The Session 114…Pilsners

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.

German-style Pilsner aka Pilsner AKA PILSNER
German-style Pilsner aka Pilsner AKA PILSNER

“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.
Pilsen type beer brewed during Prohibition
Pilsen type beer brewed during Prohibition
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.

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