Reviewed: North Coast Scrimshaw Pilsner
Official description: Named for the delicate engravings popularized by 19th century seafarers, Scrimshaw is a fresh tasting Pilsner brewed in the finest European tradition using Munich malt and Hallertauer and Tettnang hops. Scrimshaw has a subtle hop character, a crisp, clean palate, and a dry finish. 22 IBUs.
North Coast Brewing Co. – North Coast Scrimshaw Pilsner – 12oz bottle served in Rastal Harmony glass – 4.5% ABV
Editor’s Note: North Coast reached out to clarify the calories and carbohydrates for Scrimshaw as well as the labeling requirements for ABV. Edits were made below to incorporate their comments.
North Coast’s Scrimshaw Pilsner has been around since at least 1992 when it won gold at GABF for American Lager Ale. In that time, it’s become a craft beer staple across the US along with Old Rasputin and Red Seal Ale. Due to its inherent shelf life and critical acclaim, Old Rasputin is just about the only beer that comes to mind when I hear North Coast. It’s a shame, though, since Scrimshaw has had such impressive staying power in the marketplace for being a pale lager. Personally, I don’t think I’ve sat down with one for at least a decade.
Scrimshaw came up recently in the comments section of my Lo-Cal IPA Blind Test where various readers mentioned that Scrimshaw falls into the low-calorie craft beer segment. Now, on the bottle label and carton themselves, there’s no mention of calories – the norm for craft beer. On the North Coast website, there is a special page that mentions that Scrimshaw has been lab-tested to be 100 calories and 2g of carbs. However, follow-up lab results indicate that Scrimshaw has 138 calories and 11 carbs. North Coast already adds “Certified B Corporation” and “Non-GMO Project Verified” to the official packaging, both of which tout the company’s environmental ethos. I think the calorie and carb count is still very useful for shoppers, even if Scrimshaw isn’t as “light” as originally tested.
I’m reviewing Scrimshaw from a 12oz bottle with no packaging or best by date to be found. Only the code “91711031” is barely legible on the bottom of the paper label. Not very consumer-friendly. I had to do a double-take, but the ABV is found nowhere on the label either. (North Coast reached out to us to mention that any beer below 5.5% does not require the ABV to be on the label, though I think such information is extremely important.)
Into my glass, Scrimshaw is crystal clear, deep golden with a thick, buttermilk-colored head that easily towers over the edges of the vessel. It’s significantly darker in color than most modern pilsners along with taller, denser foam. Bringing up the glass, I get notes of honey bread rolls, cream of wheat, and creamed corn – a normal “off-flavor” for pilsner malt. Digging in, you’re rewarded with a rich base beer filled with thick breadiness and fatty malt density. Spicy noble hops provide understated balance all the way through the finish. Lively carbonation keeps the beer light on its feet, never getting bogged down or feeling too sticky. It’s clean, straightforward, and offers up a spectacular mouthfeel rarely seen in American craft pilsners.
Perceived Specs for North Coast Scrimshaw Pilsner
I was seriously impressed with Scrimshaw. It’s ridiculously true to its German roots, capturing every detail from the color, head retention, low bitterness, and engrossing maltiness. Many pilsners in the Franconia region of Germany are surprisingly malty with little to almost no obvious hop character. The focus there is on malt fattiness and dense mouthfeel, which Scrimshaw captures in spades.
Modern American craft pilsners are frequently brighter in color with sharper bitterness and big aroma hops. Scrimshaw would match up closer to Helles lager with its rich maltiness, relatively mild bitterness, and low hop aroma. However, Scrimshaw matches up very well with German pilsners, particularly Franconian pale lagers.
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April 7, 2020 @ 3:45 pm
I had a similar issue on the date coding. Patrick Broderick of North Coast was kind enough to explain their system, which I paraphrase here: Altogether there is a single digit for the year brewed, a 3-digit batch number, then a 2-digit month, and 2-digit day (packaged). It should be noted that the first digit represents when the beer was brewed, which can be different than when it was packaged if it was brewed late one year and (pkgd) early the next.
In your case, the code “91711031” means that the beer was brewed in 2019 as batch 171 and packaged on Oct 31 (2019 implied). He gave me this example: A theoretical beer of batch number 245, brewed in December 2018 and packaged on January 10 of the following year would be coded 82450110 (where the packaging date implies it was done so in 2019).
Hope that helps!
April 7, 2020 @ 4:03 pm
Thank you, Rich, for the detailed info. Not particularly useful for consumers I would have to say. But I’m glad we have a way to decode them.
April 7, 2020 @ 1:31 pm
This is Joe from North Coast Brewing Co. I appreciate your review of Scrimshaw, but it is important to note that at the end of the article you link to, it says that follow-up lab results indicate that Scrimshaw has “138 calories and 11 carbs”. Scrimshaw was never brewed to be a light beer – it was brewed to be a great beer.
You might also be interested to know that ABV is not required to be printed on labels for brews that are less than 5.5% alcohol by volume.
April 7, 2020 @ 2:09 pm
Thank you, Joe, for reaching out and clarifying. I’ve tried to incorporate your comments to make the article as accurate as possible.
April 7, 2020 @ 3:30 pm
April 7, 2020 @ 8:59 am
I love Scrimshaw. But, you may want to re-check that page on their website that you referenced. If I read it right, they had it tested multiple times recently…and per the final note at the bottom of the page…it now registers at 138 calories and 11 grams of carbs. My guess is that is why they don’t market it as a low-carb beer.
April 7, 2020 @ 2:09 pm
Thank you, Santino, for the comment. I’ve made some necessary edits to clarify the issue. North Coast also commented on something similar.
April 7, 2020 @ 8:40 am
Great review. This is one of my all-time faves. Freshness is key, so if the labeling is lacking, I recommend only buying from places you trust – who keep it cold – for the best experience.