The People's Pilsner
Moving back to Davis, California after a year overseas, I can’t say I ever really missed my hometown staple, Sudwerk beer. I’m not even sure I thought about it. Sure, I missed drinking their consistently good Märzen and their Rye of the Lager offerings on hot summer evenings at the Davis Farmers’ Market, but that probably had more to do with the good life in Davis, which always seems to be the aggregate of lots of pleasant things, rather than one thing in particular. Sudwerk is so consistently solid that I’m guilty of just expecting it to be a quality beer without really appreciating what makes it good.
The obvious reason for this would be familiarity. Sudwerk opened in Davis in 1989, and since then has been integrated into the social fabric of the town, from the beer’s constant presence at the Farmers’ Market to its connections to the UC Davis Master Brewers Program. But another reason why Sudwerk has been perhaps overlooked might come down to the kind of beers it brews. In a moment when the market, for better and for worse, is saturated with intensely flavored, tradition-breaking beers, Sudwerk has been content to make good, consistent Reinheitsgebot lagers, with the occasional west coast hoppy flourish, such as its particularly noteworthy Dry Hopped Lager.
I’ve had a lot of similar pilsners across the US, but none of them are quite as good. It’s special.”
So, after a decade-plus of living in Davis, and one year not, I’ve finally stopped taking Sudwerk for granted by really digging into its the People’s Pilsner. Joe Williams, the freshly minted “Sierra Nevada Brewing Company Endowed Brewer” at UC Davis, let me in on a little secret about Sudwerk’s connection to the American brewing industry. “Everybody [all the brewers] from UC Davis comes through Sudwerk,” he tells me. “Everybody’s had the pilsner. Everybody loves the pilsner. I’ve had a lot of similar pilsners across the US, but none of them are quite as good. It’s special.” With this lofty set of expectations in place, I sat down to, embarrassingly, what may have been my very first Sudwerk the People’s Pilsner.
The beer pours a bright, clear straw color. The slight head fades rather quickly. The bouquet is grass and melon rind with a bit of cracker. If you’re on the lookout for such things, you can find the slightest hint of cat pee. There’s a slight funk to this beer that I wasn’t expecting, and, after the first whiff, I was prepared to be disappointed, but this beer isn’t really all about the aroma. Balance and restraint are the name of the game here, and this beer is exceptionally well-balanced. The initial sweetness gives way to a lovely crisp, dry middle. The end is bitter, but gently so. It compels you toward your next sip.
Joe Williams, it turns out, knows a bit about beer. Perhaps you should listen to him and, next time you drink an American pilsner, wonder if it’s got Sudwerk in its family tree.