When we think of craft beer we don’t tend to think of pilsner lagers. We probably usually think of big ales such as hoppy IPAs, or dark creamy oak-aged stouts with vanilla or chocolate. And understandably so, the diversity in craft beer is an incredible thing to behold. American ingenuity makes everything from stouts that taste like s’mores to IPAs that taste like orange juice, so why get distracted by a clean, light yellow beer?
But, if we refocus a bit, a good pilsner should represent the pinnacle of craft beer. It often does so in the realm of homebrewing, where in the numerous BJCP competitions I’ve judged, perfectly done Bohemian Pilsners (or sometimes referred to as Czech Lagers) and German Pilsners have won best in show medals over scores of bold and creative ales.
In the beginning of the craft movement, American brewers were trying to get us away from fizzy yellow beers, so it makes sense that styles were bold, but I believe it’s time for the pendulum to swing back to something crisp and refreshing.
For Germans, a “pils” (or pilsner or pilsener) is different from the original Bohemian Pilsners brewed with Czech Saaz hops and pilsner barley malt. The perceived hop bitterness is lower and the body and color much lighter. It is the most consumed beer in Germany and in fact is the precursor to the domestic and international light lagers before the large-scale manufacturing process eliminated the distinct noble hop flavors and aromas you get in a true German Pils.
Thankfully, true masters of the German Pils opened up an American brewery in Berkeley, California dedicated to the style. Trumer started making beer in Austria 400 years ago, but opened its smaller Berkeley location in 2006. They focus entirely on the German-style Pilsner and have won more awards for pilsner than any US craft brewery. It stands out as the quintessential German pilsner, but it's made right here.
When you have a perfectly done pilsner, you just know it.”
I pour Trumer Pils directly into a tall narrow glass to get a nice two-inch white foamy head before tipping the glass and completing the fill of this bright yellow and extremely clear beer. As the strong effervescence subdues a bit, it carries an aroma of floral and spicy noble German hops along with a light sweet corn-like maltiness.
What’s so good about the flavor isn’t only what it has, but also what it’s missing. It has no frills, only clean crisp flavors of grainy-sweet malts and a low floral and spicy hop bitterness. It is very light in body with a soft finish and mellow but noticeable hop bitterness that hangs out on the palate. So many American attempts at a German Pils are one note, but with Trumer all the distinct ingredient characteristics are present in the aroma and taste, making it extraordinary.
For me, a German Pils satisfies a couple very important things. First, it’s thirst-quenching and crushable. It’s truly the most sessionable of session beers. Second, a good one demonstrates a mastery of subtle brewing technique. The style is so nuanced that brewers have to be quite good to make it right because the style has such a clean taste and texture that any slight misjudgment in creation is magnified.
When you have a perfectly done pilsner, you just know it. It’s crisp, light, and subtly sweet – all characteristics perfectly aligned due to meticulous brewing practices.