Green Bay is Wisconsin's third largest city yet it doesn't enjoy much of a microbrew reputation in these parts. There is no shortage of beer from that city on Madison store shelves but no Green Bay brewery seems to have found a winning formula for gaining notoriety, for getting their beers to stick out in a crowded microbrew landscape. Perhaps this is just me. Or perhaps it is just Madison. Regardless, that is changing if for no other reason than the sheer volume. Once available only in the Fox Valley region, beer from Green Bay's breweries is now widely available on Madison's store shelves and on taps too.
If the quantity riddle has been solved, then what about quality?
Until now my experience with Green Bay suds consisted solely of Hinterland
which I've found to be hit
. But now I expand my purview to include Titletown.
Titletown Brewing Company
opened in 1996 in a disused railroad depot which used to be owned by Chicago & Northwestern. The brewpub grew and finally opened a production brewery which not only expanded capacity but also included a bottling line. Six packs became available in and around Green Bay early this year while Madison saw them arrive in July. Madison was, oddly enough, the first area outside of the Fox Valley to see Titletown bottles.
Green 19 IPA and Johnny Blood Red Irish Style Red Ale came first but were soon joined by Boathouse Pilsner. The bottle's label proudly boasts that it is a "Gold Medal Winning Beer". This refers to its first place finish at the 2010 Great American Beer Festival in the Bohemian Pilsner category.
What's a Bohemian pilsner? For starters, it's probably the only recognition Americans give to Czech brewing culture and tradition. We tend to think of the Bohemian pils as an addendum to a larger German brewing tradition instead of something that stands on its own. For more on Czech pivo I highly recommend reading some Evan Rail
. Rail is a writer who lives in Prague (or lived there for a while) and has traveled the Czech Republic to taste its pivo. He has written a beer guide to his adopted hometown as well as a blog post that's no longer available with corrections and addenda to the Oxford Companion to Beer's entries on Czech beer and brewing.
Both he and Ron Pattinson
make a strong case that we've really sold the Czechs short.
And so back to the question: what is a Bohemian pilsner? The Bohemian pilsner is, in simplified terms, a malty pale lager with a goodly amount of Saaz hop spici- and bitterness. If you scour the Interwebs you may find Rail's three-part history of the style and its progenitor, Pilsner Urquell.
Let me begin by apologizing to Titletown for my dreadful photo. It does not do their pivo justice. Boathouse pours a lovely dark straw/light gold color. The beer is crystal clear and I think you can see this despite my poor photography skills. My pour produced a small off-white head that, sadly, dissipated very quickly. On the other hand there was an abundance of bubbles going up my pilsner glass. I'd expect a much larger and longer-lasting head and hope that my glass wasn't dirty. But aside from that, this is one pretty beer.
The aroma was very malty with notes that were bready, almost doughy. I was surprised at how subdued the hops were here with a relatively mild herbal hoppy smell that had a hint of the floral to it. Boathouse had a really nice clean malt flavor that was bready and biscuity and less sweet than the aroma let on. It was a solid malt base but not as big as something like an Oktoberfest. The hops were more grassy than herbal to my tongue. Carbonation was also evident and added more dryness.
I finally tasted some spicy hop flavor at the finish which was moderately dry as the breadiess petered out. Schaumhaftvermoegen was lacking. Indeed there was none to be had.
In contrast to a Pilsner Urquell, Boathouse is rather mild. When I think of a Bohemian pilsner I think of Saaz hops with their intense pepper/spicy flavor and a hefty dose of bitterness that adds a lot of dryness. Boathouse does not have this. What it does have is a great clean bready flavor with just enough hops to achieve a delectable balance. The hops here are mostly grassy and herbal tasting instead of peppery and spicy but they still complemented the grainy goodness perfectly.
I really enjoyed this beer. Its polished gold clarity gave it a visually arresting look especially after my recent brown ale and turbid weissbier reviews. The bready flavor here was fantastic. There was a hint of sweetness that added another malty layer to meld with the hops. And while those hops may not be stereotypically Bohemian, they were flavorful and stood on their own yet didn't drown out the malt flavors. Aristotle would be proud of brewmaster Dave Oldenburg for having created a beer that places all of its flavors in perfect proportion.
Junk food pairing: Boathouse has a medium-light body. This paired with its relatively restrained hops means that you'll want some lighter fare to go with it. Try some Pepper Jack Cheez-Its or Jays Hot Stuff potato chips with their earthy zing of paprika.
Labels: Beer, Pilsner, Titletown Brewing Co.