Posted on August 9, 2012 by Marina

Brewing beer is hard work and it has been said that a Pilsner is one of the more difficult styles of beer to brew.

But what really is the craft of brewing a Pilsner?

Erica Graholm, Steam Whistle Brewer, discusses the craftsmanship and dedication she devotes when brewing a batch of Steam Whistle:

I love to meet other brewers and talk about what they are brewing. The craft beer scene is exploding, and it’s an exciting time to be a part of it. Many creative brewers are pushing the boundaries of flavour by working with new ingredients, creating new styles, and using new techniques. While I love tasting their creations, it gives me immense pride to say that I brew a Pilsner. It’s a challenging and unforgiving style to brew; the delicate balance of flavours and crisp finish must be meticulously crafted, and can’t be rushed. To me, a classic Pilsner is refreshing and satisfying at the same time, and it’s a style I come home to again and again. The craft of brewing a Pilsner includes….


Because there are only 4 ingredients used in brewing Steam Whistle Pilsner, each one is a cornerstone of the beer and must therefore be carefully selected. Our 2-row barley is grown and malted right here in Canada, where some of the finest malts the world has to offer are produced. Our hops are from Germany and the Czech Republic, two countries renowned for their traditional approaches to brewing. You should come down to the brewery and smell the floral, somewhat spicy and peppery aromas when I toss the Czech Saaz hops into the brew kettle. Delicious. Our water is sourced from a spring in Caledon, Ontario. The water profile and mineral content are integral to the character of the beer. Our yeast is a bottom-fermenting lager strain from Hungary, specifically chosen to produce the classic clean and crisp character of a Pilsner.

Brewing techniques

What’s more important when brewing a Pilsner, heat or cold? It’s a trick question – both are important. In the brewhouse, heating the crushed malt mixed with water (the mash) to various temperatures will impact the sweetness or dryness of the finished beer. Our state of the art brewhouse can measure temperatures to within one tenth of a degree Celcius to ensure the beer tastes exactly the way we want it to, consistently. During fermentation and aging, cold becomes important. A cold ferment and aging takes longer, but it’s like the tortoise and the hare – slow and steady wins the race. After aging, the beer is cold filtered for clarity and then packaged.


In the brewhouse, we use a traditional method called decoction where part of the mash is separated and boiled, then returned and mixed with the rest of the grains. Next time you taste a Steam Whistle Pilsner, see if you can pick out the slight caramelized sweetness that this method produces. Although decoction adds extra time onto every batch we make, the result is a more complex and layered malt profile.


Many beers available on the market are pasteurized for a longer shelf life. Pasteurization is a heating process that can destroy some of the subtle flavours in the beer that we’ve worked so hard to create. That’s why Steam Whistle Pilsner is unpasteurized – we believe a fresh, natural beer tastes better.


While some styles of beer can be produced with great results in only a couple of weeks, Pilsners need time. Our Pilsner is slowly fermented and cold aged over 28 days to ensure the flavours reach maturity. Several reactions occur within the beer over this time. Some of the harsh flavours associated with “green” (young) beer are reduced by the yeast, and other flavours develop and meld together to create complexity. Sometimes it’s hard to wait that long…but I think it’s worth it!

Come learn more about the craft of beer this weekend at the  Roundhouse Craft Beer Festival. Cheers!