Sheriff Cluster’s Salvation Pre-Prohibition American Pilsner

IMG_20130415_192841I’ve been wanting to brew something like this for a long time. My only other Pilsner was a Czech style brew from my first year of lager brewing. I wanted to make a German style Pils last year but ran out of time. While enjoying last year’s batch of Elkland Golden Lager last Summer, I realized that while I use Cluster hops in that beer every year, I don’t really know what they taste or smell like.

I have used these hops several times but it has always been in very low hopped beers. Clusters are the original American hop variety. I’ve heard that they are the only variety that grew wild in America before other hops were brought over from Europe or created through breeding. I’m not sure if that is completely true, but they were certainly one of the first hops that were used in early American brewing.

While they aren’t nearly as popular as they once were, they are still used by a lot of brewers. Yuengling uses them here on the East coast and Anchor utilizes them in the West. These are both brewers that have been around for a long time and have a reputation for brewing classic American beers, so it should not be a surprise that they use the classic American hop.

As I said, I don’t know from experience what kind of character these hops have. I can tell you from the package that they are known to be “pungent and spicy.” Smelling them as I opened the bag, that seems accurate. I have heard people accuse them of being too harsh. I have heard that about a lot of varieties, though and they all seem to have their admirers.

I’ve read so many times that Nugget hops are too harsh for anything but bittering additions. The only thing I’ve read more of is rave reviews of Tröegs’ Nugget Nectar, which uses Nugget in the hopback and dry hop. Others claim Simcoe is unusable while it is the highlight hop in some of the most acclaimed IPA’s on the planet.

Anyway, my main goal with this beer is to shine a spotlight on Cluster hops. My original plan was to brew a very traditional American Pilsner with all Cluster hops. As I researched what a traditional recipe would entail, I decided to change it up a bit. Basically, it should be six row pale malt and a very large portion of corn with a moderate hopping rate (of either Cluster or a Noble variety).

I’ve been wanting to try out Briess Pilsner Malt since I realized that it was a thing and my local homebrew store carried. I used some in this year’s Mount Hoodie, but there is a lot of other specialty grain in that beer, which makes it hard to tell much about the base grain (and it still isn’t ready to drink, anyway). Popular wisdom seems to be to use at least twenty percent corn, but I wanted to bump that down to give the Pilsner Malt more room to shine.

This is pretty similar to the grist of a Light American Lager, such as Elkland Golden Lager. That was another reason I wanted to use less corn, to differentiate it a bit more from that beer. I do add Munich Malt to that one and I decided to add Victory to this.

Victory is an American toasted malt, similar to Belgian Biscuit or British Amber malts. I find that it adds a dry, grainy character. I only used half a pound to keep the color down and still keep the focus on the Plisner Malt.

This is my first time using flaked corn without adding six row barley. In the past, it was necessary to use six row when using adjuncts like corn because the corn does not have the enzymes required to convert it’s starch to sugar. Six row malt has more of these enzymes than two row, but modern malting has increased the enzymes in two row base malts to a level that most people seem to agree is sufficient for a moderate amount of adjuncts to be used. Two row barely is generally considered to have a better flavor than six row.

I’m trying this out this time, and if it works I may switch to all two row in future adjunct brews. To be safe, though, I upped my grist size and assumed a low level of efficiency, just in case. If it converts, I figure that early American brewers were likely to have made higher gravity Pilsners just because of their primitive equipment and inconsistent ingredients.

This beer will be fermented on the cake left from Mount Hoodie. For that beer, which was only a two and a half gallon batch, I bought two “past prime” vials of White Labs 802 – Czech Budejovice Lager Yeast. I haven’t used this yeast before, and I’ve never bought discounted, past prime yeast before, either. The yeast was still at least somewhat viable and I figured with two vials in a small, low gravity batch, it would work well. That fermentation was a bit slow to start, but then seemed to do well.

I left the beer on the yeast cake much longer than I normally would, as I initially intended to brew this Pilsner much sooner. Rather than try to wash the yeast, I decided to just let Mount Hoodie sit on it until brew day for this beer. It was only a few extra weeks, so I don’t think it will be an issue.

After the initial fermentation, I plan to rack this beer, give it another few weeks and then dry hop it. I have heard mixed reports of how often commercial Pilsners are dry hopped, but it seems to be a rare but not completely unheard of practice. I want the Cluster hops to really shine, though, so I’m going to refresh them just before bottling.

As for the name, it is inspired by the classic Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon comic book, Preacher. Volume seven of the comic, titled Salvation, chronicles the main character, Jesse Custer’s adventure as he becomes sheriff of a small town in Texas called Salvation. It is a section of this epic comic that could seem like a one off, side story, but it ultimately is very important to the evolution of the character. The name obviously fits and classic “old” American theme fits, too. This was one of my favorite stories in the acclaimed comic, so this seemingly strange name actually feels somewhat obvious to me.

My recipe is below.

Sheriff Cluster’s Salvation
Style: Classic American Pilsner
OG: 1.050
FG: 1.011
ABV: 5.11 %
IBU’s: 38.67

Grains & Adjuncts
Amount Percentage Name Gravity
10.00 lbs 80.00 % Briess Pilsen 1.037
2.00 lbs 16.00 % Corn, Flaked 1.037
0.50 lbs 4.00 % Briess Victory Malt 1.034

Amount IBU’s Name Time AA %
1.00 ozs 24.75 Cluster 60 mins 7.00
1.00 ozs 8.98 Cluster 10 mins 7.00
1.00 ozs 4.94 Cluster 5 mins 7.00
1.00 ozs 0.00 Cluster 0 mins 7.00

Amount Name Laboratory / ID
1.0 pkg Czech Budejovice Lager White Labs 0802

Amount Name Time Stage
1.00 oz Irish Moss 15 mins Boil

Mash Profile
Medium Body Infusion In 60 min @ 154.0°F
Add 15.62 qt ( 1.25 qt/lb ) water @ 166.0°F
Sparge 16.19 qt of 170.0°F water over 60 mins


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