Decoction vs. Infusion Mash experiment with Abominable Snow Pilsner (v. 2011)

So there is a ton of debate on homebrew forums about decoction mashing and the importance of decoction mashing for certain styles of beers.    Traditional Pilsners, Bocks, Wheats, etc.   On one side there is the debate that it increases the melanoidins and "maltyness"  that can't be attained other then with a decoction mash.  On the other hand, there are those that believe that with today's fully modified malts, the decoction has no real purpose and an infusion mash does a perfectly fine job.   While I do believe that today's malts don't need the traditional acid rest, and protein rest, I do think that there is some benefit to boiling the grains to gain traditional maltyness.   

I decided that I'd find out for myself if it's worth it for me to do a decoction mash.   Since I already had brewed the Abominable Snow Pils with a decoction mash, and another tSnownami came around supplying me with another fresh batch of snow.....I decided that I was going to brew another batch of Abominable Snow Pils since it was very popular and 5 gallons went really fast last year.   I contemplated doing a Pilsner Urquel clone, or replicating my 2010 version, or even possible doing something like the Noble Pils, but the experimental, inquisitive part of my brain let me into the direction that it almost always does, which is experimentation to gain knowledge and experience.   This is why I decided to get the exact same ingredients and do the Abominable Snow Pilz with an infusion mash at the same step temperatures at which I did them for my decocted version. (148 degrees for 60 min, and 158 degrees for 30 min). 

Double Infusion brew day.

Mashed in at 148, had come down to 145 by 60 minutes.
Stepped up the mash temp to 157 with 2 gallons of boiling water. Rest 30 minutes.

Batch sparged at 166, so a little low there.  Wish I would've hit 168 like I did with the Decoction.
Overall, very close to what I had done with the decoction mash
I collected a little too much wort so I boiled some down in a seperate pot.  This is going to be the main difference.  It may lend some caramely flavors, but it shouldn't be any more then what was produced during the decoction steps.
I ended up with about 5.5 gallons.  Dumped the yeast cake from the decoction batch onto to this batch at 57 degrees.   Sitting in my fridge at 49 degrees and should take off much faster then decoction batch.

OG: 1.057
FG:  1.012

Difference's: (for experimental purposes)
1. Snow water from two distinct snow storms.  One that swept all the way across the nation, and then another that was an Alberta Clipper.
2.  Infusion:  Second mash-step and sparge were both one degree lower then the decoction brew day.
3.  Infusion: I collect extra wort to boil down a little bit.  Boiled down 1 1/2 gallons down to a thick 2 quarts then poured back into main boil at the very end of the 75 minute boil
4. Infusion: I ended up with about 5.5 gallons.
5. Decoction: I used three smack packs.  Infusion I used the yeast cake from the Decoction batch.
6. Surprisingly, the effeciencies turned out pretty similar.  I was expecting the decoction to end up at a much higher effeciency.  Infusion mash 71% vs. Decoction 74%

***I'll update in a few months when we do a side by side (blind) tasting of this beer!

TASTING NOTES-   It was decided that the infusion mash was the better of the two beers in a blind taste test by my homebrew club.   It's safe to say that you can make a great Pilsner without doing the decoction step.   It isn't exactly safe to say that I'm the best at even performing a decoction mash...yet.  Here are my notes as I remember them.

Infusion Version: A-
Appearance - Extremely clear dark straw colored Pilsner.  Fluffy white head that dissipated and leaves a sticky lacing.  Looking good!
Aroma -Malty and bready with a bit of citrus in the nose.   Very pleasant.  I'm always amazed at how much aroma FWH (First Wort Hopping) provides to a beer.  
Flavor - Flavor hits you up front with some caramel malts and slight toastyness.  Middle of the sip is really smooth (assuming from the Snow as the water source), and the finish of the sip hits you with a nice bitterness from the Saaz hops.   About exactly what I was going for! 
Mouthfeel -  Mouthfeel is nice and smooth, Thin to Medium Mouthfeel, and Medium carbonation.
Overall - This version turned out really well!   I'd probably ton down the FWH's a little bit and maybe take it down 5-10 IBU's.   Also add a little more toastyness, maybe a small portion of biscuit malt (?)   This was absolutely the better batch of the two.  You could also increase the body a tiny bit by adding the Melanoidin Malt.   My homebrew club thought that this one was by far the better version and they all assumed it was the decocted version.  It was darker in color, clearer, and just all around more balanced.

Decoction Version: B-
Appearance - Hazy light straw colored Pilsner even after months of lagering.  Fluffy white head that dissapated and leaves lacing on the side of the glass.

Aroma -A bit bready but the malt is really overpowered by the Hops (?)  Did I use US Saaz or something(?).   This is not exactly what I was looking for.

Flavor - Malty up front, but not as smooth in the middle as the infusion.  The end of the sip is much more bitter and astringent then expected, and the hops are citrusy, but also have a vegetal quality (jalapeno?) I'm wondering if I didn't quite do the decoction right and that I  possibly got some astringent tannins.    
Mouthfeel -  Mouthfeel is nice and smooth, Thin to Medium Mouthfeel, and Medium carbonation.

Overall - Not sure what happened to this beer.   My hop schedule was the same, but for some reason the hop profiles of these two beers are extremely different.   This beer definitely has some off flavor going on that I can't put my finger on.  Not as smooth as the infusion version, more bitter, and something just off.  Not clean and wonderful, and malty like I was expecting.

Conclusion (1) - It's possible that I used US Saaz(?) accidentally for this version which would account for the higher bitterness.   Not sure what that vegetal flavor was from though(?)
Conclusion (2) - I guess it's possible that I didn't boil all of the DMS out, or possible infection could have created that vegetal flavor, but it didn't really taste like DMS.
Conclusion (3) - It's also possible that my process was not exactly perfect for the Decoction.   The only thing that I can think of is that I didn't pull decoctions from the absolute thickest part of the mash and somehow this contributed to extra tannins and bitterness and somehow interacted with the hops differently then the infusion mash version.
Conclusion (4) - and this would be the worst case scenario. (1) + (2) + (3) = (4)

Either way, this experiment didn't come out exactly as planned and I'll most likely be doing something like this again.   What I plan on doing is to do a few more decoction batch's to get my decoction mash process down pat!  If these turn out the way that I want them, then I'll do another side by side at that point.  


  1. I like your scientific approach. I'm looking forward to hearing the verdict on this one. I've never tried a decoction before so will be cool to see what sort of difference it makes.

  2. I've found that only changing one variable is the best way for me to learn. Some people may be able to change a few variables, but not this guy! Diacytl rest is almost done on the infusion batch so a month or two of lagering and we'll be sampling this on my porch on a beautiful spring evening in Minnesota!

  3. So how did this turn out? Any significant differences in taste, etc?

  4. wow. I guess I forgot to update this! There were definitely some differences, but I'm having a hard time deciding on what caused the differences. I'll put update in the post above.


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