Subscribe to Our Mailing List
Get the latest news and updates with our Proximity Malt newsletters.
Have you noticed that Pilsen malts vary in flavor and performance almost as much as the lagers that share the ‘Pils’ moniker? For starters, Pilsen malt can suit either the German style: light color and flavor – or the Czech style: slightly darker and more modified. But in general – what are the essentials of a great Pilsen malt? The answer lies in two elements – consistently selecting ideal, low protein malting barley, and meticulous attention to the malting process.
Pilsen malt in particular requires the ‘right’ barley variety. Common North American varieties such as Metcalfe and Copeland were simply not bred for a true Pilsen malt. They were bred for a base malt for adjunct brewing in which color was not an issue, and the high Free Amino Nitrogen (FAN) levels were encouraged to keep yeast well fed with the inclusion of the adjunct (corn, rice, etc.). In order to attempt a Pilsen malt – low color, and light flavor using the North American varieties, maltsters had to control—hold back — modification very carefully, to keep the FAN from overproducing. Too much FAN is not a good thing, it can provide too many nutrients for yeast and potentially lead to bacterial growth, and ultimately could affect shelf life.
Proximity locally sources premium grains with known lower protein genomes, such as Genie in Colorado, and Violetta in Delaware. Both of these European-origin malting barleys bring a consistently lower protease package, including moderate FAN in finished malt. The lower total protein of 10-11% (versus Metcalfe’s 11-13% with high FAN characteristics) means we don’t have to restrain the grain’s natural modification in the malting process.
By using precise process control in the germination phase, temperature and moisture are the ‘fuel’ and the ‘brakes of the grain’s modification. A cooler, longer germination profile accentuates the carbohydrate development, and controls the protease activity. Control is key in the kilning process, for in kiln drying Pilsen malt, maintaining uniformity is key. Layers of uneven malt will create layers of hotter, wetter grain, which re-promotes soluble protein (including FAN) development.
At Proximity, we can fully modify the grain without developing of high levels of FAN. This allows us to apply good finish heat to get nice flavor and the color levels expected in Pilsen malt. And because the malt is fully modified, we can expect improved brewhouse performance (with consistent milling practices) with high friability and good lautering performance.
Bottom line: Getting the right barley to the malthouse is important, but it’s only half the battle. Maltsters know that a consistently excellent Pilsen malt also requires a deep understanding of grain modification, good malthouse design, and continuously optimized engineering processes.
We asked Dave Kuske, our VP of Innovation, Processing and Quality Assurance what styles of beer are best suited for Pilsen malt. His answer surprised us! “Pilsen malts are perfect for a Pilsen beer, of course. But have you considered choosing Pilsen malt to replace your base malt for other lagers as well? Doing so can create a lighter backdrop, upon which you can showcase favorite crystal malts, dark malts, hop profiles or other desired flavors. With Pilsen malt as your base, you may even need less of those more expensive crystals to get the flavor your aiming for!”