Column: Pilsner on the patio: perfect

by Mark Tichenor

 

Now that the warmer weather is being forcibly dragged out into the open, maybe it’s time we sit down on a sunny patio and consider what the perfect summer beer might be. The answer, of course, is pilsner, a historic and much-revered style from Europe that gets unfairly maligned in craft beer circles on this side of the pond.

 

This is primarily because pilsner is a crisp, clean yellow lager. It was the principal type of beer adapted by immigrant German brewers in the 19th century, and it became the model upon which mainstream American beers were more than loosely based. As a result, the term ‘Pilsner’ became a descriptor for the blandest of bland beer.

 

Pilsner also found little love among craft brewers. It’s a technically difficult beer to brew, and the clean flavor magnifies flaws or shortcuts in the process. As a lager, it  also needs to spend more time in the tanks than rapidly fermenting ales, and thus costs more money to produce. While you can find absolutely stunning North American craft pilsners, they are still few and far between.

 

It remains difficult to pinpoint Pilsner’s characteristics, since even the Germans tend to infuriatingly refer to every kind of beer as ‘Pils.’ Broadly, the style divides into two types: Czech and German. Czech pils is the original and most famous; indeed, the style was originally developed in the Czech town of Pilsen, hence the name. As the story goes, the poor burghers of Pilzen were sick and tired of bad beer, so to show their displeasure they theatrically dumped it all out (Call it the ‘‘Pilsen Beer Party”), invested in a new brewery, and hired a Bavarian brewer used to working with the newfangled lager yeast to come over and create the town brew. Bang! Pilsner.

 

Ranging from medium to light amber in color, with an attractive soapy head, it has a medium body and a slightly sweet buiscuity grain character, followed by the Pilsner trademark, a quick, butter Saaz hop kick in the finish that fades away leaving just the ghost of an aftertaste.

 

The prime example of Czech pilsner is Pilsner Urquell, a descendent of the original beer brewed in Bohemia back in 1842. Czechvar is also very well known, although more for its famous unsuccessful intellectual property battle with Anheuser-Busch which didn’t think that a beer originally named ‘Budweiser ’ or ‘Budvar’ since 1785 had any right to use the that name.

 

The German take is a little different. It retains the big, foamy head, with a noticeably lighter pale straw color and a cleaner flavor. The hop kick is also much more powerful than in the Czech stuff. A good rule of thumb is, the further north in Germany you travel, the more bitter the hop finish. Until American craft brewing, the pilsner made by East Frisian brewer Jever (pronounced YAY-ver, should you want to suavely order one at the pub) ranked as one of the hoppiest beers in the world.

 

Jever remains the most prominently exported North German pils, although you can find notable examples, such as Dinkel Acker CD Pils from Stuttgart and Radeberger from Frankfurt, as well as a slew of borderline quasi pilsners (Beck’s, Veltins, St. Pauli Girl) that blur the line between purist style and mass-market blandness in pursuit of the almighty Euro.

 

On these shores, the Victory Brewing Company of Downingtown, Pennsylvania reigns as the champion of pilsner, producing both a German style (Prima Pils) and a Czech (Braumeister Pils). Needless to say, these are both excellent and a worth addition to any summertime cookout. Sly Fox Brewing of Phoenixville PA also produces the standout Pikeland Pils, which has the added bonus of coming in handy cans.

Pilsners are at their best when the mercury starts rising and the sweat starts flowing; no other style quenches and refreshes quite as thoroughly, or goes as well with a home-grilled meal enjoyed out on the patio. They’re also fantastic ‘lawnmower beers’ for consumption as you do summer yardwork,  although it is recommended that you not begin their consumption until you are done using the heavy bladed equipment.

 

Mark owns a laptop and likes beer. For more on beer, check out the beercraft blog, updated regularly, at beercraft.wordpress.com. Find him on Twitter @beercraft. Send your questions, suggestions, or comments to beercraft@rochester.rr.com.

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This fully armed and operational brewing station…

The newly relocated Rohrbach Brewing Company brewery is ready to produce beer.

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The brewhouse, ready to work some mojo

Although the percussive sounds of construction still echo through the converted warehouse, The brewing system is entirely assembled. The first batch to brew will be Highland Lager. Although the month spent not brewing while the equipment was moved has left supplies of the popular Scotch Ale are perilously low, the longer fermentation and maturation time of the Lager requires that it be brewed as soon as possible.

Certainly, Bruce and fellow brewer Jim McDermott have developed their share of grey hairs as they watched their beer stock dwindle like the Aral Sea. Now, their challenge is to replenish the inventory of accounts regionwide.

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Fermentation vessels await their precious cargo

And that probably won’t be too difficult. The increased work and storage space will hopefully facilitate a faster workflow, and once the 7-barrel system goes up at Rohrbach’s Buffalo Road location, the brewery will be making more beer than it has in years.

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Brewer Jim McDermott makes the final connections

Beercraft news

Beercraft has grown up! Thanks to a rapidly growing readership, we’re turning the blog into a full-fledged standalone website. This will allow more reader features, better presentations, and the simple and hassle-free joy of running my own server.

We will accomplish the move today, barring the nigh-infinitesimal chance of a technical issue. Check back this evening for the new URL. Beercraft is about to be better than ever. And I have you guys to thank for it.

-Mark

Allagash over a barrel

We headed up to The Old Toad last night for the area’s first taste of barrel-conditioned Allagash Curieux. The place was unexpectedly packed. I’d like to think it was all Beercraft readers, but that probably isn’t the case.

Anyway, the beer itself was a bit anticlamactic to me. It seemed a case of the Belgian Tripel style not quite meshing with the barrel-conditioning. I missed the pinprick carbonation that counters a Tripel’s heavy sweetness, and combining that sweetness with none-too-subtle bourbon notes from the barrels made the Curieux just a bit too cloying.

Still, it was a rich, complex, and skillfully made beer. I just didn’t have the intestinal fortitude to order more than one.
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Kira Barnes of UNYHA awash in Belgiany goodness

Sometimes that cat just needs a-killin’

“So we took a couple of firkins,” Jules Suplicki, bar manager of The Old Toad explained in her cute English accent “And we mailed ’em up to Allagash. We had no idea what they’d put in them. They shipped them back filled with Curieux.

“Cask-conditioned Allagash Curieux?” I asked, demonstrating my devastating logical abilities.

“Yeah. This is the first time that it will be availoable in Rochester on Cask.”

Jules was excited enough about this to print up a bunch of signs and make the tapping of the Allagash uber-beer a full fledged event. This Friday, January 11th, the two casks will be broached, and this Beer Advocate ‘A’ rated beer can be freely enjoyed by everyone who isn’t afraid to fill out a credit application.

I’m just saying… it won’t be cheap. but by the end of the night it’ll probably be gone.

-Mark

Michelob has a geography problem.

PhotobucketWhy, you ask, does Bruce look bemused in this picture? It’s because he’s reading the neck ring on a bottle of Michelob Pale Ale. The copy on this label reads as follows:
“This quintessential English-style ale is brewed with Pacific Northwest Hallertau and Saaz as well as Tettnang hops from southern Germany. Dry-hopping the ale during maturation with fresh Saaz hops creates a unique hop character.”

Now here’s a case where Anheuser-Busch could really show what its brewers are capable of by brewing a kick-ass pale ale with the marketing weight of the Michelob brand name behind it. And they could do it to style (which, according to their marketing copy, is their intent), or they could create their own signature pale ale. Instead, they made an unfocused mongrel beer that confuses English, German, American and Czech elements.

There is no “English Style Ale” that uses Hallertau, Tettnang, and Saaz hops. The former two originate in Germany, and as such their domain is German lagers, whereas Saaz is the quintessential Czech Pilsner hop. That’s not to say that these hops can’t be added to ale, but to do so and call it “English Style” is a jab at the intelligence of consumers, not to mention the pride of the English.

So what did Michelob do? Did they actually brew this ale with every hop in the microbrew toolbox, or did they make a more-or-less normal pale ale and drop these noble names for beer cred?

I know it sounds like I’m nitpicking on a triviality, but it kinda pisses me off. Maybe this sort of marketing spin would have been forgiveable ten years ago, when consumer familiarity with craft beer was considerably thinner, but to foist it on the market as it stands today demonstrates that A-B still doesn’t get it and probably never will.

I didn’t taste the Michelob Pale Ale, because it’s warm at the time of writing. I’ll bang out a review later. Beeradvocate.com, however, has plenty of takes on this beer from people who are better at reviewing than myself.

-Mark