The first of 11 BJCP classes was held on Sunday May 15. Chuck, the class leader, started with a brief introduction to the BJCP program, it’s purpose, the format of the exam, the different ranks one can achieve (based on exam score and judging points), and a syllabus for the next 10 classes. We went over the guidelines for two styles (2. Pilsner and 10. American Ale) and their subcategories. We then had a tasting session for the two styles. This week was Pilsner and American Ale.
Note: Because of the length of this post (which is much longer than I thought it would be when I started writing) and because I haven’t finished compiling my thoughts on the American Ale portion, I’m going to post this in two parts.
The cynic in me would blame Pilsner for beer’s fall to the watery nothingness that dominates your local grocery’s shelves. Before the mid 1800s, beer was darker and hazier. Then in Plzen, Bohemia in 1842, lager yeast, very light-colored malt, and the area’s incredibly soft water were combined. Pilsner was born. The beer world hasn’t been the same since.
There are three subcategories of Pilsner: German, Bohemian, and Classic American. For some reason German comes first, even though the style originated in Bohemia.
Subcategory: 2A. German Pilsner
German Pils is crisp and bitter. More body than a mass-produced American lager and a lot more flavor. The beer is drier than a Bohemian Pils.
4. Trumer Pils
Trumer Pils pours with a solid, creamy head. There was a little bit of skunk on this beer, undoubtedly due to the green bottle and unknown shipping and storage conditions. Other than the skunk, noble hops were prominent. Compared to the other two German Pils, this one had a higher malt to hop ratio and not as dry and crisp of a finish. Of the three, this one was the closest to a Bohemian Pils.
Bitburger falls between the other two beers in this flight. It has the requisit crispness and light body, but it is more hoppy than the Trumer and less hoppy than the Prima. I personally found the Bitburger to be the least interesting of the three Germa Pilsners that we sampled. I thought it lacked body and while the bitterness was there, I didn’t think it had much in terms of hop flavor.
1. Victory Prima Pils
Perhaps my favorite beer of the day. Prima Pils is pretty new to me (I had my first glass mere days before this tasting) but since I’ve been on a Pils kick lately, I sought it out and have really been enjoying it (including right now). It pours with a mellow gold color and just a tiny bit of haze. The head seems to disapate rather quickly for the style. There is a floral hop aroma and I pick up just a hint of lemon. The aroma is backed up by a fresh, grainy maltiness. The flavor is iconic German Pils (no wonder it’s the #1 commercial example): crisp, bitter, and clean. There is a bit more malt body than the Trumer and Bitburger, yet the finish is nice and dry. This is a very enjoyable beer to drink. It’s light in body but substantial in flavor and that undefinable (for me) quality that makes it a world class beer. And there’s a place withing walking distance that sells it.
Subcategory: 2B. Bohemian Pilsner
Maltier than its German counterpart, this beer is all about Saaz hops and Moravian malt.
4. Czech Rebel
This was my first time tasting Czech Rebel. The first thing I noticed coming off of the German Pils, was the darker, golden color of this beer. It poured with a rough head (big bubbles) and had a floral, sweet, and somewhat bready aroma. I could have sworn I caught a hint of banana, but no one else did. The beer has a style-appropriate medium-light body that I quite enjoyed. The flavor was clean with grainy malt and the same floral/sweetness that came with the aroma. My one complaint was the aftertaste, which was metallic to me, though the more exprienced classmates said this was from the bitterness of the hops.
3. Budweiser Budvar
This is the real Budweiser, friends. You’ll find this sold as “Czechvar” here in the states because even though “Budweiser” means “from Budweis” (Budweis being the German name of the city where this beer is brewed), Anheuser-Busch stole the name fair and square. This tasting wasn’t as good as what I had in Prague last summer, though I think the difference in environment played a role in this opinion (but that’s a topic for another day). Still, with its almost earthy aroma and solid grainy malt flavor, this is probably my favorite Boh Pils.
1. Pilsner Urquell
Green bottles be damned.
Steve Pilsner Urquell always comes in green bottles, so it’s hard to get a good example of this beer. Once the skunk left the beer, I was able to notice its golden color, creamy head and body, and a somewhat thinner flavor than the other two beers in this subcategory. But really, the skunk ruined it for me.
Subcategory: 2C. Classic American Pilsner
This is a style that was prominent before prohibition and is just now starting to make a comeback. It was invented by German immigrants to America utilizing local ingredients, including flaked corn and American hops. This one was interesting for me because I had never tasted a CAP before.
(Note: the BJCP guidelines do not list commercial examples for this subcategory, thus no numbers of the beers below.)
This had a very nice floral aroma that reminded me of Confederate Jasmine. The head disipated rather quickly after being poured. The jasmine was there in the flavor as well. Most of the class agreed that this was very similar in style to a German Pils with its high bitterness and crisp finish. The mouthfeel wasn’t as dry, however.
Now this was something different. I need to buy a six pack of this to really get to know it, but it was very interesting to me. It was again very floral in aroma and taste, with a little grassyness to it, but the malt profile was very unique compared to the other Pils we’d had. Someone in the class said it is brewed with 6-row malt (though Avery’s website states 2-row). This is something I’ll need to try again.