New pilsner generation makes a splash

New pilsner generation makes a splash
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Brewers intend to reverse declining pilsner sales by offering a variety of individual tastes. To attract new target groups, international producers have entered the game and are bringing out new interpretations of the bottom-fermented brew, which uses different combinations of hops and malt. A new pilsner generation is bubbling up in the brew kettle.

Maybe it’s the fragrant hint of hops, the fresh and crisp first sip or the brew’s slightly tart taste that have made pilsner the favorite beer style in Germany – a beverage that has captured more than 50 percent of market share. Unfortunately, even successful producers of the brew have been watching their sales decline over the years. Experts point their finger at one factor: the carbon-copy flavor and aroma of the beers. As a result, consumers – particularly when it comes to premium brands – have a hard time distinguishing among various tastes.

Reaching new target groups by creating new beers

Pilsner producers refuse to accept that the much-discussed pilsner trend has come to an end. They intend to create a new variety of flavors and staunch the decline in sales by coming up with new recipes that increasingly use individual combinations of ingredients.

The high drinkability of bottom-fermented beer has attracted the interest of brewers around the world. The international craft-beer movement has given life to many new interpretations of the pilsner style, brews that have been refined with special blends of hops and malt.

The brewers plan to use these new beverages to tap new target groups – consumers who also extend beyond traditional pilsner lovers. Ignoring all of the prophets of doom, international beer experts foresee a “new pilsner era” dawning.

New pilsner generation: a trend taking shape in the United States in particular

As part of this evolution, German brewers can draw on an extremely long pilsner tradition, something that many of the new producers – especially those in the United States – cannot. Pilsners, as any brewing apprentice knows, are unforgiving and as a result one of the most complicated styles of beer to brew. Jim Koch, the co-founder and head of the Boston Beer Company and the brewer of the Samuel Adams brand, likes the challenge of this beer style: “Pilsners represent the high art of brewing and, when they’re done right, are a masterpiece – much like Mona Lisa’s smile.”

Words like these, when spoken by a legend, are probably the reason that the pilsner wave is on such a rise in the United States. One of the world’s oldest craft brewers, Sierra Nevada Brewing, has added the bottom-fermented pilsner to its standard portfolio as a complement to its wide variety of modern beer styles. The brewers in Chico, California, have based their traditional “Nooner” on their German role model, using German Perle as bittering hops and Saphir and Tettnanger as finishing hops. The beer gets its special character from the French hops called Strisselspalt, which creates a fine, fruity aroma.

Such aroma variations apparently appeal to more and more American beer lovers. This is why Florian Kuplent, the head of the Urban Chestnut Brewing in St. Louis, has added several pilsner varieties to his company’s lineup. His company offers both classic and newly interpreted versions brewed in U.S. style. Matt Brynildson, brewmaster at the cult brewer Firestone Walker, is really excited about the emerging pilsner trend. “Pilsner-style lager beers are uncharted territory for many U.S. brewers and are just waiting to be discovered,” the Californian says.

The new pilsner elite and their representatives

U.S. brewers are far from the only ones who are counting on modern pilsner interpretations. The most exclusive representatives of the new pilsner elite include the creative Italian brewery Birrificio Lambrate, which has just introduced a bottom-fermented pilsner known as the American Magnut.

The new beer style takes an approach that German pilsner brewers would consider other worldly: The Milan brewers use Chinook, Simcoe, Mosaic and Citra hops.

The result: The beer offers a tropical interplay of aromas accented by discreet hints of herbs and topped off by a flowery bouquet. Thanks to this special aroma, the beer recently won a gold medal at the European Beer Star, one of the most coveted beer awards in the world.

And in Germany, increasing numbers of young, creative brewers who turned up their noses at traditional beer styles a few years ago are now trying their hand at modern pilsner varieties. One of the main reasons for their lack of interest was the misgivings that restaurant and bar owners have about craft beers – beverages that require much time and effort to explain to customers.

Bar operators prefer to sell popular, highly drinkable beer styles. This is also a reason why the Hamburg-based brewer Ratsherrn Brauerei recently introduced an entire New Era Pilsener line to go along with its traditional pilsner.

The Hamburg team uses four different beers to show just what this brewing style is capable of. The pilsner series comprises the fruity Dry Hopped, the powerful Imperial (with 7.5 percent alcohol), the spicy Pfeffersack (a brew that uses ingredients not permitted by Germany’s Beer Purity Law issued in 1516) and a light version known as a Session (with just 3 percent alcohol).

The shooting star Tilman Ludwig of Tilmans Biere in Munich just presented a pilsner as well. But this time the brewmaster chose to go for the traditional Czech style. The special aroma is produced by the American hops Mosaic and Citra. Ludwig packs a ton of them into the brew. The result: a pilsner that has a really appealing interplay of aromas and the best possible drinkability.

Collaboration brew in the pilsner business: Breweries focus on innovations

The new pilsner movement has even advanced to the point where two breweries in different countries have come together to create a really special drink. The team from Braufactum in Frankfurt am Main flew to Moscow to visit brewmaster Mikhail Ershov in the Wolfs Brewery and come up with a “festival pilsner.” This is a hybrid beer, one that combines pilsner and traditional festival beer and includes six different types of hops from Germany and the Czech Republic. The German-Russian partnership proves two times over that there are virtually no limits to pilsner beers. Restaurant and bar owners will be grateful for such innovations.

Mareike Hasenbeck

Mareike Hasenbeck is a freelance journalist with her own craft beer blog (Feiner Hopfen), she is also a beer sommelier and an international expert for beer sensory certified by the DLG (German Agricultural Society).