How To Brew Czech Premium Pale Lager | Homebrew Challenge

by Steve Thanos | Last Updated: July 2, 2020

Czech Premium Pale Lager is rich and characterful. It has a significant malt and hop presence and a well rounded lasting finish. This is a beer that exhibits a complex and is quite refreshing. The drinkability of a Czech Premium Pale Lager is really what strikes me the most about this beer.

The malt flavor complexity and bitterness makes for a beer that is the essence of what a beer should be.

Beer Drinker Evolution

As Nick Carr over at Kegerator.com says, “the entire world owes a debt of gratitude to the brewers of Plzen (Pilsen).” As I am researching about Czech beers tonight, I can’t help but think about stories of people having their very first beer.

Usually it is a sneak of dad’s can of some macro beer at a young and impressionable age. It wasn’t good!

Then fast forward to college and still drinking cheap “macro swill” to catch a quick buzz at parties. After college or like me during college, you find craft beer. While exploring craft beer, many different styles and flavors are enjoyed. After a while, a need for simplicity hits and Czech Premium Pale Lager is front and center.

It’s waiting for you like an old friend; knowing full well that you would meet again.

Respect

What makes the style of Czech Premium Pale Lager so magnificent is the amount of respect this beer has received over time. Many of the beers people enjoy today: Budweiser, Miller, Coors, and Pabst (although extremely different) all share a lineage to a beer brewed in Plzen in the 1840s.

When we think of Czech Premium Pale Lager, we are commonly paying respects to the one and only Pilsner Urquell.

Some beer experts say the way to gage a brewer’s merits is by tasting his or her lagers. There is nothing to hide behind with a beer like Czech Premium Pale Lager. The ingredient list is kept pretty simple: Bohemian Pilsner malt, Saaz hops, and very soft water (more on each of these below).

Style Profile for Czech Premium Pale Lager

Appearance

Pale gold to dark orange gold in color. Clarity is brilliant. Head is dense, creamy white, and should last for a decent amount of time.

Aroma

Clean aroma with rich and complex malt presence. Saaz hops will be spicy. There can be a touch of diacetyl, which is a butter-like flavor, but no fruity esters should be present.

Mouthfeel

Medium body with medium carbonation. If diacetyl is present, then a fuller mouthfeel will be present.

Taste

Taste is rich with complex malt rounded nicely with the spicy notes from the Saaz hops. Diacetyl may be part of the taste profile, but should not be overpowering.

Bitterness is present, but no harsh edges. The finish is clean, crisp, with no fruity esters.

Food Pairing

German-style cuisine, moderately spiced dishes, Japanese, Chinese, or Thai food is a place to start when considering pairing a Czech Premium Pale Lager with food.

Chicken, salmon, bratwurst, deep fried calamari, fish & chips, sushi, dumplings, fettuccine alfredo, blackened catfish, fresh green salads and Vermont cheddar all make for good accompaniment for a Czech Premium Pale Lager.

Tips for Brewing your own Czech Premium Pale Lager

Grain

There comes a time for every homebrewer to decide if he or she wants to follow traditions or not. Traditionally speaking, a triple decoction mash should be done when making this beer.

As my friend, Annie Johnson, has told numerous times, a Czech Pilsner should be brewed only with a decoction mash. I ran into Annie at HomeBrewCon 2018 in Portland, OR and tried her Czech Pilsner. It was AWESOME! After doing research on this, I understand the passion for some brewers to want to stick to traditional brewing methods.

Three different times during the mash a third of the whole is removed, boiled, and added back to increase the overall temperature. This was done to deal with the under-modified malt, which required more boiling to release sugars and reduce the larger amounts of protein. Doing a triple decoction mash will allow your grain bill to be 100% Pilsner malt.

If you are in a hurry and need to pack for vacation like Martin did (see video), then you can modify your grain bill slightly. Start off with the same Pilsner malt and then add some Munich Type 1 for a little color and complexity. Also Carapils can be added for increased foam, improved head retention, and enhanced mouthfeel.

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.

Yeast

Wyeast Bohemian Lager 2124, Czech Pils 2278

White Labs Pilsner lager Yeast WLP800, Czech Budejovice Lager Yeast WLP802

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 Premium Pale Lager By the Numbers

  • Color Range: 3.5 – 6 SRM
  • Original Gravity: 1.044 – 1.056 OG
  • Final Gravity: 1.013 – 1.017 FG
  • IBU Range: 35 – 45
  • ABV Range: 4.2 – 5.4%

Martin Keen’s Czech Premium Pale Lager Recipe

Grain

87% 10 lbs Pilsner, German

7% 12.0 oz Carapils

6% 12.0 oz Munich Type 1

Hops

2 ozs Tettnang Pellets – Boil 60.0 min

1.00 oz Saaz Pellets – Boil 30.0 min

1.00 oz Saaz Pellets – Boil 10.0 min

1.00 oz Saaz Pellets – Flameout

Yeast

1.0 pkg Urquell Lager (Wyeast Labs #2201)

Mash at 154°F (67°C) for 60 mins

Boil for 60 mins

So, tell me if this has happened to you? You’re about to go on a two week vacation, but you realize you have a perfectly good empty fermentor, and it’s such a shame not to fill it with beer so it can ferment while you’re away. So, instead of spending your last afternoon at home packing, you spend it here! In your brewery, brewing beer, sorry, Mickey. You’re going to have to wait.

So previously on the Homebrew Challenge last time. Now, last time I brewed a beer, it was Czech pale lager. Today I’m brewing Czech premium pale lager. What’s the difference? Well, the ABV is a bit higher on the premium, but it’s still a lager with really a bit of a hoppy bite to it. Now with the pale lager, I was unable to find a commercial version to try, but there is a very well known version of the premium lager, which I did get, and I brought it to my professional brewing, buddy Thomas Vincent, to tell me all about it.

So I’m back at the NAZZ’D in Pittsboro with Thomas Vincent. Thomas. Hi. Hi. So today we are continuing our light beer journey yes. With a Czech premium pilsner. So what do you know about this style? Well, the Czechs loved their beer. In fact, they loved their beer more than anyone else. They tend to drink about four or five more liters per person than any other country in the world. And this beer is the reason why.

Yeah. So this is Pilsner Urquell and, uh, the trip to Prague would be kind of a popular thing for brit to do on a weekend and just drink their whole bunch of cheap beer and beer really is fairly affordable there. Yes. That’s the whole point. The big challenge can be finding it fresh because just because you’re in the lead of the Czech Republic doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily fresh.

Um, either competitors of there’s Budvar years ago. Uh, my father brought back a couple of bottles just as Budvar made its way into the United States and what we, I brought the American sense Budvar and the original check Budvar. We added side by side and the hop character was an amazingly beautiful in the American bought beer. Wow.

The Czech one that he had bought in Prague was much older and stale at point. So just because you’re at the location it’s from doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to have a better experience.

Pilsner Urquells is actually brewed in open fermenters. And it’s unique that these large wooden vats that they’re in cat paves, and then they’re sending off for cellaring and doing the aging for the lagering. You’ve got a nice rich golden color, which, I mean, that’s definitely amazing brilliance there on this.

And then at the same time, the great thing about these is that you definitely get that hop character where a lot of the other things we tride, um, early on in the series, hasn’t really had much malt than it hasn’t really had much of the hop character, but the Czechs always make sure that their Saaz hops are prominent in the beer that the malt character is going to be definitive.

And there should be a fair bit of bitterness of comparison to other styles.

So what’s in the grist? Well, unlike the Czech pale lager, which I did last time, there is a little bit more stuff in here. So starting with the base malt, I’m using 10 pounds of German Pilsner malt, and then for the specialty malts, I’m using 12 ounces each of Carapils and light Munich malt. And I’ve set the kettle to mash at 154 Fahrenheit. Let’s put it in.

So let’s talk hops. I did say that this beer is reasonably hoppy. The IBU’s are 40. That’s what we’re aiming for. So I have two ounces here, tattnang hops, which are my bittering hop going in here at 60 minutes. Now we are jumping on the Czech Saaz hop train for the rest of this boil. I have three little containers. Each has one ounce of Czech Saaz hops. This one goes in at 30 minutes. Then I’m going to put one more in 10 minutes. And then at the end of the boil.

So chilling the wort now trying to get it down to lager temperatures, kind of failing miserably. The groundwater at this time of year in North Carolina is well into the 80’s. So I’m not going to get anywhere near lager temperatures, but I will get it as low as I can and put it in the fermentation chamber to do the rest. Then I will add this yeast. This is my Wyeast packet of Bavarian yeast 2124. And I will put that in and maintain temperatures of around 50F.

All right. Everything’s gone pretty well. I’ve got a gravity of 1.056. Got time to stop packing. See ya.

Okay. So Dylan, welcome to the tasting room. Thanks for having me. Absolutely. So last week we did a Czech pale lager this week. So very different. It’s such a shame you missed last week. Cause today we have Czech premium. Ah, yeah. Ah, very different. Well, I’m glad I’m here for the premium stuff. That’s right. Save the good stuff for you. So yeah, so this one ended up coming out at 5.5% and it’s been lagering and while I was on vacation, I left it in the keg lagering. So it’s probably had about six weeks of conditioning. So, um, let’s take a look first of all, then at the appearance.

So what do we think in terms of clarity and color? Yeah, it’s a, I mean it’s a light gold that pretty clear looking, I would say, uh, I mean, it’s a beautiful color. Now, uh, with the, the non-premium version of this, we were quite pleasantly surprised that there was an aroma. So what do you think of this one? Well, this one’s pretty subtle. I would say, I think, uh, I got a little bit of sweetness in there. I almost want to say like a little lemony, uh, to, um, but it’s again, like I said, very, very subtle, uh, maybe a little floral.

It’s actually a little surprising it’s it looks really light. And um, like I said earlier, or maybe a little floral smelling and you get a little bit of that, like hoppiness at the end there, and I I’m a little surprised about yeah. There’s um, that is actually something I really like about the Czech styles is that, uh, even though they are very light lagers, they actually have a little bit of a hoppy bite to them without hoppy spiciness. And I think that that comes through in the time. Yeah. Now, um, hold on.

I happen to have here a little comparison. This is the, the non-premium version which looks awfully the same color. Um, the smell of that one. It’s probably not a whole lot difference. No, not least as well.

Yeah, the smell is a very similar, this is a very subtle difference in taste though. I’m not sure what it is. I can’t put my finger on it, but, um, it’s almost like this one might be, um, maybe a little bit more bite at the end than the, than the first one. Yeah. Maybe it’s a bitterness or whatever at the, at the very end. Right, right. And of course it is a slightly higher alcohol level, 3.8% vs 5.5%. I’m not sure how much of a difference that would make.

But, um, I think my biggest concern with brewing these two styles was that I was bringing the same beer twice over. I think there is a little subtle difference between the two. Um, so I’m happy that they’re, they do taste a little bit different. Um, I’m not sure which my preference is though. I actually really liked this one for the fact that it’s so light.

Um, and you can really drink a good amount of it as a sessionable beer, but then this one’s not that strong either, so yeah. Yeah. Good for hot day again. All right. Absolutely right.

Okay. Well, thank you very much for tasting these beers and 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.