Timothy Malcolm, in a recent piece for this august publication, fired an opening salvo for the upcoming season of beer consumption in warm temperatures.
“I christen summer 2017 the summer of the Pilsner.”
Malcolm posits that we, the enlightened craft beer drinking public, have backed away from the IPA and turned our sights on Pilsners. Jason Notte at Marketwatch writes that pilsner sales by craft brewers increased 76% in 2015 and nearly 16% in 2016, ranking fifth among the industry’s fastest growing styles. Sure, IPA still reigns, but take a closer look at the shelves the next time you visit your local bottle shop. It’s not just Firestone Walker Pivo Pils, Founders’s PC Pils, and whatever is on the Germany shelf.
Minnesota’s Bauhaus Brew Labs is not a German brewery, instead taking its name from one of the world’s most influential schools of art and design. It does, however, brew a number of Central European styles including the Wonderstuff pilsner, considered a Boehemian-style Czech Pilsner.
Pilsners were born in the Czech town of, wait for it, Plzeň (translated to German as Pilsen). From this Bohemian town came a highly carbonated beer with floral hop notes and a sharp, crisp finish. Plzeň’s town brewery changed its name before the end of the 19th century to the one it has used since: Pilsner Urquell.
Given its proximity to Germany, and the Germans proclivity to invading other countries, the Pilsner migrated north. The aroma, flavors and mouthfeel are often quite similar but the Czech and German styles differ in appearance. The original Czech style is golden and often features a thick, fluffy head. Germany’s take is brighter and straw yellow.
Traditional Euro pilsners are bottom fermented and were originally lagered, or cold aged, in caves. Pilsner Urquell only recently stopped cellar-aging its beer, as it had done for decades. What was once its practice finally gave way to technology and modern refrigeration. Imagine that.
It’s equally as pleasant to the nose with bready malt and floral hops.”
Back to Bauhaus, the Czech Pilsner made by the brewer with a German name. By description, Wonderstuff is a Neü Bohemian Pilsner, with the hallmarks of the traditional Czech style but with a decidedly American twist due to the late addition of dry hops. In terms of execution, it suffers from an identity crisis.
An intentionally hard pour yielded a two-inch foam cap fed by a steady stream of bubbles from rushing from the bottom. Add in Wonderstuff’s straw coloring and transparency and the beer is actually quite nice to look at. It’s equally as pleasant to the nose with bready malt and floral hops.
It’s at this point where Wonderstuff parts company with everything you have ever learned about pilsners.
Bready malts welcome you on the first sip, followed immediately by bitter hops. Where Hallertau or Saaz hops might deliver the gentle floral, grassy notes you appreciate in a pilsner, the stronger citrus flavors overpower and take over. That snappy, crisp finish you expect is nonexistent with only a watery, bitter orange taste between you and the end.
I am always wary of a beer using the “new” to describe its style. The first beer I could think of Dogfish Head does it with Festina Pêche, calling it a neo-Berliner Weisse but remaining mostly true to style. To earn its neo distinction, Dogfish brews it with peach to enhance the tartness and allay traditional practice of adding flavors before drinking. Bauhaus’ reinterpretation of the Bohemian pilsner seems like the collision between a good pilsner and a juicy IPA. Two rights may not make a wrong, and in the Wonderstuff it makes for confusion.
I hope Malcolm is right about pilsners this summer. And, like him, I hope to find the right one soon. This one, sadly, was not it