Pilsner Lager Recipes – Beer Styles

by Brad Smith on December 14, 2008 · 13 comments


Pilsner beer is remarkable not only for its modern dominance, but also its relatively recent origins. The popularity of Pilsner is truly worldwide, so much so that Pilsner recipes still dominates the US and many other beer markets. It is simply the most popular beer style in the world.

Pilsner’s origins can be traced to a single date and location. On November 11th, 1842, in the town of Pilsen the first keg of Pilsner Urquell was tapped. (Ref: Daniels) This makes Pilsner one of the youngest beer styles, even among lager beer styles which were brewed in nearby Bavaria at least back to the 1500’s.

Pilsen in Bohemia (modern day Czech Republic) had a unique combination of ingredients and circumstance to create the Pilsner style. First, the surrounding country produced light 2-row Moravian barley, considered the finest light malt for brewing beer. Second, the country produced a hops originally known as Zatac red, now called Saaz (from Zatac). Saaz hops is a noble hop prized for its aroma.

Third, Pilsen had extremely soft water that is desirable for making very pale beers, and also enhances the bitterness from the hops. Finally, Bohemian Pilsen shared many brewing techniques with nearby Bavaria. The first Pilsner was created with a combination of these four elements and the important fifth element of Bavarian lager yeast. The result was the palest of lagers with a refreshing aromatic hop finish that we now know as Pilsner.

The Pilsner Style

The defining example of Pilsner is the original Pilsner Urquell from the Pilsner Urquell brewery in Pilsen, Czech republic. In fact the word Pilsner is reserved in Bohemia exclusively for brewers in Pilsen.

Pilsners have an original gravity between 1.044 and 1.056, very light color of 4-6 SRM and hop rate of 35-45 IBUs. They have light to medium body, a clean flavor and finish with low diaceytls. They are hoppy and slightly malty with no aftertaste. They are typically well carbonated, and often served in a tall Pilsner glass to enhance the perception of carbonation.

Brewing Pilsner Beer

The unusually pale color of Pilsner derives from the use of Moravian Pilsner malt that is malted at the brewery at the low temperature of 100-122F versus 170-180F for an average lager malt. The lower temperature develops less melodin and a far lighter color than conventional lager malt. It also leaves some residual moisture that will spoil Pilsner malt if not used quickly.

Moravian Pilsner malt is most desirable for brewing Pilsners, though it can be difficult to find here in the US. Pilsner malt from other sources is an acceptable alternative, and lager malt can be used in a pinch, though it will result in a darker beer than true Pilsner malt.

Brewing light colored Pilsner from extract can be a challenge as extracts are inherently darker than corresponding grain malts due to the extraction process. The best course of action is to choose the lightest possible pilsner or lager malt extract if you want an authentic light pilsner color.

Pilsner Urquell uses 100% pilsner malt, with no other additions. Some home brewers will use a small amount (<10%) CaraPils or very light Crystal malt to add body and head retention.

Pilsners use a Bavarian style of three step decoction, though Pilsners typically are mashed with unusually thin decoctions, and then boiled for an extremely long time (often 2-3 hours) to boil off the excess water added. However, many modern commercial and home brewers use a single step infusion mash at 153 F (67 C) with equally good results. Some do add a protein rest.

Saaz hops is used exclusively on traditional Bohemian Pilsners, with hops added at the start of boil and the last hop addition about 30 minutes before the end of the boil.

Soft water is a key ingredient in Pilsner. Pilsen water has extremely soft water containing only 50 parts per million of hardness. For homebrewers, you can often start with distilled water and add the minimal water minerals needed to approximate Pilsen water.

Bohemian Lager yeast is the ideal yeast to use for a full bodied Bohemian style, though in a pinch Bavarian or another continental lager yeast can be used for a lighter, drier taste. Your lager should be fermented at 50F and lagered at low temperature of 35-40F for three to five weeks before serving.

Pilsner Recipes

You can get additional recipes of all kinds from BeerSmithRecipes.com.

I hope you enjoyed this week’s article on Pilsner Beer. Thanks again for visiting the BeerSmith Home Brewing Blog. Please consider subscribing or leave a comment if you enjoyed today’s article.

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Avg Bear December 21, 2008 at 12:13 pm

I brewed my first pilsner last weekend. All grain, step mash with a protein rest at 125° and saccharification rest at 153°.

Everything went well until I was ready to pitch my yeast (White Labs WLP830 German Lager). The starter reeked of sulfur. We decided to abort with that starter – luckily my friend was brewing a vienna right after my pilsner and I was able to swipe a portion of his starter (Wyeast 2308 Munich Lager).

I’ve read that German lager yeasts can produce a slight-to-moderate sulfur odor, but I still think mine was contaminated. Anyone else had a similar experience?

Brad Smith December 21, 2008 at 1:01 pm

Lager yeasts are notorious for generating sulfur smells from DMS. Fortunately this rarely creates a problem and the sulfur smell and tasts subsides with proper aging. If you had lingering sulfur smell/flavor you might want to check out the separate article here on the blog on troubleshooting (section on DMS):
Troubleshooting Homebrewed Beer

Allison White February 19, 2009 at 1:12 pm

I studied in Prague for a semester while in college and I have to say Pilsner Urquell is still my favorite beer. It doesn’t taste as good in the states so I’ll just have to make my own 😀

Matt Evans December 29, 2012 at 2:44 pm

Getting ready to brew my first pilsner, or lager for that matter, and looking up recipes. Thanks for the info. I spent four years teaching in Slovakia and made many trips to Czech Republic and really developed a taste for the pilsner in both Czech Republic and Slovakia. It’s not Monrovia, by the way, it’s Moravia where the malts come from! I spent lots of time there as well.

Joe T February 26, 2013 at 10:59 am

The all grain Bohemian pilsner recipe uses British pale malt for the base! Seriously? Pilsners are brewed with pilsner malt! There’s so many recipes out there on the interwebs, but so few are good recipes! I’m sure it makes a tasty hybrid lager, but that ain’t no bo-pils!

Jaber March 30, 2015 at 10:47 am

I want to use a reverse osmosis system to purify my water but i don’t know how much residual minerals i”ll get after that. Is there a way to know how much i need to add to get to pilsner water profile ?

Kelsey September 28, 2016 at 7:57 am

I’ve been tinkering with a Bohemian Pilsner recipe for the last 18 months or so and have pretty much got it where I want it now. I have a water still to make my own distilled water which I then add minerals back to when I brew with it. I use over 95% Bohemian Pilsner malt (Weyermann), with the rest being made up of 2% or so each of acid malt and melanoidin malt. I mash it at 63C for 40 minutes, 72C for 30 minutes before mash out (BIAB no sparge), then boil for 90 minutes adding Saaz at FWH, 80 minutes and 15 minutes to around 40-45 IBUs. Will experiment with a flameout addition of Saaz on my next batch. Fermented with Wy2001 at 10C. Taste wise it comes in very close to Urquell, it’s just missing the aroma for some reason. In any case it’s very nice and it is brewed once every three batches so I always have it on tap. Cheers!

Jezza July 2, 2017 at 6:36 am

Yer dang straight, Joe

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