In praise of a cheap contract-brewed Pilsner

For the monthly Session.

In the eyes of a brewery my preference choices would classify me one of those fickle millennial sorts because I’ve never really had a “go-to” beer that perpetually makes it into my fridge, at least here in the US, the land of beer opportunity. Truthfully I’d probably have a hard time articulating a “favorite” beer because it’s doubtful I’ve had many beers more than once…

With one recent exception: Josephsbrau Bohemian Lager, Trader Joe’s generic answer to a Czech pilsner, brewed by Gordon Biersch. (And yes, pedants, they do also stock the “PLZNR  Czech-Style Lager.”) On my grad school stipend I was determined to find something in the generally expensive embarrassment of riches that is the San Diego gustatory beer shopping experience that was affordable, tasty, and rich. Of course, on a per ounce basis that pretty much leaves you with Costco cases and TJ’s, and the former is simply an expansionary invitation to the waistline. So, I started my way through the many generic offerings at TJ’s, particularly determined to find out why everyone so consistently speaks highly of the decidedly unAmerican tradition of Czech brewing.

The Simpler Times Lager and Pilsener were too flowery/bland and strong/crystal-malt-dense, respectively, the PLZNR just didn’t provide the comfort of something you’d want to come home to, and the Vienna Lager was a bit darker than I regularly prefer. The seasonals–bocks of various sorts, a helles, a kolsch, etc.–well, I’m happy to enjoy seasonally at most. But the Bohemian Lager stands up to that bane of generation: repetition. (I suppose the oldheads out there might call it commitment, but I just celebrated my sixth anniversary, so I think it’s fair to say it’s not a universally applicable failing.)

There’s the unmistakable richness evoked by melanoidins, but the billowy lightness of it all means you don’t get bogged down in it in the density of the flavor. The noble hops aren’t really bitter to my palette, but I see how they might seem that way to someone like my non-beer-loving parents, although I bet my mother would take this with Szechuan food even over her obligatory Tsingtao. Is that mythical “balance”?

And so I find myself with a beer that I buy more than twice a year, although let’s be honest–I still only buy three at a time at most because TJ’s provides the most admirable concession of pro-rata pricing ALL of their beer cans/bottles individually rather than forcing you to commit to a six pack to enjoy any kind of benefit of volume. Take note, TJ’s and others: its little things like this that make me rather happy to come back again and again (and yes, I know they’re owned by Aldi’s).

With any luck, someday I’ll get to visit the Czech Republic and then complain incessantly of the poor imitations available here, but until I become that insufferable blowhard I’m happy to enjoy the generic and delicious $1 bottles of Josephsbrau Bohemian Lager.

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