Pick Six: Josh Pfriem’s Magical, Mystical Mystery Tour

From enchanting drinking experiences to inspirational breweries, Josh Pfriem, cofounder and brewmaster at pFriem Family Brewers, takes us on a rollicking tour through Bavaria, California, New England, and Belgium for his selected six-pack.

Jamie Bogner Apr 25, 2024 - 14 min read

Pick Six: Josh Pfriem’s Magical, Mystical Mystery Tour Primary Image

Illustration: Jamie Bogner

Since opening in 2012 in Hood River, Oregon, pFriem Family Brewers has become one of the country’s most decorated breweries, led by cofounder and brewmaster Josh Pfriem’s detail-driven attention to quality and character. Here, Pfriem reminisces on a mix of beers that inspired him early in his career and continue to inspire today. For him, the markers were: “Do I still think about these beers? Are they beers that hold up and still inspire me? And do I dream about drinking them?”

Schönramer Pils

(Schönram, Upper Bavaria, Germany)
This is the one beer I probably think about the most, and it’s been a very impactful beer for me. It was my first experience in Germany, about eight years ago, on a three-week family trip. Eric [Toft] and I had met at CBC weeks prior, and we really connected on this visit. We went on multiple tours of the brewery—Eric is infamous for having multiple-day tours because there’s so much going on with that brewery. Somehow, magically, everywhere along the tour, there was a little beer fridge full of Schönramer Pils. Over the course of the tour we probably drank six-plus beers, heavy on the pils side. Inevitably we would find our way back to this little employee tasting room/hangout area—they call it the Bermuda Triangle because once you get in, you can never get out. And then you take a break [by] drinking the helles. If I had more space in this six-pack, I’d include Schönramer Hell—it’s the best helles I’ve ever had.

I love it that Eric is American, German-trained, but tinkers like a Belgian brewer, which resonates a ton with me and our style of brewing. Every little thought process and the amount of work that he has put into that brewery, it shows up in the beer. There’s a reason the Pils has won so many awards. It’s so crisp, just bitter enough, more bitter than pFriem Pilsner. It pushes the palate and has such a beautiful hop bouquet. The malt is working, the acid is perfect. The way he is in touch with all his malt and hop purveyors, the amount of raw-material blending he does, the open fermentation—you could look at it as a lot of smoke and mirrors, but man, it just shows up in the beer. I often dream of their Pils and can’t wait until I get an opportunity to try it again.

Augustiner Lagerbier Hell

While we’re hanging out in Germany, I think No. 2 on my list is Augustiner Hell—although it is a tough call between their helles and their Edelstoff. They’re two different beers, but it’s like one and the same for me.


I’ve had some magical experiences with Edelstoff, and I love the way it’s poured and presented. But their helles is such a beautiful example, different than Schönramer’s. Their helles is the beer that made me believe that sulfur is not just a chemical that happens in beer. With these lagers, it is an ingredient. The sweetness of the malt is so well-balanced by not just the bitterness—because the bitterness is on the fairly low side—but by the sulfur. The sulfur just cuts, and every sip allows you to cleanse your palate with it. And the beer is just super-fresh and vibrant and alive. It’s so awesome with food, but then it drinks so well in large quantities.

Both Schönramer Hell and Augustiner Hell have been huge inspirations for what we’re trying to do with pFriem Lager, which is our helles, one of our core beers. Not only is the beer itself magical, but I’ve had a lot of magical drinking experiences—and, you know, part of beer itself is the environment in which you drink it and the opportunity to have it. Between the beer halls and the energy of Munich, the international vibes—but then the way that they pour it, how fresh it is—yeah, that beer is also one I dream of.

Russian River Pliny the Elder

(Windsor, California)
When I was a young homebrewer turning professional, back in the early 2000s, I think for a lot of us brewers, Russian River was it—the tinker, the pursuit, the cutting edge. I remember drinking Pliny the Elder back in those days, and it was bright, it was bitter, it was so hop-forward, it was so fresh and so dynamic. It was such an inspiring beer—ahead of its time—that really represented what was going on in the West Coast IPA movement. I’m from the Pacific Northwest, and during that time, the IPAs had so much more caramel malt and so much more yeast and solids. They were exciting and fresh, but they weren’t sharp and crisp and dynamic, as was happening with Pliny.

Being friends with Vinnie and Natalie [Cilurzo], it’s been fun to go to the brewery over the past 20 years and watch it evolve as the beer industry has evolved. My most recent trip to Santa Rosa was in late 2021. Vinnie and Natalie had really gotten settled into their new brewery [in Windsor]. And, man, the amount of detail and work they put in that place! Not only is it a beer monument, a nod to craft beer and the brewing industry, but—similar to Schönramer—all the nuance they’re doing, you can taste it in the beer. Pliny has evolved into this more two-row-based beer, still [with] dextrose, but I think they’ve kind of shed some of the caramel malt it used to have. And the bitterness is backed off; it’s still bitter, but I think you could say that beer was old-school West Coast IPA, and it’s now new-school West Coast IPA, which is so cool.


I think there’s also a lesson for craft brewers, and that is being respected and being around is not a bad thing, but you’ve got to continue to evolve and continue to evolve your palate, your beers. Just because a beer has a name, it doesn’t mean it needs to be the same thing it was 20 years ago. You can have the freedom to continue to express, continue to build. I think it’s so cool what they have been able to do with Pliny.

Allagash White

(Portland, Maine)
Allagash as a whole has been a very inspiring brewery for me, just from their ethos and their commitment—not just to Belgian beer, but to quality beer, and picking some historic styles that are almost relics and turning them into vibrant, exciting things. I love Rob Tod’s commitment to Allagash White. You can taste it. And then obviously he and Jason Perkins make a dynamic team to continually drive this beer and the brewery.

Allagash White has always been an inspiring beer, but it wasn’t until my first trip to Portland, Maine, in 2015, when the whole town was covered in Allagash White, that I began to understand it. I was there for a Belgian beer festival and brought a couple of my key team members. Our plan was to crush lobster and Allagash White, and we definitely succeeded at both of those. We’ve always prided ourselves that we crush pilsner. We love to drink it in large quantities, and we drank Allagash White on that trip like it was pils.

I respect when a brewery can hold on to a cool style and make it their number one. We brew wit, and we love it, but wit is just such a weird style—with all the wheat and the yeast and then the coriander and orange peel and spice, very little hops. I have found brewing wit is similar to brewing pilsner, where everything just has to be working in harmony and has to be working so well. When you get everything all lined up, it just works so well and tastes so good. I really wish I had an Allagash White right now!



(Breendonk, Antwerp, Belgium)
Duvel is one of the beers that, earlier in my brewing journey, helped me develop into the brewer I am today. I didn’t come to appreciate it until my first trip to Belgium in 2007, when my wife and I spent three weeks traveling the country on our touring bicycles while meeting up along the way with brewers and colleagues. Everywhere we went, you could find really fine, fresh Duvel.

There are so many amazing beers in every little pocket of Belgium, but Duvel is king, and it just represents Belgium so well. Later in that trip, I connected with [Duvel master brewer] Hedwig Neven. We spent a day with his team, touring Duvel, crushing Duvel, minds blown by the beer and the process and all these quirky Belgian things that they were doing—but doing it in a very sophisticated way. We rented a car for that part of the journey, and we hopped down to the southeast corner of Belgium where we met up with Hedwig and toured Achouffe.

Afterward, we went to dinner with him and his team. There were about 15 of us, and Hedwig says, “We will have 15 Duvels,” and I just love that moment. We all drank Duvel until they ran out, and then we moved on to La Chouffe. Back at the hotel, we stayed up most of the night, eventually prank-calling a few American brewers who were in the middle of their work days.

Hearing Hedwig’s ethos on every little detail of Duvel, and obviously with his knowledge—having a PhD in secondary fermentation—he’s like, “You don’t have one Duvel, you have five.” I love that, and that beer holds up to it. It’s one of the best imports you can get. ... It might be a year old, it might not be as fresh as you have it in Belgium, but the ester profile is there, and it’s restrained. There’s still a subtle hop. The carbonation is amazing. It’s vibrant, it drinks so bright and easy on the tongue. You can definitely get yourself into trouble.

3 Fonteinen Schaarbeekse Kriek

(Lot, Flemish Brabant, Belgium)
On that first trip to Belgium, I had a bit of experience with proper lambic beer. I was so enthralled and mystified, and the first part of that 2007 trip was going to Pajottenland, to Beersel and the whole area, to really understand and digest the world of lambic. We landed after a crazy night of travel, put our bikes together, went to a pub that serves Boon, and then rode into Beersel.

At this point, we’d been basically awake for however many hours. We were so jet-lagged, exhausted. We stayed at this great little hotel right in the middle of Beersel, and as we were waiting for dinner—looking through this wonderful lambic list—the server pointed out Schaarbeekse Kriek. We ordered a bottle, and before our dinner showed up, we were drinking this beer, and my wife proclaimed, “This is the best beer I’ve had in my life,” and then just fell asleep on the table. I let her sleep and drank the rest of the bottle, woke her up for dinner, went to bed, and then the next morning we met up with Armand [Debelder] and got to see his lambic brewery and then eat an amazing lunch.

I’ll never forget that meal. They had Oude Kriek on tap, and I had this cherry cream-sauce chicken dish that still makes me salivate. The beauty of having those two experiences the night before and during that day, just like how lush the cherry was, the acidity, the funk, the dynamic—but it wasn’t a sour bomb, it was just so well crafted. It lifted the palate and showed me another level of what could be done with beer and flavors. You can feel with every sip of those beers Armand’s love and touch, and how he literally hand-touched every one of those things and made sure they were perfect. It’s still some of my favorite lambic beer today.

Jamie Bogner is the Cofounder and Editorial Director of Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine®. Email him at [email protected].