All Hail Pilsner, The True King of Beers!
I don't care what Budweiser tells you, Pilsner is the King! In all honesty, Budweiser is considered a pilsner derivative, but so is 90 percent of all the beer consumed worldwide. Pilsner beer is the most popular beer on the planet and there will be no dethroning of this king in any of our lifetimes.
The real questions are: "How did this happen?" and "What makes it special?"
Well, let’s jump into the Beer Time Machine and go back to a quaint little city in the Czech Republic known as Pilsen to find out.
The citizens of the Czech Republic have always been known for loving beer. Even now they are ranked as the largest consumers of beer per capita. But, before the invention of the pilsner style, the Czechs were drinking warmer fermenting ales and the quality of those ales was...not great.
In 1838, consumers were so dissatisfied with their ales that they were dumping whole barrels of the stuff out into the city streets to show their disgust. The city of Pilsen decided to do something about this. They banded together to found a new brewery (which still exists as Pilsner Urquell) and to head this brewery they hired an accomplished Bavarian brewer named Joseph Groll.
Groll was used to making colder fermenting lagers back in Germany, but to make his new beer style he needed lager yeast. The story goes that Groll employed a monk to steal this yeast and transport it home in the end of a hollowed-out cane. Sadly, like a lot of beer mythology, this is not true. There’s proof Groll purchased his lager yeast. Ironically enough, the people promoting this story of the thieving monk were the folks at Pilsner Urquell. Great work by the marketing team!
Armed with his yeast, Groll used the local Saaz hops (known for a delicate floral aroma) and a new style of malted barley that was kilned very lightly to produce a golden colored beer. The other secret weapon that Groll had at his disposal was the very soft water in Pilsen. Despite making up between 90-95 percent of beer, water has never really been recognized as an important ingredient.
Without getting too technical, water hardness can be defined as a measure of how much calcium and magnesium are dissolved in a sample. Softer water causes the bitterness of beers to be expressed less sharply and creates a much more delicate product. The brewers across Europe discovered this as they attempted to copy Groll's super-successful product. It is also one of the main differences between Czech pilsners and German pilsners.
The style continued to split and evolve as it spread to worldwide dominance, and today we have several different styles that trace their roots back to the original pilsner beer. Stonecloud does not state how Havana Affair should be categorized, but I have seen it listed as a German pilsner on Beeradvocate.com. I would say this is probably correct since their website says they use Mandarina Bavaria and Hallertau hops, which are native to Germany. So now that we know a little more about the worldwide phenomenon of pilsner, let's get to this review!
As a good German Pilsner should, Havana Affair comes in with a low ABV of 4.6 percent. This is barely within the suggested range of the BJCP (4.4-5.2 pecent) but it also makes this a beer that one could consume mass quantities of without falling off their barstool. Stonecloud does not list the IBUs on Havana Affair, but the style guideline for German pilsner calls for between 22-40 IBUs. This beer is actually seen as a hoppy beer in Europe, even though American IPAs start around 40 IBUs (and from there the sky is the limit).
Aroma and Appearance
This beer opens up with a nice sweet scent from the pilsner malt, and there is a very light fruity, melon-like aroma hiding in there from the Mandarina Bavaria hops. The beer pours a light straw-to-yellow color and has exceptional clarity. Havana Affair has a white fluffy head that has good retention and laces the glass as it is consumed.
Flavor and Mouthfeel
This beer is crisp from start to finish. The bitterness is sharp like a German pilsner should be, but this is by no means a hoppy beer. The body is light to medium and there is little to no residual sweetness from the pilsner malt. This style is known for having high attenuation (a measure of fermented sugars vs. residual sugars) and the brewers at Stonecloud have done an excellent job in brewing and fermenting this beverage so that the final product is very refreshing.
In a world where the grocery store's beer aisle is stocked from end to end with pale lager, it takes a lot of stones to put out a Pilsner style as one of your year-round offerings. While most new craft breweries are staking their claims by producing IPAs or Imperial Stouts, Stonecloud is saying "we will make the favorite beer of the masses...only better!" I really like this beer, and I feel like it is definitely a great beverage for quenching your thirst as we finish out another Oklahoma summer.