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March 7th, 2012 MARTIN CIZMAR | Drank
 

Pils Off

Pining for Oregon’s best pilsner.

dish_pilsner_3818ILLUSTRATION: WW Photo Illustration
The Pilsner was created after the pissed-off townsfolk in the beer’s namesake village dumped their skunky suds down the gutter—or so the legend goes. The Czechs then built a new brewery and hired a German brewmaster, who brought his land’s 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. 

OUR PICK:

HUB Lager (Hopworks Urban Brewery)
2944 SE Powell Blvd.
232-4677, hopworksbeer.com

Hopworks’ 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 it’s currently only on tap at the brewery and local restaurants, this beer will soon be out in cans.
Comments: “Really earthy—a strong herbal taste.”
“It’s a little acidic—there’s more going on here—it has a nice refreshing flavor.”
“There’s maybe a touch of lime on the nose? It’s refreshing.”

ALSO RECOMMENDED:

Heater Allen Pils
907 NE 10th Ave., McMinnville
472-4898, heaterallen.com
A sweeter, maltier Pils that’s robust and a pale daisy yellow in color, but with definite hoppiness.
Comments: “It’s a little too bitter up front.”
“It’s not too bitter for me, but it’s a little bitter in the nose.”

Upright Brewing Engelberg Pilsener
240 N Broadway
735-5337, uprightbrewing.com
An unfiltered Pils that’s very dry and a very light straw color. It’s a little more hoppy than most Pilsners and doesn’t have the prized squeaky-clean finish.
Comments: “Very dry—lots of hop aroma. I like that better than Pilsner Urquell.”
“It has a resin-y finish, it sticks with you, which I do not like as well.”

UNREMARKABLE:

Rogue Good Chit Pilsner
748 SW Bay Blvd., Newport
265-3188, rogue.com
Made with barley and hops grown on Rogue’s farm, this brew tasted too watery for us, though it would pair well with some foods.
Comments: “For some reason, it makes me really want a cheeseburger.”
“There’s no hops on the nose at all—it just smells watery.”
“Tastes a little watery too, but it has some nice lingering carbonation.”

Southern Oregon Brewing Na Zdravi Czech-style Pilsner
1922 United Way, Medford
776-9898, sobrewing.com
The color of apple juice and very sweet; the Saaz hops are lost in this brew made with Budvar yeast.
Comments: “It has no aftertaste whatsoever. It’s a little like Rainier—but much more expensive.”
“It’s kind of like drinking Martinelli’s cider.”

NOT RECOMMENDED:

Seven Brides Brewing Lil’s Pils
990 N 1st St., Silverton
874-4677, sevenbridesbrewing.com
We may have had a bad bottle of this dark Pilsner—this beer had a sour-milk flavor that led several tasters to spit it out.
Comments: “This tastes like a Pilsner by way of a Farmhouse Ale.”
“They’re going for something here—they just don’t get there.”
“There’s something funky going on here. I think this might be a bad bottle.”

 
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