How To Brew German Pils Beer

by Steve Thanos | Updated: May 28, 2020

German Pilsner, or “Pils” as it is referred to in Germany, is a beer that is modeled after the famous original pilsner made in Plzeň (Pilsen) in Czech Bohemia (modern day Czech Republic).

The creator of the style, Josef Groll, was the first head brewer of Pilsen’s Měš ’tanský Pivovar (Citizens’ Brewery or, in German, Bürgerliches Brauhaus).

Pilsen was a town with a very influential German-speaking minority and the beer style that was popular in that area came from a German-owned brewery.

German breweries were brewing and selling pilsner beers in the early 1870s, about 30 years after Groll had started brewing what we now know as Pilsner Urquell.

Legal Battles Ensue

One of the breweries still famous for producing pilsners in Germany is Simonbräu from Birburg (known as Bitburger). Theobald Simon introduced his first pilsner type beer in 1883.

Bitburger was actually sued in 1911 for unlawfully using the term “pilsner.”

Later in 1913 Bitburger and Redeberger Exportbierbrauerei were victorious and pilsner became a generic term. Consequently, Bitburger and other breweries could use the term, pilsner, freely for beer that was brewed in Germany.

Not So Fast

Only 1 in 10 commercial breweries in Germany brewed a pilsner style prior to World War II. Bavarian-style dunkel and other local beer styles were far more popular.

Change came slowly after the war. One person who became instrumental in teaching and casting the light on German pilsners was Ludwig Narziss.

Educating Generations of Brewers

The former head brewer at Löwenbräu, Narziss was appointed head of the department of brewing technology in Weihenstephan, a position he held until 1992.

Narziss taught two generations of German brewmasters about the beauty of brewing a light-colored and clean tasting pilsner-style beer all while focusing on modern brewing techniques.

Some of the techniques included: low level of oxidation during the mashing, lautering and boiling phases and an extraordinary yeast management initiative.

Weihenstephan’s yeast strain, known as 34/70 to brewers and homebrewers alike is a proven reliable strain for highly attenuated, clean, crisp pilsner beers. As a result, 34/70 has become the standard in most German breweries.

A Notable Difference

By the 1970s the German pilsner style was notably different from the Bohemian original.

The diacetyl aroma, a buttery-tasting compound produced by yeast during fermentation, was more characteristic of the Bohemian style pilsner and disappeared from most German style pilsners.

The use of Czech Saaz hops was also nixed from the German style. German style pilsners and other pilsners became their own separate styles. Some say this is out of respect.

Style Profile and Characteristics of a German Pilsner

Appearance

Straw to light gold and brilliantly clear. Contains a creamy, long lasting white head.

Aroma

Medium low to low grainy sweet malt character dominates this style. A very distinctive flowery, spicy, herbal hop character.

Clean fermentation profile. Hints of light sulfur comes from both water and yeast is acceptable.

Mouthfeel

Medium – light bodied beer with medium to high carbonation.

Taste

Medium to high hop bitterness dominates the palate and lingers in the aftertaste. Moderate to moderately-low grainy sweetness from the malt supports the hop bitterness.

Low to high floral, spicy, or herbal hop flavor. Clean fermentation profile.

Dry, crisp, and well- attenuated finish leaves you with a bitter aftertaste and light malt flavor.

Food Pairings

Good food pairings include German fair, seafood, cheeses such as Monterey Jack, sharp cheddar, blue cheese, and goat cheese. Meats include pork, poultry.

German Pilsner Recipe By the Numbers

  • Color Range: 2 – 5 SRM
  • Original Gravity: 1.044 – 1.050 OG
  • Final Gravity: 1.008 – 1.013 FG
  • IBU Range: 22 – 40
  • ABV Range: 4.4 – 5.2%
How To Brew German Pils Beer Homebrew Challenge 10

Tips for Brewing your own German Pilsner

Grain

When deciding your recipe for a German Pilsner, it really doesn’t get any easier. German Pilsner malt is the only grain you need for your grist.

The grainy background of this malt plays well with the slight sweetness of a Pils malt. Considering the SRM range is between 2-5 SRM, a German Pils recipe really does not need any specialty malts.

Hops

German noble hops are reign supreme with a German Pils, no surprise there. Tettnanger, Hallertauer, Perle, and Spalt are your choices. Saaz is less common of a hop for a German Pils, save those for your Czech Pilsners.

Hopping a German Pilsner is pretty simple. 35-ish IBUs for a 60-minute addition. A half an ounce at 10 minutes left in the boil and then again another half ounce at flameout. This will leave you with a clean, bitter flavor that is floral and herbal.

Yeast

Lager yeast will be your choice of yeast for this beer. Bavarian Lager Wyeast 2007 Pilsen Lager, 2206 Bavarian Lager, 2247 European Lager are all good choices.

White Labs offers WLP830 German Lager Yeast. If you are interested in trying Imperial Yeast strains, Harvest L17 and Global L13 are solid choices.

If dry yeast is your thing, then Saflager W 34/70 or S -189 are your choices; also Mangrove Jack’s Bavarian Lager.

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 a few 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.

Martin Keen’s German Pils Homebrew Recipe:

Grain

  • 9 lbs Pilsner; German

Hops

  • 1.25 oz Perle Pellets – Boil 60.0 min
  • 0.50 oz Hallertauer Pellets – Boil 10.0 min
  • 0.50 oz Hallertauer Pellets – Boil 0.0 min

Yeast

  • 1.0 pkg German Lager (White Labs#WLP830)
How To Brew German Pils Beer Homebrew Challenge 4

Today, I’m brewing a simple clean and hopefully delicious German pills and I’m doing it with a brand new piece of brewing equipment.

I’m Martin Keen and I’m taking The Homebrew Challenge to brew 99 different styles of beer and for two days style German pills.

I am going to be trying out a hop filter. This is called a hop block and it’s from brau supply and what this does is it’s installed inside my unibrau kettle where it will prevent any hops from getting out of the kettle into my pump or into my fermentor.

The hopblock consists of three parts. There’s a 10 inch filter desk and then there’s a continuous Silicon seal which goes at the bottom of that disc. And then there’s a hole where you insert a dip tube which goes into the tri clamp port in the bottle of the kettle.

Now up until now I’ve been using a little hop basket in my boil kettle for hops, so I simply insert this where it hangs onto the side of the boil kettle and I put my hops in there.

hopblock filter

Now by switching to this filter instead of using this basket I’m hoping to see a couple of improvements. First of all, it seems pretty proven at this point that using a basket like this does lead to a reduction in hop utilization.

The hops are going to get more infused into the boiling beer if they’re just in there roaming free than constraints in one of these. The second problem with this is just kind of gets in the way, especially when I’m going to insert my immersion chiller into the boil ketttle to cool stuff down.

But I do have some reservations. I’ve used filtering solutions in the kettle before and honestly they haven’t gone that well. They just got completely gunked up and then when I was trying to run my pump, I would end up just sort of getting stuck.

I’d have to keep scraping off the filter to try to get any sort of flow going. So we’ll see how this does. Brau supplies say that that’s not been an issue with this hop block, but this’ll actually keep things flowing very well. So let’s put it to the test.

Ingredients for this one, if you want to get cute, you could add some sort of biscuity malt in if you like, but I’m playing this one strictly by the style guidelines and brewing purely with German pilsner malt. Nine pounds of that and that’s going to give me a gravity of about 1.044 for a beer that will be 4.6% it should be easy.

I’m mashing in here at 152 Fahrenheit. I’m going to keep doing that until I get to my pre boil gravity, which is 1.038 this though is, this thirsty work.

How To Brew German Pils Beer Homebrew Challenge 11

Just a word or two about this beer. The hellesbach or Maybach or as I’ve since learned in Germany, I think it’s called Hela Bachar. When Brian and I tried this a month or so ago, we weren’t completely blown away by it, but since then, since giving it a bit more time to condition, man, this is now one of my favorites. Just needed a bit more time.

The theme of the day is hops. Let’s talk about what hops are going in this one. To test out this hop filter, well, I’m going for an IBU of about 36 here. I’m going to get there by first of all using as my bittering hop perle hops.

I have 1.25 ounces of those, which will go in at 60 minutes. Then at 10 minutes and at flameout that’s going, I’m going to add half an ounce each of Hallertau Mittelfruh.

So overall not putting a huge amount of hops in a little over two ounces of hops. We’ll see how this hot filter handles it. All right, here we go.

This guy into sanitize is going to be a bit easier now.

Okay, so the loss of the Hallertau is going in. Now we’re going to turn off the heat and we’re going to see if I can get the pump running here to recirculate to help the chilling. So let’s turn the pump on and see what happens.

Well, so far so good. We’ve got the uh, the pump, just research relating here and then the immersion chiller has water running into it from outside. I mean exiting out here in the sink and we can see that the temperature is steadily dropping.

All right, well that seemed to work perfectly. No scraping at all required there.

How To Brew German Pils Beer Homebrew Challenge 2

Yeast for this one I have got to start to hear of WLP 830 German lager. You might have noticed from previous brews. I have quite a lot of this on hand, but yeah, this is what I’m using for this one. I’m going to add this once the wort is down to 50 Fahrenheit and then let it ferment out from there.

Now what is hard to figure out how much hop particulate made it into the fermenter just by looking at it, we can get a pretty good idea by looking in the bottom of the boil kettle. Let’s uh, let’s take a look.

Take a look at this. So this filter is absolutely caked in a hop stuff. You can see the, the depth of it here, where the immersion chiller was. So it’s an a very nice job of keeping those hops out, but at the same time it’s really drained. The rest of the kettle, there is a very little liquid left in here. Of course.

The other thing is the hop utilization. We won’t know about that and I guess till we taste it, but it was certainly more convenient not to have that hot basket in the way, especially when I was trying to chill the wort.

So far, pretty impressed!

How To Brew German Pils Beer Homebrew Challenge 7

Right, It’s beer tasting time. We’ve got Evan. Hi Evan. Hello. A couple of fermentation notes; This beer was fermented at 50 Fahrenheit, raised two 55 the beer ended up coming in at 1.008 – It’s a 5% beer.

Okay, so what do you think first of all about the appearance of this German pils? This is a very light colored beer. I wouldn’t think of anything lighter than, this is like a straw color. This is one of the lightest ones I think I’ve done. I don’t think you’re going to get lighter than this.

Like this almost has like a weird kind of like, yeah, I didn’t even know it. I wouldn’t eat it, looks like a Shandy. That’s what I was gonna say. It looks like it was like a Shandy. Yeah, it’s had something added to it. It’s not beer. This being the first bit that I brew with my new hop filter, I wanted to see if you’ve got any sort of hop aromas off of this beer.

Um, the style guidelines say that you might get some sort of light honey from this sort of beer. Um, definitely getting some sort of sweetness in the smell. That’s, let’s go for the, uh, for the flavor. Second, during my research beforehand with this, I was trying to find different types of German pils and this, and the Becks was the one that came up as like the most popular and it’s, it’s definitely different to an American pilsner.

Like what would he say is an American Pilsner, bud or coors or something like that. Yeah. This definitely has, this is much more flavorful than that. I think there’s much more to it. I think there’s a little bit of hoppiness less malty than an American beer as well, and just kind of clean German beers all clean, clean finish.

This is what I would definitely say about this and this and this. The six weeks lagering that has made all the difference as well. Yeah. I didn’t lager for six weeks. Ran out of time as he well knows. Yeah. This was, this is actually a four weeks old, but you know, given the fact that it is quite young, it’s actually falling clear already and it doesn’t really have any, like there’s no, there’s no sight.

If I drunk this, I wouldn’t think, Oh wow, it needs more time. I don’t think there’s any sense of that.

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.