Want to brew a helles from 50 years ago? For a snapshot in the evolution of pale lager, here is a Bavarian helles recipe from 1967. It comes from Brauerei Erharting in Upper Bavaria, courtesy of Florian Kuplent, founder and brewmaster of Urban Chestnut Brewing in St. Louis, Missouri. Kuplent started his career at Erharting in 1994 and later copied the recipe from the brewery’s archives.
We’ve translated the recipe into English and then into homebrew-ese, scaling it down to 5 gallons (19 liters). It essentially follows a Hochkurz decoction mash, with no protein rest. Nice and simple—as simple as double-decoction gets, anyway. Also note the long boil.
Vollbier means “whole beer” or “entire beer.” Until 1993, that was just a tax category—it meant the beer was middle-strength, with an original gravity between 11° and 14°P (1.044 and 1.057). These days some German breweries still use the word—maybe because of tradition or maybe because it has an old-fashioned ring.
The hops listed are the same varieties used in the original recipe. The alpha-acid content listed (3.5% AA) is roughly what it would have been back then; as with any other recipe, adjust amounts based on what you have.
Batch size: 5 gallons (19 liters)
Brewhouse efficiency: 72%
8.75 lb (4 kg) German pilsner
0.5 oz (14 g) Hallertauer Mittelfrüh [3.5% AA] at 120 minutes
0.5 oz (14 g) Hersbrucker [3.5% AA] at 60 minutes
0.4 oz (11 g) Spalt Spalter [3.5% AA] at 30 minutes
Fermentis SafLager W-34/70, White Labs WLP830 German Lager, or Wyeast 2124 Bohemian Lager
Mill the grains and mash in with 17 quarts (16 liters) of 151°F (66°C) water to reach about 144°F (60°C). Rest 20 minutes. First decoction: Pull one-fourth to one-third of the thickest part of the mash and bring that to a boil; boil for 10 minutes, then return it to the main mash to bring the total temperature to about 158°F (70°C). Rest 20 minutes. Second decoction: Pull another one-fourth to one-third of the mash for the second decoction and boil it for 10 minutes; return it to the main mash to bring the total temperature to about 170°F (77°C). Rest 10 minutes, then mash out.
Vorlauf until the runnings are clear, then run off into the kettle. Sparge the grains and top up as necessary to obtain about 7 gallons (26 liters) of wort—or more, depending on your evaporation rate. Boil for 120 minutes, following the hops schedule. After the boil, chill the wort to 45°F (7°C) and pitch the yeast. Allow the temperature to rise to 48°F (9°C) and ferment. When fermentation is complete, lager at 34°F (1°C) for at least 4 weeks, preferably longer.
BREWER’S NOTES During the mash, don’t stress if you miss your temperatures by a couple of degrees. The decoctions and steps will still do what they’re supposed to—specifically: maltose rest, dextrinization rest, and mash out, with some great malty flavor development via Maillard reactions along the way.
Pitch plenty of yeast; ideally, pitch a big, healthy starter. In 1967, perhaps 15–20 percent of the volume would have been kräusen from the primary fermentation of a previous batch—tricky at home, unless you are brewing every 2 or 3 days.