Seven New England Pilsners to Drink Right Now
Pilsners are back in style thanks to Smuttynose, Cambridge Brewing Company, and yes, even Narragansett.
The world’s most pervasive and debauched beer style is getting a second wind thanks to a renewed interest in crushable, low-alcohol session beers. Once the sovereign territory of volume-obsessed macrobreweries, the cold-fermented 19th-century beer style is undergoing a bit of a renaissance thanks to American craft brewers injecting it with equal parts moxie and nostalgia. Here are seven of our favorite New England pilsners, which are making day drinking a cinch.
1. Peak Organic Fresh Cut Pilsner
Alcohol by Volume: 4.6%
Pale ale fans rejoice! This new addition to the Peak canned line, incorporates gobs of Citra, Chinook, and Centennial hops for a nose heavy on grapefruit, grass, and pineapple characteristics. But brewer Jon Cadoux finds a way to tame the spicy, earthy aromas with local Valley Malt wheat, two row, and pilsner malt, which lends a startlingly clean finish. Peak Organic might not receive the same kind of attention as Maine Beer Company, Bissell Brother, and other Portland, Maine craft brewers, but Cadoux is certainly starting to find his rhythm. His recent Ginger Saison, Citrus Saison, and Hop Blanc were all fantastic beers introduced to Peak’s growing seasonal rotation, but Fresh Cut might be his best to date.
2. Cambridge Brewing Company Remain in Light
Alcohol by Volume: 4%
Remain in Light pilsner has been a bi-annual favorite at Will Meyers’ influential brewpub, but the nimble, hoppy lager is finally available outside of the brewery, in portable aluminum cans. Modeled after an early pre-Prohibition recipe that incorporates flaked rice (14% of the grist) and other adjuncts—as well as traditional Spalt, Tettnanger, and Hersbrucker hops— Remain in Light is equally spicy and quenching “Instead of hopping with Cascade or Centennial hops, we wanted to make a really authentic pils, but in the American light lager tradition,” Meyers says. “They’ve developed such a dreadful reputation, and for good reason, so we thought it would be cool to return the craft perspective to an otherwise much-maligned beer style. Before Prohibition, it was quite common to for lager breweries to use adjuncts. What really set them apart was that they were actually pretty hoppy, they had a significant mouthfeel, and a nice maltiness. They weren’t trying to appeal to the lowest common denominator, they were just brewed because they were great.”
3. Narragansett Bohemian Pilsner
Alcohol by Volume: 5.2%
‘Gansett started a full-fledge phenomenon this summer with its highly coveted shandy, a partnership with fellow iconic Rhode Island company, Del’s Lemonade. But serious beer fans should be on the lookout for brewmaster Sean Larkin’s new Bohemian Pilsner. A sessionable version of his limited edition, Private Stock IPL, which clocked in at a hefty 8.6% ABV, this quaffable sibling has already picked up a gold medal at the 2013 World Beer Championships. Brewed with four types of malt (Pale, Pilsner malt, Wheat, and Cara Blonde), along with Northern Brewer and Hallertau hops, ‘Gansett’s pils has nuanced notes of peach, orange zest, and honeyed wheat. This is more than a hoppy alternative to its ubiquitous lager, it’s a revelation for a brewery trying to compete in the craft game.
4. Idle Hands Craft Ales Adelais
Alcohol by Volume: 5.2%
Idle Hands’ new lager, Adelais, is as much a product of brewer Christopher Tkatch’s original recipe—inspired by Firestone Walker’s Pivo Pils—as a shipping error, which heavily influenced his final product. “I ordered Hallertau Mittelfrüh hops, but after opening a bag of Hersbrucker that was sent to us by mistake, I was blown away by the candied citrus character and made a decision right then to use that in its place,” Tkatch says. Made with three different types of pilsner malts and a late, dry-hopped addition of Saphir hops, Adelais is toasty and rich, with notes of tropical fruits, freshly baked bread, and blueberries. “Brewing lagers is somewhat new for us,” Tkatch says. “but we’ve really enjoyed turning people onto some of these lesser known styles they may have associated with macro beer; that is until they taste what a lager can really be.”
5. Smuttynose Vunderbar!
Alcohol by Volume: 4.9%
Once relegated to the scrapheap of season one-offs, Smuttynose has wisely made the decision to expand its everyday lineup and include this refreshingly straightforward pilsner. Made in the vein of more famous European predecessors like Czechvar and Pilsner Urquell, Smuttynose veers from experimentation, sticking to traditional ingredients like Saaz hops, Two-Row malt, and an Old Bavarian lager yeast strain. The brewery describes Vunderbar! as “a pretty simple beer,” but that belies the brew’s depth and cohesion. With notes of minty hops, lemongrass, and a mouth-coating viscosity, it’s the perfect beer for brats, fried oysters, cold Asian noodles, and all manner of light summer fare.
6. Two Roads Ol’ Factory Pils
Alcohol by Volume: 5%
Longtime New England brewing legend, Phil Markowski, formerly of the New England Brewing Company, began his own extravagant Stratford, Connecticut brewery in 2012, with only a handful of tried-and-true recipes. His first, in a growing number of crowd-pleasing offerings, was this hybrid German- and American-style pilsner made with Saphir, Hallertau, and American Sterling hops. “We’re trying to do our part to show that a craft brewery can make a very credible version of a style that’s been closely associated with Germany,” Markowski says. “Even at that, we felt that some of the German examples weren’t that assertive; they were downright timid. Ours is an amped up version of many of the imports you’ll find.”
7. Notch Session Pils
Alcohol by Volume: 4%
The king of the lawnmower beer, Notch’s Chris Loring splits his time between three breweries in Massachusetts and Maine, whipping up innovative repros of once-forgotten European session ales. But his stellar Left of the Dial IPA and Hootenanny Berliner Weisse would never have gotten off the ground without the success of his first low gravity product, an unfiltered, unpasteurized pilsner, which emulated the “tap” beers of the Czech Republic. Brewed with Saaz and Mt. Hood hops, Notch’s flavorful pils reveals characteristics of orange rind, caramel, and a grassy bitterness.
Bonus: Mystic Saison Renaud
Alcohol by Volume: 6.5%
Yes, yes, I know, it’s technically a saison. But Mystic founder and brewmaster Bryan Greenhagen initially set out to make a Czech-style pilsner when he began brewing his Saison Renaud. Brewed with Saaz hops and pilsner malt, the only subtle tweak that eventually transformed it into another style was a late addition of Greenhagen’s eponymous yeast strain. With a nose of lemon sorbet, fresh herbs, and some funky Brettanomyces, Renaud maintains the structure and bone-dry finish typically affiliated with classic European pilsners. Also, Greenhagen hasn’t given up on his original vision. He’s recently begun experimenting with a different version of his Renaud, this time fermented with lager yeast.