Beer Town: Pilsner, the original session beer rediscovered for summer

Sparkling, refreshing and appropriately hoppy, in one form or another, the golden style of lager known as pilsner has been the world’s most popular beer for a very long time.

Right now, multinational brewing giant SABMiller is touting its bestselling Miller Lite brand as “a fine pilsner beer” — pointing to a gold medal win at the 2014 Great American Beer Festival as proof.

“Our flavor beat 31 other entrants, large and craft, to bring home the Gold Medal for American-Style Lager,” the ad copy reads.

Of course, SABMiller/China Resources Enterprises also brews Snow, a fizzy, 3.9 percent alcohol by volume (ABV) Chinese lager packaged in a clear bottle with a winter blue label that has recently laid claim to the title of the bestselling beer brand in the world.

Don’t worry, I’m not writing this to tell you to go out and grab a six-pack of Lite or Snow. But I will admit (again) that when the weather turns from balmy spring to subtropical summer, my tastes turn to lighter, more thirst-quenching beverages. And pilsners are at the top of list when it comes to beer.

Properly lagered pilsners can reveal a delightful dance of malts and hops with a depth of clean, crisp flavors and wonderfully subtle aromatics. Add lively carbonation, and you have a glass of bubbly magic that really does come off as the champagne of beer.

American craft brewers have rediscovered and sometimes reinvented Czech and German-style pilsners. Some of my longtime favorites include the near-perfect Victory Prima Pils and the underrated Samuel Adams Noble Pils.

Here are four more refreshing pilsners to seek out and drink to beat the heat this season:

Ballast Point Longfin Lager — Inspired by the German helles style, this light, malt-forward lager is brewed with German pilsner malt and not too much in the way of hops. At 4.5 percent ABV, and available in cans, it’s a perfectly realized session beer for the front porch, backyard or beach.

Creature Comforts Bibo — Bibo is a nicely balanced craft take on the pilsner style with some interesting hop additions, including classic Czech Saaz and tropical New Zealand Motueka. A deliciously spicy, dry and quenching 5.5 percent ABV canned brew from Athens.

Sierra Nevada Nooner —Another take on a classic German-style pilsner, which Sierra calls “one of the original session beers,” balances 5.2 percent ABV refreshment with spicy, floral whole-cone hops. Now brewed at the new Mills River, North Carolina, brewery near Asheville, so it should be fresh.

Three Taverns Prince of Pilsen — Originally brewed as a draft-only beer in honor of the World Cup, this Decatur-brewed Euro-style pilsner proved so popular it joined the bottled lineup year-round and became the top-seller. Dry-hopped with Falconer’s Flight 7-C’s, it’s bitter-crisp at 5 percent ABV.

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