This report is the third of a series of blind German Pils tastings that have taken place at Hopfen & Malz, the beer specialist store in Wedding, Berlin, with the widest selection of Pilsner beers that you are likely to find north of the Main river.
As always, tasting pils in this way once more proved to be an extremely difficult excercise, with breweries producing beer within an extremely narrow range of flavour profiles – most of them technically well-brewed – but failing to inspire gushing praise.
For the results of the previous tastings, please refer to the following pages:
Blind Pils Tasting
On Saturday, 9th April 2016, eleven experienced beer lovers once again sat down at Hopfen & Malz in order to sample a total of nine different German Pilsners. The participants included brewers, home-brewers and other beer professionals. As in previous tastings, participants had no knowledge of the breweries involved in the tasting and all samples were poured out of view.
Blind Tasting – Group Results
The following results are the average from the combined group results from all eleven participants, using the German scoring system (1=very good, 6=very bad):
1. Gampert Förster-Pils (average score: 2,14)
2. Veltins Pils (average score: 2,85)
3. Krug Pils (average score: 3,02)
4. Schönramer Pils (average score: 3,07)
5a. Debringer Pils (average score: 3,17)
5b. Hummel-Pil (average score: 3,17)
7. Oettinger Pils (average score: 3,25)
8. Heidenpeters PILZ (average score: 3,67)
9. Wildwuchs Fastmoker (average score: 4.53)
German Pils ranking from the combined group results from this tasting
Blind Tasting – Personal Results
My own results broadly aligned with the averages, but with a preference for the fresh maltier samples from breweries in Franken.
1a. Krug Pils (my score: 2,0)
1b. Debringer Pils (my score: 2,0)
3a. Gampert Förster-Pils (my score: 2,5)
3b. Hummel-Pils (my score: 2,5)
4. Schönramer Pils (my score: 3,5)
5a. Veltins Pils (my score: 4,0)
5b. Oettinger Pils (my score: 4,0)
7. Heidenpeters PILZ (my score: 4,5)
9. Wildwuchs Fastmoker (my score: 5,0)
The group results showed a strong preference from all participants for Gampert Förster-Pils, a deserving winner. This light, malty pils had less hop bitterness than most of the other samples and had a crisp finish.
My own four favourites were all brewed in small breweries in Franken. These pilsners tended towards the malty side, with the cereal malty component still present in the finished beer. These examples also tend to have more body and a balanced finish.
My overall favourite was Krug Pils. Of all nine beers sampled in the tasting, this one beer had a remarkable buttery note in the aroma – unmistakably from diacetyl. Although experienced German palates will always write off diacetyl as an off-flavour in a bottom fermented beer, I enjoyed the complexity this brought to Krug Pils and look forward to trying this again.
Technically well-brewed, the next three pilsners that took places 4, 5a and 5b, were all from breweries with larger outputs – ranging from the (award-winning) modest Schönramer brewery (Bavaria) to the gigantic Veltins (Sauerland) and Oettinger (everywhere).
In the blind tasting, I ranked these (as-yet-unknown-to-me) beers lower due to their thin bodies, and flat, simple character.
I suspect that these beers all suffer from the bottling and pasteurisation process. From personal experience, I know that Schönramer – and to a much lesser extent Veltins can have an interesting hop aroma when poured from a fresh keg.
Pilsner is difficult to brew, as there is nowhere to hide the defects. Unfortunately, this beer style did show up two beers that were brewed by dedicated craftsmen, but that suffered from the risks that one sees in smaller breweries.
Both the Heidenpeters PILZ (Berlin) and the Wildwuchs Fastmoker (Hamburg) had noticeable flaws, that impacted their scores. Both were brewed in small batches by hand, with fresh malts and hops. Both were had significant hop aromas – likely from dry-hopping. Unfortunatley, but suffered during their time in the bottle, with both beers showing signs of sourness, in particular the Wildwuchs Fastmoker.
I have had the opportunity to try the Heidenpeter’s PILZ fresh from the keg at the brewery bar and can attest that the beer is an enjoyable modern spin on the pilsner. However, this sample from the bottled version was not the same beer.
Brewing a pils is not easy. Industrial brewers have spent decades attempting to make one beer style as cheaply as possible, measuring their market at every step of the way.
On the other end of the spectrum, new “craft” brewers should be encouraged for their bravery, particularly in a country where changing this staple beer style is frowned upon.
However – in my view – both extremes on this spectrum are still trumped by the smaller breweries around Franken, who take the time, chose the ingredients and rely on generations of experience to brew a fresher-tasting pils.