Focus On Pilsner

With the ravenous heat of the summer now beginning to wind down, but plenty of warm weeks still ahead of us, it’s the perfect time to explore a style of beer that shares the quenching drinkability of lager, but with vastly more potential for extra depth and variation. 

Taxonomically, pilsner shares almost everything with its progenitor lager. They’re both brewed from light malts and bottom fermented at cool temperatures before undergoing lagering, a post fermentation conditioning period that focuses the smooth and clean character of these beers.

Where it deviates is in its possibilities. While a lager has to conform to a fairly minute band of flavours (with a few exceptions), pilsner is free to roam much further.

Consequently, pilsners tend to be more hop focused, expressing a broad and diverse spectrum of flavour from the traditionally herbaceous and spicy Bohemian examples, through to lush and fruit driven new world varieties that have begun to approach hopping levels usually only seen in IPA.

Here in New Zealand, the majority of craft brewed pilsner has diverged so far from its traditional Czech origins that it’s now judged in a separate style category entirely, being referred to simply as ‘New Zealand Pilsner’.

It was a necessary move too, as side by side these beers would be almost unrecognisable. This new breed of pilsner is typically fruit forward, and these days almost uniformly dry-hopped to further accentuate those notes.

Here are some recommendations to explore that span the pilsner style spectrum, from the traditionally crisp and dry to the lush and expansively hopped modern examples.

Pilsner Urquell 4.4%abv

Astonishingly (and almost uniquely) the first official pilsner is still available, and widely too. Pilsner Urquell was first brewed in 1842, and while its character has undoubtedly changed over the centuries, it still traces its roots back to that pioneer of the style. As traditional as it gets, with an expressive backbone of malt flavour and the gently floral and grassy notes of classic Saaz hops.

Emerson’s Pilsner 4.9%abv

While it can’t quite trace its heritage back to the nineteenth century, Emerson’s Pilsner was the first commercially produced here in New Zealand, at the turn of the millennium. Its format has changed over the years, gaining a little %abv and losing its original ‘organic’ status, but it remains one of our more traditionally styled pilsners. Classically dry and firmly bitter, but with a uniquely passionfruit and citrus driven aroma that showcases the fruitier character of Kiwi hops.

Panhead Port Road Pilsner 5.2%abv

Port Road Pilsner could be considered the premier model of the hop forward New Zealand style, and certainly the most awarded, routinely achieving a gold medal (if not the trophy) in the annual Brewers Guild Awards. Embracing the most modern interpretation of pilsner, Port Road leans all the way into lush and tropical hops.  Deeply aromatic with notes of lychee and sauvignon blanc grapes over a very light malt and mild bitterness.

Tim Newman –