When a regional craft beer powerhouse the size of Brooklyn Brewery says it’s going to reformulate a beer as elemental as its pilsner, and puts marketing behind that concept, that’s a time when you should likely take notice as a consumer. Beer recipes are tweaked all the time, but for a brewery like Brooklyn to play up the new version of Brooklyn Pilsner, complete with new cans and marketing, it implies the company wants this to be a launch by which its current ethos is judged. Iconic Brooklyn Brewmaster Garrett Oliver essentially said as much, calling this new pilsner a beer that “fits our current lifestyle, which is all about great flavor combined with drinkability.”
What does that mean, though, when it comes to the idea of pilsner from a craft brewery in 2022? A beneficiary of the craft lager revolution, and a surge of appreciation for German lagers and noble hops among a certain breed of beer geeks, the modern pilsner has become something of a hop-lover’s refuge from the guileless, clumsy use of hop flavors in modern IPA, always in the pursuit of the next level of “juiciness.” At the same time as hazy IPA was running itself aground, trading genuinely juicy flavors for all-encompassing vegetal, green dankness, modern pilsners from American breweries have been a saving grace: Snappy, bitter, floral, herbal, spicy, drinkable revelations that run quite counter to the decadent, overly sweet messes that now typify your average 16 oz hazy can release.
In short, I love modern pilsner. I love noble hops, and the combination of both soft and bitter impressions they can provide. Although there’s a lot I’ve disliked about the craft beer world in the last few years, the surge in immaculate lagers (across numerous styles) has been the thing that continues to give me hope.
I was a little surprised to find, then, that Brooklyn’s new pilsner doesn’t exactly remind me of that modern pils framework I’ve increasingly come to expect. Instead of the assertively floral, herbal, spicy and bitter noble hop dynamism I was looking for, their new effort instead trends toward smoother, gentler dimensions. Perhaps I should have expected as much, given that the website offers only “crisp, golden and strikingly refreshing” as a tasting note. Oliver, on the other hand, offers something that sounds more appealing: “Relatively light-bodied with floral hop aroma, a refreshing snap of bitterness and a quick clean finish.” In practice, however, that’s not quite how I’m perceiving the contents of these eye-catching cans, which weigh in at 5% ABV.
On the nose, the new Brooklyn Pilsner suggests light corny sweetness, evocative of a bowl of corn flakes, along with the slightest hint of floral vanilla. It’s a little malt-forward here too, and there’s less obvious noble hop impression than on many pilsners from well-regarded modern breweries. In general, it hints at a profile with more in common with “American premium lager” than I was expecting.
On the palate, this is lightly sweet and a little bit malty, with crisp grain impression and hints of slightly toastier malt. Again, the hop presence seems fairly muted to me, with faint citrus and florals that contribute a low level of bitterness rather than the more sturdy backbone I find myself craving. All in all, this reads as very smooth and round rather than any sort of angular—very affable and very drinkable, but not particularly complex. More than anything, it reminds me of how regional craft breweries were often making clean, grain-forward pilsners 10 years ago, before a bigger focus on noble hop aromatics and flavors began to change perception of the style in the U.S. That would perhaps make this new Brooklyn beer something you could describe as a throwback, which again was the last thing I was expecting for a newly redesigned brand.
Perhaps I’m missing something, and perhaps I’ve simply grown accustomed to more effusively hoppy pilsner in this day and age. As it is, this is an extremely easy beer to down in great quantities, but it’s not the delicate hop showcase I hoped it might be.
Brewery: Brooklyn Brewery
City: Brooklyn, NYC
Availability: 12 oz cans
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident beer and liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.