I am a sucker for any kind of beer awards, if I see a listing of best beers I’ll definitely browse through and search for local recipients. I know that there can be issues with these types of awards. The crowd-sourced best beer awards tend to favor whalez, there is a selection bias where the reviewers give higher ratings to sought-after beers. Blind tasting awards are ideal, but they don’t usually give you the full list of entries (just the winners), so you don’t know if it’s the best out of 5 or 500. The medals handed out at the Great American Beer Festival are generally well regarded, they draw a large number of entries, even if they tend to skew towards West Coast breweries. One local winner at last years festival was Robot Crush from Aeronaut Brewing Company in Somerville, which won the gold medal for pilsner. Aeronaut was clearly honored by the award, and it came as no surprise that they added Robot Crush to their beers that they package in cans and distribute.
Aeronaut Robot Crush pours a clear straw yellow with a solid white head. The scent is mostly floral old world hops. This is a flavorful, balanced and crushable pilsner. The hops add notes of grass, herbs and lemon along with a crisp bitter bite. There is also substantial malt flavor, hints of grainy bread and biscuits. Robot Crush has a light body with the crisp and clean finish you expect from a well crafted lager. When my wife took her first taste of this beer her exact reaction was “wow, this is really good”. I completely agree, this is a top-shelf pilsner and I understand why it won the gold medal. Hoppy Boston score; 4.75/5.
Previous Aeronaut Reviews:
Aeronaut A Year With Dr. Nandu, Aeronaut A Session With Dr. Nandu, Aeronaut The Eye of Sauvin
I occasionally get beer related questions or comments from friends, I guess they feel like I am some kind of expert since I write this blog (I have never claimed to be an expert at anything). The other day my friend Fred texted “True or false: pilsners are back!” My response was that pilsners never went away, they have been the most popular beer style sales-wise for decades. There has been a recent reemergence of the style as many craft beer snobs who abandoned these light lagers in favor of hop-bomb IPAs and boozy imperial stouts have rediscovered the joys of a well crafted pilsner. One of the guys at Craft Beer Cellar told me they were having trouble keeping a few popular local pilsners in stock, a problem that is usually reserved for limited release beers. One of these sought after local versions of the style is Sunny Ridge, the summer seasonal from Jack’ Abby. Sunny Ridge is a German style pilsner brewed with a mixture of European noble hops. It is available on draft and in 12 oz. bottles during the hot summer months
Jack’s Abby Sunny Ridge Pilsner pours a clear golden yellow with a small white head. The scent is mild, some classic old world hop aromas. The flavor is a nice balance of malts and hops. The noble hops are present, notes of grass, herbs and earth along with a refreshingly crisp bitterness. This is complemented by some light malts, touches of bread crust and grain. Sunny Ridge is very light bodied and easy to drink, not quite a session beer at 5.1% ABV but not overly boozy either. The finish is classic lager, crisp and clean with minimal aftertaste. Jack’s Abby Sunny Ridge is one of my favorite versions of the style and a perfect beer for summer. Pilsner is back and this is one of the best. Hoppy Boston score: 4.5/5.
Previous Jack’s Abby Reviews:
Jack’s Abby House Lager, Jack’s Abby Framinghammer, Jack’s Abby trIPL, Jack’s Abby/Otter Creek Joint Custody, BREWERY OVERVIEW, Jack’s Abby Maibock Hurts Like Helles, Jack’s Abby Hoponius Union, Jack’s Abby Barrel-Aged Framinghammer, Jack’s Abby Bride Maker, Jack’s Abby Brewery/Hopstitution BAM, Jack’s Abby Copper Legend, Jack’s Abby Session Rye IPL, Jack’s Abby Mass Rising, Jack’s Abby/Evil Twin Jack’s Evil Brew, Jack’s Abby Wet Hop Lager, Jack’s Abby Pro-Am Pilsner
There are a number of beer styles that work well with hot summer weather and one is clearly pilsner, especially the flavorful versions being produced by many talented American brewers. A crisp, drinkable and flavorful pilsner is perfect for grilling, hanging out at the beach or quenching your thirst after some time outside. My new house now has a sweet new grill, and also a large lawn that needs to be mowed, so I need to keep a stable of refreshing beers on hand all times. One pilsner I enjoyed recently is Riverbend Pils, a limited release from Ipswich Brewing Company. Riverbend Pils is a celebration of the brewery’s 25th anniversary, and a portion of the sales benefit the Ipswich River Watershed Association, a non-profit that helps protect this waterway which provides drinking (and brewing) water for many in the area. The beer is brewed with German malts along with a mixture of traditional Saaz hops and not-at-all traditional Lemondrop hops. Ipswich Riverbend Pils is available this summer on draft and in 22 oz. bottles.
Ipswich Riverbend Pils pours crystal clear golden yellow with a small white head. The scent is mild, some light malt and noble hops. The beer is crisp, clean and very refreshing, perfect for the hot weather of mid-summer. This isn’t a hoppy beer by current standards, but there is noticeable hop flavor, notes of grass, herbs, earth and lemon along with a little bitter bite. This is complemented by the malts, touches of crackers and white bread. Riverbend Pils is very light and easy to drink, at 4.6% ABV it is sessionable by many standards. The finish is classic lager, just a hint of hoppy aftertaste that keeps you coming back for more. This is a great version of a pilsner, right now it is listed as a limited release but I hope Ipswich makes it their regular summer beer because it is delicious. Hoppy Boston score: 4.75/5
Previous Ipswich Reviews:
Ipswich Original Ale, Ipswich Hop Harvest, Ipswich Harvest Ale
Pilsner is a proud European beer style that has struggled to find a foothold amongst the American beer snob community, mostly because it was the style of choice for behemoths like Bud, Miller and Coors. For many years smaller American brewers left the pilsner style to the macros while they focused on developing bold IPAs and stouts. As a result most of the pilsners available in the US were mass produced domestically, or imported from Europe and past their peak freshness. Recently pilsner has made a comeback in the beer community. Inspired by the flavorful and refreshing beers in central Europe many American brewers have developed their own take on the style. The original pilsner was developed in Pilsen, in what is now the Czech Republic. The style was immediately popular and pilsner-style beers began to pop up around Europe, but purists insist that true pilsner must be Czech. Czech pilsners use 100% local pilsner malt and the floral and aromatic native Saaz hops. While many American brewers have added extra hops to their pilsners in response to American palates, Brewmaster Jack set out to make a more traditional Czech pilsner with their recent release of Jan (pronounced Yahn). Brewmaster Jack Jan is currently available on draft and in 12 oz. bottles.
Brewmaster Jack Jan pours a clear golden yellow with a mild white head. The scent is a mixture of noble hops and bready grains. The flavor is classic pilsner, and by that I mean the flavorful pilsners of Europe not the mass produced adjunct lagers. There is defined malt flavor, touches of crackers and white bread. This is balanced by a solid hit of classic Czech hops (I assume Saaz hops were used but I can’t find confirmation online), notes of cut grass pine and earth. Jan is light bodied, effervescent, and goes down easy at 4.5% ABV. The finish is crisp and clean with minimal aftertaste. Brewmaster Jack Jan is a stellar version of a classic Czech pilsner, plenty of flavor and very easy to drink. If you are a fan of pilsner you need to check this out, and if your only experience with pilsner type beers was pounding Miller or Bud at a college party this will change your opinion of what the style can be. Hoppy Boston score: 4.5/5.
Previous Brewmaster Jack Reviews:
Brewmaster Jack Ambrewsia, Brewmaster Jack Huell Melon, Brewmaster Jack Motueka, Brewmaster Jack Aquila
If you didn’t know, my “real world” job is as a research chemist – blogging about beer doesn’t pay the bills unfortunately. My time as a scientist has taught me how important collaboration is. Every person I work with has different skills and experience. They bring ideas to the table that help the group innovate, learn and push a project forward. This is part of the reason I love the concept of collaboration beers. While the tangible result of the collaboration is a single batch of beer, the lessons the brewers learn and ideas they exchange during the process can improve every beer each of them brews going forward. I was very excited when I heard that Otter Creek and Jack’s Abby were working on a collaboration beer. Regular blog readers should know that I am a big fan of both breweries, the extensive “previous reviews” sections listed below supports that too. With Jack’s Abby involved I assumed the collaboration beer would be a lager, and Otter Creek has recently re-focused on hop-forward beers, so a hoppy lager seemed to be the inevitable product of this partnership. Sure enough their creation is Joint Custody, a Nouveau Pilsner that combines a traditional Bohemian pilsner build with heavy additions of newer German hop varieties Huell Melon and Mandarina Bavaria. Joint Custody is available for a limited time on draft and in 12 oz. cans.
Jack’s Abby/Otter Creek Joint Custody pours a hazy straw yellow with a solid white head. The scent is pleasantly hoppy, floral and citrusy. The hops lead the flavor, with notes of lemon, grass and pine along with a crisp bitterness. It isn’t IPA-level hoppiness (nor should it be), but this is more hop flavor and aroma than you typically find in a pilsner. The hops are balanced by a traditional pale malt backbone, subtle touches of bready grain. The beer is light bodied, very clean and super drinkable, but packs a little punch at 6.2% ABV. The finish is crisp with some lingering hop flavor. I could drink Joint Custody all day, this is a perfect beer for the summer. I had very high expectations for a collaboration between these two breweries, and Joint Custody met even my high expectations. I really hope this beer is an annual release instead of a one-off! Hoppy Boston score: 4.5/5.
Previous Jack’s Abby Reviews:
BREWERY OVERVIEW, Jack’s Abby Maibock Hurts Like Helles, Jack’s Abby Hoponius Union, Jack’s Abby Barrel-Aged Framinghammer, Jack’s Abby Bride Maker, Jack’s Abby Brewery/Hopstitution BAM, Jack’s Abby Copper Legend, Jack’s Abby Session Rye IPL, Jack’s Abby Mass Rising, Jack’s Abby/Evil Twin Jack’s Evil Brew, Jack’s Abby Wet Hop Lager, Jack’s Abby Pro-Am Pilsner
Previous Otter Creek Reviews:
Otter Creek Backseat Berner, Otter Creek/Lawson’s Finest Liquids Double Dose, Otter Creek Fresh Slice, Otter Creek Citra Mantra, Otter Creek Kind Ryed
In the increasingly crowded craft beer market it is important for a brewery to do things that are unique and innovative to distinguish itself from the competition. Element Brewing Company of Miller’s Falls, MA has found a few ways to stand out to consumers. One way is their packaging. All of their beers are distributed in 750 mL bottles gift wrapped in full length paper labels. Around the neck is a tag with details about the beer and a bottle number. The beers tend to be made in small batches, so don’t expect a high number, my recent purchase was bottle number 66. The beer itself is another way that Element is unique. While most breweries will start their business with easily recognizable styles like IPA and stout, all of Element Brewing Company’s beers defy traditional style constraints. This is true for Element’s summer seasonal Interval, a Summer Pilsner Fusion beer. Interval is intended to be a mixture of a German pilsner and an oatmeal stout, using the light colored malts and crisp hops of a traditional pilsner with the thick and smooth mouthfeel of an oatmeal stout. Definitely a cool concept for a beer, but I have to admit I was a little skeptical of how well it would work. My skepticism was mixed with intrigue, so I bought a bottle and gave it a try.
Element Interval Ale pours a deep copper (pretty dark for a pilsner) with a large but quickly dissipating off-white head. The smell has some floral and earthy hops, noticeable but not strong. The taste starts with some mild hoppiness, touches of orange, grass and flowers. This is nicely offset by some pilsner malts, notes of cracker and grain. All of these taste elements are reminiscent of a classic German pilsner, but the mouthfeel is all oatmeal stout, thick, full bodied and a little creamy. Despite the full body, Element Interval Ale is easy to drink. I was shocked to find out that it was 9% ABV. The finish is pretty clean with just a little hoppy bite. Overall this is a very solid beer with an interesting and unexpected twist, definitely worth a try. Hoppy Boston score: 4.0/5
I’ve been drinking a ton of pilsner lately since it is the perfect beer for the summer. There are a bunch of good to great craft pilsners out on shelves now. Some are year-round beers while others are summer seasonals. I thought I’d share a few more good ones in a quick and dirty double review. The first is Smuttynose Vunderbar, which was once a limited release beer, but it is now their regular summer seasonal. It is brewed with a minimal number of ingredients, just pilsner malt, acidulated malt and Czech Saaz hops. They use the hops in the boil and in the dry hop to add crispness, flavor and aroma. The second is from Cambridge Brewing Company, who has just started to release their hoppy pilsner named Remain in Light in cans. Remain in Light is brewed with pilsner malt and flaked rice along with German and Czech hops.
Smuttynose Vunderbar Pilsner pours a deep golden yellow with a mild white head. The smell has some floral noble hops, not strong but evident on the nose. The taste starts with a nice little hoppy bite, notes of forest floor, cut grass and a hint of citrus. There is a solid pilsner malt backbone, subtle touches of white bread and butter. Smuttynose Vunderbar is very refreshing and easy to drink at 5.1% ABV. The beer isn’t bitter, but nice and crisp. The finish is very clean with just a hint of hoppiness left on the tongue. Overall a very well done traditional European pilsner, a great beer for a hot summer evening. Hoppy Boston score: 4.25/5
Cambridge Brewing Company Remain in Light pours a clear straw yellow with a mild white head. The smell is mild with some earthy hops and light malts. The taste starts with the pilsner malts, notes of cereal grain, hay and crackers. The hops are present too, just a touch of lemon and pine along with a refreshing crispness. Remain in Light is light in body and very drinkable at 5.0% ABV. The finish is dry with a pleasant little hoppy bite on the tongue. This is a very solid pilsner, worth a try if you like the style. I would have liked a little more hop flavor since it is labeled a “hoppy” pilsner, but part of that is my over-hopped American palate. Hoppy Boston score: 4.0/5.
Previous Smuttynose reviews:
Smuttynose Bouncyhouse IPA, Smuttynose Durty Brown Ale, Smuttynose Robust Porter, Smuttynose Finest Kind IPA
Previous Cambridge Brewing Company reviews:
Cambridge Brewing Company The Audacity of Hops