Craft beer has a complicated relationship with pilsner. It’s the world’s most widely consumed, most widely copied and emulated beer style, but the vast majority of those beers either don’t actually qualify for the “pilsner” style guidelines or come anywhere close to the Brewers Association definition of “craft.” And yet, it’s also a style with a rich history, dating back to the famous ur-pils of 1842, Pilsner Urquell. For more detailed information on the style’s history and current role, by the way, check out our companion piece—Let’s Talk Beer Styles: Pilsner, which also went live today.
In modern American craft beer, pilsner has seen a resurgence … or perhaps the right word is reclamation. American craft brewers have refused to let companies like Anheuser-Busch or Miller present a sole definition of “pilsner” with insipid beers in the mold of Miller Lite—watery, flavorless yellow suds that for decades corrupted the good name of pilsner in the U.S.A. and made American beer a punchline in Europe. Obviously, things have changed.
In reality, no nation is presenting such a tremendous variety of pilsners today as the U.S.A. When you see the word in a craft brewer’s lineup, you never truly know what to expect. It could be a classical German or Czech-style pils, or a throwback “pre-prohibition” American lager. It could feature fruity, nouveau American hop varieties. It might even be a faux-pilsner fermented with light, neutral ale yeast for the sake of efficiency and turnaround time. You’ll find all of them in abundance these days. It is, all in all, a good time for pilsner, and a good season for pils. And so, let’s get on with the blind tasting.
A Note on Beer Acquisition
Like every other blind-tasting at Paste, we acquire these beers in a variety of ways. Most are sent in directly by the breweries when we send out a call for that style. Others we’re able to purchase directly because they’re available in Georgia, which is how we came by the few European beers in this tasting in particular. In that sense, we’re at the mercy of what is available.
Rules and Procedure
- We accepted anything sent to us, as long as it involved “pilsner” in the description, or was categorized as such. There was no specific ABV limit, although we did not accept the few beers labeled as “imperial pils,” as that seemed unfair. Beers did have to be lagers to qualify—no ales in the style of pseudo-pilsner were allowed.
- There was a limit of two entries per brewery. The beers were separated into daily blind tastings that approximated a sample size of the entire field.
- Tasters included professional beer writers, brewery owners and beer reps. Awesome, Paste-branded glassware is from Spiegelau.
- Beers were judged completely blind by how enjoyable they were as individual experiences and given scores of 1-100, which were then averaged. Entries were judged by how much we enjoyed them for whatever reason.
The Field: Pilsners #’s 62-31
As is typically the case with these blind tastings, most of the beer in “the field,” outside the top 30, is quite solid. We were very curious how different each individual pilsner would seem to our blind perception in the course of tasting a very subtle style, and although there were some truly unique stand-outs, there were also a lot of beers that simply seemed very similar to each other. Many of these beers, with an additional point or two on someone’s score sheet, could have made the top 30. Yes, there are a few bad beers, but that’s an inevitability of any style.
They’re presented below in alphabetical order, which means that they’re not ranked. I repeat: These beers are not ranked.
Angel City Pilsner
Austin Beerworks Pearl Snap Pils
Avery Joe’s Pils
Crop Bistro Bohemian Pilsner
Crux Fermentation Project Pilz
DC Brau Brewing Co. Brau Pils
Drake’s Flyaway Pils
Foothills Torch Pils
Fremont Shine Pilsner
Full Sail Brewing Pilsner
Great Lakes Turntable Pils
Half Acre Pony Pils
Heavy Seas Pounder Pils
Hopworks (HUB) Lager
Left Hand Polestar Pilsner
Oskar Blues Mama’s Little Yella Pils
Point Smiley Blue Pils
Red Hare Long Day Lager
Rock Art Bohemian Pils
Saint Archer Hoppy Pilsner
Sam Adams Noble Pils
Short’s Brewing Co. Old Reliable
Smog City Little Bo Pils
Smuttynose Vunderbar! Pilsner
Terrapin Sound Czech Pils
Troegs Sunshine Pils
Two Roads Brewing Co. Ol’ Factory
Uinta Brewing 801 Pilsner
Warped Wing BrassPunk Pils
Zero Gravity Craft Brewery Green State Lager
Next: The finals! Pilsners 30-16