Since 2007, the Washington Post has run a beer contest paralleling the March Madness tournament of collegiate basketball. Post columnist Greg Kitsock selects a panel of 'laypersons' and 'experts' which winnows a field a beers —placed in divisions, similar to the brackets of the NCAA tournament— to one, champion beer.
For this year's Washington Post Beer Madness, he and Greg Engert —beer director for the Churchkey/Neighborhood Restaurant Group— selected a tournament line-up of 32 local beers —beers from breweries in Washington, D.C., Maryland, Virginia, and Delaware— and separated those into four brackets of Crisp, Fruit & Spice, Hop, and Roast.
Over successive weeks, the eight judges rated the beers based on their personal preferences, rather than adherence to any stylistic guidelines. Which is how the vast majority of consumers chooses its beers. Which is why I enjoy the contest, but why it might rankle a beer-style geek. Accept the results as subjective fun.
Last week the panelists had winnowed the field to two: the redundantly named Double Dog Double Pale Ale from Flying Dog, of Frederick, Maryland, and the succinctly named Pilsner from Legend Brewing, of Richmond, Virginia. And then, Kitsock wrote this:
Pilseners tend to be simple, straightforward beers.
No, no, no, and no!
At best, Kitsock's statement is dismissive praise, like saying that Mozart's String Quartet No. 19 —the Dissonance Quartet— is 'simple' music because the notes have been written down. At worst, his comment finds common cause with the major brewing companies in doing harm to their distant legacies of Czech and German lagers —and SAB/Miller Brewing, in particular, with its apostasy "true Pilsner" campaign: if we repeat something enough, it will be believed to be true.
I'm going to avoid quoting formalistic delineations of OG/ABV/IBU and other alphabetic parameters. But I know a pilsner when I taste one: firm, slightly sweet, deep golden-hued malt; spicy, floral hops; crisp character, with a whiff of yeasty sulfur; gentle enough alcohol at about 5% to allow another sip, yet strong enough to make a statement; a long, dry, dare I say, bitter finish. And, above all, a clear, joyful declaration of the four ingredients of beer —malt, hops, yeast, and water— unencumbered by ale's zig-zag riot of dank hop, fruited yeast, and nowadays, back-of-the-cupboard oddities. No disrespect is meant to the world of ales. But if one fancies him or herself a beer lover, and 'simply' dismisses lagers out-of-hand, she or he leaves undiscovered an entire hemisphere of delicious choices.
Double Dog bested Legend Pilsner today, winning the 2013 Washington Post Beer Madness. A fine beer it is: a fine, strong, hoppy ale. Congratulations are due to Flying Dog Brewing. I have a bottle in the fridge. But, when the time is right ...
Pour yourself a Legend Pilsner, 'crank up' Mozart's 'Dissonance' Quartet, and take the time to taste and listen. That's not simple; that's sublime.