Tuesday, January 7, 2014

A Recipe for Helles Lager (or a sunny pilsener)

This won a bronze medal at this year's War of the Worts:

Here is a nice recipe for a good crisp light lager.  It is a 12 gallon batch because I believe in filling my TrueBrew buckets up to the top!  This was not cheap.  For ingredients and general supplies this cost me $90, or $18 per case bottled.

Primary yield: 13.5 gallons
Secondary yield: 12.5 gallons
OG 1.059

22lb Weyermann Pilsner
2lb Carapils
1lb Carafoam
1.5oz Tettnang 60 min
1.5oz Tettnang 30 min
1oz Mt. Hood 5 min
Wyeast 2124 Bohemain Lager
1lb light DME for 1 gallon yeast starter

I got an amazing 81% efficiency thanks to a long (2 hour) decoction-type mash with a lot of rests and a long (2 hour) sparge.  A normal 60 min mash at 154 and a quick sparge at 170 would probably give you about 1.05, more appropriate for a Helles lager.  I was not expecting such efficiency, it was mostly luck.

My mash schedule looked like this:
20 minutes at 122
Pull out 1.5 gallon liquor, boil then return
20 minutes at 133
Pull out 1.5 gallon liquor, boil then return
20 minutes at 144
Pull out 1.5 gallon liquor, boil then return
60 minutes at 155
Drain and sparge  at 170 in 3 batches (I did about 2-3 gal each batch) with a slow drip over 2 hours, 40 min per batch. Depending on the size of your lauter tun, just continue batch sparging until brew kettle is filled to desired volume (14 gallons).

60 minute boil.  At flameout, I added 1 gallon of ice to drop temp to 180 then used wort chiller to 60.
Pitch yeast and ferment in 45 degree lagering cave for 1 week (this particular batch didn't finish for 10 days, then rack to secondary, lager for 1 month, then bottle.  Leave at room temp for one week then return to cold storage.

Notes after primary:  Primary fermentation took 10 days to subside.  Very active for 6 days straight before a gradual slow-down.  At first taste when racking to secondary, I received a strong floral hop aroma.  A well-bodied mouthfeel with good initial bitterness and a clean pilsner flavor.  Crisp finish with some floral hop notes.  I am happy!

Notes after bottle conditioning:  This is the finest homebrew I have made.  Finally, after more than a year I have something I am truly proud of!  I drank one after a few days in the bottle, and this pilsner is clear without additives, crisp and smooth.  The flavor is spot on for a pilsner, and although the color is definitely "sunny" but I wouldn't exactly call it a Helles.  Based on the helles lagers I have tried in the past, the bohemian yeast gave it too strong of a pils flavor.  If you want a true helles, consider using a german yeast strain.  Cheers!

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