How to Brew New Zealand Pilsner

by Steve Thanos | Updated: September 3, 2021

New Zealand Pilsner is a pale lager that combines some of the great attributes of Pilsner and Kölsch with the modern twist of New Zealand hops.

This beer is pale, dry, golden in color, and clean fermented.  It really allows for the characteristically tropical, citrisy, fruity, grassy New Zealand hops to shine.

With a medium body, soft mouthfeel, and smooth finish, this bready malt based beer is very drinkable and hop forward. 

The Showcase of Hops

New Zealand pilsners were originally crafted by Emerson’s Brewery in the mid-1990s. As the hops in New Zealand have expanded, as to have this style.

Such hops that are used in this style include: Motueka, Riwake, Nelson Sauvin, and Pacific Jade usually used for bittering.

Characteristics of the Style

The hop aromatics have been compared to New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc wines, along with a tropical, fruity, grassy, melon, and lime characteristics.

This style is often brewed as a hybrid style using a neutral ale yeast at cool temperatures. It is important to limit the sulfur content of the finished beer. 

Compared to Other Pilsners

Compared to German pilsners, the New Zealand pilsner is not as crisp and dry in the finish. It has a softer, maltier, and fuller body.

Compared to a Czech Premium Pale Lager, less malt complexity and a cleaner fermentation. There is a similar balance to a traditional Kölsch or British Golden Ale, but with a hoppier aroma.

Lastly, it should not be as hoppy or bitter as an IPA.

Style Profile for New Zealand Pilsner

Appearance

New Zealand pilsners appear deep gold or yellow gold in color. They are quite clear to brilliantly clear. Creamy, long-lasting white head graces the top of this beer. 

Aroma

Medium to high hop aroma with a showcare of modern New World hop varieties from New Zealand. Usually the aroma consists of tropical fruit, citrus, gooseberry, honeydew melon.

Medium-low to medium malt that supports the neutral, bready-cracker aroma. Very low DMS is acceptable but not required.

Neutral, clean yeast character with some light sulfury quality. Hop character should be in balance with some malt character should be evident. 

Flavor

Medium to high hop bitterness. A clean bitterness is not harsh, but rather promotes the balance and lasting aftertaste of the beer.

Medium to high hop flavor that is same as the aroma (tropical fruit, citrus, gooseberry, honeydew melon). Medium to medium-low malt flavor, grainy-sweet, bready, or crackery. Clean fermentation profile is evident.

The malt may be perceived as sweet, but the beer is not literally sweet overall. The finish may be dry, but not seem crisp or biting. The balance should be bitter, but the malt flavor should be noticeable. 

Mouthfeel

Medium to medium-light body. Medium to medium-high carbonation. Smoothness is a noticeable attribute of the style. It should never be harsh or astringent. 

Tips for Brewing your own New Zealand Pilsner

Grain

The grist for this style starts with a 50/50 split of US 2-row and German Pilsner malt. According to BJCP president and highest ranking judge, Gordon Strong, just using German pilsner malt would make the malt flavor a little too strong.

Instead cutting it half with some 2-row, helps to cut through the stronger flavors and makes it more approachable.

Crystal malts are usually avoided. A few ounces of wheat malt can be added as well for extra body and head retention. 

Hops

The hop bitterness of this style should be clean and not harsh. Higher IBU levels should be avoided since that will tend to bring out the harshness and the unpleasant flavors associated with some hops.

Instead keeping the IBUs around the 35 range will be just right. As mentioned earlier, this beer showcases the wonderful hops found in New Zealand.

These hops include such hops as: Motueka, Riwake, Nelson Sauvin, and Pacific Jade usually used for bittering.

Yeast

There is a wide selection of yeast to choose from for this style. They include the following: 

  • White Labs: German Lager Yeast (WLP830)
  • Wyeast: Bohemian Lager (2124)
  • Dry Yeast: Fermentis Saflager 34/70

New Zealand Pilsner By the Numbers

  • Color Range: 2 – 6 SRM
  • Original Gravity: 1.044 – 1.156 OG
  • Final Gravity: 1.009 – 1.014 FG
  • IBU Range: 25 – 45
  • ABV Range: 4.5 – 5.8% 

Martin Keen’s New Zealand Pilsner Recipe

Grain

  • 84%              12lb             Pilsner German 
  • 10%               1lb              Carapils Malt
  •   6%               8oz             White Wheat Malt

Hops

  • .5 oz          Pacific Jade  – Boil – 60 min
  • 1 oz           Moutueka – Boil – 20 min 
  • .5 oz          Pacific Jade  – Boil – 5 min
  • 1 oz           Nelson Sauvin – Whirlpool 20 min

Yeast

  • 1.0 pkg   German Lager White Labs WLP #830

Transcript: This is it, the 99th beer, but it didn’t seem right just to brew it here, like a regular brew day. So I’m going to take it somewhere special.

Here we are ready for brew day!

I am here at claw hammer supply to brew my 99th beer on my 99th week. Thank you guys for letting me come and see this set. And actually, this will be the first time I brewed on something that isn’t my own equipment as well. So this is going to be fun.

It should look pretty familiar. It does look quite familiar. Yeah, it does. I think I’ve got to know what I’m doing. It’s it’s, you know, it’s so weird to be here because like I’ve seen the set on a million YouTube videos and then you get here and it’s like, wow, it’s real.

It’s yeah, it’s made out of wood! So we should get the water in to here. Uh, how do you get water into this thing? Right over there.

Follow me to the tap my good man, cause this, wow, there you go. I just got done brewin down at new Belgium. And now here I am brewing with you. What were you brewing? We were brewing a Bruin fat tire and bypassing juicy hazes.

How many fat tires you think you’ve brewed at this point? How many? Uh, a whole slew of cavalcade, uh, more than a few.

Okay. So we are going to do two grams of calcium chloride, 1.5, five Epsom salt, and then 1.2 of gypsum.

So Ross, do you find it weird, the scale difference between this home brew stuff and a professional brewery? Wouldn’t this be like your water salts in the brewery?

Oh yeah. I mean, way more than this, like it’s insane. You know, here with our grain, it’s like, oh, here’s our little grain bill. That’s so nice. You can snuggle it, hold it in one hand. And at new Belgium we do, you know, we have like super sacks of our specialty malt and then silos of our base malt.

But at this scale where you can hold it in your hands and touch it and sorta cuddle it a little, I’m I’m really stoked you brought your friend here all the way from the low country.

I don’t normally get to do this part with professional lighting, but here it goes. So the beer has an original gravity or shooting for original gravity here of 1.048.

In terms of what’s in the grist, the main body of the grist is German Pilsner malt at 84%. And then into that, I’m also adding carapils at 10% and then white wheat malt at 6%.

We’ve hit an hour 60 minute mash. We’re right at 60 minutes. Um, monster mash, dude, I’m going to kill our pump here.

So Martin you’re usually the one man mash master. Yes, exactly. You’re pulling it out with the big guns. I’m going to assist you today. You pull, I hook.

Well, you’ve assisted me with proper protective gear. So I feel, feel ready. You’re one of the family man. So you want to pull and I want to get one book in, all right. There it is now.

So I just leave it like this and then it’s kind of an angle. And maybe that helps drain? I like your cockeyed to the side method. I like, so then I cockedeye even more. Okay. You’re going to get, oh yeah, yeah. That’s a big hook. And then it just drains away.

The wort that is currently in the, in the hoses. Do you do anything with it? Or just leave it in there? And then so Emmett is a firm believer in dumping that. That wort. Hose goes, yeah, hose goes, he unhooks the house, dumps it out.

I never do that. Never just because this is such a small amount of liquid. So do you just leave it in the hose? And then when you recirculate, you leave it in the hose. Yeah. We recirculate for like the last 10 minutes. Yeah. Typically. And it’s just like, that just doesn’t get boiled.

That makes sense. I go OCD and I’m like, I got to get all of the stuff out of the hose. I put it into a bucket and then I tip it back in. Yeah. But it’s a tiny amount. So,..

Stop me if you heard this one, how many guys does it take to unscrew a hose? Oh Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I don’t know, man, to me, does that work? Does that work? Is that worth it?

Like that? Is, is that one beer? Yeah. Is that a short pour? Four ounces?

Almost a beer. Can I dump it? Reintroducing wort to its natural habitat.

This is actually one of the additional styles that was added to the BJCP guidelines and what this is. I mean, it’s it’s yes, it’s a lager. So it’s going to have that sort of clean, crisp taste to it, but it’s full of New Zealand hops.

So we going to be adding hops here into the boil and also at Whirlpool to really try to pull out some of these fruity flavors and aromas that you get from, from New Zealand hops.

Using Pacific Jade as the bittering hops. So I’ll go in at the start of the boil. And then we’re going to add another charge of Pacific Jade with five minutes to go.

Then for the Whirlpool hops, well, we’re going to bring the temperature down to 180 Fahrenheit and keep it there for about 20 minutes. And at that point we will be adding in Nelson Sauvin and I’m a Motueka leaving that in for 20 minutes before chilling all the way down, ready for our yeast pitch.

When it comes to fermenting this beer, we’re actually going to split this into two, one and a half gallon batches. Half of the batch is going to stay right here in Asheville and I’m taking the other half home in a corny keg back to Raleigh. Uh, we’ll both be adding our yeasts into our own fermentation chambers and then we’ll be able to try the beer together.

Thank you so much for having me. I’ve got my beer ready to go. I’m going to bring this back home. Ferment it.

Congrats on finishing your challenge. Thank you. Unbelievable that you did. I’m like genuinely impressed. Yeah. Actually how you brewed, filmed and edited 99 beers and 99 weeks. We are not worthy man.

I dunno, I don’t know if impressed is the right word, or amused, or conserned, or pressured.

Yeah. Concerned is good. But yeah, this is it. This is it. The 99th beer.

Martin. How’s it going guys? Should we have a, should we actually have a beer? We got glasses. We have beer.

May I pour you a beer? How do you like that? How’s yours looking then from a sort of color and clarity appearance?

Dude. Like my precious, that is looking pretty precious.

I, I took a yeah, a gravity rating and this came out of at 1.008, so five and a quarter percent. Yeah, no, I’m going to sip it, man. Yeah, let’s give it a try.

It smells good. Nice and fruity. Ooh. Yeah.

I’m definitely getting that little fruity hop nose on it, which is awesome.

Yeah. To me, it’s, it’s, I’m, I’m enjoying this. So it’s, it’s quite dry, I think, clean, um, in terms of the hops picking up maybe sort of white grapes kind of, or white wine, Grapey kind of flavor, maybe a little bit of tropicalness to it. Yeah.

Riesling vibes. It’s Riesling vibes, that’s right? Yeah. Serious Riesling vibes,, it does have a pretty distinct white wine kind of character Dude break out the shrimp.

Martin you did it man. 99! Yeah.

I’ve said this several times, but I absolutely loved the concept of this. It gets this, what a cool concept. You brewed every single style, so much exploration went into this that you, I’m sure you have a much better idea of, you know, what you’re into and what you’re not. And I’m sure you’ll learn some process, uh, you know, tips and tricks.

Yeah, that’s, that’s been the really interesting thing for me is learning the different ways to brew and different things to try. So that’s the 99th beer, but we’re not quite done yet with the Homebrew Challenge.

Uh, next week I have a special episode where I’m going to be recapping the whole challenge. And I’ve also been keeping some of the beers conditioning in the brewery for like over a year. So going to be putting those out for tasting. And finally, I’m going to address the question of what happens next? Now the 99 challenge is done.

Russ and Kyle. It has been a pleasure. Thank you so much for, for brewing this one with me. It made it really special to make this the 99th beer and cheers.

Yeah. Thanks for sharing. Cheers man.

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.