Larger – An Imperial Pilsner

Person Number 1: “You spelt it wrong, it’s l-a-g-e-r.”

Me: “No, I didn’t. It’s Larger. It’s like a lager, but it’s bigger.”

Person Number 1: “Oooooh, I see what you did there!”

Me: “Yes, yes you did and I am funny.”

Person Number 1: “No, you’re not. Puns are never funny.”

Me: “I’ll have to agree with you. They’re not funny… they’re punny.”

Person Number 1: <Punches Kelly>

Me: “Ouch. Did you just punch me because that action includes the word, pun?”

I was going to leave this blogpost at the above conversation, but thought the avid readers out there would want a little more information about our new beer, Larger and were less concerned at the fact that someone hit me for using puns. So, I’ll do what I always do and tell you a little story about how this beer came to be.

Our pretty new label...

Often here at Epic we get enquiries via email asking what beers we have, sometimes it may even be a sales order and sometimes, there are spelling mistakes. It’s most likely that the word that is spelt wrong is lager, where an erroneous “R” makes it’s way in. So, it made sense that if we were going to brew a big Pilsner-style beer, that we would annoy everyone out there and call it Larger.  This now means we’re likely to get a load of people ordering the wrong beer at bars, bottle-stores getting confused and generally, a bunch of folk being miffed at us. Which is why it meant we had to make this beer taste awesome enough, that people wouldn’t worry about it’s slightly frustrating name.

So how does one go about doing this? I’ll be honest. My lager-brewing skills are somewhat limited. Sure, the first two years of my brewing career were spent with DB Breweries, pumping out hectolitre upon hectolitre of bottom-fermented lager-style beers and in my time at Thornbridge, we worked together with Birrificio Italiano and brewed a Pilsener called Italia. Here at Epic we brew our nice dry-hopped Epic Lager, but apart from that, my knowledge was sparse. The best thing to do in such a situation is taste beers similar to what you want to brew and read as much as you can about the brewing techniques.

Thornbridge Italia (courtesy of Leigh from goodpeopleeats.blogspot.com)

If we bounce back a bit to February 23rd of this year… Myself, Luke from Epic and a very important chap who ferries super-fresh bottles of beer from the USA to our own doorsteps, Dave “The Beer Mule” Summergreene sat down and tried a Port Brewing Panzer Imperial Pilsner. It had a big, rich malt backbone, quite sweet in character with a touch of caramel to help fight back against the huge noble hop character. It was big, bitter, balanced and beautiful. We were all super-impressed with the brew and pretty much decided there and then, that we wanted to do an Epic Imperial Pilsner at some stage. Dave had met Julian Shrago, Head Brewer and Owner of Beachwood BBQ Brewery in Long Beach whilst in Los Angeles and put me in contact with him. Julian had originally been a US National Homebrew champion with one of his IPAs. Obviously knowing his hops extremely well he then teamed up with the Port Brewing crew and they brewed the Panzer Imperial Pilsner as a collaboration. Julian told me how he’d been inspired by the Samuel Adams Imperial Pilsner back in 2003 and based on his knowledge of Double IPAs, went about creating the brew based on big hopping rates, but went with German Pilsner malt, German hops and a German Lager yeast strain. With that advice on board, we began thinking of a recipe…

Our inspiration! (Pic courtesy of fullpint.com)

April rolled around and The Beer Mule arrived with another selection of fine beers. We sipped our way through Uinta Brewing Company’s Tilted Smile and Karl Strauss Brewing Company’s Whistler Imperial Pils. I remembered back to a year before, drinking an Odell Double Pilsner that Doug had delivered to Thornbridge when working on a collaboration with us. They were all great beers and had seemingly taken the Double/Imperial IPA model and modified it with the use of cool fermentation, bottom-fermenting lager yeast strains and a big whack of hops more typically indicative of German and Bohemian Pilsner/Pilseners.

It was time to develop the recipe. We contacted Wyeast to discuss the possibility of getting a decent amount of Bohemian Lager Yeast sent over for us to grow up in a batch of our Epic Lager. We usually use California Lager Yeast in Epic Lager and were really interested to see how this strain would effect the flavour profile in this beer, as well as it being an essential part of the process in which we got a pitchable quantity of yeast for the Imperial Pilsner. The Bohemian Lager Yeast brewed Lager showed a slightly cleaner, crisper finish, a touch more bitterness and the tiniest amount of sulphur throughout fermentation. Although it was a longer fermentation and maturation with this yeast than it was with the Californian Lager strain, I was personally impressed with the characters that this yeast had brought to the beer. It probably wasn’t enough to make a considerable difference to the overall character of Epic Lager, but it exhibited characteristics that we knew would be perfect with our Imperial Pilsner.

The wonderfully fragrant, and lightly biscuity Pilsner Malt

For the grist, we decided on Weyermann Pilsener malt as our base. We wanted a nice, clean malt grain character and the German malt was perfect for this. It makes up part of our grist in the original Epic Lager (along with Bohemian Pilsener malt), so we knew how it behaved in a brew and were pretty pleased with it’s flavour profile. The aim for this beer was to hit around 8.5% alcohol by volume with an Original Gravity of 1.077 and a Final Gravity of 1.012-1.013. This would mean we’d need some good attenuation from the yeast to get the beer as dry and clean as we wanted it. I was nervous about this… the last thing we wanted was an underattenuated strong lager!

The bitterness we were aiming for was quite high at 70 IBUs, but this was tempered by the fact that we chose one of my favourite bittering hops, Pacific Jade. This hop exhibits an intense Noble hop character in that it is very low in a hop alpha acid called Cohumulone. This alpha acid is often responsible for a harsh bitterness, so a low level can give a softer perceived bitterness in the finished beer and in my opinion, Pacific Jade is one of the best at giving a well-utilised, soft, clean bitterness.

This little guy helps us with some nice, soft bitterness at low levels

Pacific Jade was paired throughout the brew with three hops of German parentage. Liberty and Santiam, both grown in the US and the hops used in our Epic Lager, were used liberally throughout the flavouring and aroma additions, their Hallertau ancestry lending well to the character we were after in this brew. These were joined by US Tettnang, another of the noble hop varieties and finally finished off with some Kiwi-grown Kohatu. The blending of US and NZ hops had worked well for us in our earlier Hop Zombie, so it made sense to do something similar with Larger. The plan was also to do a massive dry-hop with Larger, using Liberty, Santiam, US Tettnang and Kohatu over a number of dry hops based on how the flavour of the beer was progressing during the lagering process.

When it came to water chemistry and the mash regime, it was all down to compromise and trying to coax as many fermentables as possible from the grains. The temperature-stepped mash started low to really work the maltase, peptidase and β-glucanase enzymes and this was followed by an increase to push the proteases and β-amylases. The majority of the mash rest was done at 66°C to favour α-amylase activity and limit dextrin content. The grist itself was mashed quite thin, emulating the type of liquor:grist ratio that is used in continental decoction mashing (even though this was solely infusion). This thinner grist was chosen as it helps to aid amylase heat resistance at the water mineral content we were looking at using. Because Auckland water is very soft (in fact it is quite similar to the water profile of Plzen), it was decided to use only a small amount of Calcium Sulphate in this beer. The lower calcium concentration was part of the reason a thin grist was used and hopefully the low level sulphate ions would bring some crispness and dryness to the finish.

Just like the blog before this one, we now wait for our beer to be finished. It is sitting patiently in tank, exactly one month from brewday today and developing the flavours that we want. It’s slowly picking up the aromatics from the massive amount of dry-hopping. The finish and bitterness are exactly where we wanted them, the lower alpha acid hops are working in a different way than the big high-alpha beasts we used in Hop Zombie, providing us with something big, yet refined. The body is perfect, nice and light and summery, which is convenient considering this is to act as our Christmas release beer from now onwards!

Less than a month to go…

Our keg tap badge... who will be the lucky recipients of our small number of kegs??

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