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Old 11-18-2012, 05:11 PM   #1
LeFreek
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Default Advice on how to brew a "simple" pilsner lager

It is a known fact that pilsner lagers are the most difficult to brew for homebrewers. For the last 4 yours I did an attempt every year to brew a "simple", "supermarket", pilsner type lager. Never to my own satisfaction. The pilsner usually ends last of all my beers I send to a competition. It is perceived as too sweet or with a harsh bitterness. Could you please share your experiences and give advice on the following topics:

  • Water: Our tapwater is of average hardness. For pilsner one needs soft water. Practical suggestions?
  • Final gravity: I reach 1009 with all grain, and 1007 with the help of 8% sugar. What to aim for?
  • Yeast: I currently use the well-praised Saflager W34/70 dry yeast.
  • Malt: I currently use pilsner malt + 7-10% cara pils (5 EBC) + last time sugar.
  • Lager temperature: Currently 10 C (50 F) while fermenting, hopefully dropping to 0 C (32 F). I have a large vessel in an unheated barn, so it all depends on the wheather.
  • ...

All suggestions are appreciated.
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Old 11-18-2012, 05:19 PM   #2
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Originally Posted by LeFreek View Post
It is a known fact that pilsner lagers are the most difficult to brew for homebrewers. For the last 4 yours I did an attempt every year to brew a "simple", "supermarket", pilsner type lager. Never to my own satisfaction. The pilsner usually ends last of all my beers I send to a competition. It is perceived as too sweet or with a harsh bitterness. Could you please share your experiences and give advice on the following topics:
  • Water: Our tapwater is of average hardness. For pilsner one needs soft water. Practical suggestions?
  • Final gravity: I reach 1009 with all grain, and 1007 with the help of 8% sugar. What to aim for?
  • Yeast: I currently use the well-praised Saflager W34/70 dry yeast.
  • Malt: I currently use pilsner malt + 7-10% cara pils (5 EBC) + last time sugar.
  • Lager temperature: Currently 10 C (50 F) while fermenting, hopefully dropping to 0 C (32 F). I have a large vessel in an unheated barn, so it all depends on the wheather.
  • ...

All suggestions are appreciated.
Use 100% RO water from the grocery store. Only the RO water, with no additions, but you can use 5 grams (1 teaspoon) of calcium chloride if you are feeling that you need to add something (but you don't, for a pilsner). If that isn't quite right, for the next batch add 1 teaspoon of gypsum. But I don't really like pilsners with much sulfate, so I'd save that for "next time" if yours haven't been coming out that great.

Your grain bill (92% pilsner malt + 8% dextrine malt) is fine. No sugar.

Ferment at 50 degrees, pitching a HUGE starter. HUGE. Pitch at 45, and allow to warm to 50 degrees to ferment. After 7-10 days, do the diacetyl rest. After the diacetyl rest, rack and lager at 32 for 1 week for each 8 points of OG. That is, for a 1.050 lager, lager for 6-7 weeks.

I've never used that yeast strain, but I have had great results with Wyeast yeast strains. My favorite was the pilsner urquell strain. (Can't remember the number).

Use only noble hops. Target 25-40 IBUs. An FG of 1.008-1.012 is great.
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Old 11-18-2012, 06:53 PM   #3
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Originally Posted by LeFreek View Post
It is a known fact that pilsner lagers are the most difficult to brew for homebrewers. For the last 4 yours I did an attempt every year to brew a "simple", "supermarket", pilsner type lager. Never to my own satisfaction. The pilsner usually ends last of all my beers I send to a competition. It is perceived as too sweet or with a harsh bitterness. Could you please share your experiences and give advice on the following topics:
  • Water: Our tapwater is of average hardness. For pilsner one needs soft water. Practical suggestions?
  • Final gravity: I reach 1009 with all grain, and 1007 with the help of 8% sugar. What to aim for?
  • Yeast: I currently use the well-praised Saflager W34/70 dry yeast.
  • Malt: I currently use pilsner malt + 7-10% cara pils (5 EBC) + last time sugar.
  • Lager temperature: Currently 10 C (50 F) while fermenting, hopefully dropping to 0 C (32 F). I have a large vessel in an unheated barn, so it all depends on the wheather.
  • ...

All suggestions are appreciated.
Water: "Average" hardness is too general a description to offer much help. I would take Yooper's suggestion and start with either RO or distilled water. You then need to add Calcium. My suggestion is to use Calcium Chloride. (Gypsum is a sulphate salt and IMO the chloride is a far better choice for a light lager) Using one of the online brewing water calculators add enough CaCl2 to bring the Ca+ up to 60-75 PPM (ml/L).

Final gravity: Don't worry about that now. Improvements to other techniques will help bring that down.

Yeast: I'm not a big fan of dry lager yeast although many are. If you have access to liquid cultures like those from White Labs and Wyeast I'd suggest using one of those. My first choice for your beer would be Wyeast 2042 Danish lager with second choice being White Labs WLP-802 Budvar. The 2042 is the Carlsberg strain and will yield a little drier beer than the southern German types of which the W34/70 is one. If using a liquid culture again follow Yooper's suggestion and prepare a larger starter before brewing.

Malt: Your selection sounds fine although I would cut back on the CaraPils percentage to 3-5% especially since you seem to desire a drier brew. You have not given your mash temps. For single temp I'd shoot for 65C.

Temperature: The temperatures sound good. Don't neglect to give the beer enough time to finish fermenting. 10-14 days in primary is not unreasonable, lagers take more time than ales.
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Old 11-19-2012, 10:05 AM   #4
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Default Please elaborate?

Yooper and BigEd,

Thanks for your excellent comments. These are things I will definitely do following your advice:

  • Use Wyeast #2042 Danish Lager yeast
  • Cut back Cara Pils to 3%
  • No sugar

Also some things I already did:
  • Target 25-40 IBUs (35 to be exact)
  • Use only noble hops: Saaz and Hallertau Mittelfrueh
  • Long fermentation, up to 3 months

And finally some points I hope you would care to elaborate upon:
  • FG: Up to 1012 is acceptable for a dry lager?
  • Water: Current water hardness = 9.6 deg DH. I have a detailed water report, but in Dutch and lengthy. RO = Reversed Osmosis? I am not sure if RO or distilled water is available for consumption purposes in the Netherlands. Need to find out. Pretty sure you cannot buy it at a supermarket. More like battery water at a garage. Any European homebrewers with experience?
  • Diacetyl rest: Is that required if one starts fermenting at 50 F? Never tasted a hint of diacetyl in my pilsners.
  • Yeast starter: How large is large? I have a starter setup with continuous stirring, aereation and heating to 25 C (77F) for ales, 20 C (68 F) for lagers. For ales I use ratio starter:wort = 1:40, for lagers 1:20.

Regards, Freek
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Old 11-20-2012, 01:47 AM   #5
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Originally Posted by LeFreek View Post

And finally some points I hope you would care to elaborate upon:[LIST][*]FG: Up to 1012 is acceptable for a dry lager?
I would say yes, but would again suggest to not concern yourself with it. Whatever it comes out to don't worry and if the beer tastes good, drink it.



Quote:
Originally Posted by LeFreek View Post
[*]Water: Current water hardness = 9.6 deg DH. I have a detailed water report, but in Dutch and lengthy. RO = Reversed Osmosis? I am not sure if RO or distilled water is available for consumption purposes in the Netherlands. Need to find out. Pretty sure you cannot buy it at a supermarket.
From my limited understanding of that scale, dH 9.6 seems like very hard water and not desirable as is to brew a light lager. Yes RO = Reverse Osmosis, a popular choice in parts of the US that have very hard water. You will need to find either an alternate source of soft water or some way to drastically dilute your tap water.



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Originally Posted by LeFreek View Post
[*]Diacetyl rest: Is that required if one starts fermenting at 50 F? Never tasted a hint of diacetyl in my pilsners.
Sometimes you do and sometimes you don't. Sorry but there is no definitive answer here. The best suggestion is to taste the beer towards the end of primary fermentation and see what you think. If you have any doubt just do the diacetyl rest. Doing an unnecessary one won't hurt anything and will only cost you a little time & effort.



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Originally Posted by LeFreek View Post
[*]Yeast starter: How large is large? I have a starter setup with continuous stirring, aereation and heating to 25 C (77F) for ales, 20 C (68 F) for lagers. For ales I use ratio starter:wort = 1:40, for lagers 1:20.
That sounds sufficient.

Good luck with the brew.
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Old 11-20-2012, 10:54 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by LeFreek View Post
...
  • Cut back Cara Pils to 3%
    ...
  • Target 25-40 IBUs (35 to be exact)
    ...
  • Long fermentation, up to 3 months
    ...
  • Yeast starter: How large is large? I have a starter setup with continuous stirring, aereation and heating to 25 C (77F) for ales, 20 C (68 F) for lagers. For ales I use ratio starter:wort = 1:40, for lagers 1:20.
Cara Pils at 2%-3% is good. 10% is way too high.

I'd aim more for 20-25 IBU, because I like to enjoy the other subtleties of beer than just hops.

That yeast starter is definitely too small (see yeastcalc.com) since I think you're saying you'd use a 1L starter for a 5-gallon batch. But I truly don't think this is your biggest problem.

And just to nitpick: don't expect a 3-month "fermentation." Fermentation should be done in 7-10 days. Then you'll want to lager for several weeks in a secondary container.
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Old 11-20-2012, 10:57 PM   #7
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I'd consider aiming lower on the hops if you're getting "too hoppy" comments in competitions. 20 IBU's can seem too hoppy in light beers, at times. Long aging can mellow this out, though, too. Only use noble hops, too. Diacetyl is similar to what many of us do even with Ales, where we raise temps after or near end of fermentation in order to encourage yeast to stay in suspension and clean up their mess. Generally done at 75% of gravity. I have a light lagerbier that was at 1.020 from 1.050, expected to finish around 1.010, so that was 75% dead-on, and I removed from ferm chamber, currently on basement floor wrapped in blankets where the ambient is pretty consistently 64. I'll leave them there 2-3 days then lager.

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Old 11-28-2012, 09:25 PM   #8
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Default Thanks for comments

SpeedYellow & tre9er,

Again, thanks for you useful comments.

@SpeedYellow: I am indeed using little over 1 L starter for a 5-gallon (=23 L?) batch of lager. What would you suggest instead?

@tre9er: Comments on my pilsner are not "too hoppy", but "harsh bitterness". I will, however, reduce calculated IBUs to below 30.

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Old 11-28-2012, 09:32 PM   #9
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If you are getting harsh bitterness, then I would try only doing late addition hops (30 min left and under). Or at least reduce the amount of 60 minute hops considerably.

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Old 11-28-2012, 10:18 PM   #10
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...
@SpeedYellow: I am indeed using little over 1 L starter for a 5-gallon (=23 L?) batch of lager. What would you suggest instead?...
Use yeastcalc.com as a guideline, but don't treat it as absolute law. I've made plenty of great lagers with <1L starters, but I found my beers ferment much faster when I pitch closer to yeastcalc's recommended amounts (like 8 days versus 20). Generally, you'll be fine with 2-3L starters. But if your yeast is old and/or you're making high-OG beers, sometimes the calcs call for much bigger starters. In that case, I'll do 2-stage starters (to economize on DME) but you could instead buy an extra yeast pack or just make one really big starter. Pick up a 4 liter growler ($5) from your LHBS.
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