Friday, April 25, 2014

Three Bohemian Pilsners (Chuckanut, Hoyne, Ninkasi)

   At the Victoria Beer Week last month, I bought a bottle of Bohemian pilsner at Hoyne Brewing and brought it home, knowing that Chuckanut here in Bellingham was about to bring out the same style. It originated in the town of Plzen, in what is now the Czech Republic, in the 1840s.  Back then, the region was known as Bohemia, a part of the polyglot Austro-Hungarian Empire.
    Brewed lager-style, bottom-fermented and stored cool for longer than ales, pilsners have become the best selling style on the planet, thanks to industrial brands like Bud and Coors.  Those have precious little flavor,  The real thing, whether brewed in the Czech or the German tradition, is, au contraire, bursting with flavor. Chuckanut has been turning out German pilsner since day one, brewing it consistently and with renown.  That track record won them a deal with the Tom Douglas restaurants in Seattle, to brew a Bohemian pilsner exclusively for those restaurants.  The only other place you can get Chuckanut Bohemian is at the brewery.
According to Joe Wiebe, who writes on the B.C. brewing scene, Hoyne Brewing has been turning out their Bohemian pilsner for several years now, also to much acclaim.
   To run my first comparisons, I took my chilled bottle of Hoyne Bohemian down to Chuckanut when both the German and Bohemian pilsners were on tap, and ordered a glass of each.  It may not be fair to compare one brewery's version in draft form to another's bottled, but until such time as we can have a true international beer festival right at the border, this is the best we can do.
L: Chuckanut German Pilsner, 5.0% abv
C: Hoyne Bohemian Pilsner, 5.5 % abv
R: Chuckanut Bohemian Pilsner, 5.8% abv

Don't compare heads: I jumped right into side by side sips of the two Bohemians, with water and toast for palate clearing, before I addressed the German. Chuckanut's is clearly a little darker. As to aromas--the Czech Saaz hops is renowned for its citrusy aroma and both Bohemians had that, Hoyne perhaps a bit more.  On the tongue, the maltiness was about the same with each,  Chuckanut lists the IBUs, 39 for the Bohemian and 38 for the German.  Hoyne does not put that number out; I'm guessing high 30s again.  This means nice balance, the bitterness of the Czech hops comes through without overwhelming (Hoyne lists them, beside the Saaz, they use Hallertau and Hersbruch and a German hop; Chucknaut's tasting notes simply say they have imported all the malts and hops from the Czech Republic).
   Here's a curious factoid: the plato numbers on the two Chuckanut pilsners were 12.5 for the German and 14 for the Bohemian. Canadian brewers cite their original gravity more than plate; Hoyne lists the OG on its Bohemian at 1.050, which translates to 12.5 plato.  Measured at the beginning of brewing, these numbers are supposed to predict eventual alcohol content.  As one can see, Hoyne's recipe came out a half percent higher than Chuckanut's German, with the same plato.
   My bottom line:  mouthfeel on the two Bohemians was a draw but the finish, the aftertaste on the Chuckanut was earthier, lingered longer.  The biggest difference in recipes I could see was the malts, Hoyne using Canadian barley and Chuckanut importing Czech barley.
   There's more.  Ninkasi, down in Eugene, does a nice Bohemian called Pravda, which is available in 12 oz. bottles in Bellingham.  I went back to Chuckanut, purchased a 500-ml bottle of the Bohemian pilsner and set it up next to my bottle of Pravda.
Again, Chuckanut achieves a darker color than Ninkasi.  Here's how the numbers compare.
Pravda: 5.0% abv, 38 IBUs, OG 1048(=12.2 plato)
Chuckanut: 5.8% abv, 39 IBUs, 14 plato
Aroma was more pronounced with Pravda.  With aroma, more is not necessarily better, and I enjoyed the subtle aromas in the Chuckanut better.
Initial taste:  Pravda malt-prominent.  Chuckanut: I got a tang, a sense of malts and hops in balance.
Mouthfeel: both really lively, a complex package of earthy flavors.  Aftertaste: I felt the Pravda lingered a bit longer, left a keener sense of the malts. Ninkasi appeared to be using similar ingredients, pilsner malt imported from Czech Republic along with Saaz and Hallertau hops.
   All three Bohemians were fine products; I'm happy that I can get Chuckanut's without leaving town.  Clearly, I'm no cicerone but this was fun.
(Tasted April 2014)

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