Reviewed: Oxbow Luppolo Italian-style Pils
Official description: Luppolo is an unfiltered, dry-hopped pils brewed with European malts and noble hops. Named after the Italian word for “hop”, this “Italian-style pils” is an homage to the hop-forward pale lagers produced in Italy. Production time: 6 weeks.
Oxbow Brewing Company – Oxbow Luppolo Italian-style Pils – 16oz can served in Rastal Harmony glass – 5% ABV
Taken from their website, “Oxbow is a small farmhouse brewery located in rural Newcastle, Maine.” I’ve been following Oxbow since it was founded back in 2011. At the time, Oxbow was one of the few American craft breweries that excelled at making authentic Belgian saisons. When I lived in Washington DC, I befriended the bar manager of Pizzeria Paradiso, Greg Jasgur, who had a deep passion for Belgian craft beer but also Italian craft beer, which was mostly unknown in the US at the time. Paradiso would help bring Italian craft beer into the beer lovers’ lexicon with imported bottles and kegs found hardly anywhere else in the country. Then in 2014, Greg would move to Maine to join Oxbow Brewing.
Perhaps the first breakthrough Italian lager was Birrificio Italiano Tipopils. This pilsner is one of the world’s best, in my opinion, and even became a staple of the tap list at the Ma Che Siete Venuti A Fà in Rome – my personal choice for best place to drink beer in the world. This pils would get a resounding seal of approval from Ma Che’s owner, Manuele Colonna, who wrote the book on Franconian lagers from Germany (consider these the German counterpart to Czech Pilsners). Even though I would argue that Tipopils is a really good German-style pilsner, its success seems to have created an entire spin-off category. But how do you define the sub-style? Currently, I don’t know if it’s possible. The archetype, Tipopils, is brewed with “Caramunich and Pilsner-type barley malts, brewed with a popular German bottom-fermenting yeast. German bittering and aromatic hops [are] used” as well according to the official description. There’s no claim that Tipopils is an Italian-style Pilsner. The subcategory is pretty questionable in my opinion, sort of like Mexican-style lager. Perhaps the only difference is that Italian-style Pils are dry-hopped…with German hops. But if I were forced to define the substyle, it would be any pilsner that rises to the level of Tipopils itself. It’s a bold claim, then, to slap “Italian-style Pils” on a label hoping to capture this aesthetic.
I’m reviewing Oxbow Luppolo from a 16oz can with a packaging date of 12/24/20, which places it at around 2 months old at the time of review. On the side of the can it reads, “enjoy within 1 year.” Wow! That’s a pretty long shelf life.
Pouring into my glass, Luppolo is crystal clear, bright golden in color with exquisite, craggy foam. Hop oils give the foam a radiant gloss plus exceptional retention. If you dare, you can toss in the bottom of the can to cloud up the pour with yeasty sediment.
Bringing up the glass, you’re rewarded with a nose full of heirloom grain plus Oxbow’s unique farmhouse yeast signature. There’s so much depth to the aroma: cut honeycomb, almond sponge cake, peanut brittle, and praline – just from the house malt. Juicy navel orange and tangerine zest come through on the hoppy side. The end result is mesmerizing.
After a few gulps, Luppolo is semi-dry perfection with modulated sweetness. Its unique grain bill gives the lager a freshly-made cornmeal tortilla flavor. There’s pronounced minerality from the brewing water that builds up a foundation of river pebble and slate – a far cry from the concrete slurry minerality of today’s Hazy IPAs. The finish is drawn out with snappy malt and a wicked soft palate with exceptional fattiness (bready, filling density). Background hoppiness is subdued and never distracts as it does in many other American craft pilsners. Each sip demands another until the beer has evaporated from the glass. The end result is just exquisite.
Perceived Specs for Oxbow Luppolo Italian-style Pils
Oxbow Luppolo doesn’t just evoke Birrificio Italiano Tipopils, it gives it a run for its money. Luppolo shines in every detail from the craggy head formation, incredible house malt aroma and flavors, pronounced minerality, soft body, and subdued hoppiness. It also shows off the best of the farmhouse brewery’s terroir and gives the beer its own narrative distinct from the Italian lagers that inspired it. Luppolo is simply miraculous, spellbinding.
VERDICT: 99 pts (SUPERLATIVE)
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