Sebastian Ale: A “Mock-Pilsner”

This beer was an experiment that turned out well. The basic idea was to brew an ale that mimics a lager. Lagers are not in the repertoire of most homebrewers and craft brewers – their need for controlled, lower temperatures for fermentation and conditioning than are needed for ale requires the acquisition of dedicated refrigeration equipment in most cases. Here’s the story of how I brewed an ale at home that is close in profile to a German pilsner – a “mock-pilsner”.

The impulse behind this brew was a visit from an old friend. My friend, who is Austrian and I had not seen for five years, told me a couple of months ago he would be visiting over Memorial Day weekend. The last time he visited I remember the look on his face when I poured him an American style pale ale – I think it might have been a Flying Dog. Beers like Puntigamer, Reininghaus, and Gösser are what he’s accustomed to drinking – pale European lagers – although he assured me on this visit that the American craft beer revolution is making inroads in Austria too. I decided for his visit that I would try to brew something similar in profile to the beers he is accustomed to drinking at home.

Several local breweries I have been to – I am inferring that this may be a widespread practice, but don’t know – have a Kölsch style ale as part of their regular line-up. Kölsch is a style of ale brewed only in Cologne (Köln), Germany. It is also the name of the dialect of German that they speak there. I don’t remember if I tried any Kölsch ale when I was in Cologne (over 30 years ago); mostly what I remember is the vast cathedral and how long the staircase to the top is. Like Trappist ales may only be labelled such if brewed in Trappist monasteries, Kölsch ales must be brewed in Cologne to be labelled true Kölsch, and they are rarely imported to the USA (I have never seen one). The Kölsch style ales I have tried locally, however, like Blackstone’s Chaser Pale and Cool Springs Brewery’s Franklin’s First, seemed to be brewed for the palates of the not-ready-for-craft-beer crowd. They are very pale, low in body, low on hops, and low on flavor.

I decided to use the Kölsch ale yeast for this beer but to hop it more in line with the profile of a German pilsner, to get a beer with a bit more character and “bite” from the noble hops than the beers brewed with Kölsch yeast I have tried. My hope was that the German Kölsch yeast would contribute the “clean” characteristics closer in profile to a lager than the ale yeasts I usually use.

Sebastian Ale

Original Gravity: 1.054
Final Gravity: 1.010
5.78% ABV
28 IBU

6 gallons spring water
4 oz. crystal malt 10°L
4 oz. cara pils malt
6 lbs. Briess Pilsen Light dry malt extract
2.75 oz. German Tettnanger hop pellets 3.9% AA (bittering: 60 minutes)
1 tsp. Irish Moss (boil 15 minutes)
.35 oz. Tettnanger hop pellets 3.9 % AA (flavor: 15 minutes)
.5 oz. Hersbrucker Hallertauer hop pellets (flavor: 15 minutes)
.5 oz. Hersbrucker Hallertauer hop pellets (aroma: steep)
Wyeast #2565 Kölsch Ale yeast

brewed as above April 18, 2014, Brew Day #62

Crush and steep the crystal malt and cara pils in one gallon of 150°F water for 30 minutes. Strain and sparge the water from the steeped grains into your brew pot with another gallon of 150°F water. Bring to a boil, remove from heat, and add malt extracts and bittering hops. Boil for 45 minutes and add Irish Moss and flavor hops. Boil for 15 minutes and add aroma hops, remove from heat and chill for 20 minutes. Strain the chilled wort into the fermenter and add cold, aerated water to obtain slightly over 5 gallons. Pitch yeast!  When fermentation is complete, bottle with 3/4 cup corn sugar.

Sebastian Ale after nine days in primary

We had an unusually cool Spring in Nashville this year, and I was able to keep this beer in primary in the garage where the temperature stayed between 62 – 65°F during the week after brew day.  When I opened the fermenter to rack to secondary, I was surprised at the unusual blow-off from the Kölsch ale yeast still floating on the top of the beer – I’d never brewed with this strain before.  It was a sticky, viscous mess that looked like mucous.  It stayed behind in the primary vessel with no difficulty when I siphoned the beer into secondary.

racking Sebastian to secondary – note how pale the beer is as seen through the siphoning tube

I bottled after Sebastian spent a week in secondary, a little over two weeks past brew day.  It was ready to drink after two weeks in the bottle, and we polished most of it off over Memorial Day weekend (after three weeks in the bottle).  It tastes very similar to a lager – for an ale.  There is still some light fruitiness from the ale yeast, and the beer is slightly hazy (I’ve seen Kölsch ale usually described as cloudy but it’s not cloudy like a hefeweizen), but it’s crisp and refreshing, with a unique lemony flavor I’ve not encountered before.  Is it the yeast? The hops?  I don’t know, but it’s refreshing and easy to drink.  I downed a pint of it in a couple minutes after a five mile hike that weekend and it was the perfect beer at that moment.

Oh, Sebastian is named after my favorite German musician, of course!


3 thoughts on “Sebastian Ale: A “Mock-Pilsner””

  1. I lived in Cologne for three years, from 1994 to 1997, and drank lots of Kölsch, I think there are around 30 breweries, of which two are dominant. Can you save me some of your batch so I can try it out?

    1. Yes I can save you a bottle – there’s hardly any left and I’m saving some for others too. I have a better plan: let me know when you’re coming to Nashville, give me six weeks or more notice, and I’ll brew another batch for your visit!

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