Showing posts with label pilsner. Show all posts
Showing posts with label pilsner. Show all posts

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Carolina Pilsner

A couple of weeks ago, Mrs V and I took ourselves off to her parents' place in South Carolina for a week of quarantined change of scenery. 

Unusually for one of our trips South we didn't stop at Olde Mecklenburg on the way down for a feed and to let the ever growing twins run around for a bit, though we did stop in on the way to buy a stash of beer to bring back to Virginia.

The day before we headed back north, I popped into a local bottle shop, suitably masked of course, and as I was wondering around I thought it would be fun to try a taste off of pilsners from South and North Carolina. I ended up with the six beers below.


The beers were:
  • Birdsong Rewind Lager (NC)
  • Edmund's Oast Pils (SC)
  • Olde Mecklenburg Captain Jack (NC)
  • Revelry Glorious Bastard (SC)
  • Coast Brewing Pilsner (SC)
  • Indigo Reef Pilsner (SC)
Let's just dive on in shall we...


Birdsong Rewind Lager - 4%, Czech style, canned April 10, 2020
  • Sight - golden with slight haze, health half inch of white head, good retention
  • Smell - faint grass, Southern biscuits, some herbal notes, very lightly fruity
  • Taste - bready malt, slightly crusty, clean hop bitterness, herbal
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
Really refreshing and session worthy beer. Body in light-medium, maybe a little on the watery side int he finish, but nothing I haven't experienced with Czech made desítky. I really like the can design too, made me think of Anthony Bourdain describing Kout na ?umavě as "nostalgic" when he visited the brewery with Evan Rail. Will definitely pick more of this up next time I see it.


Edmund's Oast Pils - 4.5%, German style, canned July 6, 2020
  • Sight - golden with a thin white head that dissipates to a lingering schmeer of foam, excellent clarity.
  • Smell - floral hops, fresh scones, slightly spicy
  • Taste - juicy sweet malt, firm pithy bitter hop bite, slightly lemony
  • Sweet - 2.5/5
  • Bitter - 3/5
An absolute stunner of a beer, but it reminded me more of Czech pilsners that German, in particular Hostomicky Fabián 10. Medium bodied with a soft maltiness in the finish rather than the crackery dryness you often get with German pilsners. An early contender for the Fuggled beer of the year.


Olde Mecklenburg Captain Jack Pilsner - 4.8%, German style, canned June 22, 2020
  • Sight - straw yellow, thin white head, brilliant clarity
  • Smell - fresh bread, lemons, limes, some spice
  • Taste - cereal grain, citric hops, grassy, floral spiciness like nasturtium flowers
  • Sweet - 2.5/5
  • Bitter - 3.5/5
Classic German style pilsner. Clean, dry finish with great snap that you get from proper lagering. Medium bodied and insanely moreish. There is a reason this is a beer I drink a lot of, it is simply a stunning brew, I love it.


Revelry Glorious Bastard - 5.25%, Czech style
  • Sight - golden with thin white head, good clarity
  • Smell - floral hops, some hay, kind of a musty cheese thing going on (aged hops?), fruity
  • Taste - crusty cread, saccharin sweetness in background, rough bitterness
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 2.5/5
When I asked Mrs V to give this a try her instant response was "is this an IPA?", says it all really. Such a disappointment as the aroma is generally spot on, but the balance is missing in the drinking.


Coast Brewing Pilsner - 4.8%, German style
  • Sight - slightly hazy gold, quarter inch of white foam, decent retention
  • Smell - almost non-existent, slightest trace of flowers and grain, maybe
  • Taste - dominated by bready sweetness, extracty
  • Sweet - 2.5/5
  • Bitter - 1/5
This one was a major disappointment, and most of it went down the drain. It was a syrupy mess, lacking any of the snap that well made lagers have, it was kind of flaccid and lacking any hop character. Will try again though at some point in case I got a duff can.


Indigo Reef Surface Interval - 6%, Czech style, canned on April 29, 2020
  • Sight - straw yellow, kind of cloudy, think white head
  • Smell - floral hops, light citrus character, Southern biscuits
  • Taste - sweet malt, very sweet actually, some spicy hops
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 1.5/5
Given ABV, I am assuming this is about 15 degrees Plato, which would be darker in Czechia as this was surprisingly pale. Medium-full body made it quite syrupy though there was a lingering spicy finish.

As I posted the other day on Instagram, 2 stunners, 1 drain pour and 3 decent beers, though I kind of question the brewers' experience of actual Czech beer. The 2 stunners were head and shoulders above the others, and the Edmund's Oast was particularly enjoyable. 

One thing has been on my mind in particular. I am starting to think that the term "pilsner" is insufficient for describing Czech style pale lagers brewed by American craft breweries. If you take the extremes of the ABV for the 4 beers I have, you have 4.5%, 4.8%, 5.25%, and 6%. Multiplying the ABV by 2.5 gives you the ball park starting gravity in degrees Plato, and we have (rounding to the nearest whole number) 11°, 12°, 13°, and 15°. 

Under Czech beer law these four beers straddle 2 different categories, le?ák, aka "lager", and speciální pivo, aka "special beer". Even within the speciální pivo category, Czech would expect different things from a 13° and a 15° beer, think the difference between a strong helles and a bock respectively. Yet they all bear the moniker "pilsner", mainly because they use Saaz hops, or some higher alpha acid derivative, looking at you Sterling.

While I am happy that Czech style lager seems to be increasingly popular with both brewers and drinkers in the US, I think lumping everything pale under the banner of "pilsner" actually does a disservice to one of the great brewing cultures of the world, and I would argue that we reserve the world "pilsner" for those beers that are in the same sitz im leben as the original, Pilsner Urquell - 12°, 4.5-5% abv, 30-40 IBUs of Czech hops. Anything below that could be a "Session Czech Lager", anything above that a "Strong Czech Lager", but pilsner sets expectations in knowledgeable drinkers' minds, so stick to it.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Half Cut

Decisions, decisions, an excess of choice is not always a good thing.

There are times when I sit agonising over a beer list trying to decide what beer to pour down my gullet next. Interestingly enough, such existential angst rarely happens when faced with the tap wall equivalent of an anti-immigrant's wet dream, invariably it is when faced with both a pale and a dark lager that rank among my favourites.


When facing this dilemma back in the Czech Republic, the answer was often to order a "?ezané pivo" which literally translates as a "cut beer". A ?ezané pivo is nothing more than half a serving of pale lager and half of dark, though in Czech law said beers must share the same starting gravity. From experience, however, pubs are more than happy to make a ?ezané that would be technically illegal. In the warm fermented world this is known as a black and tan, where a pale ale and stout are the ingredients.


As you are no doubt aware, the drinking world that is Fuggled is a lager dominated one. On a couple of occasions at the Devils Backbone Basecamp I have asked for a ?ezané, though memory is hazy as to what was involved, most likely their magnficient Schwartzbier and Gold Leaf lagers. When sitting at home though I have been known to mix up Von Trapp's Helles and Dunkel, and more recently the Olde Mecklenburg Captain Jack Pilsner and their winter seasonal Dunkel. To add some context to what was going into my glass, the Captain Jack is 4.8%, thus assuming a starting gravity of 12°, and has 25 IBUs. The Dunkel by contrast is 4.9%, so just a quarter degree of Plato difference assuming the Czech method of multiplying ABV by 2.5 to arrive at starting gravity, and again has 25 IBUs.


It was halfway through a recent ?ezané that I realised I had never bothered to sit down and actually think about the interaction of the two beers. So it was that one of the final beery drinks of 2019 ahead of my dry January was decided upon and I poured the Olde Mecklenburg combination into a glass...
  • Sight - beautiful clear red, mottled head, quarter inch of foam, excellent retention
  • Smell - freshly baked crusty bread, Nutella, some floral hops
  • Taste - toasty, blonde roast coffee, nutty toffee, lemons in the background, trace of cocoa
  • Sweet - 2.5/5
  • Bitter - 3.5/5
First things first, a confession, I only just looked up the specs on the Dunkel and was surprised that it has 25 IBUs. I had assumed that it would be a little lower and that the overall perception of bitterness in the blend would be more subtle than I found it. Thankfully I like my beers to be bitter, and in this blend that bitterness is right there, front and centre. There is a very strong possibility that my first beer at home when I resume drinking on February 1st will be this precise mix as I have plenty of both beers in the fridge. Now that I know they are so close in starting gravity to each other, I might try to layer the beers so that the dunkel sits on top of the pilsner. At some point I will also delve deeper into the Von Trapp Helles and Dunkel mix, as well as bringing their Pilsner to the party, and if by some miracle I can squirrel a bottle of Olde Mecklenburg Dunkel away somewhere then when they bring out their summer seasonal Helles an experiment could be called for.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Pilsners of the South

Just after Christmas Mrs V, myself, the twins, and the in-laws took a trip down to Williamsburg, one of my favourite places in Virginia to visit. As the one time capital of the colony of Virginia, and close at hand to places like Jamestown and Yorktown, Williamsburg really appeals to the history nerd in me, it also happens to be home to the Alewerks Brewing Company, makers of one of my favourite brown ales in the US, and also a lovely helles lager.

Unfortunately for this trip a visit to a brewery was not on the cards, so I had to limit my beer to what was available in the store, in this case a pretty decent Harris Teeter. Having driven the couple of hours it takes to get there, I took a detour to the store to stock up on booze, picking up a six pack each of New Realm Euphonia Pilsner and Wicked Weed Uncle Rick's Pilsner. Knowing that I had some Olde Mecklenburg Captain Jack Pilsner back home in the fridge, I decided on a comparative tasting.

Said tasting was planned for the evening of the last Sunday of 2019 when joy of joys I discovered that our local Wegman's was finally stocking Port City Downright Pilsner (it had only taken 18 months of badgering for this wonder to occur). Thus the threesome became a foursome, and as the kids watched their Krtek cartoons I dived in...

New Realm Euphonia Pilsner - Georgia/Virginia


  • Sight - pale yellow/straw, thin white head, poor retention, slightly hazy
  • Smell - white pepper, watermelon, trace of generic citrus
  • Taste - crackers, melon, slightly musty, pithy bitterness in the finish
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 3/5
New Realm Euphonia, from the new brewery of Mitch Steele formerly of Stone Brewing, won best in show at the 2019 Virginia Craft Brewers Cup, and sorry if I am being blunt here, how that happened I have no idea, there are plenty of much better beers in general in the Commonwealth. This is not a bad beer, far from it, it is a nice German style pilsner. I found it a bit thin overall, though it didn't go so far as to be watery, and it was just too fizzy for me, perhaps that is a reaction based on my week or so of drinking German pilsners in Germany on tap, but still, too much gas involved.

Wicked Weed Uncle Rick's Pilsner - North Carolina/Virginia


  • Sight - crystal clear gold, quarter inch white head that lingers for the duration
  • Smell - spicy, pepper, slightly bready, some floral notes, tangerines
  • Taste - soft marmelade, custy bread, citrus - lime/mandarin, pithy bitter bite
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 2.5/5
Even though this is a Wicked Weed beer, the can says that it is brewed and packaged in Lexington, Virginia, which makes me think that it is being brewed by Devils Backbone on behalf of their AB-InBev stablemates. This is a really good beer, ticks all the right boxes for what you would expect from a German style pilsner, especially given it has that sharp snappy crisp bite that screams good fermentation practices. I can see this being pretty regular in the old beer fridge this year.

Olde Mecklenburg Captain Jack Pilsner - North Carolina


  • Sight - clear gold, half inch white head, very good retention
  • Smell - floral hops, lemony citrus, a touch of spice, some grainy character
  • Taste - light toast, clean citric hop bite, touch of lemon, water biscuit crackeriness
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 2.5/5
I make no secret of the fact that love this beer, and indeed Olde Mecklenburg in general. Captain Jack is beautifully balanced, with both hops and malts shining through but neither stealing the limelight from the other. There are times when I can think of nothing I would rather drink than three bottles of this poured into my Paulaner 1 litre mug, every mouthful finishes dry and refrshing, willing you to keep on drinking. I have no shame in showing my bias here, but this is for me one of the top 5 lagers being brewed in the US right now.

Port City Downright Pilsner - Virginia



  • Sight - golden, slightly hazy, firm white head, excellent retention
  • Smell - Saaz, Saaz, more Saaz, and then some Saaz, lemons, lemongrass, slightly spicy, orange blossom, think alpine meadow and you're close
  • Taste - very much dominated by the hoppiness that comes with the judicious use of Saaz, lemons up front and some some grass and spice in there too, malt background has bready character
  • Sweet - 2.5/5
  • Bitter - 2.5/5
Again I will make no apologies for being a fan of this beer. Downright is a wonderfully balanced, drinkable beer that I can happily sit and drink all night. However, it does lack a little of the clean finish that I really like in my lagers, and although it is in the Bohemian style it doesn't quite have the body that comes with the territory, perhaps due to it not being decoction mashed. Even so, it is a damned fine beer and one I am thrilled to see available at Wegmans. I will be stocking up come February.

If I were pushed into ranking these four very good beers, all of which I would happily drink wherever and whenever, it would look like this:
  1. Olde Mecklenbug Captain Jack Pilsner
  2. Port City Downright Pilsner
  3. Wicked Weed Uncle Rick's Pilsner
  4. New Realm Euphonia Pilsner

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Falling Into Von Trapp

Lager is kind of my thing.

I can't think of a single warm fermented beer style that I would rather drink than a well executed cold fermented style. Sorry folks but your New England IPAs just don't compare to the height of craft brewing that is an Old School Czech pale lager. If you think that you foreign extra stout with gorilla snot and dingleberries can hold a candle to schwarzbier then you are in for disappointment.

Most of my favourite breweries are those that brew lager, giving it the deference and respect it is due, even those like Sierra Nevada who are better known for their ales do some magnificent lagers as well. This year I added a new to me brewery to my list of go to purveyors of fine decocted booze, Von Trapp Brewing from Vermont (yes, that Von Trapp family and yes they do decoction mashing).


Since trying their Oktoberfest back in the appropriate season, I have been on something of a Von Trapp kick. Other than my 10 days in central Europe, I have probably indulged in at least one six pack of their various beers each weekend since September, and in keeping with my worldview these days I haven't really taken notes other than when needed for other projects and schemes.



Something that each of the beers I have tried so far shares is that it is an excellent example of whichever style it is. For example I am actually fairly confident that had Beer Run had any more of the Oktoberfest when I decided to do my mass tasting that it would have been in at least the final 4, possibly the top 2.


Most recently I have been revelling in Tr?sten, a rauchbier that unlike many an American made smoke beer is actually worthy of the name. Sure it might not be a full frontal assault on the senses a la Schlenkerla, but it is a beautifully smokey dark lager that could easily become a regular in winter for me, and may even be used to soak the raisins, sultanas, et al in the fruit cake I plan to make this weekend for my father-in-law and I.

Of the regular styles available my go tos of late have been Helles and Dunkel, both of which I would put right up there with the best versions available back in Germany and which, as a side note for us Czech beer fans of the world, make a delightful ?ezané pivo, or black and tan.


If you live in any of the states where Von Trapp is available, I recommend getting out to the store and stocking up, and if said store isn't carrying these superb lagers given them earache until they relent! I have been desperately trying to avoid cheesy Sound of Music references, but truly these are a few of my favourite things! Whilst in the mood for cheesy puns, yes I am happy to declare myself a Von Trappist too.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Done Right, Damn Right, Downright.

I have mentioned many times that I am an abysmal beer tourist. Here in the Charlottesville area there are plenty of breweries I just haven't bothered to go visit, a fact perhaps influenced by many a local brewery's lack of lager in their lineup - it's a post for another day but recently I have been feeling as though I have come full circle in wanting mainly to drink properly made lagers to almost the exclusion of all else.

At the tail end of last year, Mrs V's cousin took up a job that had her and her husband transplant from Greensboro, North Carolina, to the interminable gridlock that is Northern Virginia, Alexandria to be precise. This weekend just gone, Mrs V and I went up, with the Malé Ali?ky to tow naturally, to visit, and I saw an opportunity to rectify my errant ways. Alexandria is home to one of my favourite breweries, Port City, and it really was high time for me to darken the door of their tasting room/bar.

Given the high regard in which I hold Port City, it is perhaps odd that I don't post about them more often, though there is a major mitigating circumstance. For some reason, best known only to the distributors and retailers in this part of the world, their Downright Pilsner is rarer than hens' teeth. Their majesterial Porter is something I save for the darker nights of autumn and winter, once I get my fill of the annual Oktoberfest, which is always a fine brew. Usually I have to limit my Downright consumption to the occasions when I see it on tap.

Well, on Sunday it was on tap just a few yards from where it had been brewed as I dragged the family along to get my fill of fresh Downright before Mrs V drove us back to central Virginia.

I am sure I have said this many times before, but there is simply no other Virginia brewed pilsner, whether Bohemian, German, or American in style, that is anywhere near as good as Downright Pilsner. There are a couple that come close, looking at you Devils Backbone Meadow Bier and South Street Shake Your Teal Feather, but Downright has so far held off all comers looking to take that particular crown.


Perhaps it's the simplicity of the recipe, just Pilsner malt and Saaz hops? Perhaps it is the 6 weeks of lagering, or maybe the mildly untraditional dry hopping with Saaz? Perhaps it's the 43 IBUs that all that Saaz brings to the table (yes you read that right, an American made Czech style pilsner that hops it with the best of Czech made Czech lagers). Perhaps it's the fact that Downright is a dvanáctka, that's a 12° Plato beer for the non-Czech speakers of the world?

Actually, it is all of the above. Downright is done right, and when you do things properly you get good results. Could Downright stand up if served on the taps of august Prague establishments like Pivovarsky klub? Damn right it would. In fact, I am convinced it would quickly become a favourite among the cognoscenti of the Czech beer world.

Now then, when can I get back to Alexandria, given that my crowlers are finished and already I am hankering for more...?

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Pilsner...Nailed

Pilsner.

It is near impossible to think of a more polarising word, or beer style, in the beer world. For some the very idea of a pilsner is an adjunct laden pale lager made by one of the big breweries, after all, Miller Lite claims to be 'a fine pilsner beer' on the can. Others though, and here I count myself, can think of no higher expression of the brewer's craft that a well made pilsner that sticks pretty much to Reinheitsgebot, whether Bohemian or German in style.

It is also a word that actually fills me with excitement and dread when I see it on a taplist in a brewpub, tap room, or pub. At once I am both eager to try it and yet worried that it will turn out to be gack. Side note, you can always tell a shitty craft pilsner being made in the US because daft phrases like 'it has just the right amount of skunk to be authentic' - said 'right amount' is zero so please stop fucking around.

I spent most of last week in Charleston, South Carolina at a library conference. It was the longest time I have spent away from my little family since the twins were born just over a year ago, so I was happy to get home and do all those domestic bliss kind of things, the weekly shop being one of them. With the shopping out of the way we decided to grab some lunch at South Street Brewery, one of my favourite places to go for a drink in central Virginia. The beer is generally very good, Mitch knows what he is doing, especially with lagers (his helles is a very regular beer in my world), said beer is very reasonably priced, usually around $4.50 for a 16oz pint, compared to $6 for a similarly sized pint not that far away, oh and they have a glorious fireplace that now that the cooler months are upon us will be lit daily.

There, in the middle of the beer list was the word. Pilsner, a collaboration with a local real estate company, German malt, Czech hops, 4.3%, 28 IBU...like a cosmic alignment, dare I try. I trust Mitch, so I dared...


In the famous words of the motto of the SAS, he who dares wins, this was nailed on, Czech style pilsner in all it's drinkable, noble hoppy glory. So good was it that it stopped conversation mid flow, Anton Ego style, glass handed straight to Mrs V for her verdict....it passed muster, leading to the abandonment of her wine for a pint of nostalgia for the Czech Republic.

So if you are in the Charlottesville area get along to South Street and revel in the delights of a pilsner the equal of anything from Central Europe, yes including you Rothaus.

Friday, August 5, 2016

The Session 114 - Urquell and Not


This month's Session is around the theme of 'Pilsners', I asked bloggers to find examples of the various subsets of the pilsner style and do a  little tasting and comparing, but first I have a confession to make.

Believe it or not, I have not always been a devoted drinker of Plzeňsky Prazdroj, the original, eponymous, lager from Plzeň. That's not to say that I haven't always been a fan of Czech pale lagers, but in my first few years living in the Czech Republic I preferred Budvar, Velkopopovicky Kozel, or Gambrinus. Then as I started breaking out and drinking lagers from small breweries I discovered wonders such as Zlata Labut Světlé Kvasnicové Pivo 11°, Koutsky 10° Kvasnicové Světlé Vy?epní, or Chodovar Kvasnicovy Skalní Le?ák.


Plzeňsky Prazdroj was something I drank on the occasions when I went to places like U Pinkas?, Bredovsky Dv?r, or Bruska. Sure I liked it enough but it was really only when Pivovarsky Klub had a keg of the unfiltered, kvasnicové Prazdroj, that was normally only available in a couple of bars in Plzeň, that I realised what a magnificent beer it truly is. Now that it is available in the US, cold shipped in brown bottles, it is a fairly regular, though fleeting, visitor to my fridge.


It seemed only logical for this iteration of The Session then that I get myself some of the original pilsner and subject it to my slightly modified version of the Cyclops beer tasting method, but then I decided it would better to actually write about the beer than have a set of bullet points. Thus I poured a bottle into my hand blown glass from Williamsburg, and as I expected it was a rich golden colour, not yellow, deeply golden. The head that formed was a cap of tight white bubbles that just lingered. I took time to actually smell the beer, something that I find gets overlooked with beers you know well, and there was everything I love about Saaz, the closest description I can come to it like mown grass in a lemon grove, with just a trace of honeyed digestive biscuits in the background. That theme of sweet cereal and bracing hop bitterness continues into the drinking, and while I wouldn't say that I can tell if a beer has been decocted, there is something ethereal about the sweetness, it's almost dainty, lacking the clunkiness of caramel malts. Beautifully balanced, crisply bitter, clean, and thirst quenching, Prazdroj is a classic, simple as.


When trying to decide where in the pilsner universe to go next, Germany was the obvious destination, but which of the many, many, excellent examples of the style would I pour into my goblet? Really there was always a leading contender, a beer that I simply adore, Rothaus Pils. When Kardinal Hall opened up here in Charlottesville and I was able to drop $11 on a litre of Rothaus Pils, I was almost giddy with excitement. I was a little worried that bottled Rothaus wouldn't stand up to draught, what a silly boy I am sometimes. Where Prazdroj is golden, Rothaus is very definitely yellow, again topped with a firm white head that clings to the side of the glass. I don't know, nor particularly care, what hops are used in the beer, but they reminded me of summer meadows in the mountains of central Europe laced with lemongrass. The dominant flavour was that of wildflower honey schmeered onto a lightly toasted slice of homemade bread, with a bitterness that lingers in the background and build with every mouthful. The complexity of this simple beer is astounding and it is one that I never tire of drinking.



Having had the original, and then probably my favourite, where to go next? How about right up to date in the USA? I know there are people for whom Goose Island is off limits, for the same daft reasons as those railing against Devils Backbone, but when they released Four Star Pils a few months back I was eager to give it a whirl. This one pours a similar rich golden as Prazdroj, though the head here is slightly off white, as expected it sits around for the duration. The hops here are a mix of German and American, and it tells in the nose, a gentle blend of the German floral thing and a distinctly American citrus note, all dancing over a base of graham cracker malt. Drinking is a cascade of toffee infused graham crackers topped with bitter orange peel. Sneaking in the background is a light grassiness that sets off the sweetness of the malt nicely. Again a very nicely balanced beer, the bitterness of the hops drying out the finish to make it delightfully refreshing.


So what can be drawn from this little comparative tasting? There is scope under the pilsner umbrella for a raft of flavours and that hop bitterness is a key facet of the drinking experience. True pilsners are not bland in the slightest, and are very much a drinkers' beer. They are not built for sampling a few ounces of in a tasting room and cyberticking it on Untappd, but for engaging in real sociability with real people. So I encourage everyone this weekend to go beyond the IPAs, Belgians, and Imperials of this world, and have a few pints or litres of a pilsner.

Na zdraví! Prost! Slainte!

Thursday, October 29, 2015

A Proper German Pilsner

There's a new pub in Charlottesville called Kardinal Hall, based on the concept of the great German/central European beer hall and garden. I went for the first time last night, not being much of one for going to places on opening night, as I had a meeting to plan the next few months of events for my homebrew club. This post isn't a review of Kardinal Hall, I like to let places hit their stride before writing them off or praising them to the heavens, this is about the beer I drank....


I didn't even realise that Rothaus Pils Tannenz?pfle was actually available in the US, but the minute I saw it on the menu I knew I wanted it, and I wanted a litre of it - major bonus of Kardinal Hall is the option of 1 litre mugs of proper German beer. There are no tasting notes as I didn't make any, it not being the time or place, and anyway I have basically given up taking notes of the beers I drink unless I am at home. Suffice to say that this was German pilsner perfection, clean, crisp, with a real bite of noble hops in the finish, and drinkability that would make many a weird shit craft beer simply weep.

Coming on the back of my post the other day about how Pilsner should not be equated with adjunct laden pale lagers, it was fantastic to drink a superb iteration of probably my favourite style. It is safe to say that I will be visiting Kardinal Hall a fair bit until it runs out, and hopefully they'll continue with having good central European lagers available in Charlottesville, and if they need a list of worthwhile stuff, they know where I am....

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Pale Lager ≠ Pilsner

Is there any word in the beer world more abused and debased that 'pilsner'?

Sure IPA might give it a run for its money, but as anyone with half a brain knows the use of 'IPA' has become an easy shorthand for boring overhopped top fermented beer of whatever colour is the fad of the week.

I seem to come back to this theme time after time because there is still a raft of misinformation, dumbass commentary, and just plain utter ignorance around the pilsner style and what constitutes one. Before launching into what a pilsner actually is, let's remind ourselves of the post I wrote in 2010 on the subject, and I quote:
Pilsner ≠ light beer
Pilsner ≠ Bud/Miller/Coors
Pilsner ≠ over hopped Bud
Pilsner ≠ any old pale lager
To label any of the above as a pilsner is to simply put on show the fact that you don't know what you are talking about. I don't care if you are a BJCP Grand Wizard of the Judging Arts, on any of the levels of Cicerone-dom, or Mr Marketing Bullshit Man who labels a perfectly reasonable helles lager as a 'pils' because you think it will sell better to the public (yay for craft beer being run by passionate brewers not the marketing bods eh?).

Now, I may have mellowed as I get closer to the age at which life traditionally starts, but when it comes to the style of beer that in my opinion is the height of the brewing craft I still have my standards. To call a beer a pilsner for me is to say that it follows as faithfully as possible the brewing standards and methods of the Czech Republic. So that for me means lots of noble hops, at least 30 IBUs worth, proper lagering times, at least 30 days, an ABV between 4.4% and 5.5%, and being brewed without the use of adjuncts.

As I say, I have mellowed, if a brewer doesn't have the equipment to do a decoction mash but still produces a tasty pilsner style beer then that is fine with me, and the German interpretation of the style is one that I greatly enjoy. However, there is still no space for having beers like Bud Light, Miller Lite, or Coors Light to be described as 'pilsners', they are not even close. They are in particular not 'low-grade Pilsners'.

I have no problem with people who don't like a good pint of Pilsner as much as I do, what someone else drinks is entirely up to them and I am not going to deride their beer of choice - I'll leave that to the Craft Beer Wankers (side thought, I am surprised Viz haven't complemented their Real Ale Twats with that idea). All I ask is people get their facts straight, and don't promulgate bullshit.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Sterling Job!

Two of my favourite things right now involve the world 'sterling'.

First up is Raheem Sterling, who plays for Liverpool, and has had an outstanding season terrorising many a defence in the Premier League. The other is called 'Of. By. For.', the latest beer from Three Notch'd Brewing.

'Of. By. For.' is one of those beers that I always insist on trying, but always dread, an American made pilsner. If you've followed my witterings for any reasonable amount of time, you will know that I go on ad nauseum about my love of pilsner, and how it is so difficult to find well made representations of the style on this side of the Pond. Thus it was that I lurched up to the brewery on Friday after work, a man on a mission...

To perfectly honest I don't remember much about those first pints, they slipped down so easily, and I was in something of a dash to get home. On Saturday afternoon Mrs V and I were in town, running errands, when she commented that she 'fancied a drink'...well, we were in the neighbourhood anyway, and the football was on, oh and Derek was there, so a couple of hours, and 6 pints, later I knew I had fallen in zythophilic love with Dave's latest offering.


As you can see from the picture, it pours the perfect wan golden that is expected of such a beer in the Czech Republic, with a slight haze, and a voluminous pure white head, oh I was transported back to the beer halls of Prague, Plzeň, and Brno. The aroma was laden with lemon blossom, freshly mown grass, and that cracker graininess that pilsner malt delivers. Given that Sterling has a healthy stock of Saaz its heritage it was very much in the ballpark I was expecting. But what about the important bit, the drinking itself, it was lovely. Dry without being thin, zingy without being overly bitter, and packed, I say packed, with hop flavour. If there is one criticism, it is that at 5.6% it is a touch boozy, but it is incredibly moreish so you can happily banish that particular thought.


I see many pints of this wonder in my future....many pints, and not infrequent litres.

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Answer...

...is an emphatic 'YES!'

The question though comes from this article on Slate.com, which poses the deep and meaningful question as to whether:
'friends let friends drink only pilsners?'
One would have thought that a person who starts an article with 'As a beer writer' would actually have some vague notion of what they are talking about, but yet again people use terms like 'lager' and 'pilsner' as lazy shorthand for boring beer.

If your friend wants to drink 'only' pilsners, then bloody well let them. It's their body, their taste buds and their money, so they can drink whatever the hell they want to. If you can't have a good time while your friends drink 'only' pilsners, then I suggest you have a deeper problem than a person's choice of beer.

On that note, I'm going to buy a six pack of Pilsner Urquell...have a good weekend people.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Original Pilsner?

You all know the story, legendary brewer tinkers with the ingredients and methodology to create a new, paler beer which takes off and is soon being imitated by brewers throughout the land, and eventually overseas as well. However, I am not talking here about Josef Groll and the creation of what would become known as Pilsner Urquell. Rather, I am talking about Samuel Allsopp and Burton Ale.

As I mentioned in Monday's post, and again thanks to Martyn Cornell for this information, Burton Ale was once a nut brown, super strong ale which was shipped to the Baltic region and Russian Empire. This trade formed the basis of business for brewers such as Allsopp and Bass until 1822 when Tsar Alexander I's government instituted tariffs on the importation of beer into the Empire which made the trade too expensive to be profitable for the brewers of Burton. Left with large amounts of sweet strong brown ale on their hands, men like Allsopp needed to find new markets for their wares. In a scenario strangely similar to what would happen in Plzeň exactly 20 years later, in October 1822 Samuel Allsopp produced a new version of Burton Ale, which was less sweet and with a more pronounced hop bitterness than it's predecessor. According to a recipe from the middle of the 19th Century, Burton Ale had also become a pale beer, made with 100% pale malt and hopped only slightly less than the IPA that Allsopp would send to India in 1823.

By the time Burton Ale was being described as one of the four major types of beer being sold in Britain, it had become a 'style', for want of a better word, that had transcended its parochial origins to be imitated by many. In the ancient county of Middlesex, Chiswick brewers Fuller, Smith and Turner were producing a pale Burton style Ale from at least 1845 and would have a beer bearing the name , whether pale or dark, until 1969. In Scotland, the Edinburgh brewery William Younger's introduced a range of numbered ales, which bear a marked resemblance to Burton Ales, in the 1850s and according to Ron Pattinson, what became known as is Burton Ale by another name (which makes you wonder where this bullshit about Scottish beer 'traditionally' not being heavily hopped came from?). Even in the US, brewers such as Amsdell's and Ballantine were making their own versions of Burton Ale. By the time I was born though, in the mid 1970s, Burton Ale, in any form, was pretty much gone, a victim of mankind's slavish attachment to fashion, and perhaps the inexorable march of pale lager inspired by the work of Josef Groll?

I guess it is only natural to find parallels between the development of various types of beer, the interesting thing is to see how they ride out the peregrinations of fashion. Clearly Burton Ale didn't have the staying power of Pilsner, and who is to say whether or not modern IPA will still be here in 20 years time? History is so much more interesting than hagiography and myth, especially when it comes to beer.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Downright Demanding

Over the last couple of weekends, Mrs Velkyal and I have hosted a couple of parties at our house. The first, on the 27th October, was to mark Czechoslovak Independence Day, which is on the 28th but we felt a Saturday night would be better, and the second was our house warming.

In the last year or so we have found a group of Czechs and Slovaks living here in the Charlottesville area, as well as people descended from those most august nations, and we will meet up once in a while. Although Mrs V and I are neither Czech nor Slovak, neither do either of us have the required ancestry, we have become kind of adopted Czechs by virtue of our years living in the country, and we love the opportunity to break out our rusty language skills.

My best friend, whose wife is Slovak, came down from DC for the weekend, bringing with him all the essentials to cook gulá? - basically a cast iron pot, tripod to go over the cobbled together fire pit, copious amounts of pork and beef and a few hours to stand around, beer in hand watching my favourite central European food being made.


Obviously no Czechoslovak party would be complete without beer, and there was plenty. Just the day before I was laid off, I put in an order with Market St Wine in Charlottesville to get a couple of the remaining 80 cases of Port City's Downright Pilsner especially for this party. People also brought Pilsner Urquell, Staropramen and Lagunitas Pils, and my best friend brought a bottle of 5 year old Kosher Slivovice - that's damned fine plum brandy!

The Downright Pilsner went down an absolute treat with the assorted Czechs, Slovaks and fellow travellers, as it should do given that it is pretty much spot on for a Czech style pale lager, 4.8%, 43 IBUs of Saaz, unfiltered and just downright good. It is very much a contender for the Fuggled Pale Beer of the Year - an award unencumbered with value, monetary or otherwise - and as such I really hope, nay I plead, that Port City don't let this just be a one off, but brew it again. In fact, I would go as far as to say it is the best of the Port City beers I have had, just edging ahead of their amazing Porter, and I would love to see it as part of their core range of beers.

Yes, it is that good.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Mmmmm.....Lager.

You know me by now, unless this is your first visit to Fuggled, in which case welcome, I am a lager drinker, nay a lover of lager. Whether it is a Bohemian Pilsner, Schwarzbier, Vienna or Baltic Porter, the lager 'family' of beers is the one I like to spend as much drinking time as possible with. That's not to say that warm fermented beers aren't wonderful as well, but just that beer that takes its own sweet time to be ready is my preferred tipple. Given a bank of taps pouring pale ales in various states of Indianess, stouts, porters, brown ales and wheat beers, if there is a solitary good lager available then I will gladly ignore everything else, even if it is super rare, super strong and aged in gorilla snot barrels.

Without being mean, any brewer can chuck more hops into the kettle, or add spices to secondary and get something that is at least drinkable, but it takes a master brewer to have the confidence to brew a great lager, such as Devils Backbone Vienna Lager, Victory Prima Pils, or Kout na ?umavě 18° (it also takes a master brewer to do the whole extra hops and spice thing well without turning the beer into a flavour mess). We can argue all day about the merits or otherwise of decoction mashing, for the record I think it makes a better beer though I know at least one of my favourite lagers is done with infusion mashing, but one thing is clear, lager is a labour of love, and if a brewery does it properly then it ties up capital and equipment for a very long time.


Take Budvar for example. I remember reading that each batch of their flagship 12° lager takes 102 days to make, from start to finish. Primary fermentation lasts 12 days and then the beer sits in the lagering tanks for 90 days, that's three months, 12 weeks (1 week for each degree of Plato as used to be the norm), just sitting around. Would most people recognise a difference if they brought it out after 60 days? Probably not, but some traditions are worth keeping regardless of what science tells us with numbers.

Brewing, any brewing, is not just about the numbers. Sure your pilsner might have a starting gravity of 1.048 (12° Plato), you might even have gone crazy and hopped it to 40 IBUs but it might still suck because there is too much alcohol from the yeast over attenuating and making it thin in the body (more alcohol is not always a good thing). Perhaps you used some high alpha hops for bittering rather than Saaz all the way through. Perhaps you didn't wait for the lager to tell you when it was ready and just pulled it from the tanks after 28 days regardless. Lager, in  my thoroughly unhumble opinion is not something to be taken lightly, and one of the reasons I brew them so infrequently is simply because I want to do them justice and I don't really have the equipment to do so.

This is one of the reasons I enjoy living in this part of Virginia, I have access to great local lager whenever I want it, made by brewers who do it properly and rightly win awards as a result.

Old Friends: Joseph's Brau PLZNR

I have to admit that there really are not that many things that I miss as a result of this pandemic. I am sure that comes as something of a ...

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