Why Are There So Few Craft Pilsners?
We're fielding beer questions all week on Y&H, so now's your chance to inquire about everything from food pairings to hangover cures. Fresh out of the mail bag, reader Dan Riley asked:
Here’s something I’ve been wondering: Why are there so few craft pilsners out there? I’m a big fan of that style of beer and can’t help but notice that IPAs and whatnot dominate the shelves. What’s up with that?
That's a great question. Eastern Pennsylvania, where I grew up, is the country's Fertile Crescent of good pilsner, so for help I turned to two of the style's finest brewers, Victory and Sly Fox. Brewmasters from both said that pilsners (which are a type of lager) cost more, take more time, and are harder to perfect. Here's what Victory co-brewmaster and co-founder Ron Barchet said:
Pilsners have had a hard go of it over the years. Two major reasons why: 1. Craft beer movement started on the West Coast and ales were dominant there for many years. The main reason is cost. Because it takes 3 times as long to brew a pilsner than an IPA, a brewer needs 3 times as many fermenters and storage vessels. The economics favor ale. Secondly, American hops have rightly taken center stage in craft beer. European hops are required to mimic the classic pilsner taste. Many consumers also assume its lighter color and standard alcohol content indicate a lack of flavor. Of course, that is nonsense.
Things are starting to change. There are respectable pilsners made in all parts of the country, particularly in the Mid Atlantic and Northeast. Our Prima Pils is selling well and represents our second best selling brand, behind, of course HopDevil IPA. We believe there is a bright future for the hoppy lager we know as pilsner beer.
And from Sly Fox Brewmaster Brian O'Reilly:
Pilsners are more difficult to make — they require more cooling (lagers are fermented cold) and their light profile would reveal flaws. Mass-marketed commercial brands are also relatives of the first pilsners. When craft beer was born, it was only natural that brewers brewed the styles of beer that the big brewers did not brew.
Note O'Reilly's point about pilsner's light profile revealing flaws. A good pilsner is delicately balanced, with a pinpoint crispness of hops rather than the cornucopia of aromas you might find in an IPA. Which shows that Bud's old ad claiming that "You can't hide imperfections in a lager" was only, say, 95 percent bullshit.
Photo by edwin.bautista via Flickr Creative Commons, Attribution License.