Last summer my Pilsner attempts were consistently too “sweet” and “bready”. I might also be tasting diacetyl, but I did do diacetyl rests on these beers, and anyways I don’t really know what diacetyl really tastes like, when it comes down to it…. (is there some commercial beer that has diacetyl issues…. I’d buy some just to learn what it tastes like !) I’ve narrowed it down to 3 things to improve on, and would love some suggestions…
Start doing a fast ferment test for your lagers. The test itself won't fix anything but it gives you one vital piece of information -> the fermentability of your wort. If your beer seems too sweet, chances are that there are too many residual fermentable sugars left. I know from experience that getting the yeast to ferment those last sugars can take a while but you won't get a crisp tasting beer if the yeast doesn't go all the way.
I actually did do your FFT procedure on some of my lagers last summer… definitely did it on a Helles that worked out nicely… so I am confident that I am fermenting my beers all the way out
1) Malt. I brewed both JZ’s “Myburger” (1.054 to 1.009) and BoPils (1.057 to 1.014) recipes last year with Crisp Euro Pils as the base malt, because that is what I can get cheap from my local brewpub. Would paying almost twice as much for something like Weyermann make a huge difference?
I like Weyermann a lot,m but many of my recent beers have been brewed with Best Malz Pilsner and they are fine too. I don't have any direct comparison though.
Is key. I have little experience with dry yeast. Judging by the name, 34/70 is the German brewing yeast. However, when I used the s34/70 strain the results were too sulfury for my taste. I have good success with WLP830, which I think is the W34/70 strain that is so widely used in German brewing. You'll need a large amount of healthy and young yeast. Anything not healthy enough and you'll have problems getting those last fermentable sugars (Maltotriose in most cases) fermented. In its last step I raise my yeast with constant aeration and try to brew within 2-3 days of the last propagation step being complete.
You want to be able to ferment the beer at 46-50 F. How long does your primary fermentation take now?
my Bo Pils was pitched at 50F, and stayed in primary at 50F for 11 days, then I raised temp quickly to 60F, left it for 48 hrs, then transferred to glass carboys and lagered at 33F for 5wks, then kegged and started drinking it after 10 days in the keg.
3) Water. This is the one I don’t really want to deal with, but will if I have to. I’ve never modded my water, and get good ales, stouts, as well as good amber and dark lagers. So I guess I may be on to something, I just don’t know how to fix it. Here’s my water profile: pH 7.4. Na 14ppm, K 1ppm, Ca 54ppm, Mg 9ppm, Total Hardness 173ppm, Chloride 25ppm, Carbonates <1ppm, Bicarbonates 166ppm, Total Alkalinity 136ppm. From my limited research it seems this is not good Pilsner water… what can I do to fix it?
That water needs fixing when using mostly pilsner malt. I'd start with a 50/50 dilution with reverse osmosis or distilled water and 3% acid malt to the grist. Also add about 0.4g gypsum to each gallon of water and use a mash thickness of 2 qt/lb.
There are ways to reduce the bicarbonate in your water even further. One of them is to use all RO water and add salts and another one is to treat the water with slaked lime. But that may take you too far at this point.
Getting a Pilsner or Helles that matches up with German beers is one of the driving forces in my brewing. I can tell you it is not easy at all, but maybe those tips will get you a big step closer. In particular the fermentation is key. There don't seem to be enough differences between step mashing (145 to 160F for example) over a single infusion mash that you should not worry about that at this point.
I guess I still don’t know what the problems will be if I brew pils with my water, or to put it another way, do you think my water is the primary culprit in making the beer taste this way? (I still have a few bottles of the BoPils and the Helles from last summer, I can send them to you if you want to taste them)
I think what I’m going to try is to switch to Weyermann or Best Malz, add the acidulated malt to the grain bill, mix 50/50 distilled water with my water and treat with gypsum, then see what I get… I’ll still stick with a dry yeast (I’ll try 34/70 instead of S-189 though)
So to that, I have a few more questions:
1. When using 3% acidulated malt, does this replace an equal amount of the pils malt? Or is it in addition to the full amount of pils malt….
2. Do I modify all my water with gypsum (mash and sparge) or just the water that will be used for mashing? And do I add the gypsum to the water, or to the mash… (I already mash at 2.0 qts/lbs)
3. On some of these online water calculators, it seems like if I add the gypsum you recommend to a mix of 50/50 distilled water and my water, it bumps the sulfates up a lot too, is this a problem?
4. Side question: will this water also work for a Bitburger-style German Pils??
5. And a final side issue: any hints on the diacetyl question… what beer (or what food product) tastes like diacetyl?