Continuing to leverage my time at home during the coronavirus pandemic, I am studying for the second level of the Cicerone Certification Program for beer professionals. To stay honest in my studies, I am publishing reviews of DMV beers brewed in the classic styles and comparing them to the official style guidelines.
This week I’m drinking Silver Branch’s flagship Czech-style Pilsner, Glass Castle. The Silver Spring brewery has made its name brewing traditional styles, um, traditionally, and producing some of the area’s most authentic lagers (as well as other German, Czech, and Belgian styles). Let’s see what it’s up against:
Czech Premium Pale Lager Guidelines from the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP):
Rich, characterful, pale lager, with considerable malt and hop character and a long, rounded finish. Complex yet well-balanced and refreshing.
Appearance is gold to deep gold color. Brilliant to very clear clarity.
Aroma is medium to medium-high bready-rich malt and medium-low to medium-high spicy, floral, or herbal hop
Flavor is rich, complex, bready maltiness combined with a pronounced yet soft and rounded bitterness and floral and spicy hop flavor.
Mouthfeel is medium body. Moderate to low carbonation.
Vital Statistics: IBUs 30-45, SRM 3-6, ABV 4.2-5.8%
Glass Castle admirably stands up to the guidelines from the first tip of the can, pouring into the glass in a beautifully transparent pale gold. Light flour nose, the scent is reminiscent of checking on my fiance’s bread dough and guessing if it has doubled in size yet. I really should have taken a picture before putting the towel over it, I always forget to do that. There is a perceptible spicy hoppiness here, but the beer’s soft roundness balances that off with gusto. Castle has a deep malt presence which completely sidesteps any pitfalls of sweetness and just entirely leans into artisanal whole wheat bread. Rich, honeyed, crusty malt, and a little bit of mint sneaking in at the end.
Silver Branch quotes this at 40 IBUs, but the perceived bitterness is far lower for my palate. IBUs are based on isomerization of hop alpha acids (Isomerization occurs when hops are introduced to heat, one of the main effects of which is converting alpha acids from the hops into bitterness), but the beer’s soft, malty-richness plays against the perceived bitterness. The brewery achieves this effect by using reverse osmosis to imitate the Czech Republic’s indigenous soft (low concentration of minerals) water, which builds the beer’s roundness. While not optimal for all beer styles, soft water serves as a fantastic base for pale lager. Clearly, it makes sense why Pilsner was invented in the Czech Republic.
In addition to water treatment, Silver Branch utilizes a traditional decoction mash in order to achieve such rich maltiness. The brewers separate small parts of the mash and boil them individually before returning to the main mash. Mashing is essentially steeping malted grain in hot water, with the goal of converting enzymes in the grain to fermentable sugars. While a more laborious effort than other modern mashing techniques, this process serves to attain a richer flavor while maintaining a dry finish.
High end beer marketing has rendered the term “eminently drinkable” almost meaningless with constant use, a high class version of “crispy boi.” Glass Castle, however, earns that moniker. It is flavorful, rich, and pleasantly bitter, all wrapped in a snappy, absolutely crushable (talk about overused phrases) package. Crushable is not a pun on my photo, that was my second one while writing this and I got a little over-excited!
Pairs well with spicy lentils, Route 11 potato chips (particularly Sour Cream & Chive), a sidecar of Fernet, or another Glass Castle. This sequence of events directly led me to finally creating a Twitter account for this, should you like to follow – @DKdrinksbeer.
Next week – Manor Hill Mild Manor’d!