Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Tour de Pils

In the Before Times, I went to Texas, San Antonio to be precise. With a day of conferencing behind me, I found a bar in which to have dinner, and in said bar I had my first ever beer from Live Oak Brewing in Austin. I had been in Austin just a couple of months previously but hadn't seen this beer while I was there. The beer was Live Oak Pilz, and I described it at the time as "one of the most authentic iterations of the style I have had in the ten years since I left Prague".

I was back in Texas last week, for the first time since the pandemic began, last time I was there was the week before lockdowns came into place, SXSW had been cancelled, and the city was a ghost town. I knew that on this trip I would finally make it out to the brewery, and its 22 acre beer garden, though me being me, I eventually plonked my arse at a long trestle table inside the tap room itself.

Naturally I checked out the tap list first, even though I knew fine well what my first beer was going to be.

Standing at the bar, I spied the opportunity to do a little tour of Central Europe through the medium of pale lager. On tap that day was not just Pilz, but that was where I started, with a mug of foamy happy place fresh from the Lukr tap...

Now, I have to admit that I was thrown off by the bartender asking me if I wanted the beer "crispy or sweet", but she was talking about the style of pour that I wanted, hladinka  or šnyt. As you can see I agree with Karel Čapek that a šnyt is "at least something more than nothing", and so had a classic hladinka. Pilz pours a lovely light golden, is as clear as a bell, and that wet creamy foam just kind of sat there, at least until I slurped a good deal of it off. Up to this point, the only Pilz I had had was canned, but fresh at source on tap is basically as good as beer gets. The aroma was mostly the spicy Saaz hops, tinged with hints of hay and orange blossom, dancing around with crusty bread of the malt. All of which carries on into the drinking, ah the drinking of a Live Oak Pilz is such a pleasure, firmly bitter, finishing snappy and clean, I could happily have ended my ersatz Central European tour in Bohemia, but having reveled with Čech, Lech was beckoning me northwards...

The other Lukr tap that day was home to Piwko Pils, a 4.4% Polish style pale lager, hopped with Lubelski, Marynka, and Sybilla. The beer itself pours a touch paler than the Pilz, but shared that wonderful clarity, and a foamy cap that just wouldn't budge without a few gulps of it being taken. The aroma was earthy, almost reminding me of the tobacco character that I find in beers hopped with Fuggles. There was little malt aroma that was noticeable, though there was perhaps a hint of smokiness. That earthiness was dominant in the flavour department as well, backed up by a woodiness that made the bitterness of the beer feel almost rough and rustic, in the background were notes of fresh country bread. It wasn't really what I was expecting after the elegant Pilz, but it was certainly tasty, and the dry, almost puckering, finish actually reminded me of a Slovak beer I had a long time ago in a village close to the Slovak-Hungarian border, Gemer - before it got bought by Heineken that is. Having journeyed with Lech, my mind wandered west...

Gold was actually my first beer of the trip, at my favourite Austin hangout, Scholz Garten, alongside a glorious plate of wurst, kraut, and senf. This one was poured on the regular taps, and I am always happy to get a beer in a Willibecher, no other beer glass says Central Europe to me than the venerable becher. Gold, as you would expect, lives up to its name,  pouring a vibrant golden with a hefty firm head, propped up by the occasional tremulous bubble making its way up the glass. As I mentioned on Twitter, "proper lager isn't fizzy", and this is proper lager. Ah that crusty bread aroma, so indicative of pilsner malt, I love it, especially when it is joined by the floral nature of German noble hops. In an instant I am transported to mountain meadows, the jangling bells of livestock, and the urge to spend a sunny day sat outside a local braugasthof sampling the wares. Tastewise, Gold is subtly spicy with layers of lightly honeyed toast and gentle minerality in the finish. The mouthfeel was almost lascivious, satiny, and yet clean and crisp as all great lagers are, and this is a truly great lager. Say it quietly, but I think it is actually better than Pilz, and I would love to try a side by side tasting of this with Von Trapp's stellar Bavarian Pilsner.

With my tour de pils complete, I did move on to try other of Live Oak's offerings that day, but I had been joined by Ruvani of Amethyst Heels fame, along with the husband, and it would have been rude to take notes and pictures, so I didn't bother.

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