For a brewer whose brewery produces only sour beer, Jay Goodwin (like most professional brewers) sure does love pilsner. He’s been on a mission, as of late, to learn more about the methods and ingredients behind the style family, driven by The Rare Barrel’s plan to launch a separate, non-sour brand.
“The timing is fortuitous because this sort of thing has been on my mind lately,” Goodwin says. “One of the styles that we’re all passionate about is pilsner, so I have been reaching out to my favorite pilsner brewers and some of the best pilsner breweries. If it’s not too weird, I’m going to go all-pilsner for my six-pack. If I’m on a deserted island and can have a few variations on pilsner from the best pilsner brewers in the world, then that’s the best of both worlds.”
Bierstadt Lagerhaus Slow Pour Pils
“This Northern German–inspired pils was really the first slow pour I ever had. I still remember being at Bierstadt during GABF, which is just the best—tons of brewers around. It’s almost clichéd at this point, where you see all your brewer friends from your hometown while you’re at Bierstadt, and you hang out there more than you do when you’re back home.
“It was busy and loud, and it was my first time ordering the pils. The lovely bartender told me, ‘Okay, it’s slow pour, just so you know.’ In my mind, and maybe I’d had a few beers already, but in my mind I thought, ‘Oh, they have a foamy keg.’ Now, I was down to have any of the Bierstadt beers, so I said, ‘If it’s easier I’ll take a helles or dunkel.’ And he was like, ‘No, no—it’s slow pour.’
“It was like a who’s on first situation there, and eventually I realized that I’m just an idiot. It says it everywhere on the menu, they have the special glasses, and I am that guy who didn’t know I had to wait for the Slow Pour.
“After feeling thoroughly embarrassed, I turned to the beer, and it was just lovely—incredible head retention, fluffy head, and I like that pouring process because it changes the mouthfeel of beer. It’s easy to go down, with a little bit less carb in solution, and the underlying beer is just fantastic.
“Now I usually start my Bierstadt visit with one or two of those before going through all the rest of their fantastic lagers while catching up with friends.”
Urban Roots 10° Czech Pils
“Urban Roots is local to us, and Peter Hoey is a California brewing legend. When you think ‘brewing legend,’ you think it’s got to be some old guy, but Peter’s not that old. But he’s been around for a long time. He really cares about the craft and is such a nice guy—he’s always there for advice. He takes the beers incredibly seriously.
“I like the 10° because the Czech style is a little richer in flavor, and he’s really into the authentic ingredients. He’s focused on sourcing the correct malt and appropriate hops. He’s paying particular attention to the cellaring of the beer—from brew day to crashing back down, he’s keeping an eye on the yeast and where the attenuation is going. His attention to detail is unparalleled.
“It’s another great place to visit. They do barbecue at their spot, too. Barbecue and pilsner together? It’s the best.”
Green Cheek Local Import
“Evan Price is a guy I’ve known for a long time, from my days brewing in Orange County, California. He’s an incredible brewer and really good friend. Green Cheek, for those who don’t know them outside of California, is just an absolute must-visit any time you’re in Southern California.
“The Italian pils is a nice addition here. People might come at me like I don’t have variety, but now we have German-, Czech-, and Italian-style pils on the list. Boom! That’s plenty of variety.
“Evan’s take on the Italian-style pils probably has the most hop complexity and most hop flavors going on of any of the beers on my list. When I’m feeling adventurous, on the fictional desert island for which I’m selecting these beers, I’ll go for the Italian pils. Or maybe after a few German or Czech pils, I’ll end the night with the Italian pils just to get a little more flavor in my life.
“He’s using newer hop varieties, and it’s dry hopped, so you’re tasting things that maybe aren’t 100 percent traditional, but Evan is a master at hops. I’ve hung out drinking pilsner with him for many years now, and he’s just a great guy to hang out with. Goofy as all get-out, but the guy knows his stuff.”
“Ben Edmunds is a great friend and an even better brewer. Breakside does so many styles that it’s hard to believe that they do them all well. It’s certainly something we’re going to strive for, after doing so many different types of sour beer for so long. Ben is extremely knowledgeable and is another guy who wins awards like it’s his job.
“The Breakside Pils I love. It’s really clean with a firm bitterness—maybe a little firmer than others on the list. If you want something with a little more oomph than Slow Pour, to juxtapose it, this is the one where it’s a ‘drink it cold and crush it’ pilsner. It’s one that delivers if you’re looking for that bitterness. It’s not too bitter, it’s just perfect with that lingering mouthfeel that makes you want another sip, then buy another pint.
“I’ve had the chance to brew with Ben at Breakside and tasted some of his different takes on pilsner, but I’ve always just come back to their flagship. It’s just so good.”
“Mari and Will [Kemper] are wonderful, wonderful people. I got to sit next to them at a wedding, and Will was just holding court talking about pilsner. His attention to detail on the ingredient side is incredible. Visiting Bellingham and the brewery is awesome. That beer—brewers know it, but beer geeks should give them more credit than they do right now. They’re absolutely amazing.
“This beer lives up to its award-winning track record. Will is really interested in the places the ingredients come from. He’s really region- and farm-focused, and I think it results in one of the best pilsners in the world.
“I always had their beer at GABF, but being able to have it the brewery, and hang out with the brewers, was just awesome. Definitely a bucket-list moment.
“They obviously brew a bunch of different lagers, but the pils I really liked because it wasn’t as dry as some or as malty as others. It hits the sweet spot on the malt scale for me. Czech pils as a style is going to have a little more richness, a little more roundness as a style, and theirs doesn’t disappoint. It does all this while staying incredibly drinkable, balanced with those particular hops that Will is fond of sourcing. He’s putting the time in to get what he thinks are the right ingredients from the right sources, and you just taste it in the beer.”
“I might be able to say this about the other beers, but I could have picked this beer six times for this list. Trumer Pils is local, it’s awesome, and it’s another award-winner. Lars at Trumer is a great brewer. The whole Trumer team is really awesome. I miss them—we used to see them come by the tasting room here at The Rare Barrel quite a bit.
“To me, Trumer has to be on this list because it’s spectacular and it’s fresh, for us. They just started putting it in cans as well, but I’ll take it on draft, I’ll take the green bottles, I’ll take it in cans—I don’t know what my kegerator situation will be like on the deserted island, but I’ll definitely need one to properly pour Bierstadt Slow Pour and Urban Roots 10°.
“But back to Trumer—if you have a pilsner brewed by a guy named Lars Larson, you know it’s going to be good. Lars is a great guy, a sweetheart.
“The beer is soft—they get the water really right. We have nice water here in Berkeley, but you still want to make adjustments to get where you want to get to for pilsner. And this beer, you can crush it like water. I’ve had it in every format, many, many times, and I never get tired of going back.”