The Pilsner was created after the pissed-off townsfolk in the beerâs namesake village dumped their skunky suds down the gutterâor so the legend goes. The Czechs then built a new brewery and hired a German brewmaster, who brought his landâs then-novel bottom-fermenting yeast to a mash of pale barley and Saaz hops. The blond lager was born.
Today, some 19 of 20 pints poured around the world are descendants of a concoction created to quiet angry Bohemians in 1842. Considering pale lagers like Budweiser, Heineken, Corona and Labatt Blue are all cousins, some beer drinkers have never had anything other than a bastardized Pilsner.
There are several thousand commercial beers made in Oregon every year, yet you can count the number of Pilsners on one hand. Why?
"Pilsners are more difficult and expensive to brew and don't sell as well," says local beer blogger Ezra Johnson-Greenough. "Being a lighter beer, there are not caramel or roasted malts or hops to hide flaws in production. To make things more difficult, a well-made Pils is lagered for six to eight weeks when most breweries are turning around an ale in two weeks or less."
There's also a bit of a stigma about Pilsners, says Kris McDowell, who works on Brewvana's Portland brewery tours.
"There just are not a lot of places turning out German beers," she says. "I think there is some aversion based on macro products... Although it's not fair to compare apples to oranges, there may be some spillover."
Oregon does brew some great Pilsners, though. We were only able to track down six beers called Pilsners in their name or description—some breweries also offer Pils as a summer seasonal—four bottled and two poured from taps into growlers. A team of six tasters began by sampling a can of Pilsner Urquell, the original Czech pale lager that birthed the style. Because growler beers aren't as carbonated, we tasted everything before putting the three best through a blind taste-off to pick the best.
HUB Lager (Hopworks Urban Brewery)
Hopworksâ Pilsner-style lager is a little lighter than apple juice in color, with some malty sweetness with a quick, clean hoppiness thanks to whole-flower Czech Saaz hops. Although itâs currently only on tap at the brewery and local restaurants, this beer will soon be out in cans.
Comments: âReally earthyâa strong herbal taste.â
âItâs a little acidicâthereâs more going on hereâit has a nice refreshing flavor.â
âThereâs maybe a touch of lime on the nose? Itâs refreshing.â
907 NE 10th Ave., McMinnville
A sweeter, maltier Pils thatâs robust and a pale daisy yellow in color, but with definite hoppiness.
Comments: âItâs a little too bitter up front.â
âItâs not too bitter for me, but itâs a little bitter in the nose.â
Upright Brewing Engelberg Pilsener
An unfiltered Pils thatâs very dry and a very light straw color. Itâs a little more hoppy than most Pilsners and doesnât have the prized squeaky-clean finish.
Comments: âVery dryâlots of hop aroma. I like that better than Pilsner Urquell.â
âIt has a resin-y finish, it sticks with you, which I do not like as well.â
748 SW Bay Blvd., Newport
Made with barley and hops grown on Rogueâs farm, this brew tasted too watery for us, though it would pair well with some foods.
Comments: âFor some reason, it makes me really want a cheeseburger.â
âThereâs no hops on the nose at allâit just smells watery.â
âTastes a little watery too, but it has some nice lingering carbonation.â
Southern Oregon Brewing Na Zdravi
The color of apple juice and very sweet; the Saaz hops are lost in this brew made with Budvar yeast.
Comments: âIt has no aftertaste whatsoever. Itâs a little like Rainierâbut much more expensive.â
âItâs kind of like drinking Martinelliâs cider.â
Seven Brides Brewing Lilâs Pils
We may have had a bad bottle of this dark Pilsnerâthis beer had a sour-milk flavor that led several tasters to spit it out.
Comments: âThis tastes like a Pilsner by way of a Farmhouse Ale.â
âTheyâre going for something hereâthey just donât get there.â
âThereâs something funky going on here. I think this might be a bad bottle.â