One of beer’s most intriguing features is its sense of place, the idea that you can taste something from a certain region, even a highly specific location, and that each particular combination of sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami — as well as untold millions of individual flavors — only exists for a particular brew from a particular place. At least in Czech terms, this is considered to be true for Pilsner, though elsewhere “Pilsner,” “Pilsener” and “Pils” mean vastly different things. In Norway, it could be something like Rogalands Pils, from Egersund, in the south of the country, or Mack Arctic Beer, a lager from Tromsø, way up inside the Arctic Circle.
These two showed up here via Kjetil Haugland and Geir Taule, two Norwegian beer fans who brought some of the local goods with them on their recent trip to Prague. When someone asks “Have you ever seen this beer before?” while offering up a can from the world’s northernmost brewery, you pretty much jump at the chance to make a trade.
So if the true Pilsner is a reflection of a specific place in the Czech Republic, what do Pils beers from Norway taste like?
Light in body. Grainy. Sweet but not sticky. Mildly aromatic, like the breeze from the heath over the hill. And definitely not bad.
I didn’t expect either one to blow my mind — rather, I just thought they might go well with the AC Milan-Arsenal match last night. The Rogalands Pils initially reminded me of honey and cornbread. In the finish it made me think of a highly aromatic northern German beer like Jever; though not the same, it merely brought the Friesisch-herb to mind. The light body made me think I’d probably be glad for something like this on a hot afternoon of barbecuing.
The Mack Arctic Beer, poured from a half-liter can, was also light in body, though it seemed to have a bit more character. I could definitely taste the barley, and it had a bright, mouthwash-like, minty hoppiness in the finish.
I don’t think either of these can really be compared to a Pilsner from the Czech Republic. First of all, that term is reserved for Pilsner Urquell. Furthermore, our other beers in the Pilsner style are all deeper in color, have thicker, maltier bodies, and of course real Saaz hops in the finish. The overall impression is not very similar at all.
And while I was surprised that neither of these two so-called premiums had as much flavor as Bohemia Regent’s 8° lager — a true table beer, mind you — I appreciated the fact that both Rogalands Pils and Mack Arctic Beer let me watch Milan and the Gunners battle it out in peace. You could argue that sometimes you don’t want a high-maintenance beer — sometimes, like when you’re yelling at Jankulovski, a beer that constantly begs for attention is the last thing you need. Sometimes you don’t want to have the top of your head blown off by big hop spice or a syrupy finish. In this case, low maintenance was just what I got; neither of these asked much more from me than the drinking of it.
It ended up as a 0-0 game — both sides played well, though neither scored. And yet I enjoyed it completely.