Classic American Pilsner

NOTE: The 2015 BJCP Style Guidelines does not list the Classic American Pilsner under any category.  It does, however, show up in the historical beer section under Pre-Prohibition Lager p. 57.  The information below should be studies as reference material for those studying for the current BJCP exam.

Classic American Pilsner

Classic American Pilsner Description

Classic American pilsner, or CAP as it's affectionately called by many homebrewers, is one style everyone should try and brew. Its history coincides with the immigration of European settlers into America and the use of the materials at hand.

Many homebrewers wonder why American breweries used adjuncts like corn and rice in the their beers when they weren't used in Europe. The reason is that our barley was primarily of the 6-row variety which was high in protein and husks. To use the 6-row barley exclusively to make beer in the early days of the last century was difficult. The protein in the barley made the beer hazy and unstable, and the husks gave the beer an astringent flavor that most found objectionable. The German brewers were the ones that came up with the solution. By using a large percentage of corn in the grist, the beer not only came out crystal clear and stable, it now had a nice corn sweetness which most people liked. It was just lucky that the 6-row barley also had extra enzymes to convert the starches in the adjuncts to fermentable sugars. The result was a clean flavorful lager which lasted up until prohibition.

If you can't find flaked maize or rice, you will have to do a cereal mash with polenta, corn meal, or raw rice if that's what you prefer to use. Click here to learn how all about a cereal mash.

Cluster Hops was the variety grown at the time and was the one most likely to have been used for bittering. It isn't liked much these days because of its rustic harshness, but in those days it was the hop of choice for bittering. The German brewers probably preferred their native hops for flavor and aroma, such as Saaz, Hallertau, and other noble German varieties. The hopping rate was rather high and it is possible that the German brewers used first wort hopping in their beers to yield a smooth clean hop aroma and flavor. There is no evidence it was used but most of the German brewers would have known about the technique.

The German brewers brought over their own lager yeast when they immigrated to America. These days any good pilsner yeast will work well. For best results, pitch cold, around 45°F (7°C) and let the temperature slowly increase to about 48-50 °F (9-10°C) for the bulk of the fermentation. This should eliminate most of the diacetyl produced by the yeast. Give the beer a diacetyl rest at the end by raising the temperature to about 55-60°F (13-16°C) for a couple of days to insure the yeast clean up all the by-produces of fermentation.

Watch your sparge water temperature and keep it below 168°F (76°C) so you don't extract too many tannins from the husks. These details will help you brew an award winning classic American pilsner.

Information for this page was adapted from the BJCP Style Guidelines for 2008 and New Brewing Lager Beer written by Gregory J. Noonan and published by Brewers Publications, 1996.


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