A recent trip around the breweries of Vermont in the summer of 2010 also brought me face-to-face with a couple of fascinating takes on the style. Northshire’s Equinox Pilsner had a soft floral center with a dry, bittersweet finish, while I was greatly impressed by Pocock Pilsner from Bristol brewpub Bobcat―it was robustly bitter, which put me very much in mind of Jever.
“Put simply, I was looking to make a Czech-style pilsner for the Bobcat’s patrons,” says brewmaster Mark Magiera. “There was an extremely hoppy ‘pils’ made for the locals a few years back at the Bobcat by the same name. The bitterness profile was a combination of European and American hops, which made the beer pretty confusing on where it was going. However, the bitterness levels were at the levels I’ve encountered with European pilsners.
“As much as I want to tell you that I was out to make a copy of Pilsner Urquell and/or Zatec, the water in Bristol is not soft enough to reproduce the beer to those specifications. However, I was drawn to these two products as primary sources of interpretation. Secondary influences are definitely north German or German in origin.”
First Europe, Then the World
The ongoing evolution of Italian craft beer is also seeing some stunning interpretations. For my money, one of the greatest emerges from Birrificio Italiano, whose tap is in the northern Italian town of Lurago Marinone near Como. Tipopils is perhaps one of the finest non-Bohemian/Bavarian expressions of this elegant beer style, albeit with a German twist.
“Everyone calls their beers pils,” says the brewery’s founder Agostino Arioli, who has been known to drive to Germany to pick up his fresh hops, “but I believe it is a style that has been neglected. With Tipopils I brewed a beer that was based on a pils that I liked―that was Jever Pils.”
The beer is magnificent, big and bold in both nose and flavour, a beer that stamps its own identity with a crisp and refreshing arrival in the mouth. It’s bitter and aromatic, dry and sprightly, fragrant, resiny, powerful and punchy. Pilsner-obsessive Arioli also produces the seasonal Imperial Pils as well as Extra Hop. When I visited the tap the latter was served with a Mittelfrau hop cone on top of the foam―pure pilsner theatre. “I usually say to people that you should take the hop off and leave it or let it sink, or push it into the beer,” laughs Arioli.
It might be worthwhile at this moment to pause a little and briefly consider how pilsner became the beer that changed the world. As any beer lover worth their bottle of imperial IPA (or should that be imperial pilsner?) should know, what would become Pilsner Urquell was first produced in 1842 by Bavarian brewmaster Josef Groll, who has gone down in history as a truculent type of chap (his father called him “the rudest man in Bavaria”).