American Pilsner Master Recipe

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For years, I thought that “beer” meant only the pale, yellow pilsner that was enjoyed by the adults around me. I remember stealing sips as a kid and deciding that it was awful and that I would never like beer.

So, it is with a wry laugh that I present a classic American pilsner for our first foray into beer-brewing together. It is low in alcohol, pale in color and has almost no bitterness. This is a light, refreshing lunch beer, the perfect beer for mowing the lawn and the easiest of all of my beer recipes to share with you.

For the Beer

  • 1-1/2 gal (5.7 L) water
  • 4 oz (115 g) Pale 2-row (specialty grain)
  • 12 oz (340 g) Pilsen light dried malt extract
  • 4 oz (115 g) rice syrup solids (fermentable sugar)
  • 2 g Cascade hops pellets
  • 1 tsp (2.5 g) Safale S-04 dry ale yeast

For Bottling

  • 1/2 cup (120 ml) water
  • 1 oz (28 g) priming sugar


1.) Gather and sanitize equipment: Gather your ingredients and sanitize your equipment. You’ll need a 2-gallon (7.5-L) stockpot, a thermometer, a grain bag, a long spoon, a strainer, a bowl, a 2-gallon (7.5-L) brew bucket, a racking cane or siphon tube, a gallon (3.8-L) carboy and a bung and airlock.

2.) For the beer, steep the grains: Heat the water in the stockpot until it reaches 150 to 160°F (65 to 71°C). If the water gets hotter, you run the risk of leaching bitter flavors from the grain. Pour the Pale 2-row grains into the grain bag, tie a loose knot at the top and put them into the pot to steep. Stir the water regularly to ensure that the grain bag is not getting stuck at the bottom of the hot pot. After 30 minutes, remove the grain bag, and let it drain back into the pot while you prepare for the next steps. For draining, I tie the grain bag to the pot handle or the long spoon, set over the pot. When you remove the grains from the bag, you can put them in the strainer set over the bowl to dry for use in other recipes (page 148). The liquid left in the stockpot is your wort.

3.) Boil the wort: Bring your wort to a gentle, rolling boil. Add the dried malt extract and the rice syrup solids and stir until the wort returns to a gentle boil. Next, you’ll add the hops. You’ll sometimes have to add ingredients, such as multiple hops and spices, at different times. With this master recipe, there’s only one round. Add the hops and let them boil for an hour. Near the end of the hour, fill a sink with ice water. Remove the pot from the heat and place it in the ice water in the sink. Let the wort cool until it is near 70°F (21°C).

4.) Ferment: Use the racking cane or siphon tube to transfer the wort into the brew bucket. Be careful to avoid transferring the hop sludge from the bottom of the brew pot. Sprinkle the yeast into the wort and stir it. Put on the bucket lid, add the airlock, label your brew and store it in an area around 64 to 72°F (18 to 22°C) out of direct sunlight for 2 to 3 days.

It is easiest to ferment in a brew bucket for the first few days, but if you don’t have a bucket, primary fermentation can take place in a 1-gallon (3.8-L) jug. Be warned that beer fermentation is very active compared to wines, meads and ciders, so if you ferment in the jug, you should use a blow-off tube instead of an airlock for the first couple of days. Make a blow-off tube by inserting one end of a 3-foot (91-cm) long piece of ¼-inch (6-mm) rubber tubing into the bung in the jug, and the other end of the tubing into a bowl of sanitized water placed next to the jug. Once the fermentation has calmed a few days later, replace the tube with a standard airlock and let your beer finish fermenting as usual.

5.) Rack: About a week after brew day, carefully transfer the beer from the bucket into the jug, avoiding the lees at the bottom. Return the carboy to the same dark, warm place and wait for another 2 weeks for fermentation to finish.

6.) Bottle and carbonate: Sanitize your caps and bottles. To get bubbles in your glass, you must prime the beer with a fermentable sugar at the time of bottling. Bring ½ cup (120 ml) of water to a boil in a small pan. Stir in the priming sugar until it is completely dissolved, reduce the heat and simmer the syrup for 5 minutes. Pour that sugar syrup into the bottom of the brew bucket. Siphon the beer from the jug into the bucket, avoiding the sediment from the bottom of the jug. Stir the beer gently to ensure the sugar is mixed in evenly. Use the racking cane to fill the beer bottles. Cap your bottles and label them.

7.)  Age: Store your bottles of beer upright for 2 weeks. The beer will carbonate in the bottles. Try one, and if the carbonation seems flat or the flavor is a bit off, don’t worry. Just let the bottles sit and age for another week and then try another bottle. It’s amazing what a bit of time can do to change a brew

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Reprinted with permission from Artisanal Small-Batch Brewing by Amber Shehan, Page Street Publishing Co. 2019. Photo credit: Jen CK Jacobs.

Inspiration for edible alchemy.