How To Brew Czech Dark Lager Beer | Homebrew Challenge

by Steve Thanos | Updated: July 9, 2020

Czech Dark Lager poses a little dark secret. They are the second most popular beer style in the region. pFriem Czech Dark Lager is one of these beers that are ordered several times in pubs throughout the Czech Republic.

With aromas of toasted bread, toffee, and dates and notes of chocolate, and caramel on the palate.

This tmavé pivo or “dark beer” proves that there’s nothing wrong with being the second most popular.While looking around to see what has been written about Czech Dark Lagers, I decided on a little beer fact list of sorts about the beer loving land that is Czech Republic.

Some think of it as a “beer drinkers paradise.” Here are some beery facts to get your thirsty for another pint.

  • Fact #1: Czech Republic drinks more beer per capita than any other nation in the world.

Kirin Brewery in Japan performs a survey each year and each year Czech Republic comes out on top. In 2013, the average Czech drank 147 liters, almost 40 liters more than any other nationality. On average, Americans drink only 76 liters per year.

  • Fact #2: Nearly everyone is obsessed with beer.

In America, we usually categorize beer, wine, and spirits together. The Czechs take national pride in their beer and believe it belongs in a special, separate category all by itself.

  • Fact #3: The first brewery opened in 993 AD.

Beer was usually brewed by monks in monasteries. The monastery in the Břevnov district in Prague started brewing beer in the 10th Century and recently started making beer again after a 120-year hiatus.

  • Fact #4: In the 13th Century, death was the punishment for stealing hops. 

To prove how important hops were to the local economy, King Václav II of Bohemia thought this was a way to deter people from stealing such a national treasure. It is unknown if anyone ever tested the limits of this punishment.

  • Fact #5 : Pilsner-style beer originally came from Plzeň (Pilsen).

A globally known beer first appeared in the 19th century in Plzeň. Pilsner Urquell was first produced in 1842 and quickly became an extremely popular beer throughout the world.

  • Fact #6: Czech Republic is home to the original Budweiser. 

I know, I know, I said the dirty little B-word. The official language of Czech Republic is German. Budweiser is what they call beer in České Budějovice, which is called Budweis in German. German immigrant Adolphus Busch emigrated to America and started a brewery called Bubweiser.

  • Fact #7: Communism crippled the Czech brewing industry. 

For several centuries, almost every Czech town has their own brewery. It has been said that there were over 1,000 small breweries in Czech Republic in the early 20th century. The brewing industry was nationalized after the fall of the Iron Curtain. The result was the rise of the larger breweries and mass produced beer. Today, smaller breweries are making a come back.

  • Fact #8: Czech beer is categorized in degrees.

Beer in Czech Republic is categorized according to the Balling scale, which represents the weight of liquids. The higher the degree means more sugar and therefore more alcohol. Usually Czech lagers are 10 or 12 degrees, which equates to 4-5% abv.

  • Fact #9 Old time Czech beer drinkers sometimes like more foam than beer.

This was a common way to check the quality of a beer. You experience the sweet taste of the foam and the bitter flavor of the beer.

  • Fact #10 Early in and early out

Czechs like their beer, no doubt. They also like to socialize while having their beers. Drinking is meant to be done after work where locals can talk with family and friends. Rarely do you see people drinking to get drunk, but rather the Czechs take a much more refined and controlled approach with their beer consumption. Reservations are usually a must and tables start to fill up by 5 or 6 in the evening. Usually beer halls close by 11 or 12.

  • Fact #11: Know your Czech beer etiquette.

Use your beer coaster, your waiter or waitress will appreciate it. When you toast, say “na zdraví,” which translates to “to your health.” Make eye contact with each person you touch glasses with. When ordering another round, use your thumb to represent 1 beer and your thumb and forefinger for 2 beers and so on.

Style Profile for Czech Dark Lager

Appearance

Color ranges from dark copper to almost black; sometimes with a reddish tint. Clear to bright clarity. Large, off-white to tan head which is quite persistent.

Aroma

Sweet maltiness with optional qualities such as bread crusts, toast, nuts, cola, dark fruits, or caramel. Roasted malt characters such as chocolate or sweetened coffee can vary from moderate to none but should not overwhelm the base malt character. Low, spicy hop aroma is optional. Low diacetyl and low fruity esters may be present.

Mouthfeel

Medium to medium-full body with considerable mouthfeel without being heavy or cloying. Moderately creamy.

Taste

Medium to medium-high deep, complex maltiness. Malt flavors include: caramel, toast, nuts, licorice, dried dark fruit, chocolate, and coffee malt. Low to moderate roast character. Hop flavor can be moderately-low to none at all. Hop bitterness may be moderate to medium-low and should be noticeable.

Tips for Brewing your own Czech Dark Lager

Grain

Bohemian floor malted Pilsner once again will be your base grain for this beer. Caramunich I will assist in the enhanced body and malt character in the beer.

Victory malt will help you achieve that nutty, toasty, and biscuit-like flavors and the bready aromas. Of course the chocolate malt aids in the color and the rich chocolate flavor and aroma in this beer.

Hops

As with Czech Pale Lager, Saaz hops are the showcase here. Saaz can be used for bitterness, aroma, and taste. 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. Two ounces at 60 minutes and an additional ounce with 15 minutes left in the boil should be the hop additions.

Yeast

  • Wyeast: Bohemian Lager 2124, Czech Pils 2278
  • White Labs: Pilsner lager Yeast WLP800, Czech Budejovice Lager Yeast WLP802, German Lager Yeast WLP 830
  • Imperial Yeast: Urkel L28

Water:

Plzen water is some of the softest water used in brewing. The best way to replicate Plzen water is to use store bought distilled water. If you are going to treat your water, know that the Parts Per Million (PPM) levels for your common minerals need to be in single digits.

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 Dark Lager By the Numbers

  • Color Range: 14 – 35 SRM
  • Original Gravity: 1.044 – 1.060 OG
  • Final Gravity: 1.013 – 1.017 FG
  • IBU Range: 18 – 34
  • ABV Range: 4.4 – 5.8%

Martin Keen’s Czech Dark Lager Homebrew Recipe

Grain

69% 6 lbs Pilsner, Floor Malted Bohemian

11% 1lb Caramunich I

11% 1 lb Victory Malt

9% 12 oz Chocolate Malt

Hops

2 ozs Tettnang Pellets – Boil 60.0 min

1.00 oz Saaz Pellets – Boil 15.0 min

Yeast

1.0 pkg German Lager Yeast WLP 830

Mash at 152°F (66°C) for 60 mins

Boil for 60 mins

Transcript: The Homebrew Challenge | Czech Dark Lager

Czech dark lager is a hard style to pin down. It’s not quite a German Dunkle and it’s not quite an English Porter. It’s somewhere in between. I’m going to brew one up and we’re going to talk about grain mills.

So as it’s become a custom now for brewing these Czech beers, the base malt is Bohemian floor malted Pilsner malt. I’m using six pounds of that. Then for specialty malts, I have a pound each of victory malt and Kara Munich I, and then to get that dark color going for an SRM of around 30. So to get that I’m using 12 ounces of chocolate malt. That is going in with strike water at 152 Fahrenheit, I’ll mash for 60 minutes.

Ultimately we’re looking to get a 4% ABV beer from this brew.

This my grain mill. Now the way I see it, there are two advantages to having our own grain mill, as opposed to using one in the Homebrew shop.

The first of those is that you can go out and buy unmilled grain and just store it in your house. So for example, I often go out and buy a big old sack of base malt, like 50 or 55 pound sack. It’s much cheaper to do that. And then I just kind of, you know, measure it out and use the amount that I need, and then I can crush it in here.

And the second aspect to this is you can control the actual size of the crush. So if you go to a typical home brew store, you get whatever the, uh, the mill is set to. Um, this allows me to set my own and, uh, let me show you how to measure that. Hold on.

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So I have these feeler gauge here and what this feeler gauge allows me to do is measure the gap between these rollers here in the mill, and to set accordingly. Now my system, the uni brau system recommends a milled size of 0.045 inches. So I can take my calipers set that exact measurement, and then I can use this to exactly get the right measurement between these rollers here. So I’ve got that sort of pretty tight to this. And then that gives me the crush size that I think is optimal to my system. Now, specifically, this is a monster mill II grain mill. I don’t have experience with any others, but this one was reviewed quite well. It has two rollers in here. You can get some that actually have a third roller as well. Um, and the way that it’s turned is through this crank here.

Now, you can’t get a handle and manually crank yourself. I am far, far too lazy for that. So I have been using a drill. Now, initially I used this cordless drill to turn the mill and well, at first it did a reasonable job. Um, but you know, crushing grains is a, is not for the fainthearted of drills. And what ended up happening is after two or three batches, this ended up really burning out. There would literally be smoke coming out of the drill.

So I no longer use this and I have instead gone with a corded drill. This is a 9 amp drill, uh, much, much more power. Um, and this really works well. I particularly like this handle here, so I can connect this to the drill, hold onto the handle to stop this guy turning and then operate the drill.

How To Brew Czech Dark Lager Beer Homebrew Challenge

Czech Saaz hops, both for bittering and for flavor and aroma. So two ounces are going in at 60 minutes. One ounce going in at 15 minutes.

Now the beer is going to go into my beer fridge, my, uh, my chest freezer, where I’m going to cool it down further because it’s nowhere near where I want it to be. I want to get it to around 50 or 55. Before I add the yeast, the yeast will be WLP830. And in fact, I use WLP830 for the beer I made last week as well. And what I ended up doing was just making a two liter starter and splitting it. So this is the second half of that starter. It’s been sat in my fridge like this for an extra week. So I’m going to warm this up to wake it up. I’m not going to do any sort of vitality started, but I’m just going to pitch it directly. Once the wort reaches about 50 or 55 Fahrenheit.

How To Brew Czech Dark Lager Beer Homebrew Challenge 10

Now to do the beer tasting, uh, excuse me sir, So I don’t think you’re 21 out! Okay, so you’re ready for this. Yes. Now this of course is the, uh, the dark lager that if you watch one of our previous videos, you will know, it froze. The reason it turns out was the inkbird temperature controller ended up having a faulty probe. Ink bird kindly sent me another one. And, um, as to the cause of this, well, um, I asked around and people commented on the video. It seems that the probe may not be waterproof.

I asked Inkbird support. They said it was, but anyway, ink bird sent me another one and I have tried to set it up so that it is no longer in water the whole time. And I have, uh, I’ve got a nice set up for that. Actually, it’s, it’s easier if I show you that.

So what I’ve done is I’ve taken my temperature pro from my ink bird and duct taped it to the side of the bottle and then put that in a koozie. And then that lives down here in the fermentation chamber. So I’ve been testing this out for a little while and I have my Johnson controls probe, actually in the vodka in that bottle there.

And it’s reporting a temperature of 55 Fahrenheit, the ink bird, which is attached to the outside of the bottle and an insulated koozie is also reporting 55 Fahrenheit. So now I’m able to get a temperature reading, which probably matches roughly the liquid temperature inside my fermentation chamber without getting my temperature probe wet.

So this is the unfrozen version of the beer. Let’s see what we think. So what do you think of first of all, about look now it’s in, in liquid form. Um, it’s really dark, like Coca-Cola dark. Yes. Super dark. So, so that’s Czech. That’s, that’s what we wanted with this beer. Um, okay. About aroma smell. Okay. I personally, it smells quite yeasty, quite yeasty? Yeah. It smells a lot. Like it smells. Yeah. Quite quite malty. And to me I’ve really liked this smell, the sniffing of it. It makes me really, really want to drink it.

So can we just move right ahead to that? I’m not a fan, I’m not a fan of that. Um, okay. What do you think it tastes like? Yeah. So, so to me, you’ve definitely got that sort of, um, almost like a, a Brown, ale taste to it, of flavor to it.

That’s what I taste Brown ale type. And I also kind of smelt that as well. So, but I feel like it’s a little bit of a hoppy, Brown ale, um, more than say it sort of an English Brown. So that’s the beer, the, uh, the fact that it froze and then has defrosted. I don’t think it’s made much of a difference. I think what’s gonna be interesting is next week’s beer, which froze before fermentation started, this one froze up after fermentation was complete. So I’d like to think of it as a very severe cold crash. Uh, so we’ll see how that one turns out.

But I think this one has turned out not too bad. Yeah. It’s not bad. I wouldn’t mind of trying as ice pop though, when it was frozen. Yeah. I see beer pop. Well, if the ink bird goes wrong, we’ll be able to try that again.

Cheers. Cheers!

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.