Over the course of this month we are focusing on Pilsner beer. Why pilsners? There are several compelling reasons; the first and most important whether it is realized or not is pilsner beer changed everything. If there ever was a beer at the right time, right place then pilsner is on the short list. Second, it deserves a redemptive reading (or drinking.) One of the biggest issues facing pilsners today is getting over the stereotype of what a majority of beer drinkers think it is. Finally summer is literally right around the corner which means hot days and here true pilsner reveals itself and revels in the fact that it is one of most refreshing beers in the world.
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Pilsner’s good name has been thoroughly dragged through the mud and many have forgotten what makes a true pilsner beer special. This isn’t the fault of the beer drinker; they have been led down a path of mistrust and apprehension where pilsner style means uneventful, uninspired, tasteless swill. The biggest threat to pilsner beer has been through American macrobreweries. The villains in this story are the Millers, Budweisers, and Coors of the world and if we really want to get down to brass tacks the fault lies with a lot of the breweries that prospered and boomed after prohibition.
In the beginning these breweries, rich in German heritage brewed true pilsner beers in America. Much like other places in the world the beer caught on and became incredibly popular. One can imagine that these beers were very tasty. As time went on though and cost savings became a priority, concessions were made, the biggest being the step away from barley to cheaper adjuncts like rice and corn. This cheap derivative of the original still sold like gangbusters and encouraged other copycats. The problem was that neither corn nor rice can bring the good malt taste of barley, and for a beer like pilsner that uses very few ingredients that is a death sentence. While this is a very simplistic look at it, the end result was the reputation of pilsner beer slowly slipping into mediocrity.
Now though, things are changing, the craft beer revolution has spurred brewers to recover and reclaim styles of beer. There are craft brewers that have risen to the challenge of brewing true pilsners. Combined with European brewing stalwarts both parties are working hard to dispel the bland image that pilsner has become in the minds of beer drinkers.
Pilsners today coming from crafts have several common traits with their traditional European counterpart: the crystal clear golden color, the white fluffy head, the crisp, light on the palette and refreshing taste. As always, American craft brewers continue to refine and tweak and while the results vary a majority are worth seeking out. For the beer drinker the excellence of pilsner is found in the details and the subtlety.
I argue a great chilled pilsner is one of the most refreshing beers a person can enjoy on a hot summer day. For me it was a Mama’s Little Yella Pils by Oskar Blues that got me interested in pilsners after being turned off of them by the willy-nilly use of “pilsner” by macrobrewers. The golden liquid in that golden can forced me to reconsider my previous notions of what pilsner really was and it opened up a cool part of the beer world.
We’ll talk a bit more about the history of pilsner in part 2.