I confess, when it comes to what I call my go-to “sippin’ beer,” I lean toward moderately to highly hopped and malty ales rather than crystal clear and crisp lagers. But with summer on the horizon, a beautifully constructed American craft-brewed Pilsner most definitely has its place in my personal cuisine. For quenching thirst and taming a robust platter of nachos or hearty barbecue, it can be just the ticket. Not so aggressively hoppy that it fights the food, but complex enough to an interesting component in the meal right down to the last sip.
Trust me, there’s nothing dull or boring about a well-constructed Pilsner. And beyond all of the benefits just mentioned, it really is a flexible beverage. For one thing, its spicy complexity with a bouquet of floral flavors and aromas and refined hop presence complements where a hoppier-maltier beer would just be inelegant. I definitely include it in my simple picnic fare. And for a summer salad spiked with tomatoes and crumbled feta with a charming vinaigrette, it is always worth considering.
But its flexibility shows in how it will also complement a lightly grilled chunk of halibut in a straightforward butter and lemon sauce.
Pilsners can also take on dishes with a larger flavor profile. It can cut through the spiciness of salsas, the saltiness of prosciutto, the fishiness of caviar, and the richness of smoked salmon. In cuisines where some of the dishes are particularly rich in chiles and spicy seasonings, including Mexican, Thai and Indian, an American craft-brewed Pilsner can definitely be the perfect companion. For instance, take that same lightly grilled chunk of halibut, but instead of a simple lemon butter treatment, drizzle it with a complex Red Thai Curry Sauce (see recipe) and with a well-crafted Pilsner at your side, the meal will be completely delightful.
One of my favorite pairings is a well constructed, regionally produced pilsner — such as Mazama Brewing’s Deadline Pilsner or Block 15's Gloria — with a batch of Tommy Tang’s Thai Egg Rolls (Yes, the recipe follows!). Mazama’s creation, with its crystal clear gold appearance and bready personality wraps itself around the deep-fried crust in the egg roll and celebrates the rich and spicy filling. Gloria is just as perfect a pairing due to its subtle malt character and snappy hop presence.
Of course, beyond these two popular Corvallis brewery offerings, there are plenty of West Coast pilsners to try, such as Lagunitas Pils, Sierra Nevada’s Summerfest, and Pelican Brewery’s Five Fin Pilsner,
So, as summer unfolds it would be a shame to overlook the wonderful experience a well-crafted Pilsner - with its controlled bitterness, lively carbonation, balanced malty sweetness and bready character — can bring to the table when serving a wide range of foods:
• Everything ham, including grilled cheese and ham and those spunky Cuban sandwiches.
• Shellfish in all its glory, including steam clams in garlic butter, sauteed scallops, as well as Dungeness crab and Pacific shrimp cocktails.
• All things curry.
• All things Mexican, Thai and Vietnamese.
• Jamaican dishes such as jerk chicken and pork.
• Creamy chilled soups, such as Vichyssoise and Cream of Avocado.