DRAFT PICKS: Greetings from the Pilsner family
As spring struggles to make its way into our part of the globe, we dream that summer is not too far off.
Many beer drinkers start backing off the heavier brews of winter, (often “winter warmer” ales) and start stocking up on the more light and less beefy lagers.
Look, I realize that probably the majority of American beer lovers have one or two favorites ... and that’s that.
This is OK.
But in much of Europe brewing was historically a somewhat cyclic thing. There were, and are, specific beers for Oktoberfest. There were special beers for spring — Maibocks. There were special beers for special occasions and holidays.
There was generally a trend to move from heavier beers to lighter with an eye to the seasons.
And so, we’ll talk about lighter beer — Pilsners — as we move out of the heavier winter and into the more pleasant spring and summer period.
The original Pilsners came from a part of Czechoslovakia — home to the city of Pilsen. Hence — Pilsners.
Czech Pilsner, or Bohemian Pilsner, is much lighter in color than many beers and there is a very pronounced hoppiness — not as much as in IPAs but more than in many other lagers. The floral taste and scent that accompany more hoppy brews are definitely part of the mix. There is however a good balance of maltiness.
The key to Pilsen’s Pilsners is the local water. It is very, very “soft” and gives a unique taste and body to the beer that makes it especially crisp and refreshing.
The genre spread but the “new” Pilsners stayed surprisingly true to the original style and recipe. The trick, apparently, is getting the water right.
Today, Pilsners found on American shelves have much the same light golden color, and much the same sense of hoppiness.
Pilsners are a very popular summer brew — light, floral and refreshing.
Some of the most highly rated Pilsners, according to Beer Advocate include:
● Samuel Adams Noble Pils — Boston Beer Company (Samuel Adams)
● Sierra Nevada Summerfest Lager — Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
● Pilsner Urquell — Plzensky Prazdroj, a. s.
● Mama’s Little Yella Pils — Oskar Blues Brewing Company
● Lagunitas PILS (Czech Style Pilsner) — Lagunitas Brewing Company
● Budweiser Budvar — Brewery Budweiser Budvar / B.B.N.P.
● Blue Paddle Pilsner — New Belgium Brewing
● Staropramen Lager — Pivovary Staropramen
● Eurotrash Pilz — Southern Tier Brewing Company
● Golden Pheasant — Pivovar Zlaty Bazant a.s.
Close to home and also highly rated, (although not in the Top 10), are:
● Short’s Pontius Road Pilsner — Short’s Brewing Company
● Purple Gang Pilsner — Atwater Block Brewery
● Kuhnhenn Czech / Bohemian Pilsner — Kuhnhenn Brewing Company
Try out a Pilsner of two. You may find you have a new favorite summer brew.
Ande now, a few of this weeks picks, (and not a Pilsner among them!)
St. James English Ale Paw Paw Brewing Company Paw Paw
I simply gotta tell ya ...
This job does have its benefits.
A healthy sampling of brews produced by Paw Paw Brewing Company just walked in the front door of the Pioneer and presented themselves to me.
The head brewer down in Paw Paw is a Big Rapids boy. I have to say, we’re growing them good up here! (More about that later.)
Paw Paw’s English Brown Ale is a wonderful effort by the brew team.
As most readers probably know by now, I’m a fan of the American Brown Ale style of beer. The brewers call this an English Mild Ale. I think it fits right in with many of the milder Brown Ales. Hearty. Full-bodied. Just a joy.
St. James pours an attractive light coppery color that is just lightly effervescent while still creating a decent head of slightly off-white foam.
First nose of this ale is very pleasant, and that experience continues through the investigation. There is certainly a bready base to the brew — a very homey and inviting smell. One can easily pick up and enjoy the malty scents backed up by a slightly spicy smell. This is a quietly complex brew, with a lot to look for and enjoy.
At first wash, the fresh crisp smell that promoted the almost toasty quality bread scent expresses itself on the palate. There is a hint of hoppiness, but this is certainly a malt-forward brew with caramel malt tones adding a certain sweetness while not being cloying in the least bit.
St. James is fun. There is a certain dignity to the maltiness, but a touch of chutzpah added by the somewhat spicy hops. There is a little tanginess left in the back of the throat after a swallow, but this adds to the “pop” and crispness.
Like with most brews of the English Ale family, there is an understated carbonation giving the more quiet, hidden tastes more of a chance to express themselves without battling with the bubbles.
That’s the way to do it.
I liked this beer a lot. It is certainly one I hope my close-to-home shops stock in the future.
St. James is refreshing. Crisp. And clearly expressive.
Very, very well recommended.
I expect this will be a good summer offering on the river as the sun goes down. It will be a fine complement to a smoky, grilled meal.
I’m looking forward to more.
Boulder Beer / Wilderness Pub
By way of disclosure ... I love the genre.
Moving on ...
Flashback is categorized an American Brown Ale.
This ale pours a embracing, warm copper-toned brown with about a half inch of almost white head. The head stays around for a good bit of time, giving explorers plenty of time to use it as a vehicle in the scenting.
There is a rich, almost hefty malt smell at first nose. The caramel tones carry a certain nuttiness with strong hints of spiced coffee and a touch of more floral, almost outdoorsy elements.
Some may find the smells a bit conflicting. I found them simply complex and more inviting for investigation.
The maltiness is announced right up front in the first sip. This is a very hearty, almost hefty malt blend with the roasting process well felt in the tasting. There is, of course, the malty sweetness, but it is toned, (and most pleasantly so), by an interesting spice mix — what might be a blend of nutmeg or cinnamon.
I appreciate the mouth-fell, with what I’d suggest is an average carbonation, and a little bit of this spice after taste. There is a touch of nuttiness throughout that only benefits the brew.
This may not be as creamy as some other American Browns, (Dogfish Head’s Indian Brown Ale and Avery Brewing’s Ellie’s Brown Ale come to mind.) Still, comparing one brew to another in the beer world is more often than not like comparing apples to oranges.
Flashback is a fine brew. Enjoyable, and recommended.
Let me take this opportunity to point out that I feel you should make an effort to check the freshness dates with all beers, (but I think especially so with American Browns). It can well make a difference in the quality of taste.