How To Czech Amber Lager Beer | Homebrew Challenge

by Steve Thanos | Updated: July 5, 2020

Czech Amber Lager’s descriptors can range from bready and somewhat biscuity to sweet and caramelly. This style can be likened to a Vienna Lager, but with a more Saaz-like hop character or approaching an English bitter, but richer with a deep caramel character.

Some breweries make a version of their Czech Amber Lager similar to a Czech Premium Pale Lager but with some darker malt flavor and less hops, while other breweries make their versions with a considerable hop presence and malt complexity.

A Czech Lager can be a welcoming beer in the fall or winter months.

Style Profile for Czech AmberLager

Appearance

Deep amber to copper in color. Clear to bright clarity. Large, off-white head that is persistent.

Aroma

Moderate rich malt aroma that can be either bready or slightly cramerlly and candy-like. Spicy, floral, or herbal hop character.

Mouthfeel

Medium-full to medium body. Soft and round with a slight creaminess. Moderate to low carbonation.

Taste

Complex malt flavor dominates. Medium to medium-high. Can be rather dry and caramelly and somewhat sweet. Some examples can be candy-like to graham cracker malt character.

Low to moderate spicy hop flavor. A balanced finish is achieved by the prominent clean hop bitterness.

Water

As I have mentioned in my past blog writings about Czech beer, water is vitally important when brewing this style. There’s that old adage, “if your water tastes good, it’s fine to brew with.”

While this may be true for some of your beers, can we really trust it every time with every brew day? As beginner brewers are taught, water is something that you should worry about later. Instead, your focus should be on process producing beers.

While a lot of what people say to beginner brewers is true, water is incredibly important when brewing beer. Careful attention to your water will only help your beer in the long run.

Understanding Minerals

Minerals are important for brewing water because they can affect on the

flavor of your beer. Here’s a breakdown of the mineral ions:

  • Calcium

Calcium determines the hardness of water. It helps to adjust the pH during the mash, assists in the precipitations of proteins in the boil especially during the hot break, enhances yeast flocculation.

Many lagers are made with a very low level of calcium and therefore are not required, but can be helpful in the 50-100ppm amounts.

  • Magnesium

Magnesium provides hardness to the water. It may provide a sour/bitter flavor to the beer in amounts of 30 ppm or more.

The malt that we use provides the magnesium that is required for proper yeast health, so it is not required unless sulfate in the presence of high calcium level.

  • Sulfate

Sulfates accentuates hop bitterness by enhancing the dryness of the finished beer. Additions of sulfates are usually avoided in continental lagers or used in very small amounts, 30 ppm or less. Ideal amount for an ale is generally 30-70 ppm.

For highly hopped beers, the desired sulfate level is much higher, usually 150-300 ppm. If using 150 ppm or more, the chloride level should be under 50 ppm to avoid a mineral finish to the beer.

  • Chloride

Chloride accentuates the fullness or roundness of flavor in a beer. It enhances the malt sweetness. 40-100 ppm range is generally used for many beer styles.

  • Sodium

Sodium rounds out the malt flavor. It is used in amounts of under 150 ppm. A higher concentration can make a beer taste salty and can cause a harsh bitterness in a finished beer.

Keeping the sodium at 0-60 ppm is usually a safe amount.

  • Bicarbonate

Bicarbonate raises the pH of the mash, therefore, it should be under 50 ppm for pale/light colored beers. An amber colored beer can have a bicarbonate level of 150 ppm, depending on the grain bill.

A very dark beer with roasted grains can easily go up to 200 ppm or more as more bicarbonate is needed to balance the acidity of dark roasted malts.

There is no ideal range for mashing water except what is needed to achieve the appropriate mash pH.

Brewing Salts

Brewing salts are gypsum, calcium chloride, epsom salts, chalk, sodium chloride, and baking soda. Usually these can all be found readily either at your local homebrew shop or grocery market.

  • Gypsum

Gypsum (CaSO4 or calcium sulfate) is used to bring calcium and sulfate to the water. It can reduce the mash pH.

  • Calcium Chloride

Calcium Chloride (Pickle crisp or CaCl2) is used to add calcium, chloride, and epsom salt (MgSO4 or magnesium sulfate) is used for magnesium and sulfate contribution.

Non-iodized table salt (NsCl2 or sodium chloride) offers sodium and chloride to your beer.

  • Chalk

Chalk (CaCO3 or calcium carbonate) is traditionally used to raise mash pH in cases when it is needed. It does not dissolve well and is avoided in general.

In some cases, in order to raise your pH, baking soda (NsHCO3 or sodium bicarbonate) is used.

  • Lactic Acid

Lacic acid is used to lower the mash pH if it is needed.

Tips for Brewing your own Czech AmberLager

Grain

For the bready character that you wish to achieve with this beer, Maris Otter can be your choice as a base malt. The malt complexity and body can be attributed to the Bohemian Pilsner malt that this recipe requires.

Munich Type I can add extra body to a beer. It will also impart some color and smooth mouthfeel.

As for the specialty malts, Caramel 80 will give some good color for this beer along with the characteristic caramel flavor that this beer requires.

Hops

As with Czech Pale Lager, Saaz hops are the showcase here. Saaz can be used for bitterness and flavor. Sterling and Tettnang can be a quick substitute if Saaz hops are not available at your local homebrew shop.

The profile for Sterling and Tettnang are very similar to Saaz.

Yeast

  • Wyeast Bohemian Lager 2124, Czech Pils 2278
  • White Labs Pilsner lager Yeast WLP800, Czech Budejovice Lager Yeast WLP802
  • Imperial Yeast Urkel L28

Fermentation:

Ferment at 50°F (10°C) or whatever your yeast manufacturer suggests until your final gravity is reached. It is a good idea to increase the temperature by about ten degrees at the end of fermentation to assist in diacetyl cleanup.

Once the beer completes fermentation and after the diacetyl rest, you may want to cold crash it to 35°F (2°C) for about 4 weeks to improve clarity.

Czech Amber Lager By the Numbers

  • Color Range: 10 – 16 SRM
  • Original Gravity: 1.044 – 1.060 OG
  • Final Gravity: 1.013 – 1.017 FG
  • IBU Range: 20 – 35
  • ABV Range: 4.4 – 5.8%

Martin Keen’s Czech Amber Lager Recipe

Grain

  • 62 % 10 lbs Pilsner, Floor Malted Bohemian
  • 18 % 3 lbs Maris Otter
  • 12 % 2 lbs Munich Type 1
  • 5 % 12 oz. Caramel 80
  • 3% 8 oz. Aromatic Malt

Hops

  • 2 oz Saaz Pellets – Boil 60.0 min
  • 1 oz Saaz Pellets – Boil 15.0 min

Yeast

  • 1.0 pkg Bohemian Lager (Wyeast Labs #2124)

Transcript: The Homebrew Challenge to brew 99 beers in 99 weeks.

It’s time to brew some Czech Amber lager, and yeah, we’re going to talk about water.

So Czech Amber lager has a very bready malty characteristic is really you’d expect from any kind of Amber Lager. But it also has quite a significant hoppy character to it as well. And it’s that combination of malt and hops that I’ve really enjoyed with all of the Czech lagers so far.

Now, when I think bready, I really like the characteristic of Maris Otter. So I’m going to add into the base malt three pounds of Maris Otter and I’m going to combine that with four pounds of floor malted Bohemian Pilsner. And then to top that off, I’m putting two pounds in of light Munich malt.

And then for specialty malts, I have 12 ounces of Caramel 80 and eight ounces of aromatic malt. And I’m mashing in at 152 Fahrenheit for about 60 minutes or until I reach my preboil gravity of 1.044

So let’s talk a little bit about water or water if you’re an American, I’m trying to learn how to say that word. Okay. Look, when you brew with water, there are two things really that can impact the beer. Um, one is the pH of the water, and that will affect how well your mash performs.

And then there’s the mineral content of the water. And that will affect much more, uh, related to the taste and fermentation of the beer.

Now, I typically have not done a whole lot of adjustments with water, um, but I have at least typically adjusted for pH. Now the optimum range for pH during the mash is typically said to be between about 5.2 to 5.6. And if you are outside of that range, you’re likely to see a drop in your brew house efficiency.

And I’ve seen that personally myself, if I am well outside of that range, I typically end up with a pre-boil gravity that is not as efficient, it’s lower than I expected it to be.

Now, the way that I have adjusted for that is to use a simple calculator. Um, let me show you, so in the past I’ve been using a simple spreadsheet to adjust for mass pH, uh, just simply called easy water calculator, or what you do is you plug in your starting water profile.

So I looked this up from my city to see what my water profile was. Um, from there I entered the volume of water. I’m using both mash and sparge. I don’t sparge. I only mash I’m using full volume mashes. So I enter that value in there.

And then I enter in the grains that I’m using and, uh, the weight and sometimes the color, if it requests that part of it. And what that will do is it will calculate what my mash pH is going to be. So you can see here, my mash pH is 5.75, and that’s outside of the ideal range.

So I need to bring my mash pH down and I can use basically these levers here, Gypson, calcium chloride, and Epsom salt to bring those down. So I will just kind of experiment with this. Um, you can see just with those adjustments there, I’m now in an optimal range of 5.58. Now that’s still pretty close. So I’m going to add a little bit of lactic acid too. And now I am pretty much right there in the optimum range for mash.

That’s pretty much all I would do then I would add the necessary amount of those water salts and be done. Now the spreadsheet does show you a little bit more information about your water profile down here. So you can see how much calcium, magnesium and so forth are in the beer as well. I’ve typically not worried too much about that, but focus more on getting the mash pH right.

Now, the second part of the whole water chemistry thing is how the water profile that you’re using is going to affect the taste of the beer and the one concession that I’ve ever made to that relates to the chloride sulfate ratio.

So a good rule of thumb for this is that a low number below 1.0, it’s going to enhance bitterness. So something you’d use for a pale ale or an IPA and anything above that number is going to enhance more of the malty characteristics. So I might adjust my profile based upon that.

There are however, some kind of unknowns in this spreadsheet. Now, first of all, this starting water profile, I looked it up from the city water website a couple of years ago.

I haven’t changed it since I don’t know how accurate that is. Water supplies change all the time. Um, the amount of this, these numbers, I have no idea how accurate they are.

So that is kind of the downside to using the local water. Like just have no confidence really in these numbers being accurate on any given brew day.

I have here something called a total dissolved solids meter or a TDS meter, and this measures the amount of dissolved stuff in water. So I can really see how pure it is. Now. I’m going to test this against five water samples that I’ve got here.

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So going from left to right, I have just a glass of tap water. I have a glass of tap water. That’s been through my RV water filter. And then the third one here, this is where I went out to Glacier water, which is one of these things you see outside of grocery stores and just filled up a gallon of water from that.

Now this is sort of purified reverse osmosis water, but it’s intended for drinking. The fourth sample I have is purified water, which I just got from the grocery store. And then finally distilled water.

Now what I’m expecting to see is that distilled water should have no dissolved particles in it whatsoever.

The total dissolved solids should just be zero or very close to it, but it’s going to be kind of interesting to see how the others compare. So when you use my, uh, my trusted GoPro here to show you the reading of this thing, my tap water has a parts per million TDS score of 188-193. Something like that. Now, actually, that’s not terrible on the back here. It has a scale for what you should expect and typical tap water ranges between 200 and 300 parts per million.

So a score in the high 100’s, So that’s not so bad. Now let’s compare that to the same tap water that’s been run through my RV water filter. You can see there that the number is lower. It’s 113-114 parts per million. So it’s improved. Um, but I don’t know what those actual dissolved solids are.

Uh, just know there’s a little bit less of them. Okay. Now, third example, Glacier see a water. There we go. 33. So that is way better. It’s gone green on this, uh, this setting here. So 33 seems like a much better score. The trouble is in terms of water, chemistry. I still don’t know what that 33 represents. I know that it’s pretty clean water at this point. Um, but still, I don’t really know. Okay.

Now the fourth sample is, uh, this Nestle Pure Life, which is purified water. Just say it’s enhanced with minerals for tastes. So there’s going to be something in here. Let’s see what we get. So those enhanced minerals for taste are giving us a score of 59. So there is stuff in there and then again, you really don’t know what it is. Okay. Now the final example is the distilled water. And look at that zero parts per million has absolutely no dissolved solids detectable in that water.

So distilled water does give you a completely blank slate and you can then add water chemicals, water salts, as you need to get whatever profile you’re looking for. But you know that you’re starting from zero. That’s the real advantage of distilled water.

Okay. So I’ve been cooling the wort, the, the ground water is to so warm at this time of year. It’s kind of almost a waste of time. I’ve got it down to 89 Fahrenheit = useless. So I’m going to put the words in the fermentation chamber, my chest freezer, leave it there to cool off to around 55F, which is when I will add the yeast.

Now this yeast is WLP 830 that’s German lager yeast. That’s what we’re going to use for fermentation. Anyway, that concludes my first ever 100% distilled water beer!

Here’s the Amber Lager, the Czech Amber Lager. It came out at 4.2% ABV. Okay. So what do you think about first of all will be color? Is it Amber? Um, yeah. Yes, it actually really is a very nice Amber color. It’s a beautiful color. I’m really pleased with the color. Okay.

So how about the aroma, little malty, I’m not getting anything of the hops now I smell zero hops. I smell like, like I said, the little bit of malt, but let me try it?

Let’s try it. Okay. Well, I don’t really know your buzzwords. Um, any descriptor is good. Like what does it taste like? Uh, it is a smooth, smooth tasting beer, but I do taste like the malt. Like we were just talking about smelling it, but zero hops at all. Yeah, definitely that. So I used Maris Otter, because I wanted that sort of bready, malty tastes, and I think that’s, that’s definitely in the beer.

It definitely lingers a little bit on your tongue. I can, I can have an aftertaste of it, but it’s not too overpowering. Yeah. But unlike the other Czech beers, which had, um, some sort of hop character, just getting malt out of this one, me. Um, so the other thing that you don’t know about this beer is that normally I’d brew the beer, just using tap water. That’s filtered. Uh, this time I bought distilled water and built the water from that.

So I bought eight jugs of distilled water. And then did that from the grocery store. Um, can you sort of taste any characteristic differences from this, from the other beers that I’ve brewed? Honestly, I’m going to say no, because maybe if you had done one with regular distilled water and then the water you usually do, right. That way we would have had something to like taste a difference on.

No, I agree with you though, that even though, um, this was made with distilled water, the end product, to me, it doesn’t taste any different. It still has the same sort of house characteristic that I think all these beers have. Yeah. Alright. Well, I hope you enjoyed it. I did cheers. Cheers!

Personally, I think the, the jugs and the bottles you get at the grocery store is just tap water. So I measured it with a total dissolved solids meter. And in fact there was a little strip thing. It wasn’t a strip. It’s actually a little gadget, but I agree with you.

I am the former President of my homebrew club, Plainfield Ale and Lager Enthusiasts (PALE) in the western suburbs of Chicago, IL. I brew on my BIAB system with my incredibly patient and understanding wife, adorable 9 year old daughter, and 12 year old brew dog.