Italian pilsner: despite what a lot of people think when the first hear the phrase, it’s not Peroni. (That’s a generic Euro export lager.) No, it’s a sub-sub-style of German pilsner (like the West Coast aka SoCal pils I profiled in a previous post) that’s dry-hopped (politely, delicately) with traditional European noble hops.
Why a whole sub-sub-style, you ask? Aren’t many German lagers dry-hopped anyway? Yeah, sure. But the prototypical Italian pilsner, Birrificio Italiano’s Tipopils (literally “a kind of pilsner”) has inspired a whole wave of American brewers—most notably, Firestone Walker’s Matt Brynildson—to riff on its “dry, immensely drinkable” template.
I’ve never had the pleasure of drinking Tipopils, but I’ve had a number of the beers inspired by it, not least Brynildson’s own Pivo Pils. The Pacific Northwest is positively brimming with breweries making craft lagers these days, and Oregon in particular is blessed with several of the best lager breweries in the US: Wayfinder, pFriem, and Heater Allen. Suffice it to say, I’ve been drinking a lot of lager lately, and it’s been making want to brew more lagers. Of course I had to give an Italian pils a try.
So, inspired by a post at Jeff Alworth’s Beervana, I set about creating my own recipe. I reached out to Alworth via Twitter, and he was more than happy to help me refine a few details. The result is what you see below.
What’s in it?
- Method: BIAB, python squeeze
- Batch size: 4 gallons
- Mash: 75 minutes @ 152F
- Boil: 90 minutes
- Ferm temp: 52F (diacetyl rest at 66F for 2 days)
- OG: 1.045
- FG: 1.007
- ABV: 5.2%
- IBU: 35
- 6 lbs. Best Malz Pilsner (95%)
- 0.35 lbs. Mecca Grade Metolius (5%)
- 16g Hallertau Magnum [10.8% AA] @ 90 minutes (27 IBU)
- 40g Tettnang [3.9% AA] @ 10 minutes (8 IBU)
- 7g Tettnang @ DH (with ~1P to go in active fermentation)
- 14g Tettnang @ DH (at 55F during crash after diacetyl rest)
- Water: 5.25 gallons Bend tap + 0.5 tsp Gypsum, 0.5 tsp Calcium Chloride, and 4g lactic acid 88%
- Yeast: Saflager W-34/70 (1 packet, dry—no rehydration)
There’s a lot of argument over whether a proper pilsner should be decocted, and a lot of it breaks down according to sub-style. Czech pils? Hell yes, and you had better do it three times. German pils? Sure, and especially so if you’re using undermodified malt.
And Italian pils? Well, I had to do a little digging to find out whether Agostino Arioli does it for Tipopils, but the answer appears to be no. Instead, he uses a simpler step mash. I went one step cheatier and did a single-infusion mash at 152F, for 75 minutes.
The rest was pretty simple. A 90-minute boil, just to head off any threat of DMS. Chilling down to lager temps before pitching a healthy starter of Saflager W-34/70 (third generation). Arioli reportedly ferments in the mid-50s for slightly more ester production, but I pegged my fermentation fridge at 52F and let it ride before a brief d-rest at about 60F.
One of the things that makes Tipopils unique is its dry-hopping philosophy. First, the additions are small—like, really small. Second, they come in two stages: one during active fermentation and one during “maturation” aka lagering. My first addition, made just before the d-rest, was a mere 7 grams (remember this was a 4-gallon batch, so it’d be fractionally higher for a 5-gallon batch). The second, made during the crash down to lagering temps, was 14g. Yep, that’s less than an ounce of 3.9% AA dry hops. I wasn’t sure I’d even taste it in the end product, but I trusted in Arioli and Alworth. They didn’t let me down.
In the end, primary fermentation took about 12 days, after which I kegged it and fined with gelatin. It was already very good a week later, but after about a month and a half it truly hit its stride and became one of the best beers I’ve ever brewed. (Crystal clear, too!)
How’s it taste?
Appearance: Crystal clear, at least after about a month of lagering and a shot of gelatin. A beautiful golden color with visible trails of bubbles rising to a dense, persistent cap of white foam. Nice lacing around the glass as the level drops. Pilsner perfection.
Aroma: I mean, there’s no mistaking noble hop aroma. Herbal, floral, very lightly fruity. You also get the typical lager aroma, which I’m still not sure how to describe. Just crack a can of Bitburger from your local Trader Joe’s and you’ll see what I mean. The malt profile is subdued, as you’d expect, but there’s a hint of light toast from the Munich malt atop the characteristic pilsner graininess.
Flavor: Like I said, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to detect the dry hop in this beer, given the miniscule amounts used, but in the end it came through beautifully. The restrained dry hop really balances this beer perfectly between malt and hop profiles. I think I’d prefer Hallertau Mittelfrueh here (the other noble hop I’ve used extensively) to Tettnang, but it’s a close thing. To me, Tettnang is a bit earthier and more herbal, while Mittelfrueh is more obviously floral.
Mouthfeel: Dry, crisp, and refreshing—especially after it finally dropped totally clear. I’d stop short of calling it watery, but at 5.2% it was definitely on the light side of what I’m used to. Still, the dense foam gives it a hint of body, and the added minerals keep it from being too flabby or boring.
Would I brew it again?
This is a beer I plan to brew every summer, maybe twice or even three times. I’d really like to try this recipe again with some other noble hops, and maybe even a super-noble like Loral. Brynildson uses Saphir, which I’ve never tried but also sounds wonderful. (And Pivo is an unimpeachable product.) I’d also like to try the same beer with 100% pilsner malt and see what difference it makes. Hell, I might even try decoction.
This is one I can riff on forever.