Proof the yeast in a 1/4 cup of lukewarm water with the pinch of sugar.
Combine all the ingredients, except the water or beer in a bowl or mixer.
Once the yeast is active and foamy add to the flour mixture.
With the mixer turning, slowly add the water or beer until you form a soft dough and knead until smooth and elastic.
Handmixing should be performed initially with half the dry ingredients. Stir in as much of the flour as possible and then turn the dough out and knead in the rest of the flour to make a smooth elastic dough.
Cover the dough and rise until doubled, about 30 minutes.
Prepare the lye water by adding the lye crystals to the cold water and bring to a simmer. Be careful, this stuff can chemically burn you.
Preheat oven to 400°F.
Divide the dough into 12 even parts, roll into an 18 inch snake and shape.
Shape by forming an upside down "U". Bring the two ends together and twist together twice. Press the twisted legs into the pretzel loop and rest upside down.
Set aised on towels to dry. (Paper towels should be floured to prevent sticking)
Use a ladle or slotted spoon to lower pretzels into the simmering lye water for 30-60 seconds. The pretzels will expand, color and float.
Allow to drain and rest on regular kitchen towels (paper towels will stick). Sprinkle with pretzel salt if desired
Arrange pretzels on cookie sheets that are lined with either parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. You should be able to
fit 6 pretzels on a tray at a time.
Bake one tray at a time until pretzels are cooked through and crust is nicely browned, about 8-10 minutes.
Remove to cooling racks and allow to cool and rest for a short time before serving (30 minutes)
Serve with a nicey spicy mustard or beer cheese sauce.
Jeff recommends these for freezing as well. Simply let cool and then freeze in plastic bags. To use, thaw at room temp and pop into an 300°F oven for 10 minutes.