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Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Notes from Budvar

Okay, on to the next style.  Today I'm listening through my transcription of my visit to Budějovický Budvar with brew master Adam Brož and Petr Samec.  It was one of the highlights of all my time in Europe, and easily one of the most edifying experiences (though that's partly because I was so wildly ignorant of Czech brewing).  So here are some of the highlights.

I learned that in the Czech Republic, there is only one pilsner.  Everything else is světlý ležák. Confused?   Here's Adam.

“Always there is a discussion of the definition of pilsner lager. It’s really difficult to compete with Pilsner [Urquell] because I think that it’s really the style. It became the style of the pilsner type. We are a bit different in this category because bitterness is really fine, the alcohol is a bit higher than the pilsner has. The Budweiser beer is really different. “You will find in Budvar that the bitterness is very mild—not so low—but mild.” (His emphasis.)
Breweries defer to Pilsner Urquell as being the pilsner.  Others make pale lagers, and they seem keen to point to distinctions.

I've been thinking and writing about decoction mashing.  At Ayinger, they installed a new system recently that includes a mash cooker, but they abandoned it.  Too time- and energy-inefficient; a process they describe as old-fashioned.  Budvar takes a different view:
“If you open the Czech brewing books, you will see that the typical process is a two-mash decoction process.  It depends on the beer category you are producing. If you try the lager type, the decoction is very important. We compared decoction versus infusion on the small-scale brewery; always the beer brewed by the infusion process was emptier in its taste—the body was not correct for the lagers. Also the color changed. If you boil during the decoction, you prepare the compounds which cause golden color. So the infusion lagers were yellowish, not so full in its taste.”

The Grant
I became fascinated to see that Czechs are absolutely faithful to a piece of equipment called a grant.  You see it underneath the lauter tun, a recessed pocket with a long array of swan-neck facets and valves.  “These valves served to open or close the lautering manually.  Nowadays it’s controlled by the PC.”  I've seen these still in use in Belgium, but rarely.  The problem, as Brož quickly acknowledged is:  “The side effect is this slight aeration of wort, which is an important thing.”  Really?  Do tell.
“Because sometimes if you open the literature you will see that the oxidation processes are bad for the beer and it’s necessary to avoid them, but there are several articles, especially from Germany, where when the stages in the brewhouse were compared the oxygen was not always bad, especially before boiling with hops. The oxygen has [?] in it in small amounts due to the reaction of polyphenols and proteins. It influences this reaction. So if the sweet wort runs through these valves, a small amount of oxygen is taken in and the reaction between proteins and polyphenols ends well.” 
He believes the splashing of the grant actually improves the beer.

Not just for old breweries: this is the grant in Pilsner
Urquell's state of the art, modern brewhouse.

Brewing Process
On the beer itself, for those who are interested.  It's made with a double-decoction mash (typical in Czech) to 12 degrees P.  All Moravian pilsner malt (though "we call it pale malt," Adam said, laughing), the gold color coming from decoction.  The hopping procedure is interesting.  They use 100% Saaz or Žatec (pn. jha-tetch) hops, whole flower, and the first addition comes as lautering starts  “at the beginning when the bottom is covered.”  Then the second addition comes "when there is a full kettle," and the final addition is at 30 minutes from the end of the 90-minute boil. 

Fermentation and maturation is quite unusual.   “There was a very simple rule: one degree of Plato in the wort means one day of fermentation.  The lager has 12 degrees of Plato and ferments twelve days for main fermentation.”  Budvar then lagers it for 90 days (!), a practice he calls "deep" maturation. 

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