The recent British Guild of Beer Writers seminar provoked a lot of talk about beer styles: what do they mean; are they necessary, could we do without them? Reading a few blogs on the subject, it seemed like a poignant time to open my bottle of Dogfish Head / Birra del Borgo My Antonia; a 7.5 percent imperial pilsner.
With the grain bill of a traditional pilsner, albeit ramped up, and the hopping schedule of an American IPA, an imperial pilsner fuses two existing beer styles to produce something completely new. Rogue kicked things off back in 2003 with their Morimoto Pils, Sam Adams came to the party in 2005 and a small bunch of (mostly American) breweries have made attempts since. Relatively speaking though, this is a new beer style and something that only a handful of breweries have attempted.
My Antonia sits a lager-straw in the glass, with tinges of gold that suggest something more is going on. Immediately you’re struck by how thick and smooth it feels, a luxurious honey-sweetness dominates as it slides across your tongue, filling your whole mouth. It’s floral, fragrant, perfumed; then a herbal quality takes over as it builds up. The finish is punchy and bitter but light and cleansing, it’s a beer that tempts you to chug it all down, but at the same time warns that you mustn’t.
There’s something Champagne about this beer; lots of carbonation, a deft lightness and the suggestion of yeasty white bread and brioche. I can see it working well with something like a bread and butter pudding, allowing the bready flavour in the yeast to come forward whilst taming the richness of the pudding with bitterness and carbonation. At the same time, the savoury edge of those herbal hops would work well against something meaty; I’m thinking a classic Chicago style hot dog with all its salad and condiment sidekicks. Zak Avery says the savoury flavour presents itself as celery salt, he’s right, and therein would lie the bridge between hot dog and beer.
My Antonia is a beer that forces you to throw away the style guide, but it's a beer that’s no less stunning as a result.