The secret that brewers really enjoy crisp yet flavorful beers hasn’t been that much of a secret this year. However, the popularity of hop-forward beers is still holding firm on tap-lists throughout O.C. It seems we may have reached a tipping point, and both trends are beginning to merge. The outcome is the emergence of Italian-style pilsners! And Green Cheek has just released a very pleasant expression of the style.
What is an Italian-style pils? In the most basic of terms, it is a German pils that has been dry-hopped, resulting in a crisp, hop-forward beer-drinking experience that doesn’t tax the palate after a couple of beers. Dry-hopping is the practice of adding a copious amount of hops to the fermentation tank once the beer has either finished or is about to finish fermentation. This extracts aromatic and flavor compounds, and they dissolve into the beer. Dry-hopping is common in many styles, including the many styles of IPA, but not usually done in a German pils.
Unlike many historical styles, we can track the birth of the Italian-style pils to a single brewery and beer, Birrifico Italiano’s Tipopils. Brewed in the German pils tradition, which is not surprising since Birrifico Italiano is in Limido Comasco, Northern Italy with only Switzerland separating it from southern Germany. The choice of hops is very important as they need to impart the appropriate Noble Hop characters (spicy, minty, perfumy, and pleasant). Although, some American examples may use some citrusy hop varieties, so long as the fruit notes are not overpowering.
An Italian-style pils is a versatile gateway beer for beer drinkers looking to explore new styles but who might need to ease into them. The hazy/juicy beer drinker might not gravitate to the brightness of a Munich helles lager, but the Italian-style pils retains the hop presence he or she may be used to yet still enjoy the uplifting brilliance of the lager. Likewise, a light lager drinker may want to explore a hop-forward beer but has been put off by the intense bitterness of an IPA. An Italian-style pils can serve as the missing link for that person.
Arguably, Green Cheek Beer Co. in Orange has made some of the finest instances of the style. Currently, Pally Pils is available at the tasting room, and I highly recommend a pour. If you’re lucky, there may be some cans left for you to take home or they may allow a crowler fill. Pally Pils dry-hopped with German Amarillo is lively with soft herbal and floral notes on the nose, a slight citrus undertone, and a clean malt backbone to let the hops shine. A bitter snap but not too bitter, and finishes dry to encourage another sip. And at only 4.8 percent go ahead and have another. Or two!
“I continue to fall in love with German-grown hops,” Evan Price, head brewer and co-owner of Green Cheek, told me in a recent conversation. Pally Pils is a wonderful example of what the German-inspirited Italian beer style has to offer. “It’s leaning more towards tradition, but it’s more expressive,” Price later explained when we talked about the two styles.
Could this be the style that will finally usurp the dominance of the ever-popular hazy/juicy beers? Only time will tell, and I encourage all the O.C. brewers to make 2020 the year of birra Italiana!
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Editor’s note: Charlie Perez is an Advanced Cicerone® who covers the Orange County beer scene for the Booze Blog.