Keep Your “Juice” Out of My Damn Pilsner
By Jim Vorel | September 30, 2020
I’ve written before, on several occasions, about the encroachment of India pale ale into all other realms of American craft beer, to the point that it’s probably difficult to believe me when I say things like “Honestly, I do enjoy hazy IPA much of the time.” So it goes when you’re an appreciator of a style, but also a vocal detractor when it comes to how that style has evolved, increasingly abandoning subtlety or any modicum of composure for flavors that are ever bigger, louder and more unbalanced. The hazy IPAs that are currently most en vogue tend to wield hop flavors with all the reservation of a small child who found Dad’s handgun under the bed—thankfully, I don’t believe anyone has been killed by “hop burn” just yet, but if that’s possible, one of these breweries is definitely working on a way to pull it off.
The contemporaneous boom in American craft lagers, meanwhile, has been a godsend for a field that has been in constant danger for the last few years of being associated exclusively with a small handful of styles—mostly IPA, adjunct stouts and fruited sours. The surge in availability of styles such as helles, kolsch (an ale, but lager-adjacent) dunkel or pilsner provides much-needed eclecticism in both flavor profiles and assertiveness of flavors, offering a gentle hand to those craft beer drinkers who don’t demand every beer they consume to strive toward being the BIGGEST and BOLDEST liquid available. These are invaluable styles for fostering an appreciation for balance and subtlety—two things that can now be in vanishingly short supply. As new drinkers are still arriving in craft beer (albeit, slower than they once were), these styles are more important than ever for their power to illustrate that not every beer has to advertise the bombast of its flavors in all-caps, impact text.
And that’s why it disturbs me, on some level, to see the same “IPA-ification” creeping into one of the greatest lager styles of all: Pilsner. Although both are styles defined by hop flavors, they have traditionally delivered those flavors in ways that could scarcely be more different. To stuff that style with the modern preference toward juicy American hop profiles is to lose track of what makes pilsner, pilsner. And what you’re left with, of course, is just another spin on IPA, in a market already choked with IPA variants.