a plethora of pilsners.

Pilsner. What a loaded seven (or eight, or four, depending on your spelling) letters those are. That word means so many different things to people.

Pilsner. Bud. Coors. PBR.

Pilsner. Travels across Germany and the Czech Republic.

Pilsner. Light, crisp, clean.

Pilsner. Water.

Pilsner. Fishing cool.

Pilsner. The opposite of craft beer.

All of those interpretations are completely correct, if not complete. Pilsners are one of the more divisive of beers by virtue of being associated with the decline in quality of American lagers. With the mass production of beer. With the rise of tastelessness and mediocrity and quantity over quality that came to define so much in American culture over the last century.

But no longer, my friends, no longer. Pilsners have finally come back out of the shadows to reclaim their rightful place amongst beer royalty. What other style has had such a pervasive influence over beer the world over? Indeed, over culture itself? Pilsners deserve respect, and, luckily, there is one brewery tucked into a tiny corner of a tiny industrial complex in a tiny suburb that is trying to show us all why.

And I’ll get to them in a moment.

But first, we need to have a little discussion about what a Pilsner is. Well, what a Pilsner is according to the BJCP, which gives them an entire style category. Because they are that important.

There are three major types of Pilsners: German (Pils), Bohemian (Pilsener), and American (Pilsner).

German Pils tend to be drier and crisper than their counterparts, with more effervescence. While Bohemian Pilseners do have higher IBUs, German Pils tend towards dryness, so the bitterness from the hops will be more evident. German Pils are brewed with noble hops, which impart a certain floral spiciness to the beer that may be unfamiliar to some American palates that are more used to the American citric, fruity hops.

Bohemian, or Czech, Pilseners have a fuller body, higher IBUs (but less perceived bitterness), and are considered to be more complex than the German Pils. The biggest difference here is the water, which is lower in sulfate than German water, allowing for more roundness. This beer also uses noble hops, so it should not be fruity.

American Pilsners are the adaptation German immigrants made to their Pils when they immigrated to America. Whereas both German and Bohemian Pilsners are brewed with 100% malted barley, American Pilsners are brewed with a percentage of corn added. This beer also uses noble hops, but American varietals and hybrids. Prohibition effectively killed this beer style until homebrewers began brewing it in an attempt to resurrect indigenous beer styles. Some of the large breweries that survived Prohibition brewed this style pre-Prohibition, but watered the recipes down significantly afterward to appeal to a broader market. Thus, American Light Lagers were born. And the world would never be the same…

So there is a bit of a history on the Pilsner style.

Now, let’s talk about Saint Patrick.

Jolly fellow, isn’t he? (c) Jason Adams http://www.jasonsadams.com

No, not that Saint Patrick! (Or leprechaun, rather. But honestly, who thinks of a Catholic crusader when they think of Saint Pat anyway?)

This Saint Patrick:

(c) Saint Patrick's Brewing Company

(c) Saint Patrick’s Brewing Company

Saint Patrick’s Brewing Company in Englewood, Colorado is tucked back into an industrial complex just north of Belleview on Santa Fe. While they are technically in Englewood, they are just a drunk stumble from downtown Littleton, so I consider them a Littleton brewery.

As I briefly touched on in my article about lagers, Saint Patrick’s is only producing lagers. They brew on a small, one-barrel system, and lager entirely in bottles. With no draft system, they serve directly from the bottle in 11- or 22-ounce glasses. You can also purchase bottles (or cases. I recommend a case.) to go.

Brewmaster Chris Phelps has insane dedication to detail and quality that you can taste in his brews (and see in his artwork which adorns the walls of his fine establishment). While very often a beer with a multitude of specialty grains or too many hops varieties turns into a muddled mess, Chris manages to cox out the very best of each ingredient, making none superfluous or distracting.

In addition to being co-owner and brewer, Chris runs the brewery and tasting room (can’t call it a taproom without taps!) with co-owner and sales manager (and stepfather) Dave Barron and Dave’s son, RJ. We are talking a serious family brewery here, people.

The tasting room is as minuscule as everything else, with seats for just over a dozen people. They do have an upstairs rec area with ping-pong and one of the most hilarious roof height issues you’ll ever see. The atmosphere, as someone put it the other night, is: “just like hanging out in your living room with your best friends, cracking jokes, drinking ridiculously good beer.” When visiting a brewery, the feel of the place is as important as the beer, and Saint Pat’s doesn’t disappoint in either realm.

But back to the reason we are here: the Pilsners.

Starting today, Saint Pat’s is releasing FIVE different Pilsners to the drinking public. They are: Pilsner WitCzech Golden Pilsner, German Pilsner, American Pilsner, and Japanese Pilsner. (They also brew a Pilsner called Centennial State, but it is not currently available. You should be bummed out about this and tell Chris that he needs to bring it back. Because it tastes like the tears of 1000 triumphant garden gnomes. Yes, that’s a good thing.)

Last week I sat down and tried all five Pilsners, and you should, too. Here’s why:

Pilsner Wit

What the brewery says: “a hybrid lager. With the hop flavors and aromas of a German Pilsner and the grain profile of a Belgian Witbier.”

What I say: you definitely can smell the coriander and orange peel (by the way, Chris zests his own oranges). Without using a Belgian wit yeast, it doesn’t really have that wittiness that you expect. It is definitely hazy and has that creaminess you expect from a wheat beer. The hops are playing really nicely with the coriander, which is the be expected, but it’s nice to have that bitterness to play against the sweetness from the grains. I’m not a huge fan of wheat/wit beers, so this isn’t my favorite, but I admire what they did here and would expect this to easily surpass some of the mass market “wit” beers on the open market. No orange slice needed.

My arbitrary rating: overall, not my cup of beer, but I do think it’s well-balanced and presents an innovative, and cohesive, approach to a Pilsner hybrid. I’ll give it 8 out of 10 hop cones. (Sure – let’s use hop cones, that sounds good…)

Czech Golden Pilsner

What the brewery says: “a Bohemian Pilsner. The aroma is bready and malty, but balanced by five varieties of noble and American hops. Dry, crisp and clean with a lingering malt finish.”

What I say: yum. Yum yum and yum. The nose is like a good loaf of Italian bread with just a little bit of herbs sprinkled on top (different than herb sprinkled on top. This is Colorado, but still…). There is a certain sweetness to this beer, but it finishes dry with no lingering after flavors. Maybe a little dry for style but that doesn’t matter since it tastes oh so good. There is a little bit of DMS (dimethyl sulfide – like cooked veggies), but that comes from the pils malt and is an aroma and flavor I rather enjoy in a pilsner (in small quantities. I’m not looking for a can of creamed corn, here).

My arbitrary rating: very good. If you’re a stickler for style, know that it does deviate somewhat because of the American hops. (Also – if you are so obsessed with style guidelines that you automatically don’t like tasty beers because they don’t conform, please punch yourself in the boob.) 8.5 out of 10 hop cones.

German Pilsner

What the brewery says: “a pale lager with a notable hop aroma. Clean, crisp and smooth, with malt undertones. Dry hopped with six varieties of American and German hops.”

What I say: this is definitely a hop-lover’s Pilsner. When Chris set it down in front of me I could immediately smell the hop aromas curling off the sizable head. Yep, I said sizable head. I’m not sure if he modified the water when brewing this beer, but it comes off as very dry without any resins or huskiness. There is some harshness from the amount of dry hopping (as there isn’t the fruitiness of an ale yeast to counter those alpha acids), but it isn’t unpleasant.

My arbitrary rating: this beer left me smacking my lips and looking for a pretzel. 7.5 out of 10 hop flowers.

American Pilsner

What the brewery says: “an easy drinking American lager beer. The aroma has malt overtones balanced with noble hops.”

What I say: gateway beer. Total gateway beer. Bring your hipster friend who swears that the best thing out there is PBR and have him drink this. Or your lawnmowing uncle. Or your friend who swears they can’t drink anything but Bud. They will drink this and, dammit, they will like it. It’s light and crisp and clean, but it’s the positive side of all of those things. It is tremendously well-balanced with just the subtlest hint of hops to balance out the malts.

My arbitrary rating: this is a lawnmower beer, there’s no way around it. But lawnmower beers are not only necessary, but, in this case, very good. 7 out of 10 hop flowers. (Shit – I think I switched from hop cones to flowers, part way through there… oh well…)

Japanese Pilsner

What the brewery says: “a premium rice beer. Easy drinking, dry, crisp and smooth with rice overtones.”

What I say: you definitely get the rice here. It smells like well-cooked sticky rice. There is a little bit of rice hull on the back, but it just serves to dry the beer out even more without robbing it of body. There is no slickness to this beer, which was rather surprising, considering how often rice-heavy beers have an oiliness to them. It is a beautiful, bright straw color, and is highly effervescent. This actually carries more upfront flavor than the American Pilsner, but without as much of the hop characteristic.

My arbitrary rating: I tend to steer clear of rice beers as they don’t always treat my guts with respect, but I really liked this one. I would have liked it better had it been paired with a nice Vietnamese spring roll, but that’s neither here nor there. 8 out of 10 hop cones/flowers.

Since the Centennial State Pilsner is not currently available, I will not tempt your taste buds with descriptions of its magic. But it would win a whole hop bine.

Overall

This is a solid line-up of Pilsners. What I enjoyed best about this is that Chris went out on a limb, brewed several iterations of the style, and challenged his guests to evolve how they think about this beer. Pilsners have so often gotten a bad rap from beer geeks and this flight proves that they have as much to offer as any other style. And, besides, if you head down you get to hang out in one of the coziest, most flavorful breweries in town before they blow up (and they will). Yep, you get to be That Guy who knew them before they were “cool.”

Right now, Saint Pat’s also has several other beers on tap in bottle including their Midnight Mocha Lager, which is an interesting take on Schwartzbier, and their HellEdel Helles, which is a great beer to try alongside the Pilsners as that style was developed to directly compete with this style. They do release new beers on a fairly regular basis, so be sure to follow (and like) them on Facebook.

And next time you come across a Pilsner on a beer menu, don’t automatically pass it over. One of my biggest fears is being seen as a “beer wuss.” The minute I (or any woman, it seems) orders a Pilsner or Kolsch or Hefeweizen or any light-colored beer, you can see most bartenders automatically label us as neophytes. And then the orange wedges come out and the condescending comments when you order a double IPA, and, well, it’s a slippery slope. But I, and you, need to cut that shit out. Pilsners are good. They deserve respect. Brewers are already elevating them to the next level, help them out by ordering and enjoying them.

Now: what are you waiting for? Go! Imbibe!

*By the way, Pilsner is one of those words the more you write it, the more wrong it looks, so if there are gross misspellings of it, I blame the human brain’s abhorrence of repetition.

It’s about the concept…

This! This this this is what makes me so damned excited about beer and brewing and beer geeks and this whole damn crazy industry! Read a book – get inspired – throw some insane (yet so well thought-out) shit into it and see what happens.

This is why beer is magical. This is why beer is good. This is what makes all right in the world.

My Lame Beer Blog.

If you are a professional brewer or even a home brewer, there is usually one goal, one reason to make beer: To get drunk To make something that tastes great and is satisfying for you and others to drink.

With this series I am working on, A Song of Malt and Hops, what the finished beer will taste like is very important to me. I try to achieve some semblance of balance no matter what is going into the it. Sometimes though, the concept just dictates and drinkability and enjoyment is secondary.

Such is the case with the last beer I made, House Greyjoy.

The recipe formulation for this beer really has nothing to do with thirst quenching tastiness, it has to do with nailing this concept of what their house beer would taste like. And in the end, it is quite possible that this beer will taste like…

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lagers don’t get no lovin’.

Ah, lagers. Much adored by the populace at large and much maligned by craft beer lovers. But while the mass market breweries have done their durndest to make sure that the word “lager” is synonymous with “crap”, those with taste buds and a penchant for contrarianism know better. And while some of us (me) might want to keep these things to ourselves (more for me!), in order to see more of these fine beers come forth from fermenters across the land, we must share our crisp, clean little secret.

First: what the hell is a lager? OR the family tree of beer.

This is the headboard in my guest room. No, really. (c) Pop Chart Labs

This is the headboard in my guest room. No, really. (c) Pop Chart Labs

As this nifty poster from Pop Chart Labs demonstrates, the family tree of beer has many, many branches. But, there is really just one trunk with two off-shoots: ales and lagers. Often, people ask what the difference between a beer and a lager or a beer and an ale is. Well, like that old brain teaser of all poodles are dogs, but not all dogs are poodles, so it goes with beer. All ales are beer, but not all beers are ales. All lagers are also beer, but all beers are not lagers. And all beer is either an ale, a lager, or a hybrid of the two (and yes, we can debate that hybrids are technically either ales or lagers, but this is neither the time, nor to post to do so).

But what makes a beer an ale or a lager? It all comes down to that wiley little microorganism, the yeast. Ale yeast is top- or warm-fermenting yeast called Saccharomyces cerevisiae. It loves temperatures in the low 60s through low 70s, takes a couple of weeks to ferment, and produces lovely, fruity esters in the finished beer. Ale is the yeast that produces everything from IPAs to (the majority of) porters to red ales.

Then you have the wallflower of craft brewing: lager yeast, Saccharomyces uvarum (domestic strains of lager yeast are often referred to a Saccharomyces pastorianus or Saccharomyces carlsbergensis. You can read more about the ins and outs of yeast taxonomy here). This yeast is bottom- or cold-fermenting. It likes much lower temperatures in which to ferment (with the exception of certain strains used in the production of California Common – but there is always an exception, it seems), but also takes much, much longer to complete: from around six weeks to several months. Lager yeast tends to be more crisp and clean and leaves less of a “yeast character” in the beer than an ale. They also tend to be less cloudy by virtue of their long fermentation time that allows for the particulates to settle out prior to serving.

The term “lager” comes from the German word for “storehouse” and early German lagers were called lagerbier or “beer for keeping” after the long amount of time the beer was kept in cold caves before being consumed. What does confuse things somewhat is that the word lager is used not only to describe the style of beer as determined by the yeast, but also the process by which beer is kept in cold storage for secondary fermentation. So, lager is both a noun and a verb. Gotta love language! Ale comes from an old Norse word for beer – ǫl – and has long been used by the British to describe their indigenous beers pulled from casks. Of course, the terms lager and ale are not confined by these original definitions and, as we all now know, are dependent on their yeast and not exclusively the way they are brewed or served.

Most Americans are familiar with what the BJCP refers to as “American Adjunct Lager” – that is, a lager beer made with adjuncts such as corn or rice in addition to the standard water, hops, malted barley, and yeast. These beers are light in color, body, and flavor and mass produced for quantity and drinkability (read: closeness to water) and are not concerned with being interesting or distinct. It’s why it is so hard to tell one mass market beer from another.

Craft lagers – and, indeed, many import lagers – are a whole different animal (fungus, I guess, to be technically accurate). On the lighter end of things you have German, Bohemian, and American Pilsners, Helles, and Dortmunders. Then you move into Traditional Bocks, Vienna Lagers, and Marzens (Oktoberfest beers). Black Lagers, Dunkels, and Schwarzbier are “dark” lagers that challenge everything you thought you knew about deeply-colored beers. Then you have those seemingly style-defying beers such as the Baltic Porter. There is also the ultra-strong Eisbock, which is an ice-distilled version of a Bock. And in America, we are now seeing India Pale Lagers and similar ale styles being brewed with lager yeast.

But that’s not a new trend – rather an old trend reborn. Back when German folk first started immigrating to the United States, they brought their beer of choice – the Pilsner. As the popularity of this easy to drink, mildly hoppy lager grew and the ales that had been traditionally consumed in America lost favor (but not flavor!), American brewers realized they needed to get in on the trend. But, as with so many American things, we decided we needed to do it our way. So, rather than just start brewing these German Pilsners, those inventive brewers created Cream “Ale.” Cream Ale is a light-colored, light-bodied beer traditionally brewed using a mix of malt and corn (as corn was a readily available, and inexpensive, fermentable grain to our aforementioned brewers). Some brewers sought out this “new” yeast from German friends and decided to experiment with it, creating a crisper form of Cream “Ale.” Other brewers chose to stick with what they knew and brewed the beer with ale yeast, but they did tend to brew it slightly colder and some chose to lager their beer in an attempt to rid it of some of the ale’s fruitiness and make it more closely match the Pilsner they were competing against. While this style was popular for a while, it died out in popularity as the Pilsner continued it’s nearly parasitic takeover of American palates (albeit in a much watered down version), but has seen a resurgence in recent years as the interest in indigenous American beer styles has grown.

Because of the tendency to use different yeasts, and to lager Cream Ales, they are one of several styles that are considered “hybrid” beers. Other examples are Kolsch (which are brewed with ale yeast, but lagered), California Common (lager yeast brewed at ale temperatures), and altbiers (either ales fermented at lager temperatures or lagers fermented slightly warm).

So, while so many picture buxom blondes touting the benefits of “cold filtering” and “triple hopping” at the mention of lagers, they are actually far more complex than what marketing wants you to believe.

If you are interested in making a foray into lagers, but aren’t quite sure where to start, here are some suggestions:

If you enjoy… Than you should try…
Pale Ale Bohemian Pilsner, Maibock
IPA IPL (obviously), Maibock, Colorado Common (a hoppier version of California Common)
Brown Ale Dunkel, Black Lager, Traditional Bock, Vienna Lager
Amber Ale California Common (aka Steam Beer), Amber Lager, Altbier, Black Lager, Marzen
Porter Schwartzbier, Traditional Bock
Stout Baltic Porter, Dopplebock
Light Lager American Black Lager (don’t be afraid!), German Pilsner, Kolsch, Dortmunder, Cream Ale

Obviously, this list is far from inclusive, but it is a good start when dipping your tongue into the myriad of lagers available on the market today. Some of my favorite lager brands available are Pug Ryan’s Dead Eye Dunkel and Peacemaker Pilsner, Big Choice Colorado Common, Full Sail Sessions Black Lager, Boston Beer Samuel Adams Boston Lager, Yazoo Dos Perros Vienna Lager, Brewery Rickoli Enormous Richard Double Cream Ale, Grand Lake Fall Fest Marzen, French Broad Gateway Kolsch, Rogue Dead Guy Maibock, Saint Patrick’s Centennial State Pilsner.

And, speaking of Saint Patrick’s Brewing Company, this is a brewery that is only brewing lagers, and are making some of the most refined, most experimental beers available. Right now they are tiny (they don’t even have a draught system and are lagering in bottles), but once they get larger (lager?), expect to change the craft brewing industry. On April 24th, they are releasing a flight of four different Pilsners, and I was lucky enough to get a preview, so look for my write-up tomorrow.

Lagers are also the perfect partner for so many different foods. Their effervescence works to scrub the tongue of heavy flavors, and their lighter hop characteristics make them a perfect match for spicy food. Why do you think Vienna Lager has become such a popular beer to drink with Mexican food? Or why a rice lager always seems to go so nicely with sushi? Or why nothing tastes quite as good with a big ol’ German brautwurst than a mug of dunkel? Just like ales, lagers love food, and (trust me) the feeling is mutual.

In conclusion (oh lord – it’s like an AP English paper), lagers are as diverse, and can certainly be as interesting as, ales. Even though light lagers are the kudzu of beer doesn’t mean that their buddies don’t make some rather tasty beverages. So – what are you waiting for? Go out! Imbibe!

it’s brew year’s eve, dammit.

Okay. I need to rant.

When did the universe collaboratively decide that April 7th is suddenly “National Beer Day”? I mean, I love me a good beer-centric holiday, but April 7th is ALREADY a beer holiday. And a much more robust, historically-significant one: Brew Year’s Eve. It’s all semantics, you might argue, but you would be wrong. And here’s why:

April 7th was dubbed Brew Year’s Eve as a celebration of the first step towards ending prohibition: allowing alcoholic beverages up to 3.2% (abw) alcohol to be legally served. Why Brew Year’s Eve, then? (Besides the awesome sounding moniker, that is). Because it was the eve of the repeal of prohibition. The eve of reclaiming the freedom to imbibe in alcoholic beverages. The eve of so many great things to come. For many American brewers, April 7th and December 5th (the repeal of prohibition) are the two greatest days on the calendar. These dates were the gateway to pursuing our passions legally. It’s a big flipping deal.

Now, National Beer Day would imply that it is a day to celebrate all of our favorite bubbly, barley-based beverage from across this great land. That’s great! I’m all on-board that grain-y train. But wait! By choosing April 7th, those who decided to call this National Beer Day are trying to hitch that wagon to the Cullen-Harrison Act. And by doing so, are stating that this day, April 7th, has historic significance in the way we enjoy beer. And, since today was not the day that all beer was allowed, it means that National Beer Day is about 3.2 beer.

Before you call me a hypocrite and say “I bet YOU, Miss Lupulin, will be drinking other than 3.2 beer today! Burn her! Burn her!” Let me counter with this: today I imbibe of my favorite craft brews with full knowledge of what today is and its historical significance. Many who are celebrating “National Beer Day” just use it as an excuse to get drunk. National Beer Day is to Brew Year’s Eve what breweries are to bars: education verses intoxication.

And this gets me to the crux of the issue: by changing today’s celebration from Brew Year’s Eve to National Beer Day, we are actively participating in the dumbing down of America. Brew Year’s Eve is not only clever, but it requires some thought to find out what someone means when they say that. National Beer Day is just another in a long line of pointless, soulless holidays meant to elicit rampant consumerism from the masses. And if there is one thing that craft beer isn’t, it’s without soul. Just talk to any one of the thousands of brewers who will be descending upon the Mile High City this week for the Craft Brewer’s Conference.

The CBC is a prime example of one thing that so many craft beer geeks – indeed, the majority – have in common: our shared love of learning. That’s why we are constantly seeking out new beers, fresh breweries, and different experiences. It’s why there are so many craft beer festivals, fairs, expos, symposiums, and conferences. It’s why brewers hang out at other breweries whenever they can. We don’t just crave filling our bellies with booze: we lust after feeding our skull meat as well! It’s knowing everything we can about this product, this lifestyle, that we love. And a big part of that is knowing the history of beer here in America and around the world. And April 7th is a vital day in that history.

So, after that mostly disjointed rant, I guess my point is this: Brew Year’s Eve is the thinking person’s April 7th, National Beer Day is just the drinking person’s. And that makes me rather sad.

But, regardless of what you call today, grab your favorite brew and raise a glass to the politicians who, if only for a moment, listened to the will of the people and worked towards once again legalizing our favorite beverage.

Cheers.

postscript: April 7th has also been called Session Beer Day, which, because it celebrates the lower of the alcohol contents, I am cool with as it recognizes the history of the day. However, it is not nearly as clever as Brew Year’s Eve, so it’s still on the outs.