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Beer: A pils that goes down easy

Is lager boring?

Ale aficionados would argue that there are fewer distinct styles of lager, and that these smoother, bottom-fermented brews lack the fruity, yeasty nuances of top-fermented ales. There’s a bit of guilt by association as well: The large national brands (often disparaged as the “nationals blands”) are almost exclusively lagers.

Two words make an effective rebuttal: keller pils.

Pils (or pilsner) is a pale, hoppy style of lager that originated in Bohemia over a 1 1/2 centuries ago. Keller is the German word for “cellar” and refers to a pils that’s drawn directly from the aging tanks before it can be filtered, pasteurized or otherwise processed to increase its shelf life at the expense of flavor.

Bob and Ellie Tupper with their Hop Pocket Ale. (Mark Gail/The Washington Post)

Two rare bottled examples of a keller pils are on the market. Tuppers’ Keller Pils is the beer formerly known as Tuppers’ Hop Pocket Pils. Like the Hop Pocket Ale, the honey-gold lager comes in four-packs and is brewed at St. George Brewing Co. in Hampton, Va., for Bethesda schoolteacher Bob Tupper and his wife Ellie, who works for the American Society for Microbiology. 

The recipe is largely unchanged since the defunct Old Dominion Brewing Co. in Ashburn last brewed the pils in 2007 (it is, however, fermented with a different strain of lager yeast). It’s dry-hopped with whole-flower Saaz and Mount Hood hops (that is, some of the hops are added to the already-fermented beer rather than being all thrown into the brew kettle, where much of the aroma and flavor will boil away). Tuppers’ Keller Pils has a flowery, herbal bitterness with a hint of lemon sherbet. As it warms up, the beer's hops will subside a little and you’ll detect a rich, biscuity malt character. The sweetness at the tip your tongue and the bitterness in the back of the mouth have a seesaw effect that throws your taste buds off balance and prevents the beer from becoming bland.

Tuppers’ Keller Pils is krausened, meaning some young, still-fermenting beer is added to the finished product. This sparks a secondary fermentation that continues in the bottle and produces a creamy, but not overly gassy, head of foam. 

“We spent a couple summers going through Germany tasting every pils we could get our hands on,” said Bob Tupper. “We once tasted 140 in 11 days!” In Germany, this type of unfiltered beer is sometimes called hefepils or “yeast pils,” but Tupper decided against using that term because of possible confusion with hefeweizen, a very different style.

Southampton Keller Pils is the warm-weather seasonal of Southampton Brewing Co. in Southampton, N.Y. The company operates a brewpub called the Southampton Publick House, but brews its bottled product under license at the City Brewery in Latrobe, Pa. (the same brewery that used to make Rolling Rock before Anheuser-Busch bought the brand and moved production to its Newark facility). 

Southampton Keller Pils is straw-gold with a slight haze from a dusting of yeast that remains in the bottle. The alcohol content by volume is 5 percent, similar to the Tuppers’. It has a waft of vanilla in the aroma and a grassy, herbal flavor with a lingering bitterness on the back of the tongue. Brewer Phil Markowski uses a single hop, a German strain called Hallertau Tradition, which he describes as  “steely” — a wine-tasting term that denotes a hard, mineral flavor. (“Peppery” might be a slightly more appetizing descriptor.) Markowski also claims to detect a very faint whiff of sulfur: a fermentation byproduct that’s also encountered in cask-conditioned ales. But I didn’t pick this up in my sample. 

Markowski says his beer, to be available in six-packs through August, will pair well with lighter fare such as seafood or chicken, but says it’s best enjoyed as an aperitif or summer thirst-quencher. The Tuppers say their more assertive pils will hold its own with spicy dishes, yet they admit on their Web site: “It’s a great year-round beer, but we think it never tastes better than outside on a warm day.”

Not strictly a keller pils, but worth checking out, is the Powder Horn Pilsner on tap at Hops Grill and Brewery in Alexandria. Brewer Kristi Mathews Griner hopped this spring seasonal generously with two varieties, Spalt and Mount Hood, that add a prickly, peppery spiciness. Griner says she gave the beer a rough filtration, but the pilsner still has a mild yeast character, a lemony flavor that peeks through as your glass warms up. Powder Horn Pilsner is an unsually assertive beer for a brewpub that, despite its name, has shied away from bitter beers to avoid alienating its clientele. Griner expects it will last into early June.

-- Greg Kitsock

By The Food Section  |  May 24, 2010; 2:00 PM ET
Categories:  Beer  | Tags: Beer, Greg Kitsock  
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What a coincidence! I dropped by my local pub (Ramparts in Alexandria) and ordered a pint on a whim. Fairly malty and a good session beer. Drink it slowly.


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | May 24, 2010 6:59 PM | Report abuse

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