Tap Lines: Pilsners of all styles are popular again

Influential beer writer Jeff Allworth was surprised and impressed when he visited Maine back in 2014. The state possessed “arguably the richest vein of good beer in the country,” he wrote, suggesting that pioneers Geary’s and Allagash had laid the groundwork for a drinking culture in which experimentation and variety was the norm.

“In regions with immature beer cultures, new breweries can’t rely on a customer base to support beer that’s overly avant garde,” Allworth argued. “In mature cultures, it’s the opposite – new breweries have to distinguish themselves to find an audience.”

Seven years is an eternity in our contemporary beer world, and the astonishing range of Maine beers at our command today is a testament to that. New England IPAs might pay the bills, but Maine brewers’ appetites for traditional styles – along with the experimental temperament cited by Allworth years ago – makes this a beer drinker’s paradise. Look no further than the abundance and variety of pilsner-style pale lagers being brewed in Maine for evidence; it’s a beer for any time or place, though particularly delightful as temperatures warm. In recent weeks, we’ve seen the debut of Oxbow’s Trisky Pivo and the return of Allagash’s Truepenny, as they enter a crowded field of interpretations on the style.

The pilsner style was first brewed in the Bohemian city of Pilsen in today’s Czech Republic; it literally means “from Pilsen.” Like much great art, it was born out of crisis. In 1838, the city was forced to dump an entire season’s worth of beer that had become contaminated. In response, the city built a cutting-edge brewery with a top-notch brewer from Bavaria, who brought yeast from there with him. But when the first batch flowed from the tanks, it wasn’t the brown Bavarian lager so popular across Europe; rather, it was a golden beer with a pillowy head.

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