Thursday, June 12, 2008

Pilsner? Not so much...

While driving back from More Flavor today, I noticed a Miller Light truck. Underneath the logo read something along the lines of "a true Pilsner beer." I'm sorry, but no.

Look, I realize that there are some people out there who drink Miller Light and actually enjoy it. I'm not commenting on the quality of it. I'm just saying, Pilsner is a specific kind of a style, and Miller Light ain't it. I suppose that perhaps, technically it's a Pilsner, but only in the same sense that Hannity and Colmes is a debate show and a turd between two pieces of bread is a sandwich. (Okay, perhaps I am commenting on the quality of it. For the record, I was once at somebody's house and that was all he had. I actually had two. It's not horrible. It's just extraordinarily unremarkable.)

According to the Beer Advocate website, a Pilsner is described as follows: "The Czech Pilsner, or sometimes known as the Bohemian Pilsner, is light straw to golden color and crystal clear. Hops are very prevalent usually with a spicy bitterness and or a spicy floral flavor and aroma, notably one of the defining characteristics of the Saaz hop. Smooth and crisp with a clean malty palate, many are grassy. Some of the originals will show some archaic yeast characteristics similar to very mild buttery or fusel (rose like alcohol) flavors and aromas."

There's also a description for the German Pilsner, "Classic German Pilsners are very light straw to golden in color. Head should be dense and rich. They are also well-hopped, brewed using Noble hops such has Saaz, Hallertauer, Hallertauer Mittelfrüh, Tettnanger, Styrian Goldings, Spalt, Perle, and Hersbrucker. These varieties exhibit a spicy herbal or floral aroma and flavor, often times a bit coarse on the palate, and distribute a flash of citrus-like zest--hop bitterness can be high."

Okay, I'll admit that these are terms that are a bit above me when it comes to describing beer. Still, I know enough to know what "hoppy" means, and both of these descriptions mention how Pilsners (Yeah, there's more than one spelling) have a distinctive hop taste to them. (For those who don't know, hops are what give beer their bitterness. If you don't have a balance with the hops and the malt, then you get something that's too sweet.) Miller Light only resembles a Pilsner in the sense that it has a light color to it. You'd have to struggle to notice the hop flavor with those. They hardly use any, and this is probably because there's hardly any malt in there.

Let's also not forget the fact that a true Pilsner is an all-malt product. Miller Light probably uses rice, corn and who knows what the hell else.

Drink it if you like it, but it ain't no Pilsner. Want to actually have a Pilsner? Try the following:

Lagunitas Pilsner (my personal favorite)
Trader Joe's Bohemian Lager
Gordon Biersch Pilsner (actually, it's the same beer as the one above - just with a different label).
Spaten Pils
Czechvar (also known as Budweiser Budvar)
Pilsner Urquell


Gary Fouse said...

Oh stop it!!!

When in Germany, order a "pils". It's a draft beer, and you don't taste all the hops that American microbrews are overloaded with. Just a nice smooth, creamy beer with a big head on it that doesn't taste like water (American beer.)

Next best? Czech beer, Pilsner Urquel or Budweis (the real Budweiser).

Gary Fouse

Lance Christian Johnson said...

The American pilsners I mentioned aren't overloaded with hops - as they shouldn't be. Still, there is a pronounced hop flavor to a true pilsner. Miller Lite has practically no hop taste - that's the point.

Gary Fouse said...

I just got back home from Germany last night. We spent a total of 11 days there, and as always, for me, it was a great trip (the actual travel excluded). I try to get back to the university town of Erlangen every few years. It was where I spent my Army time in the 1960s, and I developed such a big connection with the town that I wrote a book on its history a few years back. That gained me a lot of new contacts and friends in the city in academic, historical and political circles. I also got to renew my love affair with German beer, which, with a couple of exceptions, cannot be obtained in its authentic form in the US.

We flew over on Air India out of Los Angeles, arriving in Nuremberg on the 15th. Along with my wife, her sister, brother-in-law and her niece, we spent a couple of days in Erlangen, visited Nuremberg, then headed down to Munich for a few days. My wife's relatives had never visited Europe.

In Nuremberg, which is close by Erlangen, I showed them the old city and then took them out to the Reichsparteitaggelaende, the massive area where the Nazis held their annual party rallies. The old Zeppelinwiese stands where Hitler spoke still exists though gradually crumbling away from disuse. It poses a ghostly appearance.

I had been to Munich several times previously, but I was especially impressed with the classiness of the city on this last visit. My brother-in-law is a master mechanic with BMW, so we went out to the BMW Museum and factory where he was able to take a factory tour. After that, we took the subway to the university area, where we visited the lecture hall where students Hans and Sophie Scholl were caught distributing anti-Nazi leaflets. They were tried and executed in quick order along with a few other members of their group (The White Rose). The area in front of the building is now called Scholl Platz. I recommend a movie called "Sophie Scholl", which came out a couple of years ago. It was filmed at the locations where the events occurred. It is in German with English sub-titles.

We also visited the Hofbrauhaus (twice), which in summer, is overrun with American college kids. No matter. I was able to confirm that the beer is identical with that served in the two Hofbrauhaus's in Las Vegas and northern Kentucky, making them the only places in the states I know of where one can drink REAL German beer.

From Munich, I put my wife and her relatives on a train to Zurich where they have a couple of nieces. I then headed back to Erlangen, where I had intended to spend most of the time.

I guess this is as good a place as any to mention that the European soccer championships were in progress. Our pension was located on a street in what could not be called the Turkish/Arab quarter. There was a Turkish cafe across the street which was a gathering place for the Turks in town to watch the games. On the night we arrived, Turkey was playing the Czech Republic. While we were eating dinner in a restaurant, the game was on TV and the Czech were winning 2-0. Game over, right? Well, in the second half, Turkey scored a goal, much to the delight of a couple of Turks watching at a table. As we rounded the corner to our hotel, a bunch of Turks came piling out of the aforementioned cafe, shouting, "Goal!Goal!". Then, just as we were entering our hotel, out they came again as Turkey took the lead. One taxi had to screech on his brakes to avoid hitting a couple of the exuberant fans. Finally, the place went crazy as Turkey won, and cars with Turkish flags began roaring through the town, horns blaring. I don't know if it was because of the soccer, but it seems that the restless youth of Erlangen were all cruising the city with their flags waving, radios blaring, gunning their engines-interesting in a country where gas is about 7-8 bucks a gallon.

The next night, Germany won, and the Germans similarly celebrated. The next night, all the Italians in Erlangen celebrated Italy's win by taking to the streets in their cars and flags. Then the Russians, with a few Turks joining the parade with their flag. As it turned out, Germany wound up playing Turkey on the Wednesday we left (thankfully). There are a lot of Turks in Germany, and I had visions of Germans and Turks crashing their cars into each other during and after the game-or worse.

Which leads me to my next point: The face of Germany, much like the face of America-and much of Europe is changing-now more than ever. Germany (at least in the cities) is increasingly bursting with immigrants. A large percentage is made up of Turks and other Muslim nationalities. Unlike the US, most of the Muslim immigrants in Europe come from working class backgrounds. For the Germans I talked to, there is a genuine concern about assimilation. With the current influence of Islam, that concern is multiplied. The Turks, who previously had been influenced by a secular home country, are also becoming increasingly radicalized in Germany.

The Germans are following the US election with great interest. Many asked me about Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John McCain. On one occasion, I was able to speak before a local gymnasium English class taught by a friend. They also asked about the up-coming election.

As always, the beer was great, and while the memory is fresh, I want to make some comments about German beer, which is one of my favorite topics. Erlangen is located in the northern Bavarian region of Franconia, which is home to many small local breweries and beer fests. Erlangen's major brew is Kitzmann, which is a fine beer. The brewery just opened a restaurant and beer garden, which features fine food and fresh beer in a great environment.

As I have felt for some time, Munich, while having a wealth of breweries, beer halls and beer gardens, doesn't really have beer any better than the rest of the country. Many Germans share that assessment, and tell me that the larger, more well-known breweries do not produce as good a beer as the tiny breweries in small towns. The reason? Mass production and the fact that large conglomerates have bought up many breweries. Of all the beers I had during my trip, there were three I would put at the top of the list in no particular order:

Kitzmann (of Erlangen)
Gunzendorfer (from the village of Gunzendorf near Bamberg).
* Efes Pilsen

* This is actually a Turkish beer that I had fallen in love with during my visits to Turkey. While eating lunch in a Turkish kabob place in Erlangen, I found they had Efes, so I ordered a couple. It was great-just like Turkey and just as good as the German beer I had been drinking. It is a world-class beer.

The worst part was the actual travel-12 hours in the air and having to deal with two nightmare airports-Los Angeles and Frankfurt-Europe's major hub. As many times as I have gone through Frankfurt, never have I seen it so busy and confusing. Going through LAX is like JFK, mobs of people and nothing but hassles going through security and Customs. It has just about gotten to the point where air travel is not worth it, especially a long trans-continental flight.

gary fouse