Sunday, May 19, 2013
By TOM ATWELL
Lagers have a bad reputation in America, and Pilsners are the lagers most people think they know. Most watery, fizzy American beers pretend to be Pilsners.
Big Claw Pilsner from Bull Jagger Brewing Co. just made it to store shelves last week. Draft versions of Big Claw will show up occasionally at some specialty beer bars, but not for a while.
Bull Jagger Brewing Co., which introduced its first beer in October, is working to redeem the reputation of lagers. Its Big Claw Pilsner -- which appeared on store shelves last week -- continues that effort.
"This is a true traditional Pilsner, with two-row barley and Saaz hops," Tom Bull, head brewer for Bull Jagger, said of the new beer.
Pilsners originated in Czechoslovakia, in the town of Pilsen, and are fairly light and crisp. Bull said Big Claw has about 5 percent alcohol, the lightest of its three offerings -- in alcohol and color and, perhaps, strength of flavor.
"But it does have a lot of flavor and complexity," Bull said. "It will go well with lobster and local seafood in general. It is light and crisp, and won't overpower the flavor of the seafood."
When I tasted Big Claw while talking with Bull at the brewery in the Portland Industrial Park, the first thing I noticed was the creaminess of the mouthfeel. Generally, I expect Pilsners to be fairly thin, but this one had just enough body to stand out. The Saaz hops provided a nice floral bitterness, and it is malty for a pilsner.
"Big Claw is going to be one of the four cornerstones of our business," Bull said.
The first and flagship beer is Portland Lager. At 5.3 percent alcohol with Tettnang hops, it is like a Helles lager from Bavaria.
The Baltic Porter at 8 percent alcohol was originally intended to be a winter beer, but it has been so popular that Bull and partner Allan Jagger decided to continue brewing it year-round.
"I'm not sure how many we will sell in July, but we will have it out there," Bull said.
The next beer to be offered will be a Maerzen, or Oktoberfest, that will be offered in the fall.
Big Claw has a number of connections in the local community.
"We will be donating 50 cents for every case sold to the Maine Lobster Institute," Bull said. "That is the University of Maine science group that helps preserve the lobster industry in Maine."
There are 12 bottles of 500 milliliters each in a case, so it is a donation of a bit less than 5 cents a bottle. The price for Big Claw was $5.49 at RSVP.
Draft versions of Big Claw will show up occasionally at some specialty beer bars, but not for a while, Bull said.
The crew from Bull Jagger provided the beer for a Maine Lobster Institute dinner last Christmas -- offering them versions of the Pilsner made with both Saaz and Tettnang hops -- and the people from the Lobster Institute preferred the Saaz.
The Big Claw Pilsner also partners with Big Claw Wine, introduced in 2009 as the perfect wine to go with lobster, and which also supports the Lobster Institute.
One of the partners in the wine is Tim Wissemann of Mariner Beverages, the Portland business that distributes for Bull Jagger. The label on the claw of the Pilsner is the same as on the label of the wine.
I WONDERED a couple of weeks ago why Narragansett -- which makes some beers I like -- was listed as No. 50 in size for overall brewers but was not on the list for craft brewers.
Reader Matthew O'Connor supplied an answer: The Brewers Association rules say that craft brewers must have an all-barley malt flagship beer, and Narragansett Lager has some corn adjunct sugars.
Tom Atwell is a freelance writer living in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at 767-2297 or at: