Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Meaning of Lite

I am on record, either here or through my Twitter feed, as believing that the mark of a truly talented brewer lay not in his, or her, ability to brew an imperial India stout and then age said behemoth in a bourbon barrel whilst dry hopping it. For me the truly great brewers are those that can put a glass of something below 5% abv in my hand and my hand come back for more, time after time. As such, I am a fan of bitters in their various forms, mild as understood in the modern world, proper Bohemian pilsners and a multitude of other beer styles than don't knock me on my arse after half a pint. There is a reason why I differentiate between a drinker and a drunkard.

Something that has been trundling through my mind of late has been finally make the move to brewing lagers as well as ales in my little homebrew operation - a quick aside, sometimes when I read Brew Your Own magazine and see these huge great fancy setups, I feel positively embarrassed by my pot on a stove. I posted a little while ago about the technical difficulties of lagering in my small flat, but I feel as though I have a viable idea to solve that - basically my fridge has space to stand up a couple of 1 gallon jugs, so that will be the location for primary fermentation. For lagering, I plan to buy a chest cooler to fill with ice and do the lagering in the cellar, changing the ice as required.

With the technical aspects solved in theory, my mind has turned to what kind of lager to make first. Doing a proper Bohemian Pilsner would obviously be something I would love to try, but I want to learn as much about the mechanics of decoction before I step up to that particular plate. There is however a style of Czech lager that is exceedingly rare, that kind of takes my fancy as a fun little proof of concept project, I am talking about lehké pivo.

Lehké pivo translates literally as "light beer" and is, according to the Czech brewing laws, a beer which is brewed below 8º Plato, or 1.032. From what I can discover in my reading, the actual colour of said beer is not defined. "Light" in this context then is all about the low alcohol content of the beer. As far as I know, only a couple of breweries in the Czech Republic make this kind of beer, including the wonderfully titled Sklárna a minipivovar Novosad & Syn Harrachov - which translates as the Novovsad and Sons Glassworks and Microbrewery, Harrachov. The name gives us a reminder of the alleged origins of lehké pivo as a form of hydration for glassworkers, as well as for workers in heavy industry such as steel mills. Paraphrasing from memory, Evan Rail described the lehké pivo made in Harrachov as better than many a 10º lager made by the bigger breweries.

My planned recipe then is as follows:
  • 83% Weyermann Bohemian Pilsner Malt
  • 17% Weyermann CaraBohemian Malt
  • 18 IBUs of Saaz @ 90 minutes
  • 4 IBUs of Saaz @ 20 minutes
  • 1 IBU of Saaz @ 1 minute
  • Wyeast 2000 Budvar Lager
My target OG is 8º Plato, finishing off at 2.3º Plato and having 3.1%abv. In terms of fermentation and lagering, I am going to do primary for 14 days as usual (I recently learnt that Budvar is fermented for 12 days), and then lager for 30 days. Given that 30 days is pretty standard for a 12º lager, that should be plenty. I chose the Budvar yeast because it apparently brings the malt to the fore, and I don't want this beer to feel thin despite the low gravity nature of the brew.


  1. Sounds like a great beer. A benefit of brewing a small low gravity batch is that it should make it easier to pitch the large amount of healthy yeast necessary for a good lager fermentation.

  2. If you can I would love to see some pics of the whole set up for this brew.

    As a side note, most of the people I know look at me like I am crazy when I spend some brews working on low gravity. To this day I am still working on brewing a proper English bitters.

  3. Great beer to brew. There's a wealth of neglected styles in the Czech Republic, as you probably understand better than me.

    One thing about lagering. The old rule of thumb used to be 1 week per degree Plato. Though I suspect many breweries have dropped it down to 1 day.

    Winter Beer. There's something else long overdue a comeback. Now that did have a fairly short lagering time.

  4. Ron,

    When you say 1 week per degree Plato for lagering, I assume you mean for the original gravity, so if I brew an 8 degree lager, it needs 8 weeks lagering?

  5. Yep, that's it. So a classic 12 degree beer like Pilsner Urquell or Budvar should be lagered three months.


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