Life has been up and down these last couple weeks – failed hard drive in my computer, flooded cellar, thermostat and furnace issues, suspicious activity on my credit card, and my father facing serious surgery. So far, we have replaced the hard drive and recovered all the files and data, fixed the flood issue (but will have to deal with a holy mess on the back lawn where they dug a huge new trench to lay drain pipes), installed a new thermostat, and canceled the credit card (awaiting the new one in the mail). Dad’s surgery will hopefully be taken care of well before Thanksgiving, and each day is a new chance to move on.
One constant through it all has been brewing. Like clockwork, I have brewed, racked, bottled and tasted, and shared with friends. Like bread, beer is life. Or beer is bread, maybe, in liquid form…
Another recent constant has been the presence of mice in the brew house. A dead one in an empty fermenter a while back, another raiding my sack of pale malt, a third scurrying along a counter top among cases of bottles, and this morning, as I assembled my brewing set-up, there was a field mouse trying to jump out of the cooler I use as a mash tun. How it got in there, I have no idea – there was a lid on it with an empty fermenter on the lid… Anyway, I took the mouse out and dumped it in the woods, wished it godspeed, and went in and thoroughly cleaned and sanitized everything…
The weather has turned cold enough here in Vermont that my back room is down to a constant 50° or so – lager season has begun. This week’s beer is the first in a series of cold-fermented brews, slowly aged and conditioned. Hopefully, this will be ready about Opening Day in April (Go Sox!).
Wühlmaus (German for field mouse or vole) Pilsner is a classic German-style pilsner, lighter in color than the Czech/Bohemian equivalent and more bitter – the emphasis is on a crisp, clean taste, with low maltiness and medium to high hop flavor. Don’t worry, there will be a Bohemian Pils later in the year too!
- 7 lbs. Weyermann’s Bohemian Pilsner malt
- 1/2 lb. carapils malt
- 1/2 lb. Vienna malt
- 1 oz. Mt. Hood hop pellets (4.6% aa)
- 1/2 oz. Northern Brewer hop pellets (10.6% aa)
- 1 oz. Tettnang hop pellet (5.1% aa)
- White Labs Pilsner Lager yeast (WLP800)
- 3/4 cup corn sugar (for priming)
Crush grains. Heat 13 quarts water to 162°F. Mash in grains, hold 60 minutes at 150°F. Heat 15 more quarts water to 170°F, begin runoff and sparge, collecting 26 quarts of sweet wort. Bring to a boil, add Mt. Hood hops, boil 30 minutes. Add Northern Brewer hops, boil another 15 minutes. Add Tettnang hops, boil 15 more minutes (60 total), remove from heat. Chill to 80°F, take a hydrometer reading. Pour into a sanitized fermenter, splashing well to aerate. Pitch yeast, seal and ferment cool (60°F) until onset of active fermentation (a day or two), then move to a cooler location (50°F). Rack to secondary after two weeks, condition cold (40°F) for four to six weeks. Prime with corn sugar, bottle. Let stand in a warmer area (65 – 70°F) for three days then move bottles to a cold location (35 – 40°F) and age at least a month.
Notes on style: As noted above, the German or Continental Pilsner style differs from the Bohemian or Czech version in degree only – a bit lighter in color (Bohemians tend to be a deeper gold, Germans a pale straw color), balanced but leaning toward the bitter side (Bohemian varieties are a tad maltier), otherwise pretty similar. Best-known examples (not necessarily the best representatives, though) are Beck’s and St. Pauli from Germany, Grolsch and Heineken from the Netherlands. Dig deeper and you will discover a wealth of smaller German Pilsner breweries, well-known in their homeland but not major exporters, such as Warsteiner, Bitburger, Jever among others.
Notes on yeast: This Pilsner yeast is probably Czech in origin, perhaps even Urquell’s strain itself. It’s likely that some, if not most, of the German pilsners are also using a yeast strain that is originally from Bohemia, the birthplace of the light lager style.
Notes on lagering: “Lager”, of course, comes from the German verb “to store”. Lager yeasts generally function best in very cool to cold temperatures. I prefer to start mine warm, let the yeast get established, then gradually move the beer to a cold space. Part of the necessary process for any lager style (Munich, Vienna, Bock, Märzen, Schwarzbier, etc…) is time – allow several months before planning to drink this beer at its best. Consistency, however, is equally important – your beer will be better at a constant 50°F than if it “yo-yo’s” between 35 and 60°F.