In Italy for the better part of a fortnight, we ordered Italian Pils whenever the opportunity arose, trying to understand it.
It’s not a sub-style we’ve particularly engaged with back home in the UK because:
- the UK is not Italy
- we think of pils as being about freshness
Having said that, we have tried the odd example, such as one that showed up at the Bristol branch of brewpub chain Zero Degrees. “Ever-so-slightly floral” we wrote of that at the time.
In Milan and Parma, the term seems to mean something quite specific.
As in, lots of beer menus have both ‘Pils’ and ‘Italian Pils’ as separate items.
The former tends to be something that might be badged as ‘lager’ in the UK – plain, not especially bitter; think Tennent’s or Carling.
The Italian Pilsners, by contrast, are:
Our quick tasting notes, which we don’t overthink, show a theme emerging: we often can’t quite decide if they taste like pale-n-hoppy cask ale, or authentically Franconian.
St.Georgenbräu of Buttenheim has come up a couple of times.
An excellent blog post by Jeff ‘Beervana’ Alworth suggests that perhaps this is the point:
[Augustino] Arioli first brewed Tipopils in 1996 when he founded the brewery, but the inspiration emerged earlier, after a peripatetic journey through the different traditions of brewing. As he learned to brew, Germany was his first influence. Later he spent time and brewed in the UK, Canada, and US. All of this informed the way he thought about beer. “I [had] visited some English brewers and studied some more about English cask beer. I knew that they were using dry-hop in the cask. I thought, why don’t I do this with my Tipopils?”
We found a spectrum with Tipopils being very much the cleanest, most balanced beer we tried.
It’s a grown-up, commercial beer that has plenty of character, without being likely to upset someone who just wants a glass of cold, refreshing beer.
Others seemed to be hazier, and either tilted towards more floweriness (heavy dry hopping) or towards extreme bitterness.
Almost as if they’ve been brewed based on a description of Tipopils, having never actually tasted it.
For example, on the flowery front, Birrificio del Ducato’s Via Emilia (bottled, 5%) is a remarkable beer which smells like hops straight out of the packet, before they’ve been anywhere near wort or beer.
Bringing it up to take a sip was joyful. A sort of magic trick.
We enjoyed drinking the beer a lot but it didn’t quite live up to the initial aromatic fanfare.
All the Italian pils we tried had a distinct European noble hop character, reminding us of a type of cask ale we used to see quite a lot in the UK: novelty single-hopped golden ales using, say, Tettnang, or Saaz.
Cask ale brewed with lager ingredients; lager brewed with cask ale techniques…
That’s an interesting middle ground, and a place we like to hang out.
A first take on this post first appeared on Patreon, while we were in the middle of our holiday and still thinking it through.