With summer right around the corner, it’s time to consider some warm-weather crushable beers. Nothing says summer like pilsner. Now that you have finished rolling your eyes and yawning, here’s why. Sure, the majority of the more popular beers sold in this country are pilsners. Bud, Coors, Miller and even Stella Artois are pilsners. In fact, pilsner is the most popular beer style world wide to the tune of being more than 60 percent of all beer brewed. Why? Because of its drinkability.
But, like anything else, all pilsners aren’t created equal. They don’t need to be boring. Some are crafted with more care and creativity than others. If done right, however, they are medium flavored, low to moderate in alcohol content brews that don’t wear out your palate nor shock and awe your liver. The very definition of a crushable beer is one that you can drink more than one of and not wind up trying to duct tape the cat to the wall.
Where Did Pilsner Originate?
Digging a little deeper we learn that pilsner is a style of pale lager, which itself is actually a subset of lager. Pilsner’s origins can be traced back to Pilsen, a city (now called Plzen) in the current Czech Republic, where in 1842 visionary, beer brewer and the Howard Taft of Bavarian beer makers Josef Groll produced the initial batch of his unique blonde lager we now call Pilsner.
In those days, the Pilsen area fell into the Habsburg Empire, which included today’s Germany, which is why there is some argument whether Pilsner is of Czech or German origin. Groll’s blonde lager was originally marketed as Pilsner Urquell and is still being brewed today in Plzen.
What Is Pilsner?
In the world of beer, every brew is either a lager or an ale. The difference is worthy of another column for another time. All you need know about lagers for this application is, they require more time and effort to brew than ales. Also, Germany and Austria are credited with introducing lagers to the world.
Pilsners are traditionally brewed with some iteration of Noble hops (Hallertau, Saaz, Spalt and Teetnang), mostly grown in northern Europe, and, which are known more for their aroma than their bitterness. This is why pilsners are usually quite moderate in flavor. Several domestic brewers, however, avoid the higher cost of Noble hops, substituting other low-bitter hops.
In truth, trying to explain the difference between pilsners and other light lagers is hair splitting of the first order. It’s like trying to explain the difference between sky blue and light blue. Corona and Heineken, for example, are lumped into the light-lager column, rather than being categorized as pilsners. It’s often a fine line.
Despite seeming light and simple, pilsner is one of the toughest beers to make. The reason: There’s no room for error. Pilsner is so plain and so simple that hiding even the smallest mistake (and mistakes are a part of brewing) is impossible. Your local craft brewer may not care much for the taste of Miller High Life or Budweiser, but he or she will defend the skill of those and other breweries to brew the exact same flavor profile time after time after time, often in multiple breweries scattered around the globe. Even consistently brewing Miller Lite is a testament to the brewer’s art.
What Are Some Good Pilsners?
If you expect to find Miller, Coors or Bud among these picks, you are reading the wrong column. I do appreciate the precision required in replicating those beers by the oil-tanker full, but I’ll only order one if there is nothing better at hand. I don’t consider myself a beer snob, but I think of beer as a treat. If I am out somewhere, I want something special. In that spirit, here are a few pilsners to look for in your local taproom.
Brooklyn, New York-based Threes Brewing’s Vliet is a traditional pilsner crafted with Noble hops. There’s a bit of grass and grain on the tongue with a crisp finish and a hint of bitterness.
Mama’s Little Yella Pils
Because it’s very accessible in my neck of the woods (In addition to the original brewery in Colorado, there is an OB brewery in Brevard, NC), I drink my share of this lively, traditional Pilsner from Oskar Blues Brewery. A little citrus up front and a dry finish with a faint bitterness bring this summer beer home. Oh, and it’s one of the cleverest beer names in the biz.
Victory Brewing in Downingtown, Pennsylvania pulls out all the stops using all four Nobel hops in the recipe for its Prima Pils. The result is some citrus, bread and bitterness up front with the slight bitterness chasing into the dry finish.
Saint Arnold Brewing is the big-dog craft brewer in Houston, Texas. Noble hops from the Czech Republic form the backbone for this traditional pilsner. The tongue is treated to a bit of bready sweetness at the beginning with a crisp, dry finish.
Russ is a long-time bourbon and craft-beer drinker who also produces the BEER2WHISKEY channel on YouTube.