I don’t understand “Mexican lager” or “Italian pils” being called those things when brewed in the United States. When you no longer brew them in Italy or Mexico, both of those are simply German-influenced beers. So, when I saw “French pils,” I thought the same at first—here we go again.
But there are key aspects here that differentiate French, or more accurately Alsatian-style, pils: French pilsner malt, Alsatian hops, cereal mash, and decoction.
Our Bière d’Alsace is really driven by the French pils malt and Strisselspalt hops. Both have a unique character that sets this beer apart. Then you layer in decoction and a cereal mash, and you have something truly unique.
Inspiration & Homework
Our taproom general manager, Liz Olive, heads up beer education for our company. She stumbled upon the style and history. I was immediately intrigued by the Bavarian lineage, but with a cereal mash of corn.
I love tradition—but I love breaking myths even more, and a corn cereal mash can be such a great tool for a brewer, depending on your goal. I also love that there is something that truly ties this to France, in the ingredients and the unique process.
This is our first iteration, and we are slightly thin on research other than what we could find online. We definitely interpreted much of the process but tried to stay true to what we read from French brewers. When travel becomes a thing again, I would like to explore brewing in the Alsace, as I really don’t brew European styles when I haven’t visited the region or the breweries.
Corn Cereal Mash + Double Decoction
A single decoction with a cereal is more traditional—and it makes sense, since the cereal mash can fully convert when integrated into the main mash, so it simplifies the day. But it’s a pandemic, and we had time to test our skills a bit. We sourced grits from a Rhode Island farm and did a true cereal mash—we used our decoction vessel as a cereal cooker.
This had to be treated as a triple-decoction, from a temperature-step perspective. After the first two decoctions, we still wanted enzymes available to the cereal mash when that was integrated into the main mash. Even though the cereal mash will convert most of the starch, it helps to give it time in the main mash to complete the conversion.
Our extract was higher than anticipated, and we ended up running off a small beer at 8°P (1.032) at the end of the brew day as well. Our production manager Brienne Allen and I had a long day!
The decoctions bring that layered malt character and mouthfeel that are hard to replicate otherwise. It would be hard to say the cereal mash “lightened” the beer, but it brought in that perceived sweetness that I’ve always found when corn is used. It’s an up-front sweetness that is never in the finish. Corn brings flavor. We’ve been programmed to think otherwise, but corn has a distinct and pleasant flavor that I love—smooth sweetness and aroma with a hint of breakfast cereal.
French Pilsner Malt
We used Malteries Franco-Belges Pilsen malt, which lands slightly darker than the German or Czech malts we use, and it has a different character (less biscuit and bread). It is well modified—so the decoction is purely for melanoidin creation and not at all required otherwise.
Strisselspalt hops are largely ignored in the United States. We had to call in a favor and have some shipped from our friends at Bellwoods in Toronto. I’ve had Strisselspalt in many farmhouse-style beers but never straight up in a lager. Combined with the perceived aroma sweetness from the cereal mash, there’s a bit of fruit in the aroma, not unlike you would find in a Kölsch. It’s an unexpected but nice combo.