Here at Summit Brewing Co., we believe good feedback is important. When we get a fresh haircut, we want to know if it’s symmetrical. When we buy new jeans, we want to know if they offer a flattering fit. And more importantly, when we launch new beers in the Ratskeller, at local bars, or in cans, bottles and kegs across five states, we want to know what you think.
A recent trip through the Beer Advocate forums surfaced this question: “So, Summit is doing two year-round pilsners now… Has anyone done a side by side of these two beers? If so, what are your thoughts? And is this common practice to introduce two beers of the same style at nearly the same time?”
As many craft beer drinkers know, pilsners are an under-appreciated style. Knowing this, you too may wonder why, at the beginning of 2018, we launched two of them year-round: Summit Dakota Soul and Summit Keller Pils. We’d love to tell you.
For starters: Pilsners are awesome
True-to-style pilsners are very difficult to make well. Our Head Brewer Damian McConn likes to say that you can hide a double-decker bus behind all the hops in a double IPA. But with a pilsner, the balance between ingredients is so delicate that any flaw is immediately apparent — you can’t just hide an off-flavor behind more hops. By making two pilsners, amigos, we get to showcase our mastery of the style. And then we get to drink them.
If they’re so awesome, why don’t more breweries make more Pilsners?
- Like we said above, they’re challenging to brew.
- Pilsners, like all lagers, are cold-conditioned in fermentation tanks for many weeks — sometimes two or three times longer than ales. That’s a lot of valuable real estate to give up for one brew, and some breweries just don’t have the fermentation capacity to do it.
- At the end of the day, some knuckleheads think all pilsners taste the same.
So, Pilsners are under-appreciated and difficult and expensive to make. Sounds risky.
Bingo. The truth is, loads of other breweries make like four or five sours or a half-dozen IPAs; that’s just the norm these days. And every week, people tell us in the Ratskeller or on the interwebz that we need to take a risk and make a sour beer or some wacky IPAs. Rather than going this route, however, we believe we’ve taken a risk by choosing NOT to brew these styles. #DontBrewLikeEveryoneElse
Closer to the truth, we consider it a challenge to brew two different examples of the often-overlooked Pils. Fortunately, because German lagers fit with our old-world approach to brewing and our dedication to traditional styles and ingredients, and because we’re damn good at making them, it’s a risk we’re comfortable taking.
Without doing any research to support this assertion, we’d bet a six-pack there are like zero other craft breweries with two pilsners in their year-round lineup. (But hey, look it up and let us know if you find another. We probably want to be friends with them.)
Still, two Pilsners seems bonkers. What’s so different about them?
AHA! Finally, the money question. First, let’s take a look at the ingredients and stats.
Color, Clarity, Flavors, Aromas — We. Are. Getting. Thirsty.
Similar in ABV and differing a bit in perceived bitterness, each beer becomes much more distinct when you get to color and clarity. Pale yellow and quite cloudy in appearance, Keller Pils is left unfiltered, just like the German-style kellerbiers poured — according to style — straight from the fermentation tanks in German breweries’ cellars. The unfiltered final beer features sweet, honey and cereal-flavored malt notes balanced by bright citrus hop flavors and some slight spicy notes from the authentic German yeast strain, all leading to a dry, clean finish.
Dakota Soul, on the other hand, pours a brilliant, clear golden hue — taking after the fully filtered brews developed in 1840s Bohemia (currently the Czech Republic). Here, filtration highlights this beer’s toasted malt flavors, while spicy and floral hops offer crisp, refreshing and balanced bitterness. The Czech yeast strain leaves a bit more residual sugar in the final beer, adding a bit of body and contributing a pleasant floral aroma.
Another key difference? Keller Pils celebrates the hard-to-get heritage malt variety Weyermann Barke Pilsner Malt — the source of those honey and sourdough notes. Dakota Soul, however, highlights notes of English biscuits and graham cracker from the Moravian 37 barley grown by our founder’s cousins in North Dakota.
“We’ve always brewed a traditional Czech-style pilsner,” says Head Brewer Damian McConn, “and after waiting over a decade to brew a German-style pils, now we can do both and really show off our traditional German brew house.”
So, Friends, now that you know all about why we make two pilsners and what makes them different from one another, we have a question for you: What’ll you drink next?