Pilsner beers have been around since the early 1800s and have maintained their popularity due to their high quality throughout the decades. The beer is characterized by its pale color, usually with a yellow tint.
The style also has two distinctly different styles, with the original Czech Bohemian style giving the beer its namesake, the city of Plzen, and the German adaptation.
While there are clear differences between these styles, they are largely similar and can both be categorized under the bracket of Pilsner.
There is a third American variant that has gained some popularity in America but is not enjoyed in Europe, not actually being allowed to be labeled as a Pilsner.
Because of the popularity of the beverage, it is a favorite for home brewers to try and recreate. So, as many home brewers know, one of the most important factors to keep in mind is the water profile.
To quickly summarize, the intended water for this style of beer is soft, with minimal additions, to keep the water clear and clean.
The water is meant to be free of any strong odors or contamination which can affect or ruin the subtlety of the final product.
The intended pH is between 5.2 and 5.5, which is common for similar lagers.
With the water in Plzen being so important to the original Pilsner, many home brewers try their best to perfectly replicate the water quality of that in the Czech City.
While this is achievable, it is not worth obsessing over, as the impact will be almost completely negligible, especially on the untrained tongue.
However, some people do enjoy this challenge, so if you think you have the dedication to attempt this, there is no problem in doing so.
The Pilsner famously was adapted and changed by the Germans, largely because of water differences, so adapting the beer to suit your standards is a good compromise.
So let’s have a look at the perfect water profile for a home-brewed Pilsner beer, and then after we’ll talk through what each mineral does to impact the water of this beer.
Ideal Water Profile For Pilsner Beer
The mineral content for Pilsner is measured in PPM (Parts Per Million); there are calculators online available to help you measure how much you will need for the amount you are brewing.
- Calcium – 50ppm
- Magnesium – 5ppm
- Sulfate – 60ppm
- Chloride – 60ppm
No Sodium is generally added to a Pilsner water profile.
How Does The Mineral Content Impact The Water Profile And The Overall Beer?
Unless you’re a chemistry expert, it’s difficult to know just what these minerals do to impact the quality of the water, in terms of brewing especially.
So let’s go through each mineral and see what element of the water profile they impact.
- Calcium: Calcium lowers the pH of the water to help promote the brewing process since a more acidic base than neutral is generally desired. It clarifies (makes it appear more clear) the beer by helping the proteins precipitate. As well as all of this, it also promotes the health of the yeast.
- Magnesium: Magnesium is largely included for the purpose of promoting yeast health.
- Sulfate: The properties of sulfate in beer help accentuate and emphasize the flavors of the hops, being an integral element of the Pilsner’s flavor profile.
- Chloride: Similarly to how sulfate promotes the flavor of the hops, the characteristics of chloride emphasize the sweet malty finish of beer. With Pilsners being a slightly sweet beer, this element is important.
- Sodium: When sodium is included, it is generally used to highlight the flavor of the beer.
How To Make Your Water Fit This Profile
The first step to having full control over your water’s profile and mineral content is to start with the purest water you can get.
The two best candidates for this are reverse osmosis (RO) water or distilled water.
You can also use a tap filter, or a filtration system you have bought yourself, but since you are in charge of filtration for these methods, there is much more chance for human error.
To ensure the best accuracy of results, you want complete control, so a blank canvas is best.
When it comes to sourcing the minerals, you can find pure examples of them in many forms, some intended for home brewing exclusively.
These are often found in tablets or powders. When using tablets, make sure to grind them thoroughly before using.
Some minerals can also be found in a tincture form, which can be mixed in directly.
Finally, for adjusting the pH of the water, you can mix in an alkaline substance like gypsum or calcium chloride to increase the pH. Or if you want the inverse, you can use an acidic substance such as lactic acid.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Other Ingredients Are Needed For A Pilsner?
While the water profile is a key step in making a good Pilsner, what else is important?
Just like with most beers, the hops are important. Pilsners use a low bitterness hop and if you want it to be perfect, try to get the distinctive floral aroma.
As expected, Pilsner’s use 100% Pilsner malts, which give the beer its signature grainy flavor. Some brewers have found that it’s important to boil the malt for a little longer than usual to bring out the potential of the distinct flavor.
Finally, yeast. You can use most brands of German or Czech yeast, and there are even specific Pilsner brands of yeast available. Like with all brewing, temperature regulation of yeast is important for keeping the yeast healthy.
How To Check The Water Profile Of Your Tap Water
There are a few simple methods for finding out the profile of your tap water if you want to use it as a base for brewing.
Firstly, you can get the latest water quality report from your local water department or water provider. However, depending on how old the report is, accuracy can vary.
A more extended method is by sending a water sample to a testing facility, so they can read the results for you directly. It’s accurate, but this method is probably the most expensive.
Finally, you can also get a home testing kit, this has the largest chance for human error depending on competency, but if you trust yourself, this can be a more cost-effective method to get up-to-date results on your water quality.
If you intend to use your tap water, testing is incredibly important since if there are unknown contaminants, or even just elements present that you aren’t aware of, the results can vary between an unintended result to potentially a completely undrinkable failed batch and a waste of resources and time.
Where Did Pilsner Originate?
The original Pilsner came from the Pilsner Urquell Brewery in 1842 in Plzen, Czech Republic. The brewery is still running today, and Urquell is seen as the definitive Pilsner brew.
What Is The Difference Between Czech And German Pilsners?
Czech Pilsner is characterized by its pale-yellow color and a lower than average hop flavor.
The drink also has a slightly lower carbonation and is instead distinct for its sweet, toasty, and bready aromatic sensation. They have a medium bitterness and tend to range between 4.1 to 5.1 ABV%.
German Pilsner, more commonly referred to as ‘Pils’ was adapted by Germans to better suit their mineral water as well as their local hops.
The use of Pils instead of Pilsner is used as a sign of respect for the original, as well as a factor for differentiating the two types.
The German alternative tends to be slightly more bitter, more pale, and more carbonated than its Czech counterpart.
The flavor profile is also described as more crisp and dry, with a more obvious hop aroma.
There is also a third American alternative, which is treated with a lot less reverence, especially in Europe where it is not actually displayed as a Pilsner.
They are characterized by generally having less flavor, less hops, and less bitterness.
However, it is making a little bit of a resurgence with Americans aiming to try bold new ideas with the beverage.
How Can The pH Of Water Affect Beer?
Having the perfect pH level is incredibly important for avoiding bad results, if your drink is too acidic it is more likely to be more cloudy than intended.
And if your beer is more alkaline than you want it to be, it can affect the brewing process and make the beer more likely to spoil in the long run.
If you want to make this distinctive Czech/German pale beer, getting the right style of water profile is key to getting the results you desire.
If you follow this guide, you will have the perfect base for making your Pilsner. But once you’re comfortable with the methodology, do not be scared to experiment. That’s what made this beer so popular in the first place!