A Traditional Pilsner with An American Flair

Type of Beer: Pilsner

Beer: Sam Adams Noble Pils
Brewery: The Boston Beer Company
Rating: 9/10
Place of Purchase: Joe Canal’s, Bellmawr, NJ
Bottling Date: NA

Nose: Hoppy, (floral, citrus, pine), slight malt
Mouth: Light, crisp, pine and floral notes. Malty finish, strong hops after taste.

You know, I first tried this out back in 2009 when they first released it. Sam Adams has always been a decent brewer but nothing they had every really knocked my socks off. It was good beer and a fine example of what an American brewery can do. I often held them up to my snooty foreign friends who think American beer consists of Miller, Budweiser and Coors. Many were often impressed. But I know I had bigger guns waiting in the wings for when one of them would make the comment that it was just ok. It happened sometimes and I’d fire back with some of my favorites from craft and microbrewers. They would be suitably impressed and I could be smug for shooting down a beer snob.

But I was always weird about Sam Adams. They have a large catalog and do most of the beers they make well. Not necessarily great but well. They make good beer. I felt that I was kind of let down in that respect. Then along came Noble Pils.

Before I get in to this, let me talk about some technical and historical stuff here. First, a glaring inaccuracy. If you go to Sam Adams’ site and look up Noble Pils, they classify it as an Eisbock. That’s not really true for one main reason, freezing. See, an Eisbock is a doppelbock that is frozen partially. What this does is it causes water in the brew to freeze and float to the top where it can be removed. This increases the concentration of alcohol in the brew and makes it stronger. Sam Adams, unless they are withholding information, does not do that and therefore, this is not an Eisbock. It is a Pilsner and if anything, because of it’s strong hops profile, it is an American Style Pilsner. By the way, American Pilsners are not all light beers. The majority of the old American brewers from Milwaukee area like Piels, Schlitz, Pabst and even Budweiser and Miller were started by Bohemian immigrants and brewed Pilsners. They have a unique American profile because of the different climate, available water and grains. So get that thought out of your head that American Pilsners are all Light beers.

That said, Sam Adams loads this up with hops. Noble Hops to be exact. What are they? Well, the following hops varieties are Noble Hops: Hallertau, Tettnanger, Spalt, Saaz, and Hersbrucker. The reason these are called Noble Hops is because they are the main cultivars of hops varieties common to central Europe which is where this town called Pilsen is. There are actually only 4 Noble Hops varieties. They are the Hallertau, Tettnanger, Spalt, and Saaz. The Hersbruker hops variety is a replacement hops that replaced the Hallertau variety because it is less susceptible to disease. But Sam Adams found it fit to add it as well as the hops it replaces and honestly, I think that’s pretty cool. It also explains the spicy tang that this beer has since there’s basically a double shot of that from these two hops varieties.

Well, Noble Hops have been used for centuries and have definitive flavor profiles that are hallmarks of other, more famous beers like Pilsner Urquell. Oh, and that town called Pilsen? Yeah, that town is known for brewing a light lager known as Pilsner.

So, Sam Adams has made a Pilsner using all 5 varieties of Noble Hops. When I first had this brew, it blew me away. It was complex. There were so many flavors and aromas that it was hard to pick out what they were. I was honestly a bit overwhelmed. I had a single pint and went for something less radical. I couldn’t stop thinking about it though and the next time I was out for a beer with friends, I grabbed a Noble Pils again. I couldn’t get it off my mind. I had to find this beer and that proved harder than I thought. Stores all around me were selling out their entire season’s stock in a matter of days. I ended up heading down to a friend’s house for a BBQ and he asked me to grab beer on the way down. I stopped at a local store near him and there it was. Two full cases, the last of their stock. I blew all my beer money on those two cases and had to find an ATM to get more cash for the beer I was going to give to my friends. I felt like a crack fiend. Just as well, I’ve shared this brew with friends who have a less refined palette and they can’t get past that initial hops onslaught to find the rest of the brew. Such a shame. Maybe one day they will learn…I hope.

Hops onslaught though, yeah, that’s what it is. It’s not bad though. It’s balanced well and while certain hops varieties drown out the others in the nose, the other, more bitter ones are clear and present in the mouth and over powering the more aromatic ones. Until the after taste that is and then the aromatics come back. Thing is though, this has what Sam Adams calls a “honeyed malt” which isn’t anything that special. It just decides the color and darkness of the roast of the malt. It’s marketing speak for a medium roast, typical to most Bohemian brews. It’s light and sweet, like a good sammich bread. It’s a spring barley too and they used the old world technique of floor malting the barley. So it produces a fresh, crisp and sweet malt that isn’t heavy at all. The sweetness of that malt really compliments the hops which I think would be over-powering with any other malt. So Sam Adams did some homework with this and it shows.

So if I’m so enamored with this beer, why only a 9 out of a possible 10? Well, see, this is supposed to be a lager. That’s what Pilsners are, lagers. They are usually lightly hopped with pale hops so they end up being fresh and easy drinking. Because of all the hops in this brew it ends up being more like a Pale Ale. But unlike an ale, it’s not sour. It’s sweet and hearty like a lager. So for that small identity crisis that I think throws it slightly off the Pilsner path, it loses a point. But, big whoop. Honestly, out of all the Pilsners I’ve tried, this is an excellent example of what a Pilsner could be. There are other Pilsners I will review eventually that behave themselves and I’ll discuss that further when I get to them.

This one though, it’s a rebel and it takes a risk. It manages to pull it off and as a beer, it is a fine example of an American Pilsner. It is a beer that when my snobby friends from Europe decide to drop in and lay waste to my stash, I actually save this one as a heavy hitter to shut them up about American beer. For that, as a beer, it gets high marks even if it’s slightly wide of a Pilsner. Even now, as I try to find new brews I have yet to sample just for this site, I often find myself snatching a 6 pack of Noble Pils if I see it on a shelf.

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