Session 114: Homebrewing Pilsners – Pete’s Take

There’s a cliche among American craft beer fans that you get pulled in by hops and IPAs, you migrate to either sour beers or maybe imperial stouts, and eventually have the palate sophistication to appreciate pilsner’s subtle interplay of hops and malt. There’s a symmetry to this sophistication since most imbibers start with “pilsner” (in the McLager sense)

Homebrewing is less of a circle in this regard as nearly no one starts brewing macro-style lagers before craft beer. In my experience with the DC Homebrewers Club, brewers start with ales (hoppy or malty) and graduate to the much more demanding pilsners, where any fermentation flaw is magnified (again with a well coached detour through sour beers).

This month’s “The Session” prompt is pilsner- German, Czech, or otherwise and it’s place as “the pinnacle of the brewing craft.”

Charles Mingus, one of my favorite bass players and composers, has a phrase: “Making the simple complicated is commonplace. Making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.” As I drink my pilsner- in this case it’s the KC Pils from Boulevard Brewing. There is so much going on in this simply created beer. It has honey and toasted malt aromas, a very pleasantly soft flavor, less bitterness than most American (or Czech) versions, and finishes balanced ever so slightly sweet. It’s a complex beverage even as it’s imminently quaffable.

The simplicity of ingredients contrasting the complex outcome drew me to try my hand at brewing this beer. But first I required the necessary ingredients and brewing skill.

As part of this journey I had to go through the classic American homebrewer phase: homebrew chef. It’s a delightful phase and creativity is one aspect that drew me to homebrewing. To showcase the ability to create a beer that (you think) no one has ever created before, you mash a bunch of ingredients and styles together leading to, in my case, a white IPA dry hopped with rose and hibiscus. Entered into our club’s annual competition, the Cherry Blossom Competition, my brewing partner and I somehow won first place: a coveted bag of Weyermann floor-malted bohemian pilsner malt. A judge later told me that our pink beer was given extra points in the flower-centric competition.

Pete and brewing partner Cody Gabbard with the 2013 DC blue ribbon
Pete and brewing partner Cody Gabbard with the 2013 DC blue ribbon

After many more wild and crazy batches involving chocolate-raisin pie clone beers, indian curry saison, and some German multi-rest mashes, and finally a temperature controlled fridge, I was ready. The single decoction mash with Weyermann Pils, Saaz, and BoPils 2124 was a success. I toyed with temperatures, time, water profile, and the recipe just as much as my previous wild creations. When it won the Washington, DC State Fair that Summer, I felt proud of my brewing ability. It didn’t have any flowers or fruits, but I had a damn fine beer that I could call my own.

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