Pilsners. You may know them by such names as Pilsner Urquell, Victory Prima Pils, or maybe even Oskar Blues Mama’s Little Yella Pils. Budweiser, Heineken and Stella Artois may also come to mind, although, technically these are not pilsners (the first is an American pale lager, and the latter are European lagers from the Netherlands and Belgium, respectively).
But whether you’re a sucker for a Stella or a bona fide beer snob, while the craft beer movement has become famous for its extremes (double dry-hopped double IPAs, imperial stouts, puckering sours), craft brewers across the country have been hard at work reclaiming beer’s simplest (though perhaps most difficult to brew) style: the pilsner. And lucky for us Brooklynites, Brooklyn’s craft brewers have been creating excellent examples of the style.
Pilsner (or its traditional spelling, “pilsener”) is a type of lager originating in Pilsen, a city in the Czech Republic, circa 1842. Today, there are two generally accepted types of pilsner: Bohemian-style pilsener (also referred to as “Czech pils”) and German-style pilsener. Though the differences are slight, they are distinct: Bohemian-styles typically have a softer palate and toasty, bread-like flavors, while German-styles, similar in flavor, tend to be lighter in color and body and have more obvious hop aroma. We could get into more specifics about hop varieties and malt bills here, but let’s get to the part where we tell you which pilsners you should be drinking in Brooklyn.
Czech-style, German-style or an American style all their own, Brooklyn’s pilsners run the gamut as far as pilsner flavors go, from hoppy and crisp to soft and slightly sweet. Collectively, though, they are pale, light, and low in alcohol (~4 to 5 percent ABV), with balanced bitterness and sweetness that makes them inoffensive at worst and amazingly refreshing at their best.
Try not to think about any of this too hard. The true purpose of pilsner is to drink it freely, with friends and with food, so as long as you’re doing that (or even skulling them solo), you’re doing it right.
Threes Brewing: Vliet
Though not the first Brooklyn brewery to make a pilsner, Threes was really the first to truly put easy-drinking table beers and hoppy pale lagers, well, on the table in craft beer’s more recent resurgence. Vliet is a prime example of a pilsner done right in modern times: soft, sweet and smooth, with a delicate herbal hop character to keep your thirst quenched and your soul thirsty for more. Threes also makes another pilsner, Yclept, dry-hopped to yield more crisp citrus character.
Kings County Brewers Collective: Janiak Maniac
KCBC came out the gate with this thirst-quencher when they opened their doors last summer, and they haven’t stopped brewing it since (thankfully). Named for their landlord, Gary Janiak (who, we hear, is a maniac), this pils is a great introduction to local craft brew without delving too hard into the crazy stuff—that’s right next to it on tap, should you find yourself ready.
Other Half x Transmitter: Crystal Waves
This one is big news for the Brooklyn beer nerds. For the first time ever, Other Half Brewing (of Gowanus, Brooklyn) and Transmitter Brewing (hailing from Long Island City, Queens) have brewed a collaboration beer. Better yet, it’s our favorite summer style that neither brewery is known for. Crystal Waves is light yet flavorful, hopped to perfection, and refreshing to the very last sip. It gently careses the palate with that classic soft pils character and hint at just enough hop to remind you where it’s from. That’s Brooklyn, baby.
Greenpoint Beer & Ale: Particle Pils
One of Brooklyn’s most underrated breweries (their IPAs are as good as Grimm’s! There, I said it), Greenpoint never ceases to surprise us with its versatility and inventive ingredients. Particle, released on June 7, is a Bohemian-style pilsner with bready and fruity flavors from the malt (Munich) and tropical, floral notes from the classic American Centennial hops. Crush one from one of the sophisticated new cans, available first at the brewery (7 N 15th St.) and Brouwerij Lane (78 Greenpoint Ave).
Folksbier: Santiam Pils
If you haven’t heard of Folksbier yet, get involved. The Carroll Gardens brewery recently opened its taproom to the public, ready to show the Brooklyn beer scene what it’s been missing: old fashioned, balanced brews that incorporate new world influences and flavors. The German-style Santiam Pils is a special pilsner, not only because it was Folksbier’s one hundredth brew, but because the small-batch classic style was brewed and dry-hopped with fresh Santiam hops grown at Folksbier’s family hop yard in northern Michigan.
Brooklyn Brewery: Brooklyn Pilsner
Let’s give credit where credit is due: Brooklyn Brewery was the first to put craft pilsner on the map in New York with Brooklyn Pilsner, a traditional German-style pils made with German two-row barley malts and German-grown Perle and Hallertauer hops. This one is also a much more widely available pick of the bunch, so it’s a good place to start if you’re new to craft and not quite ready to visit a local brewery or beer shop.
Coney Island Brewery: Mermaid Pilsner
This one’s also available all around and produced in larger quantities, so if you haven’t tried it yet, go for it! The slightly sweet, slightly nutty take on the style goes great with pizza and, certainly, the beach. For the craft beer connoisseurs out there scoffing at the brand, before you write it off, try drinking it from the source: while much of Coney Island’s production is done outside the borough, what you’ll drink on prem at the brewery in Coney Island was made in the tiny brewery behind you, and it’s damn tasty.
The beer has been available since 2007, and although it’s no longer brewed in Brooklyn (KelSo Beer Co. ceased operations of its brick-and-mortar location in Carroll Gardens last year, and has been brewing mostly in the Bronx), it deserves recognition as one of Brooklyn’s first craft pilsners, and a tasty one at that.
SingleCut 19-33 Pilser
Named for its address — and, coincidentally, the year Prohibition in the U.S. ended — SingleCut Beersmith‘s flagship lager was the first of its kind in Queens, a mashup of Czech and German styles brewed with ingredients from both regions and imparting that tell-tale melting-pot boldness that only Queens can provide.
Rockaway American Pilsner
Available in cans this summer, Rockaway Brewing’s American pilsner is a new German-style brew from the Queens brewery that’s light, crisp and dry, perfect to pack for a beach day (visit its Rockaway location!).
Brooklyn Brewery, Coney Island Brewery, Kings County Brewers Collective, and Threes Brewing are all members of the 2017 Brokelyn Beer Book. Get yours today!
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