German Pilsner


Bitburger German Pilsner



"3 months after [brewing] I opened the second keg and the taste is absolutely wonderful. It changed a lot. Now I am sure I will make another batch." - sandovalch

"Your recipes and the background information going with them are always awesome, thanks! I brewed you German Pils a couple of months back and it is my favourite beer I have brewed so far." - Bennet.stofberg

"This'll be my second go. The first time I brewed it, I did a blind comparison to Bitburger and it was hard to tell the difference... Planning to enter it into competition." - hoptimal_solutions



Pilsner (also called Pilsener or simply Pils) is the world's first blonde lager, and is therefore arguably the most successful beer style in the world. Some statistics report that 90% of beers drunk in the world today are made according to the Pilsner style or a style directly derived from it.

All styles of Pilsner are very light in colour, brilliantly clear, moderately effervescent, and are often strongly hopped with an assertive up-front bitterness bite. They all originate and are modeled largely after a beer style invented in 1842 in the Czech city of Pilsen (from where it took the name). That original style is now called Czech Premium Pale Lager. This recipe's for an offshoot called German Pilsner. It's similar, but still different enough to garner its own style name.

The blonde lager of Pilsen that we today call Czech Premium Pale Lager (or Bohemian Pilsner prior to BJCP 2015) was an instant success when it was first released, not only on its home turf but also in the most elegant cafes and bistros of Europe. Breweries across the border in Germany, began also to be interested in the Czech phenomenon ... they had to, because it started to eat into their own sales. This was the time in Europe when the emerging railway network made the transportation of beer possible to just about any major city.

Original Bitburger breweryThe original Bitburger brewery. Image (c) Bitburger

One of the first imitators was Germany's Bitburger brewery, founded in 1817 by Johann Wallenborn. Their flagship product became Bitburger Premium Pils, a bright, fresh golden colour German Pilsner style beer with a rich frothy head, and the unmistakable hop bitterness of gentle noble German hops. Today, Bitburger Pils has become one of the best-selling German brands, with exports to over 70 countries around the world. The largest volumes go to Italy, the United States and the Netherlands.

Bitburger also gets into the history books as the first brewery to create an exclusive glass for a beer brand. In 1964 they release a nicely-proportioned goblet on a hexagonal stem to emphasize the character and uniqueness of Bitburger Pils. It's interesting to note that 50 years later, the Spiegelau IPA Glass designed by Dogfish Head and Sierra Nevada picked up some of the traits which help boost hop aromas.

The unique Bitburger goblet released in 1964The unique Bitburger goblet released in 1964.

Compared to the original Czech Premium Pale Lager, a German Pilsner is much more attenuated resulting in a crisper, drier beer (for comparison sake our Czech Premium Pale Lager finishes at 1.014 while this German Pilsner finishes at 1.009). A German Pilsner is also less malty as it should never use specialty grains of any sort (this in turn also helps increase attenuation).

To ensure the beer's golden-blond tinge, only malted barley that is dried gently in the kiln should be used. High-temperature kilned grain becomes amber or even brown and roasted, and would make a dark, not blonde, beer. The barley malt that goes into Pilsner nowadays, is the palest malt available. In fact, such malt is named for the beer for which it is most often used. Brewers the world over now make their best Pilsner beer only with Pilsner malt, and many would say that the best Pilsner malt comes from (and we would agree) Bavarian farms and malting companies. We prefer and use Weyermann pilsner malt in this recipe.

Weyermann Pilsner (and Wheat) MaltWeyermann pilsner (and wheat) malt ready to be turned into beer.

Unfortunately, several industrial lagers named Pilsner outside of Germany are frequently made with the addition of nearly flavourless rice and flaked maize (corn) as cheap substitutes for the more expensive pilsner malt, and many breweries use chemical agents to enhance the conversion of grain starches into fermentable sugars. We don't recommend these shortcuts for a German Pilsner. You would never see these practiced in a Bavarian brewhouse!

Both Czech and German styles will tend to have a spicy and floral hop character but the overall impression is different given the different hops used. Czech Premium Pale Lager tends to use Czech Saaz exclusively while a German Pilsner will include just about any noble German hop with Tettnanger, Hallertauer, and Spalt being common varietals. Many northern Pils varieties rely on the slightly zesty Tettnanger for their up-front assertiveness so that's what we've used here. We then use Hallertauer as the finishing hop.

Water hardness also plays a role in hop flavour. While a Czech Premium Pale Lager is almost exclusively brewed with very soft water (low in minerals) most northern German varieties of Pils (including the version here) are brewed with harder water which helps accentuate hop-bitterness. The drier finish and less malty character of this German Pilsner combined with the harder water tends to increase the perceived hop sharpness or bitterness over a Czech Premium Pale Lager, even though the IBU may be lower.

Don't confuse this hoppiness to be anything like an American IPA or similar new world beers however. The noble hops used in a German Pilsners are delicate, more floral, even earthly. A German Pilsner strikes more of a balance between malt and hops, with a definite nod towards hoppiness. At 35 IBU, this German Pilsner is about five times hoppier than the average American lager.

The recipe for a German Pilsner is deceptively simple. Because of its delicacy, however, only the very finest top-quality raw materials will do. The key is success is using the freshest ingredients possible, pitching the proper amount of healthy yeast, fermenting cold, and then cold conditioning for at least 2-4 weeks near freezing. The end result will be an amazingly clear beer with a wonderful grainy-sweet-rich malt character (often with a light honey and slightly toasted cracker quality) and firm floral / spicy hoppiness. Very refreshing.

Pay careful attention to your process and you can easily brew a German Pilsner that is decidedly fresher tasting and more aromatic than one that was imported from Germany. Beer is a somewhat fragile product and long trips in unrefrigerated containers wreaks havoc with it.

Brew it fresh and enjoy!


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German Pilsner

Size: 12 US gallons (post-boil @ 68F)
Mash Efficiency: 95%
Attenuation: 81%
Calories: 154 kcal per 12 fl oz
Original Gravity:
1.047 (style range: 1.044 - 1.050)
Final Gravity: 1.009 (style range: 1.008 - 1.013)
Colour: 3 SRM (style range: 2 - 5)
Alcohol: 5% ABV (style range: 4.4% - 5.2%)
Bitterness: 35 IBU (style range: 30 - 45)

17.5 lb German pilsner malt (1.5-2.1L) (100%)

5 oz German Tettnanger hops (4%) - added during boil, boiled 60 min [31.2 IBU]
1 Whirlfloc tablet (Irish moss) - added during boil, boiled 15 min
1.5 oz German Hallertau hops (3.2%) - added during boil, boiled 15 min [3.6 IBU]
1.5 oz German Hallertau hops (3.2%) - added during boil, boiled 1 min [0.3 IBU]

Fermentis Saflager W-34/70 dry yeast* (72g recommended or make an equivalent starter)

*If you prefer to use liquid yeast, Wyeast 2124 Bohemian Lager or White Labs WLP830 German Lager are said to be the equivalent Weihenstephan sourced strains. You'll need ~795 billion cells (7-8 fresh packs) or an equivalent starter.

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Notes / Process

  • Add 500mg potassium metabisulfite to 20 gallons water to remove chlorine / chloramine (if required).
  • Water treated with brewing salts to: Ca=59, Mg=8, Na=16, Cl=63, SO4=93. (Hit close to minimums on Ca and Mg, the Cl:SO4 ratio favours SO4 which enhances hop bitterness but not as much as an aggressively hopped American style). For more information on how to adjust your water, refer to our step by step Water Adjustment guide.
  • 2.0 qt/lb mash thickness.
  • Single infusion mash at 148F for 120 mins.
  • Raise to 168F mashout temperature and hold for 10 mins.
  • ~90 min fly sparge with ~5.6-5.8 pH water (measured at mash temperature).
  • Boil for 90 minutes, adding Whirlfloc and hops per schedule. Lid on at flameout, start chilling immediately.
  • Cool the wort quickly to 50F (we use a one-pass convoluted counterflow chiller to quickly lock in hop flavour and aroma) and transfer to fermenter.
  • Oxygenate the chilled wort to a level of 14 ppm dissolved oxygen. For more information refer to our Aerating / Oxygenating Wort guide.
  • Pitch yeast and ferment at 50F (wort temperature). We use modified stainless fermenting buckets in wine fridges.
  • Ferment until approximately 5 points from final gravity and then raise the temperature to 70-72F until finished. In our case we simply turn off the fermenting fridges and allow the beer to naturally rise to room temperature. Assume fermentation is done if the gravity does not change over ~3 days.
  • Before packaging you may optionally rack to a brite tank (we use 5 gallon glass carboys) that has been purged with CO2 to avoid oxygen pickup, add 1 tsp of unflavoured gelatin dissolved in a cup of hot distilled water per 5 gallons of beer, and allow to clear for 2-3 days. In most cases we recommend skipping this step as the less you handle the beer and potentially expose it to oxygen, the better. The beer will drop brilliantly clear on its own during the conditioning period.
  • Package as you would normally. We rack to kegs that have first been purged with CO2 and then chill to near freezing while carbonating at the same time in a 6-keg conditioning fridge. After ~1-2 weeks at serving pressure the kegs will be carbonated and ready to serve. In a hurry? Feel free to raise the CO2 pressure temporarily to 30-40 PSI to carbonate fast over a 24 period, and then turn back down to serving pressure. 
  • Carbonate this beer to around 2.5 volumes of CO2.
  • This beer will improve greatly if conditioned just above freezing for at least 4 weeks before serving (6-8 weeks is better). Avoid keeping the beer unrefrigerated for extended periods. It will remain clean and crisp for months if kept near freezing.

For detailed brewing instructions, see our Brew Day Step by Step guide.


Questions? Visit our German Pilsner forum thread


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Pictures / Videos

Interested in seeing what we're brewing right now? Follow us on Instagram for pictures and videos of our brewing activities as they happen.

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Six days after pitching yeast my German Pilsner is only a few points away from final gravity so I raise the temperature 10F to ensure complete attenuation as well as speed things up a bit. This is similar to classic lager fermentation schedules proposed by Ludwig Narziss and Greg Noonan years ago. In a few days I’ll raise again to 64-68F for a d-rest and then fine with gelatin, keg, and crash to near freezing to carb and lager/condition for 3-5 weeks. End result is a perfectly crisp and clean Pilsner - very refreshing! Recipe and process details on my website. . Step by step guide to building and using your own brewery, with tons of recipes! 👉 👈

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German Pilsner is a few points from final gravity so time to raise the fermentation temp by 10 degrees for the diacetyl rest and to aid attenuation. Diacetyl gives a buttery, butterscotch-like flavour to beer. While this yeast (WY2007) doesn’t throw much, I always like to raise lagers slowly over a week or so until I reach room temp. Fermenting the last few points of lagers at warmer temps does not throw any off flavours and helps ensure proper attenuation. 🍻 . ... A step by step guide to building your own brewery . #theelectricbrewery #electricbrewery #electricbrewing #homebrewing #homebrew #brewing #craftbeer #beer #dohomebrew #homebrewer #nanobrewery #picobrewery #pilotbrewery #homebrewporn #buildingabrewery #brewery #basementbrewery #brewyourown #beerrecipes #pilsner #germanpilsner #brewday #diacetyl

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Kegging a German Pilsner. Finished at 1.008 as hoped. Normally I like these to be around 5% ABV and mid 30s IBU. This time I ‘imperialized’ slightly as I wanted to push the IBUs into the mid 40s, so I bumped it up to 5.6% ABV to balance it out. Samples taste great and is perfectly clear going into the keg. It’s going to sleep now on CO2 at just above freezing for a month or two to help round out the clean crisp flavour. Cheers!🍻 . ... A step by step guide to building your own brewery . #theelectricbrewery #electricbrewery #electricbrewing #homebrewing #homebrew #brewing #craftbeer #beer #dohomebrew #homebrewer #nanobrewery #picobrewery #pilotbrewery #homebrewporn #buildingabrewery #brewery #basementbrewery #brewyourown #controlpanel #beerrecipes #pilsner #germanpilsner #brewday

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