I have iterated several times before on this blog that the America Pilsner (and I am speaking generically; that is, making no distinction between say, a German or Czech style Pilsner) is treated like a weird/creepy uncle: While a part of the family, only in reluctance will many admit association. But sometimes a weird uncle is actually cooler than we’d let ourselves discover.
We have our reasons. Uncle Bud and Miller, to name a few. But there is that sparkling gem that proves that every style can shine if cultured correctly. For me, the quintessential example would be Boulevard’s Collaboration 1.
For this week’s Sip With Us Saturday, with the Pilsner as the choice, I picked up four different pilsners to diminish the odds for disappointment. Two stark observations surfaced as I surfed the beer aisle searching for my beer: 1) Choice isn’t abundant in the craft beer world when it comes to Pilsners. IPA’s and Stouts crowded the shelf, but nary a pilsner was to be found, and 2) Pilsners are comparatively inexpensive. With a limited amount of time I was only able to find and snag four American craft Pilsners: Heavy Seas’ (Clipper City) Small Craft Warning, Uber Pils, Stoudt’s Pils, Lagunitas’ Pils, and Brooklyn Brewery’s Brooklyn Pilsner. While I did sample these each back to back, I split the brews with my wife so as not to guzzle four beers in a row. The reviews below skip the typical Thank Heaven For Beer fashion for reviewing a brew in order to keep this post from irritating the Attention Deficit Disorder nature of the Interweb, and will just highlight my observations.
Heavy Seas Small Craft Warning:
The beer immediately reveals it isn’t a true pilsner with the orange hues. I was expecting a crisp and fluid golden, but the beer is a tad sluggish entering the glass. But I could care less if it doesn’t “look the part,” I just want it to taste good and make me happy. It didn’t. It was unbalanced. The brew was overly sweet and didn’t allow any punctually crisp hop flavors/aromas to shine. In fact it smelled like corn and tasted like high fructose corn sugar. This brew boasts a 7.25% ABV. I’d trade ABV for great taste any day.
The beer poured thinly with golden pilsner attitude. The aroma was great! Very lemony and spicy hop notes greeted my nose. I am not a fan of Stoudt beers, and was pleasantly surprised. I took a sip and thought it tasted pretty good. but then I realized the sip I had was actually a cleansing sip, reacting to the Heavy Seas my palate last recalled. So I took a break and came back to the beer. When I did, I was again let down. The brewery nailed it hop-wise, but after swallowing, there was a sticky vanilla flavor that was exactly like the flavor of pure corn sugar. Home brewers who use Corn sugar to prime their brews and have tasted the pre carbonate corn sugar infused wort will know what I’m talking about.
Lagunitas is a very hit and miss brewery for me. I had tasted their hairy eyeball just a week before trying their pilsner. Hairy Eyeball was a huge let down. But after pouring their pilsner, I saw potential. The beer looked good, and smelled good. Like the rest of Lgunitas’ brews, the focus of the Pilsners was on the hops. In fact, but the aroma was great. Surprisingly, the beer tasted good too. There was a lack of artificiality that I found in the previous two brews. Saaz hops had to be part of this brew, but I thought I picked up on some classic American hop qualities. The brew is initially sweet on the tongue, but quickly the hops make their presence known. There is a bit of a rustic farmhouse quality it is quite refreshing.
Brooklyn Brewery Brooklyn Pilsner:
This brew looks like a pilsner, but smells sort of “wheaty” and grassy. There was a teeny bit of funk (not bad) in the aroma. Hops were downplayed. What can I say about the taste? It wasn’t bad. There were no noticeable imperfections, but it didn’t taste like a Pilsner to me and was reminiscent of a farmhouse ale. It was almost like a Pilsner/Saison blend, and while quality crafted it was a tad off balance and had a bit of a yeast bite. After swallowing, I had saltine crackers on the brain.
My favorite of the four? Surprising even myself, I’d choose Lagunitas. The worst? Heavy Seas. After writing the above reviews, guess which beer had the highest rating on Beer Advocate? Yup, Heavy Seas. I know that beer enjoyment is privy to subjectivity, but I had to wonder if the high ABV had anything to do with an abnormally high rating?
If you’ve had these, which is your favorite?
What’s your favorite American Pilsner?
Pilsner is probably my least favorite style of beer period. Prima Pils might be my fav though. I wish I could get into the style.
Good write up Nate – I wish I could say but its just a style I just tend to avoid. One of the few I have tried was Prima Pils by Victory and I thought it was pretty good from what I remember.
You had mentioned that its harder to make a half-decent pilsner than it is to make even a great Stout. I wonder if the lack of selection has to do with many people like me who don’t prefer the style, or is it a conscious decision by the brewer to focus on the easier to make ales?
@Dave me too…but a good one I enjoy
@Scott…I thought the same questions. I think it is a hard sell for the craft brewer and that’s why there aren’t many made. All the four I had above, even the “winner”, weren’t that good. Flaws are easily hidden by big malty brews…not so with Pilsners. the process (i.e. time, labor) isn’t much harder, just the science. I’ve only made one lager that used a lot of pilsner. It wasn’t a tru pilsner, but it was the worst beer I’ve ever brewed and made me realize how these beers require perfect balance.
The best pils that I can recall was Trumer Pils. Simple and drinkable and it fit the style. Lagunitas is second for me.
Lately it seems to me that not only are pilsners mostly ignored but now they are being “imperialed” and “hopped”. And though I am a proponent of experimenting, it seems so far adrift from the actual style as to be unrecognizable.
Not meaning to quibble but the Small Craft Warning is not actually a “pils” but and Uber Pils. This is actually a bock style – which explains the ABV. If you were looking for a classic pils this would not be the beer to go to. In our current portfolio our Classic Lager is probably closest to a pils, but is not quite hoppy enough. Just wanted to make you aware that you might be comparing apples to oranges.
I had a great pilsner from a local brewery last week, and was quite pleasantly surprised. I wrote it up for last weeks’ SWUS. To me Pilsner Urkell nails this style every time. The Sam Adams Noble Pils is nice but has a funky kind of sulphery flavor that is a little off putting, and well I don’t need to tell you how I feel about the Collaboration #1. Good for the rich! I’m surprised how you feel about the Hairy eyeball. Jim and I love it.
Nate..The Stoudt’s Pils is actually my favorite beer out of all of their brews .
Not too long ago,I try to visit the brewery which isn’t too far from me when time allows. I’m going to pick up the Troeg’s Sunshine Pils soon as well.
I suppose you’re right about the style distinction. Of course, it’s still a style Pils or you might not call it that. The point is well taken and is definitely worth pointing out via expectations. We always love when a brewery stops by and has something to say. I think maybe we are talking a Fuji to a Granny Smith rather than apples and oranges. I think Nate missed the comment and would have said something if he hadn’t. I’ve had the brew once but it was long ago, so I can’t say much about it.
Thanks for swinging by and sharing. I personally love a good pils. I’ll be brewing one this summer.
I am always searching for an alternative to my favorite beer in the world Victory Prima Pils. Why? Because it is slightly pricey and not always easy to find. Seems like they’ll stock Golden Monkey but not consider Prima Pils. I am amazed that (so far) I have not found a Pils that even comes close to this brew. I guess it’s the red-headed stepchild of beers but I find ales too sweet (and they often smell like wet-dog) and American lagers weak and unsatisfying. At the moment I am trying out a Lakefront Brewery Klisch Czech-style Pilsner. It is–not horrible. It is is not sweet thank gawd, but is not as crisp and hoppy as Prima. In a pinch–not too bad. Same basic price–too much.
May 28th, 2012 at 3:33 pm
I agree…Prima Pils is fantastic. I used to drink it frequently when I lived in Ohio. Unfortunately, Victory doesn’t distribute to Kansas City (as far as I know). I haven’t had any in two years!
Aw! My condolences!