Look, IPAs, Sours, and Barrel Aged Stouts are great, but all too often they dominate beer ratings and crowd out discussion of a great many other deserving styles. As a consumer, I love to vary what style I’m drinking by my mood, my location, the time of year, and even the time of day. As a brewer, I sometimes worry that craft beer consumers are pushing the industry toward the same sort of monoculture that the movement was founded against.
The craft eco-system depends on people being able to experiment with both new and old forms in terms of what their drinking and what their brewing. With that in mind, this exercise is meant to focus some attention back on the great beers that are getting over-looked in favor of other more in-your-face offerings.
Pilsner is like the zen rock garden of beer, simple yet elegant, an incredibly clean appearance accented by pleasantly harsh edges.
Pilsner is a fitting place to start this exercise because, in a sense, it is the most simple of styles. Unlike most beers, a Pilsner grain bill is usually made up of 100% pale malt. This lends to the beer’s clean drinkability and allows the hops to shine. But don’t be fooled by the simplicity of the results, Pilsners are in fact some of the hardest beers to make. That’s because, somewhat paradoxically, the louder a beer is -- your 2x IPAs & Imperial Stouts -- the easier it is to hide flaws and therefore to turn out a consistently drinkable product.
A Pilsner, on the other hand, is like a crystal glass, any impurity will be noticed. Pilsners are brewed with lager yeast, which works slower and at colder temperatures, this is why historically many brewers cave aged their lagers. If you can get your hands on a “Keller” or “Zwickel” style (read: done the old fashioned way) it is definitely worth your time.
Unfortunately, Pils gets a bad rap stateside because a couple very successful breweries decided to refer to their rice lagers as Pilsners. But the modern iteration of these beers bear little resemblance to their european forebearers and today there are fantastic craft pilsners just within your reach, if you’re only willing to try.
East Coast - Victory Prima Pils | 109 Style+
This is German Pils on steroids. Just as American IPAs often seem to bear little resemblance their English counterparts, this Pilsner seems almost like a bastardization. An incredibly delicious bastardization. What made hops so attractive to drinkers in the first place? Certainly, when they first became popular, people weren’t drinking these glorious fruity genetic freaks we have today. I’ve got to imagine it’s that clean, sharp, bite at the end of each sip of a beer like this that just keeps you reaching for another almost as soon as you set the beer down. At any rate, if you don’t drink lagers because you can’t stand a beverage that’s not loaded with hops, well this might be your conversion beer.
West Coast - North Coast Scrimshaw Pils | 109 Style+
Sessionable before sessionable was cool, Scrimshaw is the ultimate post-shift beer when you’re hot, tired, and need something that is as refreshing as it is tasty. This one is easy to overlook because it lacks the bite of beer like Prima Pils, but if you take a closer look this beer is brimming with german hop character. People throw out “herbal” as a flavor descriptor for european hops all the time, but what does that mean? Too often the term gets tangled up with brewers who use herbs (other than hops) in the boil kettle to turn out odd, cloying beers. Don’t be confused, herbal doesn’t have to taste like bad pasta sauce or bathroom potpourri. Great herbal hop character can taste like Scrimshaw, like a basket of freshly picked dandelion and sassafras, like that girl you like who smells fresh, but not perfumed.
Middle West - Urban Chestnut Stammtisch | 113 Style+
One of the best synergies of American and German craft brewing comes, of course, from a German brewer who opened his first brewery in America. This beer tastes like fresh cut hay. That’s a good thing. Maybe I’m a little bit romantic but I like to think of beer as a little bit bigger than just the drink in your hand. Beer has always been the chosen beverage of the working man and a lot of times that meant farmers, people who need relief from long days and, in some cases, an antiseptic drinking source. When you taste a beer like this you’re tasting history. German style beers that taste like grass and farmland, taste like that for a reason, because that’s where they’re from. When you drink a beer like this, remember, somewhere out there there is a farmer, a maltster, a hop grower, harnessing the raw power of nature just to put this liquid in your glass. Taste it, it tastes like earth.
International - Pinkus Ur Pils | 110 Style+
Drink this beer for the sheer fact that it is an absolute rarity: an unfiltered Pilsner. You’ll have one of those eureka moments when you wonder aloud, “wait, why don’t they all do this?” Take all your favorite aspects of Pils, the refreshing quaffability, the dry bitter finish, and then add… yeast! The floral tones imparted by yeast make this one of the all time great summertime porch (or stoop) beers. Oh yeah, and it’s organic.
One To Hunt Down - Birrifico Italiano Tipopils | 119 Style+
Yes, that’s correct, Italian craft beer. If you want to get acquainted with old world hops this is one of the best ways to do it. New world hops tend to get all the love and attention for their citrusy goodness but if you can find the rare beer that showcases the flavor of old world hops, well, you’ll feel like Julie Andrews skipping across an alpine meadow. And who doesn’t want to feel like that? Double bonus points if you can find the odd keg of Zymatore barrel-aged Tipopils, which gives an already great beer a light acidity and barnyard funk that will change the way you look at Pilsner forever.
Colin has worked in the beer and wine industry from coast to coast. He is currently a brewer and director of sales for Springfield Brewing Company. He and his wife co-own Bread In The Wild, a small sourdough bakery that they run from their farm in the Ozark Mountains, where they also raise goats, among other things.
Thanks to Flickr user mbell1975 for the Pinkus image and Wiki Commons user Jens Jaepel for the header image..