Wheatland Spring’s latest Pilsner is both old and new. I thought landbier was exclusively German, but the Valleys Pilsner from Wheatland Spring updates this time-honored tradition.
John Branding, co-founder of Wheatland Spring writes, “we do our best to offer beers that are a sincere reflection of our Land Beer approach.” Valleys honors the 1842 birthday of the world’s first Pilsner brewery, Plzeňský Prazdroj, or the Pilsner Urquell Brewery. Though the beer is new, the concept of Valleys was born when the co-founders visited Pilsen, 10 years ago.
“We’ve been working on this beer for some time. Bonnie and I visited Pilsner Urquell in Pilsen this time of year a decade ago while we were living in Munich. The town of Pilsen was celebrating the original brewery’s 170th anniversary. The festival was incredible and left such an impression on us that we wanted to honor the people and place that have made a huge impact on beer over the last, now, 180 years.”
Valleys Czech-Style Pilsner is itself a sliver stronger than Pilsner Urquell, 4.6% alcohol by volume, compared to 4.4% ABV. Pilsner Urquell comes across as a tad more bitter, though the same hop variety, Saaz, is used in both beers. As for malt character, Valley expresses itself as fully grainy, malty, and pleasingly reminiscent of grape nuts.
The even split of barleys, 50% from Moravia, Czechia, and 50% from Loudoun County, Virginia, yields a beer that is neither as brisk as the typical Virginia pilsner, nor as massively malty as the typical Czech pale lager. One key distinction between Czech and American malt is that the Czechs typically take more time malting their barley than we do Stateside.
Valley’s strength lies in its ability to orient the drinker–we’re familiar with Pilsner as a style–yet offer up a distinct entry into the lager category that is neither fully Czech, German, or American. Its hopping is subtle, certainly more dialed down than many American Pilsners. But it’s malt is more reminiscent of an Andechs Vollbier Hell or Augustiner Edelstoff than the oftentime buttered breadiness found in Czech beers like Pilsner Urquell, Czechvar Original Czech Lager, or Únětické Pivo 12° Únětický pivovar, the latter two at a strength of 5% ABV.
Stylistic comparisons aside, if every American beer with “Czech-Styple Pilsner” on its packaging was as high quality as Valleys, the beer marketplace would be in much better shape.
Branding writes, “Valleys, it’s a tribute through interpretation. To pay homage, we bring together their [Czech] local ingredients from the Haná Valley and estate ingredients from our farm in the Piedmont Valley. Our water, their hops, and barley from both Valleys.”
The Virginia barley was custom crafted for Wheatland Spring. The other half was floor-malted Czech barley. Branding wrote of the grist, “[o]ver the last years of growing grains for our beer, we’ve experienced that our barley expresses differently based on the harvest year. Plus, each small batch of custom craft malt is different because we’re focused on flavor expression instead of uniformity through blending or other methods. The result are beers with their own identity, even if the ‘same’ ingredients are used. We like that beers will move across a flavor spectrum, depending on a number of factors like harvest year, malting approach, and time of year. It seems more natural to us that the flavor expression of an agricultural product, like beer, will vary over time. The wine world has embraced this idea for years and it’s great to see a growing openness to the significance of place and agricultural character in beer. Beyond wishing Pilsner a happy birthday, Valleys looks to shine a light on growing regions by highlighting the two where the ingredients were sourced.”
Valleys is $19 a four pack at Wheatland Spring Farm and Brewery. There’s an outside chance you’ll see it at the Ballston Farmers Market, 3-7PM on Thursdays.