Lesson one - Altoona today, tomorrow the world. PA may not be Deutschland but it can be argued that it is the modern home of the Pilsner style. A new style has emerged there: American Pilsner, with more hop character than any German Pils we can think of. This style doesn’t fit into defined Pilsner categories (see links the end of this post) in our estimation. German beers like Jever Pilsner may come across as more bitter but the flavor of Saaz, Hallertau and other traditional Pils hops is much more in the forefront in the best, freshest PA(and US) examples. There may be examples in Germany and else where that can match these that don’t make it to the US or MA. Clearly more research is needed and the Hop Scholars must travel to Germany!
Lesson Two - Drink your Pilsners young. This light beer style lacks the anti-oxidant properties that color malts (crystal malt, chocolate malt, roasted barley, etc) imbue to the beers that feature them. Pilsner is a low alcohol (aka session style) beer, and lacks the stabilizing effects that benefit more boozy beer styles. All of our older examples showed significant degradation in hop flavor and some oxidation. We are looking forward to a summer repeat with as many fresh samples as we can find (including our own Pilsner, which was brewed last Sunday). At its best, this style can let subtle hop, malt and fermentation character shine through. It can also very clearly expose flavor faults from excessive age , use of sub prime ingredients or problems with any part of the brewing and conditioning process. We look forward to retasting two of our spring/summer only seasonal selections (Troegs and Sierra) at their peak.
Lesson Three - Never overlook the girl next door. Local breweries are producing beers with the special quality that is crucial to this style – freshness. Shorter transport and store shelf time and an emphasis on flavor over rock solid stability (as in mega brewery “pilsners”) really shine through in this style. A good fresh local pils may be better than an ostensibly great pils from far away. So do bother with the local girls (sorry Graham Parker).
Lesson Four – Yes you can. Our favorite beer (Sly Fox Pils) was in a can, and the stability of this packaging method helps Pils shine for longer. Cans admit no hop-flavor-destroying-light, are easier to purge flavor-killing oxygen, and have a better seal than bottles (keeping out oxygen). We look forward to adding Oskar Blues canned Mama ‘Lil Yella Pils to the next tasting(to start!) .
Without further ado here are some tasting notes , from most favored to least:
Sly Fox Pikeland Pils - Subtlety citrusy, with the pumpkin notes of a Hallertauer-like hop. A great open palate beer with appetizing malt sweetness and hop flavor in balance, and a fine lingering bitter finish. Thank you, may we have another? We wish they distributed in MA. This beer is canned.
Victory Prima Pils - Intense tonic-y hop flavor , very Saazy. Cracker malt character in the background is dominated by strong hop flavor and bitterness. A dry, bracing, and pleasant hop slap in the face. Stands up well to spicy foods … like Red Hot Blue chips for example.
Redhook Pilsner – More cereal grain and traditional US pils hop (cascade, nugget) flavor than Sly Fox or Victory. Some fresh, spicy cinnamon fermentation character is apparent and interesting as well. All in all, snappy fresh and flavorful. This is the youngest (11/28/11 bottling date )beer in our sample, the brewery the most local to us(Portsmouth, NH); these factors came through in the fresh flavor of this fragile style. Pretty good for the big guys (Redhook is AB owned).
Troegs Sunshine Pils – In its prime this beer has sublime hop flavor and well rounded Pils malt character in balance …. but not so much after seven months in the bottle. It finishes with a pleasant mineral crispness that well compliments it’s subtle hop bitterness. Still pretty drinkable (a credit to Troegs brewing practices) but just a shadow if it’s fresh flavor.
Sierra Nevada Summerfest – Sadly missing the hop character it had a few months ago but still ok. The neat sulfur-y fermentation overtones of the fresh version were also barely perceptible. Some oxidation was also apparent in this six- or seven-month-old sample .
Stoudt’s Pils – A rooty /woody hop flavor that we were not overly fond of , with a heavy-on-the-palate finishing bitterness. We much prefer the sulfury delicacy of their Munich Gold. Age was not helping this sample either and some sour oxidation flavor notes were also apparent.
The Beer Judge Certification Program(BJCP) provides a basic guide to the expectations and style definitions of the Pils style. However, it can be argued that the BJCP guidelines are not an exact fit to most of the beers listed above.
Posted by HopScholars SMS and MBW, 1 February 2012