Monday, October 17, 2011

Victory Brewing Braumeister Pils and Victory Festbier: A Hit And A Miss

With the World Series about to start, how about a few bad baseball analogies. I'm going to schedule a doubleheader of reviews here.  Allow me to step into the batter's box.  Actually, it's Victory at the plate, whose Hop Wallop I just reviewed in the context of saying that Victory (1) doesn't usually miss on a beer; and (2) always gives you a twist, something unusual.  Well, no brewer in the country bats .1000.  Victory has a hole in their lineup and it's the Festbier that should be hitting 9th - I guess since Pennsylvania's a National League state, it hits 8th, in front of the pitcher, perhaps even a greater indignity. 

What I'm trying to tell you is that Victory swung and missed majorly with the Festbier.  I'm typically anti-Oktoberfests these days, finding them flabby and watery malt affairs.  A slew of brewers think they just have to brew one, and very few of them stand out.  Sadly, the brewing community at large doesn't even seem to be trying to distinguish their Okt from the others, perhaps because of a desire to adhere to a common perception of the German brewing tradition.  But I've had really good German beers that are spicy, biscuity and more interesting than the flabby Okt's that Brooklyn, Great Lakes, et. al., churn out.  If that's truly representative of the German style, American craft brewers should leave it to the Deutscheland brau hauses and perhaps add some American flair to the Okt's, with more hops and spices.

Victory surprisingly chose the path of least resistance with their Festbier.  It has a deep amber color, almost chestnut, and sits quietly in the glass, having very little action on the head.  Sweet malts address your nose and the flavor follows suit.  It puts a bit of breadiness on your palate along with a dab of caramel.  Given Victory's history of stamping their brews with an unexpected flavor, I kept anticipating the unique flavor's arrival.  It never came. Festbier finished mellow, dull, somewhat flat, and a bit flabby, with a flavor that quickly dissipated.  This is clearly a strikeout for Victory, not a legendarily powerful whiff like Casey at the bat, but more of a listless flail.

Fortunately, Festbier wasn't the only hitter.   Several days later, at Sheffield's Bar in Chicago I was pleasantly surprised to see that they had the Victory Braumeister's Pils on tap.  I had heard about this beer tapped at Victory's Downingtown brewpub and was thrilled to see it in Chicago.  Knowing Victory's core competency is in making hopped up and spicy versions of German beers, I can't tell you how thrilled I was to try this.

My verdict is that the Braumeister Pils is even better than the great Prima Pils, and is a more accomplished beer.  One look at it and you can tell it's no IPA.  It's quite translucent, the body is thinly veiled, a pale straw color.  It smells of dried flowers, potpourri, noble hops, and a hint of citrus.  The taste profile is that "bite: disappear, bite: disappear" formula you get out of a great pils.  You get a bit of lemon, orange, grapefruit, and some cooking spices on the tongue, along with some grass and something along the lines of dill.  It has a bright finish that gets populated with a tinge of sweet malt for a milisecond.   This has the complexity of a denser ale but the drinking ease of lemonade.  It's a very juicy beer, kind of like a pilsner version of a wet hopped ale. 

Victory has made a brilliant beer here.  They've taken some of the harsher elements of Prima Pils, it's stark New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc grassiness, and improved upon it by taming that aspect, adding spiciness, and calming it all with some malts you don't even notice at first.  This is a home run and probably the best American take on a pilsner I've ever tasted.

When I was first getting in to craft beer, Goose Island made a pilsner, "Goose Island Pils" that they bottled and it quickly became my favorite.  I loved the bite of it, the great citrusy flavor encased in a light body.  Loved it.  I liked hops before I even knew it, before I ever liked IPA's.  Anyway, that had been the best pilsner I had ever tasted until now.  I implore Victory to bottle this one. I imagine the malts and hops they use for it are not cheap, but I would surely pay over $10 for a sixer of this: a sessionable beer that's good enough to study it.  Score that as a hit for Victory. 

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