Tuppers' Hop Pocket Pils

© Thomas Cizauskas 1998
Links and formatting updated 2007
Schoolteacher Bob Tupper and his wife Ellie, an editor of scientific journals, have been the hosts for two decades of beer tastings and beer dinners at Washington D.C.'s famous Brickskeller. Founded in 1959, the Brickskeller boasts a beer menu featuring in excess of 1000 choices.

Bob and Ellie were pioneers in bringing in beers and their brewers from overseas, allowing patrons to sample beers they had never before tasted. Then, as the local and the national craft brewery movement burgeoned, the Tuppers also introduced patrons to many of these new American beers. There were many delightful evenings with characters as memorable as the beers they produced: Russ Scherer, Bert Grant, Kris Hottelier, Pierre Celis, Uli Benowitz, Michael Jackson, and many more.

Brave New World

By 1995, the Tuppers had tasted and presented many wonderful beers. They felt the need to step beyond, into the world of beer entrepreneurship. They wanted to brew and sell their own beers, made to taste as they believed good beers should. Beginning with the Hop Pocket Ale in 1995, the Tuppers contracted with the Dominion Brewing Company of Ashburn, VA to brew their beers for them. (They donate half of their profits to charity.)

Many imbibers in the Mid-Atlantic region have been fortunate enough to sample Tupper's Hop Pocket Ale, an orange-hued, rich, fruity, and hoppy ale. Awarded a gold medal at the 1987 Great American Beer Festival, it has been dubbed by some as the East Coast's response to Anchor's Liberty Ale.

(At the 1995 Brickskeller release party for Hop Pocket Ale, a local brewer happily sampled many a pint from the cask. Well lubricated, he bear hugged a surprised Bob Tupper and was overheard loudly exclaiming, "You have made the beer that they won't let us make!"

Stand By Your Pils

Bob and Ellie have never been shy about pledging their fealty to true German pilsner. Over the years, they have embarked upon several European field trips, conducting scientific samplings of the pilsner style, an endeavor that the rest of us might refer to as drinking the local brew! They became particularly fond of a pilsner they sampled from the small Jahnsbräu brewery, near what was then the East German border.

By 1997, they were ready. In consultation with Brewmaster Rob Mullin and owner Jerry Bailey of Dominion Brewing, they brewed Tuppers' Hop Pocket Pils.

From Bob's own notes: Tuppers' Hop Pocket Pils is brewed in the "keller style of beer (which) emerged years ago when German breweries aged their beers in kellers or cellars that were usually caves dug into the side of a hill. On special days, the brewery would set up a few tables outside the cave and roll out a barrel from the keller to accommodate the thirst of local customers."

String Quartet

In a wonderful allusion, Bob Tupper compares an ale "to a jazz quartet. Each member goes his own way, but all finish together. A lager, in contrast, is like a string quartet. It is a seamless composition."

A pilsner is a lager, and contrary to what passes as pilsners from mainstream big breweries, a pilsner is a firmly structured beer. If any one of its components is less than fresh, a pilsner may appear unnoteworthy.

The first sign of staling, or oxidation, in any beer, is the disappearance of its hoppy aroma. Serving a pilsner directly from the cask, as in keller lager, is one manner to forestall this fate. Bottling the beer, unfiltered and carbonated naturally in the bottle itself, the beer world's answer to the 'methode champaignoise,' is another. In both cases, it is the yeast sediment that protects the beer's fragile freshness.

In addition, because the flavor components of a lager require time to properly mature, a good brewer will serve no lager before its time. Tuppers' Hop Pocket Pils is lagered, or matured, in vats for eight weeks. It is then bottled with a small measure of fresh yeast and allowed to naturally carbonate. Only when it is ready, does Bob release it for sale. This obvious care in production admirably preserves and protects the wonderful fresh flavor of Tuppers' Hop Pocket Pils.

A Sweet Digression

At the 1998 Mid-Atlantic Beer and Food Festival, at least 40% of the attendees were women. This a proportion that had been growing at this festival since its inception five years earlier. For the most part, these women were bucking the conventional wisdom that women only drink sweet, flavored, or fruit beers. They were sampling all of the beers. (This illogic, unfortunately being practiced by some craft breweries, of pandering to the least common denominator, is similar to the process that led the big American brewers to dumb down their offerings.)

Particularly intriguing was a conversation between two women who appeared to be just past the minimum age. They were standing in line, eagerly waiting to receive refills of Hop Devil Ale, an India Pale Ale, brewed in Pennsylvania by the Victory Brewing Company, that is big, bold, very bitter, and very aromatic.

These women, however, were not remarking upon the bitterness of the beer, but, rather, upon its hoppiness, that is, its fresh herbal aromatics.

Too often, many of us refer only to bitterness when we talk of hop quality, as in the macho muscling in of as much 'hair-on-your-chest' bittering as possible. We forget about the appealing bouquet that hops impart to beer. Hops are herbs, after all.

In cooking, spices such as allspice or cinnamon are thought of as sweet spices. They aren't sweet, per se, but, rather, confer a sweet character to the foods in which they used.

Similarly, the aromatic character of hops lends a fruity, herbal character to a beer quite distinct from maltiness. This is especially true when dry-hopping with fresh hop blossoms.

Dry-hopping is the infusion of fresh hop blossoms directly into the lagering vats, after most of fermentation has been concluded. Compare this process to adding fresh herbs to a meal, after cooking.

Hop Cocktail

Tuppers' Hop Pocket Pils is dry-hopped for a minimum of three weeks. And it's these hops that reach you first. Bob blends the fresh blossoms of Czech Saaz hops and Washington State Mount Hood hops. The result is a piquant bouquet of an herbal, almost minty spiciness. To create a lingering and complex finish, Bob employs a delicious cocktail of some other noble hops: German Hallertauer Hallertau for bittering and Czech Zatec for flavor.

Some beer 'experts' have claimed that no pilsner should ever be dry-hopped. Even renowned beer writer Dave Miller, the author of many brewing texts including Continental Pilsners, has been criticized for dry-hopping his Pilsner. When such a beer as Hop Pocket Pils is available, the foolish absolutism of such dictums is exposed. "How does the beer taste?" "Tastes great!"

Tuppers' Hop Pocket Pils is not merely a hoppy, albeit, aromatic lager. Tuppers Hop Pocket PilsIf it were, it would be unbalanced. Chasing close, on the heels of its hops, is an elegant and complex aroma of malt.

The taste itself is a continuation of the same themes: an almost chewy hop spiciness seamlessly offset by a firm and faintly sweet maltiness. Hiding faintly in the background is a touch of chardonnay-like character. The brewhouse grist producing this complexity is paradoxically simple, consisting of only one malt, German pilsner malt.

Never too far off is a sulfury character, the signature of lager yeast. It is restrained here, yet evident enough to provide a refreshing crispness. Some carelessly made lagers seem to develop an unpleasant odor reminiscent of an old hard-boiled egg or the fumes from an old industrial plant! Tupper's is not one of those. Great care, again, has obviously been taken in the brewery.

Bob's Pils pours into the glass with a vivid golden-chartreuse tint(possibly suggested by all of those hops!), just the hint of a cloudy veil, and with a spectacular moussy head, that floats on top of the beer, until the glass is happily drained. Its alcohol content is 5% by volume, placing it just on the strong side of a German pilsner. Its carbonation is hearty, yet not to the point of the soda-pop gassiness of mainstream American lagers.

Travel and food writer Howard Hillman said this in his book - The Gourmet Guide to Beer - "Superb beers boast finishes that are smooth, elegant, complex, and long-lived. A worthy finish is a lingering adieu that prolongs the pleasure of each sip."

What's not mentioned - in polite company - is that one of the gustatory pleasures of a hoppy beer is that final burp! Tuppers' Hop Pocket Pils is such a beer: a lager of complexity and elegance, with the impish wink of a burpy finish!

Tuppers' Beers Website

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