When COVID-19 closed taprooms and cancelled festivals, I looked for ways to still engage with Chicago’s craft beer scene. I therefore decided to finally work my way through The Complete Beer Course. Doing so involves the tough job of sampling beers for each style the book details; I’ll balance national (and international) recommendations from author Joshua Bernstein with examples from Chicagoland breweries. Unless otherwise stated, historical background comes from The Complete Beer Course.
Czech pilsners became particularly popular in Saxony, the German region bordering Bohemia. So popular, in fact, that a group of brewers in the Dresden suburb of Radberg created their own interpretation: Radeberger Pils.
A light-bodied, highly attenuated, gold-colored, bottom-fermented bitter German beer showing excellent head retention and an elegant, floral hop aroma. Crisp, clean, and refreshing, a German Pils showcases the finest quality German malt and hops.
The difference between German and Czech pilsners comes down to region-specific ingredients, the most notable of which being hop variety. Bernstein writes that the Saaz hops found in Czech pilsners “impart a clean, cinnamon-spicy profile,” while German noble hops can be “floral and earthy,” (Hallertauer) “spicy and delicate,” (Spalt) or “green and floral” (Perle).
Third Coast Review’s Take
I find that there’s so much diversity within each style of pilsner that it’s hard for me to tell what makes one Czech versus another German. While differences in ingredients matter greatly to brewers, the end result should always be a bright, crisp, delightful lager.
Bernstein writes adoringly of Victory Prima Pils, and for good reason. It’s simultaneously bold and balanced, ultimately acting as a showcase for German hops. It’s also something of an Americanized take on the style, being somewhat cloudier and hoppier than other German pilsners. Like Lagunitas Pils, it’s a gateway pilsner for American hop heads.
Three of Chicago’s leading breweries, Metropolitan, Half Acre, and Revolution, brew a year-round German pilsner, presenting plenty of opportunities for Chicagoans to try a local take on the style.
Metropolitan’s Flywheel Pilsner is the most malt-forward of this group. While Flywheel is generously hopped, Metropolitan “amps up the malt bill for balance,” resulting in a far softer, easier-drinking pilsner than I expected from a 40 IBU beer.
Half Acre ropes their pilsner into the category of “technically driven utility liquids (that) made people happy.” While that self-assessment might undersell the beer a bit, there’s something to this beer just getting the job done. This balanced pilsner with a “really dry finish” is a great option when you want something tasty, yet uncomplicated at a concert or ballgame.
While they call it a “Chicago Pilsner,” Revolution’s Rev Pils is brewed with “all German hops and malts,” so we’ll count it for our purposes. The most bitter of the three Chicago pilsners, Rev Pils provides a quick blast of German hops, followed by a characteristically clean lager finish.
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