There’s a cliche among American craft beer fans that you get pulled in by hops and IPAs, you migrate to either sour beers or maybe imperial stouts, and eventually have the palate sophistication to appreciate pilsner’s subtle interplay of hops and malt. There’s a symmetry to this sophistication since most imbibers start with “pilsner” (in the McLager sense)
Homebrewing is less of a circle in this regard as nearly no one starts brewing macro-style lagers before craft beer. In my experience with the DC Homebrewers Club, brewers start with ales (hoppy or malty) and graduate to the much more demanding pilsners, where any fermentation flaw is magnified (again with a well coached detour through sour beers).
This month’s “The Session” prompt is pilsner- German, Czech, or otherwise and it’s place as “the pinnacle of the brewing craft.”
Charles Mingus, one of my favorite bass players and composers, has a phrase: “Making the simple complicated is commonplace. Making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.” As I drink my pilsner- in this case it’s the KC Pils from Boulevard Brewing. There is so much going on in this simply created beer. It has honey and toasted malt aromas, a very pleasantly soft flavor, less bitterness than most American (or Czech) versions, and finishes balanced ever so slightly sweet. It’s a complex beverage even as it’s imminently quaffable.
The simplicity of ingredients contrasting the complex outcome drew me to try my hand at brewing this beer. But first I required the necessary ingredients and brewing skill.
As part of this journey I had to go through the classic American homebrewer phase: homebrew chef. It’s a delightful phase and creativity is one aspect that drew me to homebrewing. To showcase the ability to create a beer that (you think) no one has ever created before, you mash a bunch of ingredients and styles together leading to, in my case, a white IPA dry hopped with rose and hibiscus. Entered into our club’s annual competition, the Cherry Blossom Competition, my brewing partner and I somehow won first place: a coveted bag of Weyermann floor-malted bohemian pilsner malt. A judge later told me that our pink beer was given extra points in the flower-centric competition.
After many more wild and crazy batches involving chocolate-raisin pie clone beers, indian curry saison, and some German multi-rest mashes, and finally a temperature controlled fridge, I was ready. The single decoction mash with Weyermann Pils, Saaz, and BoPils 2124 was a success. I toyed with temperatures, time, water profile, and the recipe just as much as my previous wild creations. When it won the Washington, DC State Fair that Summer, I felt proud of my brewing ability. It didn’t have any flowers or fruits, but I had a damn fine beer that I could call my own.
Thanks to Alistair Reece for hosting the 114th Session for which he has chosen Pilsner style beers for the topic. In the next sentence, after saying thanks, I will say my apologies. You see I’m not going to focus on the sensory differences of Czech and German Pilsners and their differences. I’m aware of the differences and assuming the rest of The Session writers stick to script, you will too. Even if you’ve never considered the sensory differences between German and Czech pils, Alistair’s prompt should make you.
So you want to market your pale lager brewed with Czech or German hops and Czech/German yeast. But how to do so? What do you put on your can/bottle/growler/crowler? Pilsner or pilsener? Pilsner-style or German-style pils? Northern-German Pils? Czech-style pilsner? Bohemian pilsner? Moravian Pils? I wont drone on about capitalization but I will say that hyphenation on labels is often a means of showing respect. Belgian-style, Gueuze-style Wild, Lambic-style ale all are descriptors I’ve read before. American brewers seem to be keen on giving props to the styles we associate with Belgian ale. I must agree with Evan Rail when he writes “The influence of Czech brewing often seems surprisingly underappreciated abroad.” I know its an old link, from May, but it bears repeating.
So an American brewery has the bright idea to pay homage to Czech brewing. How to do it? Do they hyphenate, “Czech-Style Pilsner,” or go for the more geocentric “Bohemian-style Pilsner”? I recently saw a “Moravian-style Pilsner” on a can in North Carolina. This was the first time I’ve ever seen that type of marketing in the US. But instead of a smaller, fledgling brewery, I’ve turned my attention to the third largest craft brewing company as of the 2015 numbers.
NOONER® PILSNER is an interesting case as there are multiple marketing methods on one bottle. The copy on the neck label says “German-style pilsners are the original session beers” more on session beer in a bit but for now, we can see the hyphen at work “German-style pilsners.” The front label has the brand Nooner and then simply PILSNER underneath. The bottle’s back label reads “classic German pilsner–one of the original session beers” but only after “Nooner Pilsner” appears at the tippy top. So perhaps you can have it more ways than one, hyphen and other.
“Original session beers” is an interesting claim and certainly one you can argue for or against. I’d rather make another claim: pilsner is the original IPA. Ok, that’s a complete lie, especially if you trace the timelines back and see that pale ale is older than pilsner, especially if you believe in the pilsner was invented in 1842. And why wouldn’t you?
I recently spoke with MBAA 2015 Award of Honor winner John Houseman. He mentioned that when he brewed at the Heilemann Brewery in the 1980s, National Premium “was a hoppy beer.” So, in the 80s, Premium was the hoppier beer comparatively to National Bohemian. Which brings us back to Bohemia, the western part of the country of modern day Czech Republic. Interestingly enough as Bohemian was less hoppy than Premium in the 80s, Bohemian hops seemed to be THE variety to brew hoppy beer in the 1880s.
I am reminded of the very first time I communicated with Evan Rail, four years ago. I was working on my thesis and had just come across this receipt for five bales of the Choicest Bohemian hops. I emailed Evan to see what he made of the receipt, and he wrote:
Although it sounds weird to see Czech hops in DC in 1910, it’s not such a strange thing — Czech hops have been famous and exported fairly widely for about a thousand years. In Ron’s posts you can find lots of records of Czech hops being used in breweries in Scotland, for example, like the 1868 William Younger No. 3 Export. Considering the reputation of Bohemian beer in America at the time, it kind of makes sense.
The Ron in quote is Ron Pattison. Who has written extensively on William Younger No. 3. as it had Bohemian hops. Which brings us back to Bohemian beer, most famously, Pilsner.
To close out, some words from our host, “I just want people to re-discover what I consider the pinnacle of the brewing craft, so off hunting you go” and hunt we have. Thanks for hunting with me. And for the last photo, a recipe for Pilsen Type beer. This photo comes from the Walter E. Voigt collection in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.
Under the Pilsen type, you can also see “Dortmunder type.” An authentic prohibition-era recipe??? You bet. Now all you have to do is select the hops (Bavarian? Bohemian??), yeast, fermentation profile, filtration method (or not), packaging and finally, branding/marketing. Best of luck.
If you’ve never heard of The Session, get acquainted. No time like the present.
I’d like to thank Jessica Boak and Ray Bailey for their suggestions for this session. Of particular import is the the tie-in to social researchers. This is something that is very dear to me both on a personal and an academic level. My father is a Sociologist and has been since he earned his PhD in Sociology from Princeton University in 1969.
Boak and Bailey encouraged participants in The Session to write “whatever you like spurred by the idea of ‘The Pub and The People” so I captured very quickly the scene at my local, stealing stylistically from “The Pub and The People.” I then wrote about the pub and the people of my father’s childhood whom I will only ever know through stories and photographs. The following is a bit of a light-hearted observing and reporting followed by a somber reflection. My father’s forthcoming memoir is both light hearted and somber so it seemed right to take a snippet of his work that won’t make it into his memoir after completing the prompt prescribed by Boak and Bailey.
Observing & Reporting
Small spot, not far from downtown, the White House, and the other monuments the tourists come to town for. 13 people in the place, 5 women, 8 men, one child, one young man, not yet 21-years-old and without fuzz on his face. All seated. All drink beer, save the child and young man. The child has a bottle of formula or pumped breast milk and the not-yet-21-chap has a hot tea. Most sip pale ale, while some sup pale lager. 9 are tied to their mobiles. Most checking feeds, watching videos, one playing a voicemail from her dear old mum, as its her birthday. A pint of pale is on the house for the young woman with the birthday. The tv shows the Euro Cup, with no mention of Brexit. Highlights include Iceland making it into the next round with 8% of the country in attendance and Ireland defeating Italy. This seems to please most of the audience. No parrots, pot plants, or pool. No one leaves to smoke or vape. No quiz played no darts thrown yet everyone appears happy and content with their beer.
Last weekend I celebrated the US holiday of Father’s Day. Taking my wife and 1-year-old son to a beer festival, I was speaking on a panel about the current and future state of Virginia beer. It got me thinking about where my father and my grandfather were on the third Sunday in June when my now nearly 80-year-old father was a 1-year-old.
It would have been Sunday, June 19, 1938, and my father would have been 21-months-old. The setting was a suburb of Prague, then Czechoslovakia, a neighborhood called Branik. His father would have been 34 years old. Would my grandfather have taken my father to the pub at such a young age? It seems doubtful. But there is certainly the chance that my grandparents would have some bottled beer on hand or my grandfather might have slipped down the street to u Zlaty Piv, the pub’s name roughly translates to the Place of Golden Beer, and filled a pitcher of beer which the barman would have put on his account.
A dark shadow would have been cast on the day as the rising tensions of what was happening in Germany and the general unease of Europe. It was June in Prague, a most enjoyable time when golden lager flows. Yet at this time, June 1938, Czechoslovakia was 3 months from having the Sudetenland given over to Germany and 5 months from Kristallnacht, the glass from Jewish storefronts was shattered, temples were burned, and Jews were beaten in the streets. Most of Prague’s Jewry escaped harm but if respectable Jewish businessmen in suits, ties, and hats could be marched through the street of Erlangen, just outside of Nuremberg, why couldn’t the same happen in Prague?
Edvard Beneš, the second President of Czechoslovakia, who lead the Czechoslovak government-in-exile, had mobilized Czech troops to the north of the country in May 1938. Had my grandfather gone north with the ordered mobilization, a golden pint in Prague would have been the best welcome back home, after seeing his wife and 21-month-old-son, of course.
While currently researching the details of my grandfather’s military service, we do know that he was the only one of eight family members who survived the Holocaust. He went into Terezin, or Thereseinstadt, late in the war. And while his mother perished in Terezin, his siblings died in Maly Trostenets (modern day Belarus) and Auschwitz (modern day Poland). If he sighed a breath of relief after mobilization in 1938, he must have been overcome with emotion returning from the horrors of a concentration camp in 1945.
But, life resumed, as it had to for Victor, his wife Helen, and his son Peter. My father, Peter remembers a Sunday in 1946, being a 10-year-old and running to the pub to get a pitcher of beer per his father’s request. The following is a scene that was cut out of my father’s forthcoming memoir:
Kurt Marcus was my father’s cousin—he was an ardent socialist and Marxist before the war and spent the War years as an officer in the First Czechoslovak Army Corps fighting on the Eastern Front alongside the Soviet Red Army.
He was wounded and when a Russian nurse, Malvinka, helped him back to health, he proposed marriage. I was looking forward to hearing stories about the war and about Russia.
“Peter could you go downstairs to U Zlaty Piv and get us some beer for Kurt and Malvinka? They both like our local Branik beer.”
My father handed me a glass pitcher, patted my head, and off I went. It was 1946 and I was 10 years old– about a year after World War II ended. My father, Victor Stein, survived the Holocaust doing slave labor and time in the Terezin ghetto. He was the only person in a family of eight to survive. My Catholic mother Helen, who was a single parent during much of the war, was relieved to have him back.
I grabbed the pitcher carefully and instead of running down the stairs I walked as slowly as a 10-year-old boy can. I made a right turn when I reached the street and in a few minutes reached the Branik Beer Garden, U Zlaty Piv.
It was barely after noon and the garden was already alive with groups of men drinking their first half-liter of the day. A few families were waiting to be served by one of the two waiters. The day’s special, Svitckova na smetane, beef sirloin in cream sauce, gave off an inviting aroma. It came with a slice of knedliky, a bread dumpling, which would soak up the cream sauce. It made me hungry.
Flowers and planter boxes alongside the wooden banquet tables created the pub’s beer garden. The man behind the bar wearing a white shirt, vest, and a box tie atop his button down, motioned for me to approach. His outfit spoke of an era well before the German occupation.
I politely wished him “Dobry den,” good day, and then asked for beer, “Pivo prosim”. I handed the bar tender the heavy glass pitcher which had the logo of the local brewery etched into it. The bartender knew I was Victor Stein’s son; we had lunch in the garden a few weeks ago. The barman turned the wooden-handled faucet as he tilted the pitcher on its side, creating a 45 degree angle. The golden colored beer began to flow with very little foam.
But as the pitcher started to fill, a rocky white billow began to bloom atop the golden lager. The barman set the pitcher down to settle the foam. After a few minutes he again filled up the pitcher so that the head rose above its rim. He picked up his skimmer and ran the straight edge over the surface of the glass to behead the froth with his steel tool. He pushed the pitcher towards me and as I picked it up he cautioned me to be careful, echoing the advice my mother had given me earlier.
The walk back presented a real challenge. The sidewalk was bumpy; there were three steps down into the courtyard of the apartment building, then up 3 flights of a narrow winding staircase. I had a few breathless moments but kept my balance and did not spill a drop. I arrived feeling very proud of myself. And I’d have a story to share with my school friends on Monday.
If you’re attending the American Homebrewers Assoication’s 38th Annual National Homebrew Conference, Homebrewcon for short, come see us on Saturday, June 11, at the Baltimore Convention Center, rooms 318-323 at 10:15AM. Our talk is titled The Dark Ages: Baltic, Munich or Kulmbach? we’ll be pouring two Lost Lagers, Polish Porter, and Kulmbacher Dark Lager. More on those lagers in a separate post.
You can see Frank present Welcome to the Dark Side! The Evolution of Porter at the Baltimore Convention Center onFriday, June 10 at 11:30 a.m. in seminar room 301-303.You can see Travis, who is a Professor at University of Colorado at Boulder and Special Projects and Beer Archaeologist at Avery Brewing Company, also in Boulder, Colorado. present Ancient Beer Brewing in the World of Wine: Bronze Age Greece through Alexander the Great Saturday, June 11 at 11:30 am – 12:30 pm. This is the time slot right after our presentation so you can be sure to catch us there at Travis’ presentation once we wrap.
In recent historical memory is the first conference the American Homebrewers Association’s held in Baltimore, in 1995. For an excellent read and recall of that conference, the beer brewed for it and a nice round up check out Tom Cizauskas’ post here.
We recently had the great fortune of being able to re-imagine an iconic Baltic Porter with the amazing brewers at District Chophouse, Barrett Lauer and Rob Fink. The United Warsaw Brewery’s Baltic Porter was first mentioned in newspaper advertisements in 1847 and has been beloved ever since. The Brewery, like many, was destroyed during World War II. In 1950, it was rebuilt and continued to brew Piwo “Królewskie Porter” on a small scale until it closed in 2004. Besides its ardent Polish fanbase, the dark lager (Baltic Porters are made with lager yeast unlike most British or American Porters which are commonly made with English or American ale yeast) won numerous Polish and international beer awards.
Mike was first inspired to research this beer after a chance meeting with a Polish beer blogger, Michal Maranda, from Warsaw, who visited and reviewed several of the District’s fine establishments in 2013. After corresponding overseas, researching, and a little help with translating Polish to English, we reached out to Barrett and the Chophouse team. The beer turned out wonderfully with a smooth, medium-dry finish and notes of chocolate, lightly roasted coffee with a hint of toasted pumpernickel.
Though the taste is complex, the grist was simple, consisting of only 3 malts: Pale, Munich, and Carafa. With Barrett’s suggestion we sprinkled the Weyermann Carafa malt at the end of the mash to encourage it’s darker color without introducing as much astringency. Polish Junga hops in the bittering and final additions completed the royal beer. It will be served at the Chophouse through Tuesday, May 10. After that, look for it at special tastings including our lecture at the 2016 National Homebrewing Conference in Baltimore.
For our newest beer, Colonial Panic we teamed up with the good folks of Pen Druid Brewing Company located in beautiful Sperryville, Virginia. The upcoming release of Colonial Panic will take place at the Dumbarton House, in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, May 25, 2016 from 7:00-9:00 PM. Tickets can be purchased here.
The composition of this beer is similar to what George Washington would have imbibed during his lifetime. American beer from about 5 miles away from the town of Washington, Virginia, the first town George ever surveyed. This beer features molasses (as is one of his key ingredients in his 1757 recipe for small beer) as a great source of color and contributes a dryness to the mouthfeel. The sorghum molasses contributes a complexity that was common in 18th Century Porters. Comprising the beer’s grist is pale malt and oat malt, malted just up the path from the brewery, by the Copper Fox Distillery’s malt house. The beer was hopped with Maryland’s first certified organic hop grower, Organarchy, in Cumberland, Maryland, a Cascade variety from the 2015 harvest. Finally, the beer was fermented with what Pen Druid calls it’s “own cocktail of wild yeasts and bacteria from the Virginia Piedmont reflecting the terroir of Rappahannock.”
It is no secret that the first President’s love of beer focused largely on Porter. As is relayed by Mount Vernon’s Encyclopedia “George Washington is known to have purchased large quantities of beer and porter before the Revolution both from England and within America” this may or may not surprise you. Though the statement, “[d]uring the eighteenth century, a number of well-known English breweries were founded” is perhaps an understatement as England was the brewing epicenter of the world and many brewing nations lacked the scientific and technical prowess that England had.
Today, the United States is the epicenter of brewing innovation and many nations are looking to us to see what is hot and cool within the realm of possibility within the world of brewing. It is our hope that you will join us on May 25th and try our porter for the first (and only!) time it will be poured in Washington, DC.
On November 6th, Mike Stein led a guided tasting of several delicious ciders from Pipetown Traders, paired with gourmet popcorn from Capitol Kettle Corn at the Hill Center near Barracks Row. Participants enjoyed the unique pairings and Mike’s commentary on the different styles, traditions, and producers of cider. The event was hosted by Drinky Events – who also provided many of the photographs. You can learn more about Drinky Events and their future activities on their Facebook Page. Follow our twitter account for future events featuring Lost Lagers.
Lost Lagers (Mike and Pete) will be speaking on October 1, 2015 at the Takoma Park Community Center. Come here us discuss how beer history fits into the overall history of Washington DC. We’ll also speak about our process for researching historic recipes. For more information go to the Takoma Park Arts website.