yeast. The brewer was hired and soon found out that he  faced a different set of ingredients than in his homeland. The hops had a spicy character and the soft water was not suited for dark, acidic malts.

 

The New Way

 Ray Daniels in his book Designing Great Beers  (4) speculates on the way the malt was used in Pilsen. Rather than kiln the grains at higher temperatures, it was not kilned at all, but dried, which left moisture in the grain. The non-kilned grain, of course, stayed very light in color, but had to be used quickly because of the remaining moisture. This fact, in turn demanded a maltster that remained close to the brewery, to allow for short transportation times.

 On November 11, 1842 Joseph Groll tapped the  first light, clear beer ever seen before. Today we call it Pilsner Urquell. It was a revolution, and consumers went crazy for it. Joseph Groll himslef left Pilsen after his contract had expired in [], but since Pilsen was located on a trade route, the new beer soon made it across Europe and in 1871 across the ocean to America. New technology (steam, electricity, railway) all contributed to the popularity of Pilsner Urquell.

Gate of the Pilsner Urquell Brewery

What’s in a Name

The name Pilsner was originally only used for beers brewed in Pilsen, but soon was used for many light beers brewed in the style (or just being similar).

 Today, we generally distinguish between three Pilsner styles:

 Bohemian (or Czech) Pilsner

Straw to golden in color, medium body, the flavor is balanced between a complex maltiness and a pronounced, yet rounded bitterness. Some diacetyl can be present in small amounts.

 German Pilsner

Clean, crisp flavor. Bitterness is less rounded and more lingering, body is medium to light. Drier and crispier than Bohemian Pilsner. No diacetyl present.

 Classic American Pilsner

Malty but light, due to the presence of adjuncts. Medium to high hop bitterness. Grainy sweetness can be present.

 

A Moment In Time

For me, the tapping of the first Pilsner in 1842 is one of the great moments in beer history. Whenever I pour a glass of

Source: wikipedia

Pilsner and see the light color and the white, foamy head, I try to imagine how the citizen of Pilsen felt, on that day in November, when they saw it for the first time. It must have been something so new that I want to compare it to the first time somebody saw a smartphone with a touchscreen. Yes, there had been phones before, but this was new and not anticipated.

 They must have felt immediately that this was not only a beer that would benefit their own palates, but a new delicious product that would be desired and drunk all over Europe – and would create profit for them. Today, Pilsner is a beer style that can be found all over the world. As we have seen above, it has been copied and modified to regional tastes.

Next time you are craving a Pilsner, order a Bohemian (or Czech) style. and when you pour it and admire the light color and the white creamy head, try to imagine the surprise and joy of the citizens of Pilsen, when they tasted it for the first time.

Sources

(1) Garrett Oliver: The Oxford Companion to Beer. Oxford University Press 2011. p.140

(2) Peter A. Ensminger: The History and Brewing Methods of Pilsner Urquell. In: Brewing Techniques. May/August 1997.

(3) Miltus Teich: Bohemia in History.Cambridge University Press 1998. p.130

(4) Ray Daniels: Designing Great Beers. Brewers Publications 1996

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