Pilsner’s occupy an odd place in the beer world. Casual drinkers confuse them with macro lagers. Beer geeks tend to view them with ambivalence. Have you ever been to a pilsner release party? Yet many brewers have a special place in their hearts for them. No place to hide off flavors, no wild ingredients to distract the drinker, only the palest of malts, (usually) old-world hops, and lager yeast. As for me, I’m firmly in the brewers camp on this one. The malts might be pale, but they have a sharp bite that other base malts can’t match, and in the best pilsners the spicy, floral notes of noble hops are on full display like no other style. Pilsner’s are the IPAs of the lager world. So when I got back in town last week and saw that Land Grant’s latest seasonal was a pilsner I was keen to try it, and with a name like Pool Party Plisner it’s a natural for my beers of summer series.
- Brewery: Land Grant (Columbus, OH)
- Style: Pilsner
- ABV: 5.4%
- IBU: 32
- Price: $11.99 for a 6 pack of 12 oz cans
Let’s start with the brewer’s description of the beer:
Whether at a five-star resort or your neighbor’s back yard, no party is complete without the crisp snap of a cold beer. This pilsner takes its traditional base south of the equator with the addition of Summer and Wakatu—hops known for their subtle aromas of tropical fruit and citrus—creating a highly drinkable and incredibly refreshing beer. So, when the weather heats up, throw on some sunscreen, put your wallet in your shoe, grab a pils, and dive in head first.
It’s a bold move to replace the noble hops of a traditional pilsner with southern hemisphere varieties, but this approach is not a new one for Land Grant. Their flagship 1862 Kolsch, typically a very clean German ale, is dry hopped with American-grown Cascade hops. However, a little research suggests the flavor and aromas of these hops might not be as exotic as their names suggest. Both are bred from European noble hop parents—Wakatu from Hallertau Mittelfrüh, and Summer from Saaz. I’m curious to see how they play out in this beer.
Pool Party pours the expected straw yellow color, perhaps a shade darker than the archetypal pilsner but well within style guidelines. The clarity is good, but there enough translucence that you would struggle to read the label looking through a glass full of beer. CO2 bubbles nucleate on the walls of the glass and stream toward the surface. The effervescence builds up a small white head of foam, but like a Scott Walker presidential run the head doesn’t hang around for very long. The characteristic pilsner malt aroma reaches my nose before I’ve finished pouring the beer. I don’t find a lot of parallels in the world of food with which to compare the glorious sweet, grainy smell of pilsner malts, but if you’ve ever had a fresh German pilsner you know what I mean, and this beer has it in spades. There are faint notes of floral hops in the background, but not much in the way of tropical and/or citrus fruits on the nose. The sharp, crisp bite of the pilsner malts leads the way in the taste, and the hops contribute much more to the taste than the aroma. In a nod to the Saaz parentage of the Wakatu hops there’s a definite spicy note that pairs nicely with the malts. The new world terroir can be detected if you pay close attention, with hints of green tea and melon arriving just before a crisp, dry finish.
Land Grant has nailed the distinctive pilsner malt profile which is really the star of the show here. On that point alone this beer gets my stamp of approval. The use of non-conventional southern hemisphere hops is an interesting twist because it sets Pool Party apart from other pilsners. At first I felt the differences between the Wakatu/Summer hops and their European parents was pretty subtle and likely to be lost on all but the most discerning of palates, but over time (meaning a strict regimen of a Pool Party Pilsner every day for a week) I started to pick up some fruity, herbal notes in the background. While purists might look askance of those flavors, I feel they have enough classic spicy character to taste familiar while at the same time bringing something new to the table. My only quibble would be to ask for an increase in the level of dry hopping to get more hop presence in the aroma. When you put all the parts together I would say that Pool Party Pilsner doesn’t quite hit the heights of beers like Victory’s Prima Pils or Great Lakes Turntable Pils, but it’s very much in that vein and pilsner fans should not miss a chance to try this interesting take on the style. It’s a limited seasonal run so get it while you can.
Rating scale: 10 = perfection, 9 = excellent, one of the top beers in the world, 8 = very good, one of the top beers in its style category, 7 = good, a solid beer I’m happy to be drinking, 6 = average, not bad but not something I’m likely to buy again, 5 = below average, 3-4 = poor, should be avoided, 1-2 drainpour.
The Scott Walker metaphor is genius!