Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Original Pilsner

When most people think of the pilsner style of beer (if they even know what that means) they think of wimpy, flacid American mass-produced brews. What a shame. Those of you who don't know about the original example of this style of beer, which is widely available, let me tell you about it.

I've posted before on the distinction between lagers and ales. And I'm an ale man myself. Almost all of the styles I like to drink and pretty much 100% of what I brew are ales. But there is one lager that really stands out for me and it happens to be the original pilsner-style beer: Pilsner Urquell, first brewed in 1842. The difference between this pilsner and a BudCoorsMiller is like the difference between a fine artisanal loaf baked in a wood-fired oven and Wonder Bread, between morels delicately sauteed in butter and canned button 'shrooms, between fine prime rib and Salisbury "steak".

Pilsner Urquell pours a rich straw color and is dominated by an impressive hop character, derived from 100% Saaz hops. The bittering is solid, the hop flavor decidedly spicy, the aroma prickly and enticing. The beer is highly carbonated, which brings a sharpness to both nose and palate that is rousing and engaging. While most ales are better served at just below room temperature, in my opinion this beer does better started out quite a bit colder. It goes beautifully with many foods, but I consider it best paired with spicy Thai stir fry, a hearty steak, or barbecued ribs.

Even though it comes in those evil green bottles, I have had pretty good success getting it fresh. Its price has come down recently too, so it competes nicely even with good domestic beer. And hey, the Czech Republic is (or at least was, when this beer was first created) a Catholic country. So there's your Catholic angle!

Highly recommended.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Beer for the Holy Days

If you are a homebrewer, one great gift you can give is your own brews. I've done this several years now. It takes some forethought, since you really need to brew the beers a month or more before Christmas, for them to be ready to bottle and give. But at least in our circles the effort and thought has been much appreciated. Here's what I made this year for our friends and relatives:

Holyday Brews from the Palm Family Brewery

Fuller’s 1845 Small-scale Edition (1845)—Fuller’s is my favorite English brewery, hands down. Their London Pride Pale Ale, London Porter, and Fuller’s ESB are absolute classic British ales. But my favorite of their line-up is the Fuller’s 1845 Celebration Ale. Here’s what they say about it:

1845 Celebration Ale is a true landmark in British beer history. Although brewing dates back to 1654 at Griffin Brewery on the banks of the River Thames, the partnership of Fuller, Smith And Turner was formed in 1845. In 1995, to commemorate the company's 150th anniversary, Fuller's commissioned special, celebration bottled ale. 1845 was the result. A more auspicious beginning the brew could not have had; the inaugural beer's hops were added to the copper by none other than HRH Prince of Wales, during a royal visit to Fuller's!

Now the brewmaster of Fuller’s has given out the exact recipe for the 1845 ale on the podcast, Can You Brew It? Starting with a base of Maris Otter pale malt, this brew also calls for medium British caramel malt and Simpson’s amber malt. The last ingredient is available in only one homebrew shop in the United States, Northern Brewer in St. Paul, MN. But yours truly made that arduous trek to obtain it just for you (well, actually I was on a business trip and providentially passed within ten minutes of the shop.) Liberally hopped with East Kent Goldings and fermented with the wonderful Fuller’s London ESB yeast, this beer exudes loads of authentic British ale character.

I cannot promise that my version will be anywhere near as good as Fuller’s, but I hope you will enjoy it. I recommend letting it sit at cellar temp for another month or two before trying it, as it is a bit young and should improve with some aging.

Maison de Bourbon Porter (BVP) —This porter starts with a complex robust porter base consisting of American 2-row pale malt, Munich malt, medium caramel malt, chocolate malt, and black patent malt. It is hopped with British East Kent Goldings hops and allowed to ferment. After the primary fermentation has subsided, whole vanilla beans are added to the brew and allowed to steep for a month. Then at kegging, fine Kentucky bourbon is added for a special touch.

Denny Conn’s RyePA (RyePA)—Denny Conn is a great and generous homebrewer. Indeed, if it were not for Denny’s “cheap and easy” batch sparging method, I would not be brewing from all-grain malt and may have abandoned the hobby altogether. He is a great and patient teacher. His RyePA recipe is well-known in homebrewing circles. It is an IPA (Imperial Pale Ale) by style. Starting with a base of American 2-row pale malt, this brew builds on that base with a liberal addition of rye malt, which lends the beer a distinctive, spicy character. Medium caramel malt, carapils malt, and a dash of wheat malt round out the grain bill and the brew is liberally hopped with Columbus, Mount Hood, and Cascade hops.

St. Nicholas, patron of brewers, pray for us.