The Emperor of Beers

Every once in a while, an old commercial pops up in my cluttered attic of a brain, and it usually takes a day or two to stop re-running the jingle or catch-phrase over and over… sometimes writing it down helps, sometimes not…

When I designed the recipe for this beer I was thinking I needed a strong light-colored lager, hoppy but with some malt body, smooth and slightly toasty in flavor. Basically a jumped-up Bohemian Pilsner, I decided to call it “Imperial”, hopping on a PR bandwagon that really makes no historical sense. That’s when the voices started repeating the closing line from a commercial that must date back some 40 years – “For about what you pay for the King of Beers, you can have Tuborg, the beer of Danish Kings..”. The commercial closed on a gorgeous glass drinking horn full of a clear golden beer, sitting on rocks amid crashing waves, if I remember correctly. The connection was immediate and obvious – here I was going to brew a beer that would outrank either the king of beers or the beer of kings – it was the Emperor of Beers!

There is no such thing, traditionally, as an Imperial Pilsner. The only beer that was brewed specifically for an Emperor, probably, was the Russian Stout style. Over recent years, as styles have been resurrected, the term “Imperial” has been used (overused) to describe a stronger version of an existing style. As long as everyone understands that, no one will get hurt. What I brewed today is an abomination, a monster, a beer that should not exist. Well, I am probably exaggerating, but it is not a beer you will find on many beer-store shelves.

Imperial Pilsner

5 gallons, all-grain


  • 9 lbs. Bohemian Pilsner malt
  • 1 lb. toasted Bohemian Pilsner malt
  • 1/2 lb. carapils malt
  • 1/2 lb. carafoam malt
  • 1 oz. Spalter hop pellets (@5% aa)
  • 1 oz. Tettnanger hop pellets (@3.5% aa)
  • 1 oz. Saaz hop pellets (@4% aa) recultured yeast from Arcobraü Zwickel Lager
  • 3/4 cup corn sugar or 1 cup extra-light DME (for priming)


Toast 1 lb. pilsner malt on a cookie sheet, 15 minutes at 375°F. Crush grains. Heat 15 quarts water to 164°F. Dough in and hold mash at 152°F for 60 minutes. Heat another 14 quarts water to 168°F. Begin runoff and sparge, collecting 26 quarts of sweet wort. Bring to boil, add Spalter hops. Boil 15 minutes, add Tettnanger hops. Boil 40 minutes, add Saaz hops. Boil 5 more minutes (60 total), remove from heat. Chill to 70°F and take a hydrometer reading. Pitch yeast, seal and ferment warm (65°F) for six to eight days. Rack to secondary, lager cool (40 – 45°F) for three weeks. Prime and bottle, age cold (35 – 40°F) for six weeks.

OG: 1064

IBU’s: 38

Note on yeast: Yes, this is the same yeast culture I used in my Bohemian Pilsner and my Schwarzbier. For the former, I collected the dregs from several bottles of the actual beer and fed it to build up a sizable pitching slurry. For the latter, I harvested a pint of dregs from the primary fermenter when I racked the Pilsner and again built up a large volume of slurry, a process I repeated again over the last few days leading up to today’s brew.

Note on toasted malt: It is not particularly traditional to include toasted malts in a beer like a pilsner. However, when my wife visited her cousin Janet on Long Island last summer, she brought back a really yummy local brew, Blue Point Brewing’s Toasted Lager. In the back of my mind I have been thinking about a clone of that beer, and that no doubt influenced this recipe.

Launching the lagers

My back room is down to the low 40’s. There’s 3 inches of new snow on the ground under a bright blue December sky. Time to make the beer! Or more specifically, time to make the lagers! The brewer’s natural, seasonal calendar tells me that six months from now it’ll be mid-June, there’ll be no snow, and it’ll be much warmer than it is now. Which means I will need an appropriate beer in hand. How about a pilsner? Don’t mind if I do.

A few months ago, the Market started carrying a Bavarian beer called Arcobraü Zwickel Lager. Described on the bottle as a a traditional unfiltered lager, I realized, after the first couple bottles, that there was retrievable and usable yeast in the bottom… Little by little, bottle by bottle, I built up a pint or so of dregs which I fed and cultured to nearly a quart of yeast slurry. It is indeed a tasty beer, so I had to brew an appropriately tasty homebrew in which to pitch the saved yeast. This is not a clone of the Zwickel Lager, although it may end up pretty close.

Zwickelish Lager

5 gallons, all-grain


  • 8 lbs. Weyermann Bohemian Pilsner malt
  • 1/2 lb. melanoidin malt
  • 1/2 lb. 30°L crystal malt (or Cara-Hell)
  • 8 aau’s Saaz hop pellets
  • 1 oz. whole Hallertauer hops
  • Arcobraü Zwickel Lager yeast (recultured)
  • 3/4 cup corn sugar (for priming)


Crush grains. Heat 14 quarts water to 164°F. Mash in grains and hold 90 minutes at 153°F. Heat another 13 quarts water to 168°F. Begin runoff and sparge, collecting 25 quarts of sweet wort. Bring to a boil, add the Saaz hops. Boil 55 minutes, add the Hallertauer hops. Boil 5 minutes, remove from heat. Chill to 75°F, take a hydrometer reading, pitch yeast. Seal and ferment at 60°F for 48 hours then move fermenter to a 45°F area. Rack to secondary after two weeks (as long as active bubbling has stopped), condition cold (“lager”) for five to six weeks at as close to 38°F as possible. Prime with corn sugar, bottle and age four weeks (one at 60°F, three at 40°F). Serve well chilled.

OG: 1058

IBU’s: 36

Further reading: Dave Miller’s “Continental Pilsener” in the AHA style series, although a little dated now, perhaps, has a lot of great information about water, mashing and lagering in general, with several very usable recipes.

Note on style: Zwickel is best translated as “sample” – a zwickel is a small spigot on Bavarian lagering tanks, from which a brewer can pull a sample to test, taste and pass around. The style itself is rare outside of Franconia, Bavaria. It’s undoubtedly more like a Continental Pilsner than a Munich Hell or Bohemian Pilsner.

Note on sparging: This sparge temp is lower than usual, to avoid starch contamination in the wort, which would detract from the color and clarity of the beer.

Notes on yeast: If you can’t or daren’t use the Arcobraü yeast, probably any Bavarian lager yeast will do the trick.