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.

The Big One

Go big or go home, someone recently said to me. He was referring to the hops in the American IPA he was brewing, but I decided it was also applicable to the doppelbock I was planning to brew. So the “doppel” became a “tripel” – instead of a mere 12 lbs. of malt originally in the recipe, this became a gigantic 17 lb. mash. Pushing the limits of my mash tun and brew kettle, I went for it.

Bocks are, of course, rich, slightly stronger than average lagers. They range in color from pale gold to dark brown, in alcoholic strength from 5% to as much as 13 or 14% – Sammichlaus and Eggenberg, two of the strongest beers in the world, are bocks. Because they are lagered (and generally for quite a while) they tend to be very smooth. Emphasis is on the malt and the alcohol, although without substantial hop bitterness they can be cloyingly sweet. This big a brew will probably need help from a wine yeast in the secondary, but I will wait and see how primary fermentation goes.

Triplicator, triple bock
5 gallons, all-grain


  • 10 lbs. Weyermann dark Munich malt
  • 4 lbs. Weyermann Bohemian pilsner malt
  • 1 lb. Cara-red malt
  • 1/2 lb. Cara-amber malt
  • 1/2 lb. melanoidin malt
  • 8 oz. dark wheat malt
  • 4 oz. Carafa I malt
  • 4 oz. 60°L crystal
  • 1 oz. Saphir hop pellets (5.6% aa)
  • 1 oz. Magnum pellets (12% aa)
  • 1 oz. whole Hallertauer hops (2.5% aa)
  • White Labs German Bock yeast (WLP833)
  • 2/3 cup corn sugar (for priming)

Crush grains. Heat 20 quarts water to 164°F. Mash in grains, hold at 152°F for 90 minutes. Heat another 20 quarts water to 170°F. Begin runoff and sparge, collect 28 quarts sweet wort. Bring to boil, add Saphir hops. Boil 75 minutes, add Magnum hops. Boil 13 more minutes, add Hallertauer hops (in mesh bag), boil 2 minutes and turn off heat. Remove Hallertauer hops, chill wort to 80°F, take a hydrometer reading. Pour into a sanitized fermenter, splashing well to aerate. Pitch yeast, seal and ferment at 55 – 60° for eight to ten days. Rack to secondary and lager for six to eight weeks. Prime with corn sugar, bottle and age four to six weeks. This beer should keep for a year or more.

OG: 1094
IBU’s: 42

Note on boil and hop schedule: I started with a huge amount of wort, well over seven gallons, I really wanted to condense it down to just over five gallons, so I actually boiled it for 105 minutes, adjusting the hops accordingly – the Magnum went in after 75 minutes, so was actually in the boil for 30, bringing the actual IBU total to something more like 55… except that hop utilization rates are lower in a higher gravity wort, so it’s probably a wash… I was originally going to use the Magnum as the bittering hop and the Saphir for flavor but that would have almost tripled the IBU’s. The longer boil did give the beer a nice reddish color, and should help to bring out the maltiness.

Helluva Bock

Snow has arrived, finally, and lager season continues apace. Judging by the beers racked recently, step mashing and decoction did add a lot of malt character to, respectively, the Vienna and Munich Dunkel. Time will tell if the taste was worth the extra effort and time.

Meanwhile, in the spirit of the winter holidays, more brewing happens. Yesterday was St. Nicholas Day – kids (and some adults) in the German-speaking world (and those of German extraction in the US, frequently) leave their shoes by the fireplace to be filled with candy, fruits, small toys, etc. As my father-in-law’s middle name is Nicholas, today’s brew is in his honor. It is also in honor of what used to be considered the world’s strongest lager, if not the strongest beer in general.

Brauerei Hürlimann, in Zürich, Switzerland, started producing a strong seasonal lager in the 1980’s, brewed only once annually, on December 6th, and lagered for months, to be released the following December 6th. This brew, “Samichlaus”, for a while came out in both a pale and a dark version, and packed something like 14 or 15% abv. Although they didn’t call it a doppelbock, that’s what Michael Jackson always insisted it was. Once or twice, I got my hands on several different years’ vintage dated bottles and did a sort of vertical comparison. Hurlimann discontinued the pale version fairly early on, but continued brewing the dark until only a few years ago, when they were bought out by the same mega-conglomerate that owns Carling and many others. Schloss Eggenburg Brewery, near Salzburg, Austria, bought the name and rights, and now produces it.  They have recently re-introduced a “helles” (light) version, perhaps for the American market?

My version, although big, malty and alchoholic, doesn’t come close to Samichlaus’ strength. Its deceptive golden color and malty smoothness are reminiscent of a Munich Hell. When done fermenting, I expect an abv of about 8.5 – 9%, certainly big enough for a cold winter night, waiting for St. Nicholas to leave a present in my shoes. I might even share one with him when he drops by.

Nicholator Doppelbock

5 gallons, all-grain


  • 6 lbs. Weyermann Bohemian Pilsner malt
  • 5 lbs. light Munich malt
  • 1 lb. cara-pils malt
  • 4 oz. melanoidin malt
  • 1 lb. light candi sugar
  • 1/2 oz. Perle hop pellets (@8% aa)
  • 1/2 oz. Styrian Goldings hop pellets (@4.5% aa)
  • 1/2 oz. Hallertauer hop pellets (@3% aa)
  • White Labs German Bock yeast (WLP833)
  • 2/3 cup corn sugar (for priming)

Procedure: Crush grains. Heat 16 quarts water to 164°F. Mash in and hold at 152°F for 75 minutes. Heat another 18 quarts water to 170°F. Begin runoff and sparge, collect 30 quarts sweet wort. Add candi sugar to kettle, bring to a boil. After 30 minutes, add Perle hops. Boil 15 minutes, add Styrian Goldings hops. Boil 35 minutes, add Hallertauer hops. Boil 10 more minutes (90 total) and remove from heat. Chill to 80°F, take a hydrometer reading and pitch yeast. Seal and ferment warm (62 – 64°F) for eight to ten days. Rack to secondary, age cold (38 – 40°F) for six weeks. Prime with corn sugar, bottle and cap. Condition warm for three days, then store cold for eight weeks, or until Saint Nicholas Day.

OG: 1076

IBU’s: 25

Note on style: Doppelbocks are usually dark beers, reddish amber to brown. So are winter/seasonal beers, usually. This beer goes against both conventions, being a light-colored holiday doppelbock. Sneaky, huh? The candi sugar is not absolutely traditional; indeed it goes against the Reinheitsgebot, and could not have been used in a German bock. But it does up the alcoholic strength without bogging down the fermentation.

Note on name: As you probably remember or know, most doppelbocks are, by tradition, named with something ending in -ator, after the first one brewed, Salvator. Not absolutely necessary, but why not? Nicholator works for this one.