East Brother’s Bo Pils is one of those beers as recognized by local drinkers as it is respected by brewing peers. It’s the Northern California brewery’s top seller, accounting for about 40 percent of production. It also won silver at the Great American Beer Festival in 2019, in the Bohemian-Style Pilsner category. (And our editorial director, Jamie Bogner, put it on his Critic’s List as a favorite in 2020, citing “its clean and classic Noble floral notes, its light but characterful malt body that contrasts beautifully with its nimble and lively carbonation, and the tight editing they’ve done to eliminate any distractions and polish the edges.”)
East Brother makes a living at nailing classic styles, including English pale ales and an oatmeal stout. Meanwhile, lagers are driving the brewery’s growth in Northern California. While of course they brew IPA—Gold or Red, pick your color—the No. 2 seller behind Bo Pils is their Red Lager. They also have a seasonal lager series that swings from Maibock in the spring to Baltic Porter in winter, via summertime Pre-Pro Lager and autumnal Festbier.
Chris Coomber and Rob Lightner founded the brewery in 2016; head brewer Paul Liszewski joined the team in 2017. Liszewski says that Bo Pils is still essentially the homebrew recipe that Coomber perfected in his own kitchen; any changes since then have mainly been process tweaks and fine-tuning. Here, he lays out what makes the beer tick.
While a Bavarian helles can lean a bit sweet, and a German pilsner has a more pronounced bitterness, Liszewski says he sees Bohemian-style pils as something between the two. “This is just a nice balance of a really nice malt backbone and that subtle, classic, Noble, spicy, hop characteristic,” he says.
The base pilsner malt is Continental in origin and well modified, sourced from Franco-Belges. Bo Pils is not a traditional Czech pilsner—instead of a decoction, it gets a single-infusion mash at a relatively high temperature (154–155°F/68°C). That plus a splash of Carapils provide some dextrins for the kind of body they might otherwise get from a decoction.
“But for me,” Liszewski says, “it’s more about that head retention and getting that really pillowy white head when you have a nice vigorous pour into the glass.”
The hops are another departure from Bohemia, embracing the subtle zesty spice of Styrian Aurora from Slovenia and German Tettnanger. “I think we’re coaxing out some really nice flavors and aromas from the hops,” Liszewski says. “I’m always amazed that you kind of get this slightly lemony tone to it. I think it really sets the beer apart, and really makes it just a nice spring-summer everyday beer.”
Healthy portions of both hop varieties combine for a late-boil addition and whirlpool aroma burst—but the beer also embraces bitterness, with enough hops in the boil to hit a robust 48 IBUs. The beer hits that mark despite no hops going in the kettle until 30 minutes left in the boil, ensuring a hop-flavor hit with the volume turned up. The dual-purpose Aurora allows that approach, with a bright and classy aroma profile but an alpha-acid content around 8 or 9 percent—so they can get most of that bitterness at mid-boil, without a ton of vegetal matter.
“I really like the later additions,” Liszewski says, “because it’s bitterness with flavor, rather than just bitter. If I just wanted bitter, I would use something like Magnum or a nondescript hop, and just get the IBUs in there and then try to doctor it later. But if we can kind of combine two steps in one, without taking such a hit poundage-wise per barrel … It’s turned out really well.”
Fermentation & Lagering
The yeast is White Labs WLP830 German Lager, whose origin is popular workhorse Weihenstephan 34/70. “We’ve been really happy with it,” Liszewski says. “It’s just a clean, classic German lager yeast.” Fermentation happens at a cool 50°F (10°C) until the gravity drops to about 1.022, then the beer finishes with a diacetyl rest at 60°F (16°C). “I do believe that we’re allowed to have a little diacetyl for this style, but I’m not a diacetyl fan, so we just clear that up.”
East Brother lagers Bo Pils for three to five weeks before packaging, depending on how quickly they need to move it and free up tanks. “I think the beer’s tasting pretty good after two weeks,” Liszewski says. “But I don’t think anyone’s ever complained, like, ‘Oh, my God, they lager their beer too long.’”