Generally, the beer-drinking community doesn’t consider pilsner to be an outstanding style. At least not when it comes to rating them.
The top pilsner (Czech or German) on the BeerGraphs leaderboards is Karmeliten Pils by Karmeliten Brauerei Straubing in Denmark, scoring a 7.99 BAR (a style-indexed rating adjusted for popularity); as comparison, the top overall beer, Zombie Dust by Three Floyds Brewing Company, scores a 17.42 BAR.
At RateBeer, the top pilsner is Heater Allen Pils, scoring a 3.86 out of five. That’s the top beer in a style and it can’t even break a four.
Looking for reasons for this ratings quirk led me to a 2015 Beer Advocate forum query as to why pilsners are typically rated low. The general consensus: Beer reviewers and aficionados love bold flavors, hops, and styles that rebel against the traditional perception of simple, cold macros. Also, simple, cold macros are occasionally pilsners.
Now this is pretty obvious stuff. The simple, cold stuff has been forced either down our throats or into our living rooms for decades, and craft’s resurgence over the last 25 years has been, on one level, a universal rebellion against that popularly described autocracy. It started basically with an American take on an IPA, and from there we’ve been continuously pushing the boundaries, the envelopes and really anything that can be pushed, all in the name of not wanting to be like The Man, man.
So pilsners aren’t considered outstanding. At best they’re working class beers: simple, effective, but not very fun to talk about amongst glass sniffers and beard rubbers.
It’s all business, a man in a suitcase, a woman triple-checking the temperature of the mash. And yeah, it isn’t off.”
Allow me to sniff my glass and rub my beard about Steamworks Brewing Company Pilsner, a towering giant among a class of beer that, dammit, should get its due.
If you know Steamworks, you know it works with an unusual toolset: steam heat. Since opening in 1995 the Vancouver, British Columbia, brewery has been powered by steam, which can improve temperature control during mashing. That kind of precision is key to brewing a pilsner, which is a historically simple yet delicate style to perfect. You know when a pilsner is off, and Steamworks Pilsner isn’t off.
It pours a classic clean gold with a thin head and smells bright, with a slight waft of lemon combining with a subdued hop funk, where the hops include Magnum, Saphir, Spalt Select, Tettnanger and Tradition. Nothing overpowers here – it’s simple but inviting, an introduction I don’t have to think too long about because I’d rather get down with the business of drinking this thing.
And yeah, business is booming. It’s clean at first, then the quintet of hops show face but one never defeats another; instead, they seem to work in concert as some gorgeous bouquet freshening up the malt. Then the malt takes over and brings a crispness that rolls right through. Everything is gone in about four seconds, leaving the mouth satisfied but wanting more. Like right away more.
That’s a pilsner. There’s complexity that doesn’t pop out like an unwelcome pimple. There’s a clean start, a crisp middle and a vanishing act that leaves you begging. There’s cold comfort and warming compromise, all wrapped up in a four-second gulp lacking further questioning. It’s all business, a man in a suitcase, a woman triple-checking the temperature of the mash. And yeah, it isn’t off.
Steamworks Pilsner earns a 3.25 weighted average at RateBeer. At BeerGraphs, it scores a 2.34 BAR, making it slightly above average. Whatever, man. Pilsner is an outstanding style, and this is one of the best.