(Ed. Reading about old-timey beer is great, but what if you want to actually taste the same kind of beer that your great-grandfather enjoyed at the end of a hard day’s work? We asked homebrewing expert Randy Mosher to share a beer recipe that accurately conveys the flavor of a Bohemian lager of the late 19th century.)
This recipe will result in a beer with a burnished golden color and a soft maltiness with a hint of creamy caramel. Balancing that is the spiciness of saaz hops.
Pilsner malt from Europe is a must. Czech Saaz hops have a uniquely clean and spicy aroma, and are key to the style. I believe that whole hops exhibit a cleaner flavor, despite not keeping as well as pellets.
Pilsen’s water is the softest in the brewing world. Relatively soft water is recommended for this recipe. Carbonate hardness should be below about 60 ppm. For those of you with limestone-tinged hard water, this means diluting your local water by 1/2 to 1/3 with distilled water.
The traditional triple-decoction Pilsen mash is the most complex of any of the historical lager mash schedules. Three times, a portion is removed, boiled, and added back to the mash to increase its temperature. The 22-step mashing sequence was also needed to deal with the old undermodified malt (which needed a vigorous cooking to extract all its sugars) and to break down large proteins to prevent haze in the beer. Brewing a triple-decoction is the homebrew equivalent to participating in an Iron Man triathalon—a 12-hour brew day that will stick in your memory, for sure. This recipe uses a simplified one-decoction procedure that will give you a taste of what decoction offers a beer.
Today’s malt doesn’t require such rough treatment, but a Czech-style Pilsener can still benefit from the caramelly touch that decoction adds.