I have never been a big fan of pilsners. I like the crisp, refreshing change of pace they offer over other brews, but when it comes down to it I love big, flavorful brews. However, if all pilsners were like Elysian Brewing‘s Hansel and Gretel, it’d be a different story.
Here’s the catch, Hansel and Gretel, which has an 83 on Beer Advocate, is a special seasonal “ginger-pumpkin Czech pilsner,” which may just be the greatest four words strung together for me when mentioning the lager-style beer. This pilsner is flavorful with amazing aromatics and is arguably the best pilsner I’ve ever had – BJCP guidelines be damned.
What is it about this beer that’s gotten me to blaspheme such a world-renowned, traditional style? Hit the jump to find out.
Starting with the ingredients of this beer, it’s sure to be special for pumpkin lovers such as myself. Hansel and Gretel is triple-pumpkin brewed(!) with Elysian adding pumpkin to the mash, kettle and fermenter. Suck on that gourd, Miller. The beer is also spiced with fresh ginger(!) and given a good dose of Saaz hops. These last two ingredients were pretty much made for each other. Saaz, with its low alpha acid (below five percent) and spicy tones seem to give the ginger an extra kick both on the nose and tongue. With both the ginger and hops doubling down on an earthy spiciness, it really helps to give Hansel and Gretel a novel profile for the style. Even better that Saaz is a classic hop addition to a pilsner.
The smell of Hansel and Gretel is led by that powerful burst of ginger, so much so it instantly reminded me of fresh ginger you’d eat with sushi, which is meant to help cleanse the palate between tastings. I’d argue you get a similar effect here. The spiciness is a welcome smell each time your nose inches toward your glass, but stays fresh throughout the bottle and never gets annoying. If I struggled, I could justify sensing some nutmeg from the beer, but the ginger is truly front and center.
Such was the case with Hansel and Gretel’s flavor, with the ginger simply overriding anything else. Given the pilsner style as the base of this beer, that’s understandable. If Elysian wanted to create a brew that really let ginger shine, a pilsner or blonde would be perfect. While the brewery used pumpkin throughout the brewing process, I could only taste it a little on the back end of the beer as it went down, offering more of its true flavor instead of sweetness you may find in other pumpkin beers. The finish was slightly bitter – almost piney due to the ginger – and left a slight dry note. I didn’t even sense that bitterness until I was about 1/4 through the beer, a commendation to how much I enjoyed the other flavors.
So yes, this pilsner is far from normal, but that’s what makes it so great. It’s a fantastic Americanized version to take a classic style, say to hell with the rules and see what happens. Kudos to Elysian for their experimentation to come up with a great beer.
*Sidenote: I’ve decided to switch my “Rate That Beer” sheet with a stat line when applicable to cover malt, hop and adjunct information.*
Hansel and Gretel stats: