Despite its worldwide popularity, one beer you don't find very often in local brewpubs is the standard German pilsner, a lager, like those made famous in Bavarian beer gardens. The style is clear, crisp and well-balanced with a golden color, as well as a light to medium body and alcohol strength. Lagers require careful control of fermentation temperatures, and usually tie up aging and conditioning tanks for longer periods of time than standard ales. That need for time and storage space is a primary reason why many brewpubs, especially those with high demand and sales, don't include lagers in their core lineup of beers.
There is a strong following for this type of beer at Great Dane brewpubs around the city, though, which keeps their Verrückte Stadt German Pils on tap at all times. This pilsner deserves a special place among Madtown beer drinkers, as its German name translates to "crazy" or "insane town."
What is it? Verrückte Stadt German Pils from the Great Dane Fitchburg.
Style: Based on consumption, the pilsner is the most popular type of beer in the world. The style can be designated further by national variations such as the traditional Bohemian pilsenser or the classic American pilsner.
The German pilsner is yellow to deep golden in color and very clear, without a chill haze. (Hazy color in such styles can be a result of cold serving temperatures that cause proteins in the beer clump together, making it look cloudy.) These beers are light bodied, well balanced, crisp and clean, and are made with German hop varieties. While crisp and dry, the bitterness is low. The beer gets its color, or lack of color, from lightly malted or roasted grains. German pilsners tend to be lighter, crisper and drier than the closely associated Bohemian pilsener style, and they range in alcohol from 4% to 5%.
Background: Verrückte Stadt is a mainstay of the Great Dane pubs, and each follows the same recipe. It is the number-one seller at the Great Dane in Fitchburg, and brewer Pat Keller says it can be pretty tough to keep up with demand, especially in summertime. "It's always on tap here, and if it's not, I'm not doing my job," he says. It's a fairly light beer, much like the brews is served by the liter in the beer halls of Bavaria. Keller takes great pride in making this beer, inspired by his own travels, because his family is of German descent.
For fans of the Great Dane, this beer is offered nearly all the time at the downtown Madison, Fitchburg, Hilldale, and east Madison locations. In a recent comparison for this review, I found the Fitchburg version made by Keller very similar to the others, yet its clarity and a more assertive dryness contributed to my perception that it is slightly cleaner and crisper than those served at the other Great Danes. All of the other pubs, including the Dane at the airport, offered a version that didn't seem as sharp or as dry, and all were more hazy golden, possibly a chill haze from the cold serving temperature.
Verrückte Stadt is made with Pilsner and Carapils malts from the Briess Malt and Ingredients Company of Chilton, Wis. It's hopped with a single variety of German noble hops called Hallertau Mittlefruh, which are added at three different points in the brewing process. The beer takes about four weeks to make and finishes around 4% ABV. Great Dane sells Verrückte Stadt for $5/pint and $10/growler (refill).
- Aroma: A light floral-perfumy nose.
- Appearance: Clear golden with a thin, bubbly off-white head.
- Texture: Light-bodied, bubbly, with a very subtle roundness to the mouthfeel.
- Taste: A light grainy start, but turns crisp and dry.
- Finish/Aftertaste: The dry bitterness doesn't last long. Overall clean ending.
Glassware: The Great Dane Fitchburg serves Verrückte Stadt in a tall pilsner glass. It's great for appreciating the beer's color and effervescence. This beer is also best served cold, below 40 degrees, to accentuate its clean, crisp and dry qualities.
Pairs well with: The straightforward, clean and rather simple flavor of a well-done German pilsner can cleanse the palate with its bitterness and carbonation. It goes well with fish and seafood. It's a great meal beer for just about anything, except strong, sweet entrees.
Rating: Four Bottle Openers (out of four).
The Verdict: Verrückte Stadt is one of the best locally made German pilsners. And, because one doesn't find many brewpubs that regularly offer a pilsner, it gets a higher rating from me. I also found the Fitchburg version especially distinctive. It has a brilliant, clear, sparkling golden color, and a light dryness that isn't overly bitter. It's just a well-done, somewhat middle-of-the road brew, the kind you drink when you just want to relax and not think too much about the actual beer. Verrückte Stadt is a great beer to enjoy with friends when you want to focus on the conversation. It won't fill you up, and leaves plenty of room for a big meal or even another beer or two.