Fall is fresh-hop season. Sometime in September the store shelves burst with super-citrusy IPAs that are loaded with unprocessed hops. They’re typically big, bright and a little bit grassy. I find the fresh hops impart subtle (or sometimes not-so-subtle) undertones of chive. By mid-October they’re mostly gone. There are still a couple lingerers as I type this, but the pickins are slim.
But just as the others disappear from stores, a new one from Schell’s suddenly appears. It’s a lager, so it had to cellar for a time before it could be released. That bottom-fermented identity is something that separates this one from the rest of the pack. Pilsners are the original hop-showcase beers. That perfumed Saaz-hop aroma is their claim to fame. Despite that, pilsners aren’t beers that most people think of as “hoppy.” Picking a pilsner to display the freshness of the new hop crop is an interesting move. It’s a choice that is perfectly in keeping with the Schell’s tradition of brewing great German-style lagers. It’s also in keeping with the somewhat hop-averse taste of Head Brewer Dave Berg.
Here’s my notes:
Stag Series #6: Fresh Hop Citra Pils
August Schell Brewing Company, New Ulm, Minnesota
Style: German Pilsner with fresh citra hops
Serving Style: 12 oz. Bottle
Aroma: Bright citrusy hops – lemons and limes – do a delicate dance atop a base of graham cracker sweetness. Very yeasty. Malt and yeast dominate. Hop character blows off quickly.
Appearance: Light golden and hazy – reminded me of a witbier going into the glass. Mousse-like white foam that lasts and lasts – also sort of witbeir like.
Flavor: Yeast and malt hit first, giving the impression of bread dough. Bitterness is moderate, but hangs on into the finish. It’s a very delicate balance between malt and hops. The hop flavor is also delicate, but definite – revealing at varying moments lemons, limes, and ripe musk melons. At times the limes are almost tart, like Starburst candy. Hints of fresh-hop grass and chive occasionally poke their heads out in the background. Those lemons and limes linger long after swallowing.
Mouthfeel: Medium-light body, but with yeasty fullness, like a witbier or a weizen. Medium carbonation.
Overall Impression: Everything about this beer says that I should love it. Pilsner is my perfect beer. I love a good Zwickelbier (unfiltered lager). Citra is one of my favorite new hop varieties. But there is something here that doesn’t quite fit for me. I think it’s that the doughiness of the still-suspended yeast fights for supremacy with the super-delicate flavors of the hops. It comes off a bit like a yeasty Radler. It’s not that I don’t like it, I do. I would drink a few pints. I just don’t love it. Now if it had been filtered…..