Style: Italian-style Pilsner / ABV: 4.7 percent
Lisa Allen has been waiting for more than a decade for lagers to become cool.
The head brewer at McMinnville's Heater Allen (page 40), which specializes in styles fermented at lower temperatures like Pilsner and helles, has seen too many would-be customers walk into the taproom and march right back out once they realize there aren't any IPAs on.
Well, consider the era of brushing aside this category of beer over.
Lagers are riding a wave of popularity, and Allen just had a hand in creating one that is not only a standout among its peers; the beer is also establishing an emerging sub-style. Terrifica, a collaboration between Allen, Wayfinder (page 24) brewmaster Kevin Davey, and Mat Sandoval, head brewer at Modern Times' Portland location (page 24), is a perfect example of how brewers can take a historic style or method and, just by giving it a tweak, create something entirely fresh that renews excitement. The Pilsner (formerly called Terrifico) is an homage to a beer that, up until a few years ago, didn't have much name recognition. Tipopils, first produced in 1996 by Birrificio Italiano in Northern Italy, isn't all that different from its German counterparts. The major distinction is that the beer breaks from tradition by employing dry hopping, which amplifies the herbal aroma. Count Firestone Walker's Pivo Pils and Luppolo by Oxbow Brewing among the other lauded beers it inspired.
Two years ago, Davey and Allen found themselves in the growing camp of brewers who became captivated with the style while attending Pils & Love, an exported version of Birrificio's Pilsner-focused festival. Although there were dozens of beers to sample—many produced by the most prestigious brands in the country—they kept gravitating back to the Italian take.
"I've tried a lot of German Pilsners," Davey says. "Standard bitterness, standard aroma. And the ones from Birrificio and the other Italian breweries, they had a little more swagger. They just seemed a little more showboaty."
If you've ever wondered what fermented flamboyance might taste like, simply crack open a can of Terrifica, which unleashes a prickly shrapnel of bitterness on the tongue, then manages to finish crisp and clean. That's why we're naming this complex yet approachable Pils our 2020 Beer of the Year.
In a market where IPAs still dominate, the rise of an Italian-style Pilsner like Terrifica makes perfect sense. The pale yellow beer has more of an aggressive bite than a Czech version, satisfying any cravings for bold hop flavors. And the type of flowers added to the batch is a critical factor. The trio of brewers, working on Davey's system at Wayfinder, went with noble hops, like Spalt and Tettnanger, which provide floral and spicy notes
"One of the things that we do at Wayfinder is use a lot of low-alpha varieties and a large amount of them, specifically early in the boil, and boiling them for a long time," Davey explains. "I think it imparts a different type of bitterness and roundness, giving it a third dimension."
Tettnanger was also dry hopped along with the only new-school variety in the bunch: the German Polaris, known for being sticky and pungent with a scent similar to wintergreen chewing gum that Davey first got a whiff of while browsing in the hop growers' section at the annual Craft Brewers Conference. The decision to use a high-alpha hop toward the end of the process is what delightfully pushes Terrifica over the top.
"It's kind of a Pilsner on steroids," says Davey. "I hate to say that, because I don't want it to come across like it's darker, maltier or stronger. It's not. It's like more Pilsner."
"Yeah," Allen adds, "it's more Pilsner-y than Pilsner."