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What to Eat with Pilsner
Editor's Note: You've stocked up on your favorite style of beer. But what food will help it taste even better? Certified Cicerone Michael Agnew is here to help.
In my world, Pilsner is the perfect beer. Poured into a tall, tapered glass and capped with a fluffy inch of white foam, its brilliant golden hue has a way of making me seriously thirsty. Pilsner manages to be at once sharp and delicate; the spicy bite of hops is bold, but not so bold that it overwhelms your palate or the graham-cracker-malty flavors underneath.
Pilsner is also an extremely versatile food beer. It's got enough spicy oomph to tackle Thai and other fiery Asian foods, but it also won't overwhelm more delicate dishes like shellfish or fresh goat cheese. It's great with burgers or barbecue and perfect with pizza. The hops and carbonation work to keep your palate clean. But it can also be a wonderful accompaniment to very light desserts.
Pilsner makes a great start to an evening full of beer and food. It's light, allowing you to move on to heavier beers as the session progresses. And it goes with a wide range of foods, so you won't need more than one beer to accompany a variety of starters.
Whether fried, Asian-spiced, or straight-up Buffalo, you can't beat pilsner with wings. Try a bitter Bitburger Pils with Jamaican jerk-seasoned flappers. The pairing starts with a spicy kick, but then the hops and fizz wash the heat away.
Pilsner sings with basil, so anything with pesto is a good bet. Or pour a Trumer Pils with classic tomato and mozzarella bruschetta sprinkled with basil chiffonade. The beer is light enough that it won't overwhelm a lightly-flavored fresh mozz, and the malt sweetness will balance acidity from the tomatoes.
While we're talking cheese, pilsner is perfect for those delicate fresh and younger bloomy-rind cheeses. It can even work with cheddar, but go with mild cheddar. Sharp and aged cheddars will overwhelm the beer. For a showstopping appetizer treat pair a maltier pilsner like Lagunitas Pils with baked brie, Serrano ham, and sliced apples.
If you're into pilsner, you should work on your grilled ham-and-cheese technique. The two are wonderful together—salty ham brings a fantastic counterpoint to the smooth malt and floral Saaz hops of the original golden lager, Pilsner Urquell. Make sure to buy the beer in cans—the green-bottle beer is very often skunked.
At a diner in central Wisconsin I recently enjoyed a delicious bratwurst Reuben; bratwurst, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and Thousand Island on marbled rye bread. This fantastically decadent sandwich cried out for a Schell's Pils from neighboring Minnesota. The late, great, beer writer Michael Jackson once called this beer "one of the best American examples of the pilsner style." It's sharp, clean, and bitter enough to clear away the copious fat in this sandwich. And who can argue with sauerkraut and pils?
Let's move onto the main course. Pilsner is one of the best beers to pair with sushi. Hop bitterness amps up the umami of soy sauce and raw fish. Spicy flavors in the beer latch on to the sinus-clearing sensation of wasabi. A lighter pilsner like Warsteiner will let the sushi shine while something maltier like Budweiser Budvar (Czechvar in the US) will offer a more even balance.
Spicy Thai and Vietnamese foods are also excellent with pilsner. A bowl of Bun Cha Gio, a Vietnamese noodle dish with veggies and eggroll, is wonderful with Sam Adams Noble Pils. Both are light with floral and spicy overtones and tiny hints of citrus. Add any meat you like to the dish, and don't forget the Sriracha.
Forget those watered-down Mexican lagers, a true pilsner is the way to go with food from south of the border. The fresh flavor of cilantro is well matched to the floral notes of Saaz hops in a Czech-style pils like New Belgium's Blue Paddle. A fat chicken burrito is the perfect partner for Victory Prima Pils—one of the best domestic pilsners available. The burrito's spices and salsa match the spicy flavors of German hops. This beer has the cutting power to get through even the pastiest refried beans.
When you talk about serving beer with dessert, most people don't venture past sweeter porters and stouts. But paired with lighter dishes, pilsner can be an unexpected treat. Try it with a slice of pound cake or a handful of lemon shortbread cookies. Rhubarb season is coming to an end, but there is still some to be had. North Coast Scrimshaw Pilsner and a slice of strawberry rhubarb pie are surprisingly simpatico. Crust and malt complement each other nicely, while fruit and hops bring a tasty contrast.
Consider these suggestions just starting points, and tell us: what do you like to eat with your favorite pilsner?
About the Author: Certified Cicerone Michael Agnew is the lead educator and owner of A Perfect Pint. He conducts beer tastings for private parties and corporate events. His beer musings can be read in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, his own Perfect Pint Blog, The Hop Press at Ratebeer.com, the City Pages Hot Dish Blog, and in respected national beer magazines. Follow him on Twitter at @aperfectpint