This is a rather belated post as I actually brewed this back on the 26th Nov, but it is still sitting in the fermenter, keeping relatively cool in the communal stairwell amongst the jungle of plants, and under a bin bag to keep the light (and nosy neighbours) out.
I’m not a big lager drinker by any means, but that is largely down to the predominance of tasteless (or worse) mega lager in the pubs here. Drinking a really good German or Czech lager (one of the many variations, be it Pilsner, Helles, Marzen, Bock etc) is a totally different experience, and thankfully the ‘craft’ microbreweries in the UK are now also producing some nice ones.
Making a Pilsner is something I’ve not tried since I was a PhD student in the early 90’s, and looking back through my notes, I recollect that I had mixed fortunes- at least 2 batches were chucked down the toilet due to infection which left a scum, a strong smell of acetone, and a revolting harsh bitterness that I still remember all too vividly. This will have been due to a combination of too-high fermentation temperature, imperfect sanitation, relatively low hop rates (hops is good preservative and the main reason it was originally used in beer), perhaps a poorly sealed fermentation vessel, and the thought that being a lager, it had to sit for ages before bottling- so it went off. The batches which worked, I remember being pretty good.
That was then, and things are very different now; I have far better equipment, technique, ingredients, and overall brewing knowledge, so I thought it was time to give it another go. Making a good lager, especially a Pilsner, is a challenge, much more so than a hoppy ale. Pilsner is a very pure and clean style, quite dry but with good body, crisply hoppy, but only very light lager malt and a bit of lightly kilned malt such as Vienna, or some light crystal malt for some extra maltiness. It uses the relatively delicate, floral and spicy noble hops- typically Saaz. No hiding behind a load of dark crystal or darker malts and a shovelful of pungent American hops here. Traditionally, fermentation is carried out with bottom-fermenting lager yeast at very low temperatures- around 5-10C, for several weeks, to give a very clean flavour with no esters. It is then lagered (matured) for several weeks just above freezing. Tennents etc barely qualify as lagers at all in the true sense- they get about 24h max cold ‘lagering’ and are not even fermented particularly cold- that would take too long and would cost too much. However, you have to give them credit for being able to churn out millions of litres of consistently bland beer year after year- that is actually quite a technical achievement, whether you like the product or not!
My main limitation is that I have no fermentation cooling ability, so I have to go back to the original continental tradition of making it in winter. Ideally I would just put it out in the garden shed, but that is 3 floors down and I’m not lugging a 25L fermenter down with my bad back! So, the compromise is to put it just outside my front door in the communal stair, where it is about 11-15C at this time of year. Not ideal, but better than ~18C in the flat. It seems also to be the case that some lager yeasts are much better at fermenting cleanly at higher temperatures than others. I had some dry Mangrove Jack’s Bavarian Lager yeast in the fridge, so I used that, and a simple recipe for Pilsner Urquell: Lager malt and some light crystal. For hops I used a mixture of Saaz and another Czech hops: Kazbek, which has a slightly more assertive citrussy profile, and has been used with success in this style.
So, it’s still sitting in the fermenter in the stair. I have no idea whether it has finished or not, or what it tastes like yet, but this weekend I think I’ll risk fishing out a sample to assess whether it is ready for racking into a maturing vessel. Oh- I don’t have one. I might have to buy another carboy. Or, I could just bottle it and let it mature in the bottles- much easier to carry! I could even hide some in the garden shed and hope the neighbours don’t find it- but they are mostly hibernating at this time of year, so it should be safe enough.
Watch this space, hopefully I won’t have to report that is has gone down the drain…