Through a case of mistaken identity, pilsners had been relegated to a backseat role in the craft beer world for years. Beer drinkers have often associated macro beers like Budweiser, Miller, and Coors as pilsners, but they belong to a class of their own; the American Adjunct Lagers. Brewed with large amounts of corn or rice, and not nearly as many bittering hops, these beers don’t stand up to a well-made pilsner.
The pilsner is now making a comeback in American craft beer, though. According to numbers from Information Resources Inc., the sales of craft pilsners are up over 100 percent compared to last year, and the style is now over 1 percent of all craft beer sold in the country.
Small beans at only 1 percent? Perhaps, but you’ll find a lot more craft pilsners around now then you could just a year or two ago. Lagers, like pilsners, need more time to ferment and condition as opposed to ales, but more breweries are taking on lagers as added styles to their repertoires.
Locally, who better to lead this pilsner revival than Old First Ward Brewing? The Hamburg Street based brewery has their beers served up at right next door at Gene McCarthy’s.
A fixture in the Old First Ward for decades, McCarthy’s has made the move from neighborhood watering hole to craft-beer destination, without losing its identity. The same long wooden bar is the centerpiece, slanted forward from years of patrons leaning on it like an old friend. Tables and high tops populate the rest of the space, where diners can enjoy one of Buffalo’s best fish fries, or a killer Reuben made with their house made corned beef.
While Old First Ward’s beers can keep beer geeks plenty happy with their hop forward pale ale, This Is Not a Pale Ale, or their IPA, Hopster, the lineup of taps often roots itself in old German styles. They’ve poured pints of a Helles, Kolsch, Hefeweizen, Dunkelweizen, Schwarzbier, and of course their German Pilsner.
St. Patrick’s Pilsner is light golden yellow in color with a stark white creamy head that sits atop the beer well after the pour. There is a haziness to the beer, which is one of its only downfalls. I want to be able to read my check through my beer glass with a pilsner. The aroma is clean and subtle, with a lightly sweet, cracker-like malt smell along with a bit of florally tinged hops.
Though the beer is never cloyingly sweet, the initial sip starts out with a delicate grainy malt sweetness, quickly cut by an earthy, floral hop bitterness. It finishes out crisp, clean, with a drying bitterness that is quenching as opposed to the tongue-coating hoppiness of an IPA. At 5% ABV, and with a medium to light body, St. Patrick’s Pilsner isn’t watery like an American Adjunct Lager, but it’s light enough to refresh after a walk, run, or thirst-quenching stop in the Gene McCarthy’s beer garden after a kayak trip down the Buffalo River.
It's the perfect beer to celebrate the marriage of a shot-and-a-beer corner bar with a craft-beer haven. St. Patrick’s Pilsner is a great way to introduce a casual beer drinker to the craft side of things. Like the old saying goes, once you go craft, you never go back.
Old First Ward Brewing’s St. Patrick’s Pilsner, $5 for 16 oz., 73 Hamburg Street, Buffalo, NY 14204
Matt Kresconko also writes about beer as Buffalo Brewhound at wnycraftbeer.com. Follow him on Twitter @BfloBrewHound.