At the beginning of March this year, I co-organised a blind tasting of German Pils with Ludger Berges (owner of the specialist beer store, Hopfen & Malz), to determine if there was a difference in the quality of the pils being brewed by German ‘industrial’ brewers and smaller regional brewers. We were surprised by the outcome (see original report here).
Although there was a broad range in quality of the pils we sampled, with the smallest “craft brewed” pils in first place and two large industrial breweries scoring the lowest by far, we were particularly surprised by Oettinger pils coming in second position, beating three regional breweries. We decided then and there to try the tasting again, with a selection of different breweries and with tighter controls for the participants, in order to limit pre-conceptions and cross-contamination of opinions.
On Saturday, 11. October, ten experienced beer enthusiasts volunteered their palates to this blind tasting. The participants included brewers, home-brewers and other beer professionals. As before, a total of eight German pilsners were tested, all poured from bottles out of view. Four were from large breweries and four from smaller regional breweries of different sizes. Only Ludger and I knew what breweries were involved at all. The remaining eight participants were tasting completely blind.
Comparative sizes of the breweries
- Bitburger brews > 3 Mio hl p.a., all Pils
- Oettinger Gotha brews an estimated 2 Mio. hl p.a.
- Schultheiß brews is ca. 1 Mio hl p.a., but this includes Berliner Kindl and Berliner Pilsner
- Weihenstephan brews 200.000 hl, but mainly Weizen
- Waldhaus brews 50.000 hl p.a., about 80% pils
- Keesmann is 20.000 hl p.a., about 50% pils
- Huppendorfer is 15.000 hl p.a., < 10% pils
- Hummel is 10.000 hl, mainly non-pils styles
The following are the combined group results from all ten participants, using the German scoring system (1=very good, 6=very bad):
- Hummel Pils (average score: 2,7)
- Waldhaus Diplom Pils (average score: 2,8)
- Keesmann Herren Pils (average score: 2,9)
- Schultheiss (average score: 3,0)
- Oettinger (average score: 3,1)
- Huppendorfer (average score: 3,3)
- Weihenstephan Pils (average score: 3,4)
- Bitburger Pils (average score: 3,6)
My own results broadly aligned with the averages:
- Hummel Pils (my score: 1,5)
- Huppendorfer Pils (my score: 2,5)
- Schultheiss & Bitburger Pils (my score: 3,0)
- Waldhaus Diplom Pils & Keesmann Herren Pils & Weihenstephan Pils (my score: 3,5)
- Oettinger Pils (my score: 5,0)
Comments on the Group Results
Once again, I cannot emphasise enough is just how difficult it is to identify these beers or tell them apart when you don’t have the bottle in front of you. This time around, the group results were less consistent. The tighter controls on the tasting (including silence once the beers were served), meant that every participant was making their decision in isolation.
In the Group Results, there was a general preference for the Pils from three smaller breweries (Hummel Pils, Waldhaus Diplom Pils and Keesmann Herren Pils leading the pack). However, this lead was very narrow and each beer beat the next-placed-beer by only 0.1. The Huppendorfer Pils scored poorly across the group. I was the only participant who awarded this beer a score higher than 3 and even then noted the light watery body and mild metallic finish.
Comments on my Personal Results
From my own results, my favourite – by far – was the Hummel Pils. This was the only Pils I awarded a score greater than 2,5. For me, this was the Pils with the most pronounced hop aroma, a wonderful spicey nose, perfectly balanced with the delicious malty body. There was even a very mild but pleasant buttery note (diacetylphobes beware!) with an extremely well-balanced finish. Delicious!
My least favourite Pils – by far – was the Oettinger Pils, scoring a 5,0. This time around, this Pils had a vegetal DMS note in the nose, an extremely watery body and an unpleasant soapy after taste.
Plans are already being made for the next Blind Pils tasting in 2015. Next time around, we will take the ‘Best Before’ date (Mindestenshaltbarkeitsdatum; MHD) into consideration as an additional factor. We have already set up the protocol, bottles are being aged and we intend to explore every angle of Germany’s favourite beer style in detail. Watch this space….
Many thanks to Ludger for hosting and to the participants for contributing their palates and good humour on a rainy Saturday afternoon.
……. and as before: please do try this at home!