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JUN/JUL 2006 | FEATURES | BEER & FOOD

The Importance Of Pilsner
By Lucy Saunders

I grew up surrounded by people who love pilsners. Pale yellow, spritzed with white foam and scads of bubbles, pilsners filled the glasses of our neighbors and friends at barbecues, at backyard picnics and on summer nights spent playing cards on the porch, when it was just too hot to stay inside. One of the sounds of a good porch party was the cascading hiss of carbonation released by uncapping a longneck bottle, followed by the glug of a straight pour into a tall glass.

As a kid, I loved the feeling of foam evaporating on my upper lip when I was allowed just one taste of suds. When I reached the legal drinking age, exotic Mexican lagers, bready stouts and English ales captured my curiosity — and my cash. By the time I tried a first fragrant sip of raspberry lambic ale, I’d decided that pilsners were dull.

But a recent excursion to the Breakfast Creek Hotel in Brisbane, Australia, proved the enduring importance of pilsner.

Brisbane sprawls along a brackish estuary about an hour’s drive from the Pacific Coast in Queensland, Australia, and has truly subtropical weather. Public transit in the city includes catamarans that dart from docksides to take travelers through the city along the water’s edge. On an inlet is the historic Breakfast Creek Hotel, fondly called the “Brekky Creek.” Topped with an ancient XXXX Castlemaine sign that turned the building into a historic landmark, the hotel is famous for its barbecue and lager served from the wood.

Though the lager is not fermented in the wood, the hotel staff does keep up with the labor of conditioning the wood barrels and keeping them cool and clean to serve lager. A keg of Castlemaine XXXX (“Fourex”) lager cellars for a few days in the wood before being hoisted to the Brekky bar for tapping. The wooden cask is ceremoniously tapped every day at 5:00 p.m.

Anxious to get a photo of the tapping of the cask, I decided to take a catamaran to the nearest stop along the river. On the map, it looked like just a short stroll to the hotel. However, I’d not counted on the walkway running alongside a four-lane highway choked with clouds of exhaust in the late afternoon sun. Without a hat, I hiked several miles in the 90°F heat, the orange sun blazing down. By the time I reached the Brekky, I was almost at my breaking point.

Sad to say, it was too late for the photo. The cask had been tapped, my face was as ruddy as a cooked prawn, and I was more than ready for a cool drink. That first pint of pilsner from the cask tasted like nectar. The second was even more refreshing when paired with prawns and a grilled steak from the barbecue.

Such is the importance of a well-made pilsner: quenching, refreshing, drinkable and — in the right place at the right time — quite a lot better than water. In addition to the “Fourex” from the wood, the Breakfast Creek Hotel serves its own “premium lager,” contract brewed by the Oxford 152 Pub Brewery in Bulimba, Queensland.

Other BBQ-worthy brands include Lagunitas Pils, the classic Pilsner Urquell, Blue Tongue from Queensland, and James Squire Original Pilsener from the old Hahn Brewery (now Malt Shovel) of Camperdown, New South Wales, Australia. Trumer Pils from Berkeley, Calif., just won a gold medal at the World Beer Cup. And in Wisconsin, a new craft lager with lovely yeasty notes is the Yokel from New Glarus Brewing Company. It’s a balanced, quaffable lager created by Brewmaster Dan Carey to go with grilled burgers.

Please see below for a quick recipe to add spice to your summer barbecue — perfect to pair with the pilsner of your choice on the side.

 

[RECIPE] Peppery Pilsner Barbecue Sauce

Ingredients:
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons garlic, peeled and minced
2 tablespoons minced Serrano chili pepper (1 large fresh pepper)
1 cup minced yellow onion
1 cup tomato chili sauce or ketchup
12 ounces pilsner
1/3 cup Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon (or more) hot pepper sauce
2 tablespoons bourbon

1. Mix vinegar, sugar and pepper flakes in a large saucepan set over medium heat and cook 5 minutes. Add garlic, chili pepper, onions, ketchup, pilsner and Worcestershire sauce and bring to a simmer. Turn heat to low and simmer 25 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until sauce is reduced by one-third.

2. Add hot pepper sauce and bourbon; simmer 15 minutes more. Baste on grilled chicken or ribs during the final 15 to 20 minutes of cooking over indirect heat (the sauce is sugary and will cause flare-ups if applied while over direct fire). Makes about 2 1/2 cups.

 

Lucy Saunders edits beercook.com and thinks of beer as food.

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