Pilsner: Summer Incarnate

by Borderstan.com June 5, 2013 at 12:00 pm 0

From Rob Fink. Follow him on Twitter @RobDFink or email him at rob[AT]borderstan.com.


Victory. (Rob Fink)

I’m sure you’ve already noticed, but the advent of hot, sweltering humidity is nearly upon us here in the District. So, it is quite natural to gravitate towards lighter colored and lighter bodied beers, but that should by no means insinuate lighter flavor.

Within the craft beer paradigm, there are plenty of options to help quench your insatiable summer thirst: German weissbiers and Belgian witbiers are two styles which immediately come to mind, but one other style, in my humble opinion, will always reign supreme – the (authentic) pilsner.

By pilsner I do not mean Miller Lite or any of its indistinguishable variants which bastardize and adulterate their righteous forbearers. Those beers, otherwise known as industrial light lagers, are fully commodified, adjunct-laden (in this case meaning a portion of their fermentables come from non-malt sources such as rice or corn, which in turn “lighten” or dilute malt flavor) imitators which stand leagues away from their authentic counterparts.

The ubiquity of the “light lager” is so pronounced that as of 2012, its consumption accounted for 95% of global beer volume; hopefully this article will help you steer clear of all that.

Despite the mythology that surrounds many of the classic beer styles, the history of pilsner is somewhat less contentious. In the late 1830s, the residents of Plzeň, in what is now known as the Czech Republic, were largely dissatisfied with the quality of the beer local breweries were producing, so they decided to band together and establish a new brewery. Eventually, the illustrious Bavarian brewer Josef Groll was courted by Bürger Brauerei (which eventually came to be Pilsner Urquell) and on October 5, 1842, authentic Pilsner was born.

Generally speaking, authentic pilsners display pillowy mountains of white head atop an often razor-sharp light gold color with aromas of crisp, cracker-like malt and noble hop character exhibiting a complex blend of floral, earth and spice notes. Faithful American interpretations of the style finish fairly dry, which make them especially appetizing during the warmer months of the year.

My two favorite iterations of the style are, perhaps paradoxically, American. I blame it on my German heritage and Pennsylvania upbringing, but Victory Brewing Company and Stoudts Brewing Company are doing it right and doing it best, weaving together subtle nuance with full flavor.

Prima Pils, 5.3% ABV – Victory Brewing Company, Downingtown, PA

Although founders Ron Barchet and Bill Covaleski are thoroughly steeped in German tradition, their Pils is decidedly hoppier than most Pilsners you’ll find in Germany. A beautiful hop bouquet of earth and spice leap from the glass, creating an aroma which necessitates prolonged sensory investigation. The flavor largely mimics the beer’s pungent aromatics, providing a full flavored experience while being dry enough and light enough in body to have several in one sitting.

Pils, 5.4% ABV – Stoudts Brewing Company, Adamstown, PA

Not quite as hop-forward as Prima Pils, Stoudt’s rendition of the classic style still boasts a similar flavor profile with an especially prominent Czech Saaz hop character leading the way. Delicacy is a word that keeps coming to mind as I quaff back a few of these (beer writing is premised on beer consumption, right?). Although Prima Pils has a bit more swagger, the Stoudt Pils exemplifies the proper amount of subtlety in an authentic Pilsner.

Thankfully, both of these options are plentiful in Borderstan, whether its in six packs at the P Street Whole Foods or being served at Churchkey on 14th Street, where Prima Pils has been a near permanent fixture on draft since opening. If you’re invited to a BBQ this summer, drop the Miller Lite and pick up one of the aforementioned gems – you’ll be glad you did.

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