Beer series always seem to slow in spring and summer in favor of warm-weather seasonals that don’t require a lot of contemplation; beers you drink while doing something other than sitting by a fire/soup bowl/House of Cards marathon. So the fact that Schell’s new series even exists is pretty awesome: All four beers are easy-sippin’ pilsners, yet there’s enough nuance there to make each worthy of study.
But what ups the cool-factor here is the inspiration. After co-founding the town of New Ulm, Minn., German immigrant August Schell launched his eponymous brewery in 1860; in 1984, Schell’s released its Pilsner, then one of the only craft versions of the typically macro style. To celebrate the beer’s 30th birthday, Schell’s debuted the Pilsner Series, which includes both the 1984 pilsner—a reproduction of the recipe they brewed back then—and the 2014 version, plus a riff each on hops and malt. We tasted all four:
A 5.2%-ABV pilsner, and the first use of Schell’s house yeast strain. The beer’s not a huge departure—flavor-wise—from macro lagers, with an easy-drinking, crisp lager swallow. Dry, astringent hops mark the finish and startle the tongue a bit. The beer’s certainly drinkable, but a tad disjointed compared to the modern version.
The contemporary pils is totally streamlined. Sterling hops, higher IBUs and a switch from 6-row to 2-row barley has made the sip totally cohesive. The body’s fuller, the swallow’s cleaner, and the wisp of hop flavor and its corresponding bitterness work together seamlessly.
A bit richer than 2014, this rye-spiked version has a flash of rye spice in the finish. The swallow’s grainy-dry and a little astringent, both characteristics of a rye addition.
Boozier than the rest at 6.5% ABC, this spin was both brewed and dry-hopped with the new German hop variety Mandarina. The flavor’s not overtly orangey; rather, it’s dry and pithy—think orange oil, not juice.
All told, it’s a solid series. Beer geeks will love teasing out the subtle differences in an often overlooked style, while novices can explore the style’s range without drain-pouring a single bottle. It’s a limited series, so only the 2014 version will last beyond spring—but we hear the brewery’s planning a similar series to celebrate its hefeweizen’s big 3-0 in summer.