Pils & Love gives the humble pilsner a long-overdue moment in the craft beer spotlight
By Brian Marks
Look around a craft brewery or upscale bar and you’re bound to notice patrons struggling to drink their way through the current beer trends. There’ll be someone grimacing through a painfully bitter India Pale Ale (IPA), or reflexively puckering their cheeks from the tart bite of a lambic or wild ale.
Of course there are plenty of great IPAs and sours, and an abundance of drinkers who swear by them. But their explosion in popularity has sidelined equally notable versions of other classic beer varieties, perhaps no more so than the pilsner.
This too often overlooked crisp and golden-hued lager gets its own occasion for appreciation, however, when Firestone Walker Brewing Co. hosts the Pils & Love festival on Saturday at its Washington Boulevard R&D brewpub The Propagator.
The pilsner’s declining fortunes among craft beer fans aren’t completely the result of strong competition. The ubiquity of its watered-down descendants, including Budweiser and Miller Lite, marked pilsners as unrefined and tasteless among craft drinkers. At Pils & Love, more than 40 breweries from around the world present their best example of a pilsner — a corrective to those better-known pilsner-adjacent beers.
Pils & Love is an outgrowth of Pils Pride, an Italian beer event created in 2008 by Agostino Arioli of Birrificio Italiano. The inaugural Pils & Love event debuted last year at the Oxbow Brewing Company in Portland, Maine, and the West Coast version marks the beginning of an alternating, bicoastal event.
Firestone Walker Brewmaster Matt Brynildson is the creator of the California brewery’s own take on pilsner, the crisp and refreshing Pivo (Czech, for “beer,” a nod to the variety’s Bohemian origins). Brewing wasn’t always where Brynildson saw himself ending up — he originally planned to get into medical research after college, but instead found himself doing research and development on hops, an essential component of most beers that gives a bitter and sometimes fruity taste.
“I just started getting really fascinated by hops,” says Brynildson. “That led me to the brewing process and home brewing, and I went back to brewing school.”
Brynildson ascended to the role of head brewer at Goose Island in Chicago before moving to California and beginning at Firestone Walker about 18 years ago. During his tenure the brewery has expanded into a diverse portfolio of beers, including new experiments coming out of The Propagator. But getting beer drinkers to come back to the pilsner has been a difficult process.
“When I first got into the business, American beer was somewhat the laughing stock of the world, at least in the brewing circles,” recalls Brynildson. “It was these light, somewhat watery lite beers that American beer was known for. When craft beer came onto the scene, unlike in other parts of the world, craft-brewed lager beers really didn’t resonate with beer drinkers because lager — or pilsner even — just meant Miller, Bud, Coors …”
Firestone Walker is focusing Pils & Love on curation and removing distractions. There won’t be food pairings to interfere (although food is available). The overwhelming list of beers that festivals usually sport has also been trimmed.
“Usually you go to a beer fest and it’s all about showing off,” says Brynildson. “You go there with your big guns, all the special beers you don’t normally have for sale. Whereas at this Pils & Love festival, each brewery just brings one beer: their pilsner beer. It’s the purest, most focused festival of beers that I’ve been to before.”
That means craft aficionados will have to give a fair shot to a style of beer many have reflexively shunned.
“We’ve found that craft beer drinkers go through an evolution,” says Brynildson. “If you really love beer and focus on the world of beer, you end up coming back to lagers at some point.”
Pils & Love happens from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday (July 28) at The Propagator, 3205 Washington Blvd., Marina del Rey. Tickets are $60 at firestonebeer.com.