Tag Archives: czech brewing

My Summer Beer 2022

Like last year, I decided for 2022 to brew a light and refreshing beer for the the summer. I was really really happy with my 2021 beer, and so for this year, I again brewed an 8° Czech-style beer, this time even more traditional than last year.

And that was my exact approach: be as simple as possible, but stick to the ingredients that would constitute a Czech beer according to PGI (if I brewed commercially in the Czech Republic and wanted to sell my beer with a Czech Beer PGI label): the sugar from the wort needs to be at least 80% from Czech barley varieties, at least 30% of the alpha acid needs to come from Czech hops varieties, decoction mashing needs to be used, and the beer needs to be bottom-fermented. So I went all in:

The brewing and fermentation process itself was rather uneventful: I hit 8.4°P OG, chilled the wort to 10°C, pitched a yeast pack, fermentation took off in less than 36 hours, and after about 3 weeks, it was finished, with a FG of 2°P. I then ramped down the temperature to 2°C, let it sit at that low temperature for just 2 weeks, and then bottled it, bottle-conditioning it with 1 liter of wort that I kept back.

I’m absolutely impatient when it comes to waiting for beer to be finished maturing and bottle-conditioning, so I had to crack one bottle open after just 1 week. I pre-chilled it for a few hours, and then poured it into a Pilsner Urquell glass I had at home. While carbonation wasn’t 100% there yet, it was definitely enough to drink it. The foam was fluffy but with rather big and open bubbles (I hopes this improves when carbonation is higher), the beer still looked slightly hazy with a very pale colour). It smelled absolutely amazing, and just after the first sip I could definitely say that this was exactly like a Czech beer (it’s not a Czech beer because I brewed it here in Berlin, hence why I call it Czech-style). It has that exact bitterness and the kind of hop flavour and aroma that I would expect from any Czech beer, it has a unique edge to its malt character that I would attribute to the intense decoction mash (hard to describe, but once you’ve had plenty of Czech beers, you just notice it, from your easy-drinking 10° beers to modern Czech-brewed IPAs e.g. from Matuška), and it’s got a very good body for such a low-strength beer.

The Urkel Lager strain, despite (allegedly) having a Pilsner Urquell provenance, does not seem to produce diacetyl at any detectable levels. What it does though is produce lots and lots of sulphur. This was particularly noticeable during fermentation and at the beginning of the very short lagering period, but at packaging, all of that was gone.

In the end, choosing the right ingredients and processes for the kind of beer you want to brew matters, and I’ve only ever gotten all the details of a Czech-style beer right when I applied all the techniques that I knew, with all the right ingredients.

What follows is a quick recipe. In terms of ingredients, it’s incredibly simple and one of those beers that can be formulated as a SMaSH beer – single malt and single hops. In this case:

  • 3.1 kg floor-malted Bohemian Pilsner malt from Weyermann
  • 24 g 2021 harvest Saaz hops (4.2% ABV) @ 60 min
  • 24 g 2021 harvest Saaz hops (4.2% ABV) @ 30 min
  • 24 g 2021 harvest Saaz hops (4.2% ABV) @ 5 min
  • 1 pack Imperial Yeast L28 Urkel Lager yeast

Use enhanced double decoction mashing scheme. Lauter, sparge, chill to 10°C, pitch yeast. Ferment fully, lager at low temperature for 1 week (I went down to 2°C), bottle or keg and carbonate. This should get you about 20 liters of a beer with 8.4°P OG, 2°P FG, 3.4% ABV, about 25 IBU in bitterness, and a very pale colour.

My Summer Beer 2021

Due to a rather bad episode of COVID, I hadn’t brewed a beer since October 2020, a Helles, which, when I bottled it in April this year, didn’t properly bottle-condition, and instead became an oxidized mess.

So this beer was a fresh start, my first home-brewed beer in a long time, and just something I wanted to have for myself. When I developed that recipe, I got inspired by two things:

First, the Czech Republic’s culture for lower-alcohol beers, with original gravities of 10°P or lower, and moderate amounts of alcohol of 4% ABV and lower.

Second, a particular Leichtbier that I had at Mahrs Bräu in Bamberg, which they call Sommerpils: it’s a very bitter beer at only 2.8% ABV and 7.2°P OG, and the first time I realized that highly hopped beers with low ABV can work really well.

After some thinking, I came up with an idea: I wanted to create a Czech-inspired 8° beer, with a good amount of bitterness coming from a late hop addition at flameout. One particular hop variety that I really liked in the past was Brewers Gold. I had used it in a Golden Ale previously, and it just gave off lovely citrusy notes with a fruitiness that some describe as blackcurrant.

But why would I call it Czech-inspired? First of all, the OG: 8°P is something that you would in the Czech Republic more often that in e.g. Germany. German Leichtbiere are typically even lower than that.

Second, the grist: I decided to stick to just Bohemian Pilsner malt and a small ~3% addition of a dark caramel malt, in my case CaraBohemian.

Third, the mashing regime: I’m a huge fan of double decoction. Even though it takes a long time, it has given me very good results in previous beers. In particular, I’m using an enhanced double decoction scheme that basically skips protein rest or keeps it to a very short amount time. Decoction mashing is also extremely common in Czech brewing.

Fourth, the bittering hops: I used Saaz hops simply because I had them available, they’re reliable and suitable for what I wanted to achieve. As aroma hops, as mentioned above, I got Hallertau-grown Brewers Gold.

Let’s quickly compare this to the PGI regulation for the term “Czech Beer”: at least 80% of the sugar in the wort needs to be from malt from Czech barley varieties (which I assume Weyermann’s Bohemian Pilsner malt should fulfill), at least 30% of alpha acids from hops must come from Czech hop varieties (I’m using Saaz for bittering), local water must be used (I do that), bottom-fermenting yeast must be used, and decoction mashing must be used. I’d say I’m pretty close, except I don’t brew in the Czech Republic, nor do I attempt to get any PGI Czech Beer certification for my home-brewed beer. Nevertheless, the regulation is still a good indicator of what’s considered to be traditional or necessary for Czech beer, and therefore also serves as a good template for Czech-style or Czech-inspired beers.

Grist, hop additions, yeast and basic numbers.

The brew day itself was relatively uneventful, except for a slightly higher than expected OG of 9.4°P. The 8° beer became a 9° beer. I can cope with that.

I chilled the wort, pitched plenty of Lallemand Diamond Lager yeast, and just let it ferment. When the beer was fully attenuated, I decided not to bother with lengthy lagering, but instead just slowly lowered the temperature down to -1°C, kept it there for a few days, and then bottled the beer.

My Czech-inspired beer is now bottle-conditioned and ready to be consumed. When I first poured it, I was surprised about how hazy it was. Even after several more days in the fridge, it still remains hazy. I blame hop haze from the flame-out addition, but to be honest, I don’t actually care. Because the beer itself tastes great.

It’s got a full body, at a FG of 2.2°P, and with 3.9%ABV, it’s a very drinkable beer with a robust bitterness that lingers on. The Brewers Gold hops provide a nice citrusy flavour, but its additional fruitiness in the aroma combined with a slightly lower than expected carbonation (my fault) gives the beer an English Bitter vibe. Brewers Gold was originally an English hop variety, and it still shows in this bottom-fermented beer.

All in all, I’m really happy with the result. It’s a nice, refreshing beer perfect for a hot summer. I still have ~17 litres in my fridge that likely won’t last till the end of summer.

And finally, a photo of what the beer actually looks like. An alternative title for this blog post that I had in mind earlier was “my crispy boi is also a hazy boi”.

Early Evidence for Czech Brewing Categories

One system that is very particular to contemporary Czech beer is its categorization. Beers are mainly categorized in two dimensions, colour and strength.

The three main types of colour are světlé (pale), polotmavé (semi-dark), and tmavé (dark) or černé (black). The four types of strength are lehké (light beer at < 8°P), výčepní (draught beer >= 8°P and <11 °P), ležák (lager beer >= 11°P and <13°P) and speciál (specialty beer >= 13°P). Put in a matrix, you’d theoretically end up with 12 different types of beer.

From what Evan Rail told me, a lot of Czech breweries keep to a particular scheme: whereas the draught and lager beer at 10° and 12° would be typically pale, a 13° would often be semi-dark and a 14° would be dark or black. While there are certainly exceptions to it (Kozel Černý with its 10° comes to mind), it’s apparently something a lot of breweries stick to.

In my research, I have now found evidence that this practice may reach back well into the late 19th century. The book Die Malz- und Bierbereitung by E. Leyser, published in 1900, contains a whole section on Austrian brewing practices. At that time, the Austrian-Hungarian empire was still around, so Austrian brewing practices didn’t just cover what’s modern Austria, the small, mostly German-speaking country in Central Europe, but also those of the other Austrian crown lands, of which the most important one for beer brewing was Bohemia, a part of what’s the Czech Republic nowadays.

About the topic what beers are being brewed there, Leyser writes “In Bohemian and generally Austrian breweries, four types of beer are usually brewed: Abzugbier, Lagerbier, Exportbier und Märzenbier. Lager- and Exportbier are beers of the Pilsner type, Abzugbier is in its properties located between Pilsner and Vienna beer, and Märzenbier can be seen as a specialty beer which in its character turns out to be similar to Bavarian beers.”

Later, he describes which malts are used for these beers: “The kilning temperature of malt for Abzugbier is about 64°R [80°C], for Lager- and Exportbier 48°R [60°C] and for Märzen 72°R [90°C] resp. 77 to 80°R [96-100°C]. For Märzenbier, colouring malt is optionally used.”

To put this in context, we can correlate these temperature ranges with the typical kilning temperatures that the book mentions earlier on: 40 to 55°R for Bohemian malt and 60 to 70°R for Vienna malt. Unfortunately, Leyser mentions no particular kilning temperatures for Bavarian malts. But for that, we can use another source, Julius Thausing’s “Theorie und Praxis der Malzbereitung und Bierfabrikation” from 1888. It contains kilning temperatures for various malts, 45 to 60°R for Bohemian malt, 60-70°R for Vienna malt, and 65 to 80°R for Bavarian malt. This gives us a good impression what the colour of the different beers most likely would have been: Abzugbier had a colour like Vienna lager, but probably on the lighter side of it, while Lager- and Exportbier were golden beers. Märzen though must have been darker, probably a light brown, or even going into very dark or even black, in particular if colouring (roasted malt) was used.

What we now still need is some information on the particular strength of these beers. Leyser gives us quite a bit of information. In an example, it lists Abzugbier at 10.3°B (Balling, the direct predecessor of Plato), Lager at 11.3°B, Export at 12.3°B, and two different Märzen at 13°B and 14°B. With that, we get the impression of portfolio that roughly matches the common portfolio of beers from Czech breweries I described earlier: the lowest strength one, Abzugbier, was a pale-ish beer, somewhere between Pilsner and Vienna lager, while 11 and 12° beers were pale, Pilsner-type beers. The specialty beers, called Märzen, at 13 and 14°, were definitely darker, probably ranging from a pale brown to outright black when brewed with roasted malt.

While not explicitly stated, my interpretation of this is that one of the two Märzen was probably darker than the one. At least this would very much fit the differentiation of 13° polotmavý and 14° tmavý/černý.

This scheme wasn’t necessarily kept by all breweries in Austria. Leyser describes his observations made at “brewery B. in Austria”, which brewed a Viennese-style Schankbier at 11.5°B, a pale lager at 12.5°B, a Viennese-style Export-Lager at 13.5°B, a Märzen at 14.5°B and a Bock at 15.5°B. Unfortunately, we don’t learn anything about the colour of Märzen and Bock.

Nevertheless, it was refreshing to see a very systematic approach at categorizing beer like we know it from Czech brewing to be already used in the year 1900 or before, which is something that got lost in modern Austrian brewing since then, not least due to the fact that Vienna-style beers as well as dark lager beers have been mostly neglected (the modern Austrian equivalent of tmavý is often sickly sweet and almost undrinkable) and only recently have had a comeback of some sorts.