Beer: Hophugger Pilsner
Style: Pilsner (?)
From: My secret supply
Now this is going to be a bit of an odd review: I’m going to say quite a few negative things. But I’m also going to say some positive things, and because I don’t trust the anti-beer-snob Mafia to finish reading this post before they come around to my house and break my kneecaps (or at least send me angry comments and emails), I’m going to put the positives at the start, before I dish out the criticism. And as always, caveat lector.
Hophugger is a totally decent beer, that I enjoyed, and you might too. Is that clear? Everyone got that? Good.
Now some negative: the bottle label is awful. So is the name. Neither of these should ever be a deal-breaker, but as someone who sells beer, trust me: these things matter. Frequently people will buy a beer because the label looks cool or it has a clever name. I don’t consider that to be a good thing, but it’s a reality, and this beer fails on both those counts.1 I know they take their name from a Timaru-based organics company (contracted at Invercargill, I believe), but I think they should have given it more thought.
Anyway, lets not judge books by their terrible cover-design. How was the beer? Well I poured out a glass, and my immediate thought was: gosh, that’s dark for a pilsner. It’s a funny thing to notice, but I’m not joking when I say it really was too dark to be a pilsner.
BJCP guidelines suggest a pils should be around 2-6 SRM (standard reference method). I pulled up a comparison chart, and Hophugger seemed to be somewhere around 9 or 10 SRM. Again, appearance should never be a deal-breaker in a beer. I’ve never been one to send back a beer because it doesn’t look right, and I hate people that do.2 The reason I mention this though, is that it was kind of a warning, because…
It smells lovely, but it doesn’t really smell like a pilsner either. The main aroma is classic New Zealand hops: purple fruit, citrus peel and a bit of dirt; but underneath it all, there’s a big caramel character. Caramel in a pilsner? That’s a bit weird. Again it’s not a deal-breaker, but…
It tastes more or less exactly like it smells. The body is full and rich (for a pale beer) and the flavour is sweet and caramelly. It’s hop character was again, classically New Zealand and the bitterness was pleasantly high. However the body was full and round and a little fat.
Now don’t get me wrong, the flavour was quite nice, but you might see where I’m going here. My benchmark pilsners (but not my favourite, mind) are Pilsner Urquel (Czech), Waldhaus Diplom (German) and Emerson’s (New Zealand). If I had to say what was the defining character of all those beers it’s a refreshing dryness, a snap-and-crackle that makes the beer stand to attention on your tongue.3
And that’s what’s missing here. Hophugger does not have the essential snap of a pilsner. It’s too soft and round and sweet. If you gave it to me blind, I’d guess something like a Blonde Ale, or maybe a very light Pale Ale. There might be a lager sub-category that it fits into better, like New Zealand-hopped Helles Bock or something silly like that, but I simply suspect that this is a beer that doesn’t fit well into any category. One thing is clear though: it’s not a classic pilsner.
Interestingly, a couple of people threw around the ‘D’ word: diacetyl. I disagree but I think it might be indicative: I think what’s going on here is an excess of speciality malt (caramel or crystal maybe). This would make a lot of sense: It’s kind of like a pils, but quite full and sweet. And you know what? That’s fine: it’s a nice beer. Spend your money on it and you won’t be ripped off.
So what’s my gripe then? Well, it’s classic case of failing to do what it says on the tin. Hardcore pilsner drinkers are picky bastards (I’m not one of them). This beer promises a pilsner, but delivers something different. And I guess that’s the crux of my consumer advice: this is a nice beer, but don’t expect a classic pilsner.
Did I mention it’s a nice beer and I like it? Please don’t break my kneecaps…
- That’s why I swear I’m going to write those naming guidelines one day.
- And believe me, they do. The majority of them have been CAMRA members.
- Notice how hard I’m trying to avoid the word ‘crisp’, because I’m bloody sick of it. Feel free to insert that word if you like.