Four Brewers | The Pilsner Showdown
Season 3, Episode 32 – This week, we’re drinking a brewer’s dozen of pilsner and ranking them, like you do.
Another 4B Showdown coming at you, this time it’s the Pilsner Showdown 2.0. You might be asking yourself – what happened to the pilsner showdown 1.0? Well we might be asking you to mind your own god damned business. We might also be overcompensating for the fact that we recorded an entire 16 beer showdown that we got so mixed up on which beer number we were on that it ended up incomprehensible. So we did it again. We did it bigger. We did it better. We did it stronger. 16 beers? Not for our fans. We did 24 god damned beers. In a row. And we ranked them. Not in a row. Appropriately for their deliciousness. Or, skunkiness.
On that note, we need to preface this by saying that some of the beers in our showdown obviously suffered from age and packaging woes. While we wish this wasn’t the case, it’s also the realistic experience of buying these beers on the shelf. So get your shit together, breweries with green bottles. Especially if you don’t put dates on your bottles.
Also, many thanks to the fine folks at Gerrards Market in Redlands, California for helping to make this showdown throwdown possible!
Here are the beers that we sampled in the showdown, listed in the order they were served:
Beer #1: Lagunitas Brewing Company – Pils
Beer #2: Trumer – Trumer Pils
Beer #3: König Brauerei – König Pilsener
Beer #4: Pivovary Staropramen – Staropramen Premium / Ležák
Beer #5: Firestone Walker Brewing Company – Pivo Pils
Beer #6: Bitburger Braugruppe – Bitburger Premium Pils / Premium Beer
Beer #7: Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. – Nooner Pilsner
Beer #8: Warsteiner – Warsteiner Premium Verum / German Pilsener
Beer #9: Speakeasy Ales & Lagers – Pop Gun Pilsner
Beer #10: Left Hand Brewing Company – Polestar Pilsner
Beer #11: Budějovický Budvar – Budweiser Budvar B:ORIGINAL / Czechvar B:ORIGINAL
Beer #12: Pizza Port Brewing Co. – Pick Six Pilsner
Beer #13: Coronado Brewing Company – Seacoast Pilsner
Beer #14: Oskar Blues Brewery – Mama’s Little Yella Pils
Beer #15: Saint Archer Brewing Company – Hoppy Pilsner
Beer #16: Victory Brewing Company – Prima Pils
Beer #17: Arrogant Brewing – Who You Callin’ Wussie
Beer #18: Krombacher Gruppe – Krombacher Pils
Beer #19: Crux Fermentation Project – Crux Pilz
Beer #20: Bayerische Staatsbrauerei Weihenstephan – Weihenstephaner Pils
Beer #21: Avery Brewing Co. – Joe’s Premium American Pilsner
Beer #22: North Coast Brewing Company – Scrimshaw Pilsner
Beer #23: Plzeňský Prazdroj – Pilsner Urquell
Beer #24: Sudwerk Brewing Co. – Northern Pilsner
Results and rankings:
#24 Warsteiner – Warsteiner Premium Verum / German Pilsener
Average Score: 36.00
Of all the German beers in the mix, Warsteiner fared the worst. In fact, it fared the worst of the whole showdown. The nose immediately put everyone off. Gym sock, fusel….none of the aroma notes have won anyone over. Drinking it, we were equally nonplussed. Flavor notes included such illustrious comments as “potting soil”. Being the off flavor patient zero for a funk we’d never experienced before led to incredibly low marks, putting Warsteiner Pils in last place.
#23 Plzeňský Prazdroj – Pilsner Urquell
Average Score: 48.00
A reference pilsner entered the showdown, and thankfully wasn’t in a green bottle. We thought it looked great, like a bar of GOLD!! Smelling it, we caught diacytel. While that’s to style when it’s “restrained” we thought it was not restrained at all and it really put us off the beer. Matt successfully nailed it and called the beer, but the off flavors put the whole group off enough to rank it one of the lowest in the showdown.
#22 Trumer – Trumer Pils
Average Score: 54.50
Trumer Pils is a heavy hitter in CA, but failed to impress us with a chill haze and a lack of head retention. At the aroma section of the review, Jason was taken aback by the skunky aroma. As a group we’ve had this beer and enjoyed it before (including in Pilsner show 1.0) but ultimately the skunky conditions did it in. This beer was probably a victim of being in a green bottle.
#21 North Coast Brewing Company – Scrimshaw Pilsner
Average Score: 60.00
An old school stalwart of the California craft beer scene enters the fray. This one had great clarity, but not great head retention. The color was dark – we thought it might be one of the Czech beers because it was so dark. The nose let out notes of dog, and leather – not what we wanted out of a pilsner. Tasting it, we got ATHP, mousiness, and John thought it wasn’t even a pilsner at all. While we thought the beer was OK, the off flavors and lack of pilsner characteristics led us to call it a non-buy and put it near the bottom of the field.
#20 Speakeasy Ales & Lagers – Pop Gun Pilsner
Average Score: 61.75
A newcomer to the pils scene, Speakeasy out of San Francisco has recently started canning their Pop Gun Pils. The beer had a nice head, but the appearance was best described as “dishwater”. The nose divided the group – Jason got soap, Greg got diacytel, and John thought it smelled pretty good! But drinking it we all caught on off flavor we didn’t like. The mouthfeel was off, the bitterness was muted, the malt character was too high and overall we didn’t find it to be a great pils.
#19 Pivovary Staropramen – Staropramen Premium / Ležák
Average Score: 62.00
In a showdown of similar beers, Staropramen makes itself known. It’s noticably darker and maltier than the rest, bordering on a Vienna Lager or a Marzen. While we mostly liked the beer, it’s breaking from the pilsner style combined with being sort of ho hum and not hitting the main pilsner notes, led us to give it lower marks than some of the competition in this style showdown.
#18 Budějovický Budvar – Budweiser Budvar B:ORIGINAL / Czechvar B:ORIGINAL
Average Score: 63.25
The famous Czechvar, which is the “real” Budweiser that you can only get in the Czech Republic! This one impressed with clarity, but had a thin head that didn’t linger. The nose could only described as “That sweet skunky stuff” which cost the beer points. Drinking it, it had remnants of a good beer but faltered under massive levels of skunk. Another victim of the green bottle curse.
#17 König Brauerei – König Pilsener
Average Score: 64.25
Narrowly edging out the Czechvar is König Pilsner. König impressed with clarity, but the head and retention left a bit to be desired. There was something funky in the nose – Jason says skunk and Matt says DMS, but we all agree it’s not ideal. It drank well, but the off aroma and some wonkiness in the flavor department led it to low marks overall.
#16 Bitburger Braugruppe – Bitburger Premium Pils / Premium Beer
Average Score: 69.00
In the Pils Showdown 1.0, Bitburger actually beat the whole field of 16. This pour wowed the group with it’s chandelier-like clarity, but the nose threw Greg off, who caught notes of DMS and old milk. Jason thought it was clean but a bit bland. John caught a weird taste to it. We all declared this Bitburger can as middle of the road or worse, and it finished a bit below the middle of the field.
#15 Krombacher Gruppe – Krombacher Pils
Average Score: 73.75
Krombacher wowed with it’s clarity. The nose, however gave off seaweed and umami notes. When we drank it, it didn’t really wow us in any way at all. We thought it lacked some of the hop presence that makes a true pilsner, and even compared it more towards and American light lager than the normal pilsner profile we expect. While this beer was clean overall, we didn’t find enough of the pilsner characteristics we were expecting to propel it to greatness.
#14 Avery Brewing Co. – Joe’s Premium American Pilsner
Average Score: 74.50
A whopping .75 points ahead of Krombacher is Avery with Joe’s Pils. While certainly our most Mafia looking can, this beer immediately threw everyone off with how many chunky floaties where flowing around in it. We spent a while trying to figure out why this beer looked more like a lava lamp than a pils. We thought it was citrusy, and got a big American hop presence out of it. We enjoyed it, but thought it was more along the lines of a pale ale or a session lager. Matt thought it had a pilsnery malt profile, but overall the group thought it was out of style pretty significantly and it hurt it in the overall rankings.
#13 Lagunitas Brewing Company – Pils
Average Score: 75.50
An oft overlooked shelf beer in CA, this one came out and impressed the gang with it’s clarity and the memory foam mesa hanging out on the top. The aroma left a bit for us to be desired, but had a good solid hop presence on the back that salvaged the lack of aroma. All around a good beer but it lost points for being too bitter.
#12 Saint Archer Brewing Company – Hoppy Pilsner
Average Score: 79.25
Jumping ahead of Lagunitas by several points, Saint Archer’s Hoppy Pilsner (formerly Girl Skateboard Pilsner). This one came out so cloudy that we were wiping the glass to make sure it wasn’t just fogged up. The aroma had different things to everyone….citrus to Jason and Matt, sulfery farts to Greg. Jason didn’t like the lemony flavor, but John enjoyed the biscuity cracker malt character. We liked it overall, but it lost points on appearance and ended squarely middle of the pack.
TIED FOR #10 Crux Fermentation Project – Crux Pilz
Average Score: 83.25
Crux obviously didn’t place a high priority on the appearance of the beer, invoking thoughts of an unfiltered Kellerbeir moreso than a pils. We caught a big American hop presence out of it, but we liked it overall. Greg thought it had a pilsner backbone, but John thought it was very bitter. While we really liked this beer, we thought about how you’d feel if you got that ordering a pilsner and it went down a few pegs. Despite these handicaps, Crux finished in the top half of the field and tied with…
TIED FOR #10 Oskar Blues Brewery – Mama’s Little Yella Pils
Average Score: 83.25
Out of the gate, Matt said this beer looked like shit. And he’ll fight anyone who disagrees. The group was split on the nose, some of us finding it muted and some of us liking the nose a lot. On drinking it, we all thought it was a solid example. We liked it overall (especially John) but losing points for appearance and aroma ended up placing Oskar Blues lower than it could have been.
#9 Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. – Nooner Pilsner
Average Score: 83.75
Edging out the #10 tie buy just half a point, the seasonal standby from one of America’s most respected craft breweries. Sierra Nevada has suffered a bit in our past showdowns. Nooner didn’t come in as a world beater, but in this strong field of pilsners, Nooner made a very respectable showing for itself at #9. The nose wasn’t huge, but the flavor had a very clean, grassy note that got solid marks from the group.
#8 Arrogant Brewing (Stone Brewing Co.) – Who You Callin’ Wussie
Average Score: 84.50
Not surprisingly for Stone, the beer impressed for clarity and had nice head retention. Also not surprisingly for Stone, we immediately caught a huge hop profile out of this beer. Overall the group liked this beer quite a bit, and dinged it for being way overhopped for the style. Matt even went farther to say that it was way out of style, and John considered going full Barry Bonds and asterisking it. But our love of this beer propelled it up to #8 despite being handicapped by all of our minuses for being out of style. Leave it to Stone to make a beer so aggressively out of style that it places in the top 1/3 on pure bravado.
#7 Left Hand Brewing Company – Polestar Pilsner
Average Score: 86.00
This beer had a good head and solid lacing in the glass. The nose was clean, with small hints of herbs and mint. Jason thought this was a clear LiterDrinken beer. Greg and John rated it the highest, with Nagel wishing the hops were dialed in a bit more. Overall, the 4B crew thought this was a very solid pils and it scored well enough to place it at lucky number 7 and a full point and a half ahead of Stone’s egregiously out of style example.
#6 Pizza Port Brewing Co. – Pick Six Pilsner
Average Score: 86.25
Pizza Port makes its first appearance in a 4B showdown. The beer had a nice fluffy head but wasn’t as clear as some of the other more traditional examples. The nose read as fruity and tropical. The group agreed that this one was over the top on American hops, breaking from the mold of what you’d expect on a traditional pilsner. Hophead Jason thought it was a solid example despite (or because of) it’s overuse of American hops and the group in general liked it well enough to propel it near the top of the field and just .25 points higher than the strong showing from Left Hand.
#5 Coronado Brewing Company – Seacoast Pilsner
Average Score: 87.00
This was a bit of a wild card in our showdown, suggested by the beer store and thrown in to even the numbers out. Despite this inauspicious beginning, the beer ended up faring very well in this crowded field. The appearance failed to impress – it wasn’t nearly as clear as the other beers, and didn’t have much of a head at all. On the flavor side, this beer finished clean and brought smiles to the faces of all of the gang. It lost points for looks but got really high marks from everyone except Greg in the flavor department. Greg thought it was soft, and safe. Despite his reservations, Coronado jets into the top 5 with a solid pilsner, even if it’s only .75 points ahead of Pizza Port.
#4 Firestone Walker Brewing Company – Pivo Pils
Average Score: 90.50
Firestone is a time tested heavy hitter (and often winner) in 4B showdowns. Going in, we all expected Pivo to perform well and it did not disappoint. This beer had all of the visuals we wanted in a pils, and we immediately noticed the big American hop character. Jason thought that it managed to take the American hop flavor but still maintan the essence of a pilsner, while Matt thought it was bordering on an IPL. Ultimately, the beer got high marks, suffering only for not being quite traditional but still wowing all of the 4Bs enough to get a fourth place finish.
#3 Victory Brewing Company – Prima Pils
Average Score: 93.25
Prima Pils was a looker, and despite having had a lot of beer before, we all showed how thirsty we were when we admired this beauty of a pils. Jason’s Darth Vader smells aside, the group thought this beer was exactly where we wanted a pils to be. The words “reference pils” were thrown around liberally. Greg thought it lacked mouthfeel a bit, but overall Prima finished incredibly strong in the field. This beer is often mentioned as a reference for the style (including the BJCP) and it proved it’s providence here with a very high mark.
#2 Sudwerk Brewing Co. – Northern Pilsner
Average Score: 96.25
The last beer we tasted on a long day was certainly not the least. Sudwerk came out with brilliant clarity, and a nice half finger of head retention. On the nose we caught herbal notes and a bit of oyster cracker maltiness. Jason was impressed by how clean and not aggressive the beer was. But most importantly, we all thought it was really damn good. Greg thought it was a little bit too bitter being the only thing keeping it from perfect in his mind. The tiny reservation from Greg perhaps costing it that all important half point, Sudwerk still catapulted to #2 in our field.
#1 Bayerische Staatsbrauerei Weihenstephan – Weihenstephaner Pils
Average Score: 96.75
Edging out the #2 beer by only half a point, the world’s oldest brewery comes in with their example of one of the world’s most popular styles. While the head on the beer was pretty mild, this wowed with it’s glowing clarity. The nose also impressed, biscuity, herbal, minty, eucalyptus…and the flavor followed exactly where the nose was leading us. It tasted exactly what we’d expect a pilsner to taste like, and hit all of the right notes expertly. That’s what almost a millenia of experience can do for a brewery! Breaking far ahead of the field of other European pilsners, Weihenstephaner wowed the group (including a perfect 100 from Greg) for the #1 spot!
So many breweries are making pilsner that this showdown can in no way be considered a definitive list, nor is it an end all, be all ranking. We could have a pilsner showdown once a month for a year and still not even scratch the surface of all the available pilsner out there.
We encourage you to try this with a group of your friends and some pilsner that’s local to you! We say this after every showdown, but it really is fun, and it’s a great way to learn about a specific style of beer.
BREW THE SHIT OUT OF IT.
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