Summer Beer Series – Take A Crisp Bite Out Of The Heat With Pilsners
Pilsners – you can hear their story coming from hundreds of miles away. Just mention the beer style, and automatically the tale begins to waft towards you, its words riding along the top of the air all the way from the picturesque European beer garden which just entered your mind. We could spend hours reviewing this historically important narrative and how traditional Pilsners bore the “modern” golden colored lager. Eventually, a gentle debate over the seemingly small-ish differences between Czech and German versions would surface, and afterwards, we could try to count the number of other types of beer which attempted to ride their popularity through the years. But such stories can take hours, and seeing as how we’re on what seems like day hundredth of 90 plus degree weather, relating that story at this moment seems like the literary version of standing between a would be beer drinker and the cooler, and I’m not putting myself in that sort of life threatening danger. So how about a quick run-down of what to expect from these beers, and a few examples, because I can hear you now: “yada yada yada, how ‘bout you just grab me one out of the ice, and you can tell me about it as I’m drinking it, buddy”.
So much more than just another golden colored, crystal clear lager, a well made Pilsner revolves around what seems like a beautifully simple formula that when done well, creates one of the most satisfying, delicious, and refreshing beers around. Whichever of the two types of Pilsners are present in your glass – the mother of all pale lagers, the Czech “Pilsener”, with a generally more noticeable but “clean” malt sweetness (instead of deep, caramel like taste), softer hop bitterness and perhaps more moderate weight to the beer, or the German, with its drier, much less malt-centric taste and more prevalent hop flavor and lingering bitterness – you will likely first notice a crispness first, helping the beer gain that undeniably refreshing effect. Having said all that, from one Pilsner to another, you’re likely to find variations within each supposedly Czech or German style, as with all styles there is plenty of overlapping from one to another. Secondly, any discussion of the Pilsner would be completely lost without mentioning the trademark of any Pilsner – the legendary group of hops typically used in the style, known as the “Noble Hops”, and the flavors and aromas lent to these beers by them. Czech Pilseners are built around their native “Saaz” hop variety, while German versions will use their own indigenous varieties. Both will give these beers their characteristic floral, or even grassy aromas and flavors, while the Saaz is also known for a somewhat “spicy”, or peppery bite.
These flavors and aromas can be difficult to completely comprehend, of course, without actually tasting a good Pilsner. As always, this is where the fun comes in – because we can call it a personal study of the style, or my favorite, just plain “research”, but what we’re really talking about is digging one out of that cooler, and tasting the darn beer. That being said, any “research” really should cover a selection of both imported and American craft brewed interpretations. A few Czech style imports not to miss include Pilsner Urquell, Golden Pheasant, and Rebel, and a few German versions include Warsteiner Premium Verum, Radeberger, and König Pilsners.
When it comes to lists of American craft versions, they tend to begin with one beer in particular, Victory’s Prima Pils. This dry Pennsylvania brewed lager wins out on the merit of a load of floral and spicy hop aroma and taste, and the bitterness, for the true lover of hops, lingers for some time. If you’re looking for other craft versions and the over the top hop description of the Prima makes you a bit nervous, Brooklyn’s Pilsner is another excellent beer, as are Sixpoint’s The Crisp, North Coast Brewing’s Scrimshaw Pilsner, Left Hand’s Polestar Pilsner, Troeg’s Sunshine Pils, or Oskar Blues’ Mama’s Little Yella Pils. These are some of the easier to find examples, nationwide, and hardly scratch the surface of all the good craft brewed Pilsners out there, so definitely check out your more regional and local craft brewery’s Pilsner as well!
If you live in Virginia like myself, and want to try a more home grown version, there are several that you should be able to put your hands on. Port City Brewing, in Alexandria, has recently released their Downright Pilsner, and so far is getting some pretty high praise. Also, don’t miss Starr Hill’s (Crozet) Starr Pils, and a personal favorite, St. George Brewing’s (Hampton) Pilsner.
Pilsners may have an epic story line, but it’s their deceptively simple taste built upon the basics – hops, grain, a crisp bite and that golden color reminiscent of a field of barley on a summer day that’s more than worth your attention in the here and now. In a world of IPAs, big time stouts, and a philosophy of “what can we add to our beer this time”, well made Pilsners are honest beers for the true beer lover, and a perfect fit for any perfect, sunshine filled summer day.
(Now, just hand me one already!)