With the start of spring just one month away, it’s time to start enjoying some pilsner beer. Pilsner is a type of hoppy light lager, which is traditionally brewed for the warm seasons. As a style, pilsner often gets a bad rap from some beer drinkers who claim it is plain and lacks flavor. These people are probably basing their opinions on awful, cheap-o, light lagers masquerading as pilsners. Up until recently, for example, Miller Lite had the gall to label their beer a “true pilsner.” For that matter, they also claim their beer is of superior quality because it’s “triple hops brewed.” Virtually every beer in the world is triple hops brewed — big whoop.
Fortunately, now most cheap mass-produced lager beer does not bear the “pilsner” label and is more appropriately dubbed “light lager” or even just “beer,” which is also a stretch in some cases. A true pilsner is flavorful, refreshing and hoppy. European pilsner is produced with German or Czech ingredients and so-called “noble hops,” which are highly aromatic continental hop varieties exhibiting spicy, earthy flavors and a delicate bitterness. Pilsner Urquell is the de facto Bohemian pilsner, and is brewed in the eponymous city of Pilsen, Czech Republic.
Stateside pilsners vary in style, and some notable examples include Victory Prima Pils or Troegs Sunshine Pils. We Americans, no strangers to excess, also brew what is known as American double pilsner, which is typically higher in alcohol content and exhibits a more pronounced malt character. This week, I grabbed one such offering from Heavy Seas Brewery, their Small Craft Warning uber pils.
The story of Heavy Seas began when aspiring stage actor Hugh Sisson took over his father’s tavern in Baltimore, Md., in 1980. The tavern soon began brewing its own beer, but only after Sisson and his father personally lobbied the state legislature to make brewpubs legal in Maryland. Years later, Sisson became interested in selling his beer to a larger audience. Of the successful brands that came forth from his brewing efforts, the Heavy Seas brand became wildly popular and is now distributed throughout the East Coast. Nautical charm shines through its beer names. Try, for example, their Loose Cannon IPA or Peg Leg imperial stout, both of which are excellent year-round offerings.
I popped open a 12-ounce bottle of the Small Craft Warning and poured it into a pilsner glass. The beer pours a moderately clear golden amber with a thin head and resinous lacing on the side of the glass. Grainy malt aromas are at the forefront, with the nose rounded out by earthy hops. Malt flavors dominate after a sip, with hop flavors faint at first. Alcohol is detectable, and the beer finishes dry with a slight hop bitterness. This beer is heavy yet refreshing, and it is certainly malty but not overwhelmingly so. It’s drinkable enough to be enjoyed casually but has serious business in the flavor and alcohol department. The assertive carbonation and an inviting flavor profile keep me coming back for another sip. In field-testing, I’ve also found that this beer definitely works as a refreshing winter warmer both during and after shoveling snow, and its classic pilsner taste reminds me of warmer times. Ahoy!
7.0 percent ABV
$3.00 at Rybrew
My ratings (out of 5):