Sunday, January 24, 2016

Recreating History with a Pre-Prohibition Pilsner

By David Duncan

Do you like Beer and History? How about combining the two?  As a home brewer, I have been experimenting with beer recipes for quite some time.  I am by no means a master brewer rather a guy who loves beer—drinking it, as well as brewing it.  This is my second attempt to brew a historical recipe. My first attempt was a 1744 Porter.

When it comes to beer, I am all about basic home brewing.  So, I embraced the idea of recreating a Pre-Prohibition Pilsner.  There are many recipes available and the one that I settled on claims to be from the Sieben’s Brewery in Chicago when it was claimed to be owned by Al Capone.  While there is no proof Al Capone owned the brewery or that the recipe is from the brewery, it is consistent with how Pilsner’s were brewed prior to Prohibition.  As a home brewer, I am not yet comfortable with all-grain or full mash brewing.  Therefore, I had the recipe converted to a partial mash.   

Pilsner Recipe from Chicago 1924
Partial Mash
• 6 lbs. Pilsner DME
• 2 lbs. rice syrup solids
• 1/2 lbs. malto dextrin

The brewing of the Pilsner followed the standard process of crafting beer. However, considering there were no crushed grains, the first step of combining the Pilsner DME, rice syrup solids and malto-dextrin was the only major step to perform. All ingredients were put into the water that we were careful not to allow the temperature to rise about 165 degrees Fahrenheit. This process is historically the same, as it removes the starch and releases the enzymes, and at this point it is now wort (beer). Wort is the liquid extracted from the mashing process during the brewing of beer and contains the sugars that will be fermented by the brewing yeast to produce alcohol.

After all the malt extract and syrup solids were added, we brought the wort to a boil for ninety minutes. The malt extract gives the beer its body and adds additional sugars. Then the hersbrucker hops were added. Hops are used primarily as a flavoring and stability agent in the beer, but they are also used for aroma. In the end, hops balance the sweetness against the bitterness of the beer.

The wort was then quickly cooled to 70 degrees Fahrenheit, and three gallons of water added to the wort.  The yeast was then added to the beer which converts the sugars to alcohol and carbon dioxide.  At this point a sample was taken to determine the original gravity which measured at 1.043.

The beer was allowed to ferment for seven days when it was then transferred to a secondary container to allow fermentation for an additional two weeks. This step is called the two-stage secondary fermentation process and allows the beer to have more clarity and an overall better, purer flavor.

After two additional weeks, we started the bottling process. The Pilsner was transferred to a bottling bucket and priming sugar added.  When bottling, we always dissolve the priming sugar into two cups of boiling water. The priming sugar adds carbonation to the Pilsner.  At this point, another sample was taken and the final gravity was recorded at 1.012.

Although I was attempting to recreate a 1924 Pre-Prohibition Pilsner, we did use modern ingredients and equipment to make it.  However, I judge the intent to be as important as the authentic historical concept.  So, what is a Pre-Prohibition Pilsner?  Pilsner is a type of pale lager. It takes its name from the city of Plzeƈ in the Czech Republic, where it was first produced in 1842.  In the US, the Pilsner was brewed by German immigrants using a six-row barley which had a higher tannic acid and protein content and greater husk per weight than in Europe.  Rice gained popularity in the brewing of Pilsners due to grain rationing when most breweries began using it as a filler.

For a second attempt at recreating a historic beer, we are once again happy with the results.  The Pre-Prohibition Pilsner has a great aroma and color and based on friend’s reactions, it really hit the tasting mark.  I would heartily recommend this recipe to fellow home brewers.  It was definitely well worth it!

The original recipe from
Full Mash Ingredients
6 lbs. six-row lager malt
•2 lbs rice (ground)
•1/2 lbs soy grits ( from health food store )
•1 1/2 oz Hersbrucker 6% alpha-acid
• 1/2 oz - Hallertauer 5% alpha-acid
•1/8 oz Hersbrucker 6% alpha-acid
•1/2 oz of Hallertauer
•Red Star lager Yeast

Step by Step:
1. Cook rice in 1 gallon plus 3 cups water for 30 minutes.
2. Preheat mash tun and add 1 3/4 gallons of 120˚F water.
3. Adjust rice temperature to 190˚F with 1 gallon of hot water.
4. Add rice to mash tun and immediately mash in malt and soy grits.
5. The temperature should end up between 150 and 155˚F.
6. Hold at 150-155˚F for 1 hour and 30 minutes.
7. Sparge with 165˚F water to collect 5 1/2 gallons of wort.
8. Boil wort for 1 hour using the following hop schedule:
• 60 minutes - 1 1/2 oz. of 6%     alpha-acid Hersbrucker
• 30 minutes - 1/2 oz. of 5%   alpha-acid Hallertauer
• 10 minutes - 1/8 oz. of 6%   alpha-acid Hersbrucker
9. Add 1/2 oz. of Hallertauer after turning off the boil and cover brew kettle.
10. Cool to 55˚F.
11. Pitch with about 14 grams Red Star lager Yeast (remember this is 1924).
12. Ferment & Condition at 55˚F.
13. O.G. - 1.040, T.G. 1.010
14. Bottle with 3/4 - 1 cup of priming sugar.