Truthfully, I’ve been on a bit of a pilsner kick of late. I’m sure that’s not something you hear often. Everyone’s chasing hazy pales. Winter’s coming to a (slow) close and that means the bourbon-barrel stout releases are out but slowing. Spring seasonals are leaking out in anticipation of brighter days. Simply put, it’s easy to forget about the classic pilsner in a crowded beer market, which is truly a shame for such a delicious, historic beer style.
Like so many wonderful gifts to emerge from Southeastern Germany, the pilsner can trace its lineage back to Bavaria in the mid 1800’s. Though it became the flagship beer of the Czech Republic, it was Bavarian brewer Josef Groll that put pilsner on the map when he brewed the beer in the Czech city of Pilsen.
The pale lager quickly achieved wild popularity in a time when there was little choice in the market for beer. That popularity held for a hundred years or more, but has fallen off in recent decades. With that said, there are still plenty of good ones out there – more on that in a minute.
Pilsners provide the beer drinker a rare opportunity. Because they are notably innocent, clean, straightforward expressions of beer (again, technically a lager, not an “ale”), pilsners can serve as the perfect backdrop for picking up subtle flavors. An IPA will bash the drinker over the head with hops. A strong stout can fill the palate with toasted malts and notes of coffee, chocolate or vanilla. Kettle sours have taken hold with their obscene, yet pleasant acidity. These common American styles leave the drinker little detective work.
But with a pilsner, the clues are less obvious. In today’s world of deafening craft beer presentations, pilsners allow the drinker to engage the palate and pick apart a more subtle, less conspicuous set of notes and flavors. Essentially, less is more in the case of pilsners.
While you can find traditional, imported German and Czech pilsners on U.S. beer shelves today, there are plenty of modern, domestic expressions of the style. Some keep it low-key and in-line with history while other have their own subtle, unique exaltations.
At their core, however, they’re all still pilsners – beautiful beers with plenty of estery aromas, light (usually) European hop notes, the hint of a cracker or two, and a smoothness that makes you want to take sip after sip. If that sounds delicious, you’re in luck.
Enter: Buoy Beer Company’s Czech-Style Pilsner.
Perhaps best of all, this beer can be found throughout the Northwest in bombers and canned six-packs at a modest price point.”
This pilsner was designed to meet the expectations of those seeking a trademark representation of the style. Buoy didn’t miss the opportunity.
Pouring a clean, straw-infused yellow, Buoy’s Czech-Style Pilsner generates a strong foam head and has plenty of estery notes, notably banana and spice. The nose is rounded out with a hint of lemongrass, and then things really open up. There’s a touch of sweetness up front that gives way to a bit of bitterness and a lingering spicy finish thanks to Buoy’s commitment to traditional Saaz hops. At 6.2% alcohol by volume, this beer even packs an unexpected punch for the style.
The Saaz hops are of Czech origin and differ from the American hops that many drinkers today are so fond of. While they surely brighten the beer, they provide nice, subtle, spicy notes on the back of the palate that beg another sip. Hailing from an era when hops were a rare commodity, pilsners offer the drinker a challenge in picking up more nuanced hop notes – a nice departure from modern American beer styles.
Perhaps best of all, this beer can be found throughout the Northwest in 22 ounce bombers and canned six-packs at a modest price point. As beer prices escalate, this beer in particular can be had for under $5 per bomber or around $10 per six-pack at just about every grocery store and convenience market in the region.
Pilsners are almost always reasonably priced given their simplicity, making them a solid option for the budget-conscious drinker who wants a good beer at an accessible price. Don’t let the price point fool you – great pilsners don’t require a big investment even when we’ve become conditioned to believe that more expensive beer means better beer.
It’s no surprise that pilsners don’t stand out in today’s craft market but they still remain a fabulous craft option. The pilsner's cleanliness provides the perfect backdrop for nuance. Going on 175 years old, they remain difficult beers to make and their clarity and crispness are unforgiving for brewers. They simply don’t have the palate-bludgeoning characteristics to hide any imperfections, making them both a great beer to truly hone your palate on and a great beer to judge a brewery by.
Sometimes less is more, especially when it comes to enjoying a good pilsner.