Anyone who knows me or has read much of my writing knows how I feel about pilsner; it’s the perfect beer. Pilsners are simple and easy-drinking enough to remain unobtrusive at times when drinking beer is more about the social event than the beer. But if you want to pay attention, there is a depth of complexity hiding beneath that simple surface. Take the time and make the effort. Pilsner will reward.
So why would anyone want to imperialize a pilsner? Why mess with the perfect beer? I have seldom met an imperial pilsner that I liked. Most are either too sweet or lean too much on hops. They upset the delicate balance that makes pilsner great. There was the one at the Rail House Restaurant and Brewpub in Marrinette, Wisconsin. It managed to be at once big and balanced. But the rest have all been drain pours.
So then there is was, Reverb Imperial Pilsner from Boulevard Brewing Company in Kansas City, Missouri. The bottle was staring at me from my fridge, daring me to drink; throwing down the gauntlet to challenge my bias. This beer first appeared in 2010 as the brewery’s first collaboration. I’m told that collaborator Jean-Marie Rock – a.k.a. the guy who makes Orval – had been sitting on this recipe for quite a while. It was a collaboration specifically between him and Boulevard, not Orval. I guess when one makes only one beer time and time again, the urge arises to do something else, and an imperial pilsner was that something else.
So what was I to do? Leave the bottle sit or accept the challenge, fully expecting to be disappointed by yet another large lager? I could not let this slap in the face go unanswered. I grabbed the bottle firmly by the throat, popped the cork, and poured its suspect contents into a glass. Challenge accepted.
Here’s my notes:
Reverb Imperial Pilsner
Boulevard Brewing Company, Kansas City, Missouri
Style: Imperial Pilsner
Serving Style: 750 ml Bottle
Aroma: Malt leads the way; a combination of pilsner-malt sweetness and notes of toast. Light hints of sulfur in the background. Hop character is lower than expected; floral and spicy.
Appearance: Light gold and quite hazy at first. The haze cleared as the beer warmed a bit. A large, mousse-like, cap of white foam that just wouldn’t die.
Flavor: A bit too cold on the first few sips, it came off a bit unbalance; light hops and overly bitter. A quarter of the way into the glass it suddenly became delightfully pilsner-like. The same sweet malt and toasty edges from the aroma. The bitterness is just about right to balance the amped-up imperial sweetness. Floral hop flavors ride smoothly over the top, slightly prominent, but never dominant. A hint of sulfur adds complexity. The finish is clean and crisp with lingering bitterness and floral flavor.
Mouthfeel: Medium-full body. A bit viscous. Medium, but prickly carbonation.
Overall Impression: I took the challenge and the beer won. This is the most pilsner-like imperial pilsner I have ever tasted. An ABV under 8% helped. Nothing is pushed over the top. If there is one flaw it is that the malt sweetness is a touch too much. A bit more bitterness would be welcome, but not a lot.