Review: Dogfish Head ‘My Antonia’ Imperial Pilsner


Imperial Pilsner. A seasoned beer drinker will tell you that these are two beer terms rarely, if ever, found next to one another. For the inexperienced, a pilsner is a type of pale lager. Pilsners are probably one of the most well-known beer styles, as most of your readily available bar beers (Bud, Coors, etc.) are categorized as such. Pilsners claim to have a distinct hop character, but they are usually malt forward and generally light in flavor. The term Imperial is used a lot in the world of craft beer these days. It originally denoted beer that was made in England and shipped to the Imperial court of Russia in the 1800’s. These days, it typically refers to a concoction that has been subjected to a flavor overhaul, with malts, hops, or other key ingredients often doubled or tripled in the brew. Naturally, imperial style ales are higher in alcohol from the more intense and prolonged fermentation process. So, terminology review complete, on to My Antonia. It is called a pilsner, which is normally a lighter tasting beer, but an Imperial pilsner, meaning amplified flavor across the board. Add in the fact that this is a continuously-hopped Imperial pilsner, and you find yourself with an interesting collection of beer buzz words, but also the makings of a very interesting drinking experience.

I have to admit that I approached this beer with some skepticism.  Pilsners in the craft beer game are few and far between, simply because of the association with the InBev empire, and because of their generally light flavor profile. This is not your typical pilsner. Chilled and poured from a 750mL bottle into an imperial pint glass, FOAM. Yeah, it was mostly operator error, as the bottle had been slowly inverted and rolled to incorporate visible sediment without enough time to settle, but make no doubt about it, this is a frothy beer. The pour is quite cloudy, with a beautiful light amber/straw color. A nose in the glass and a good whiff reveals a complex array of fragrances. This is a sweet smelling beer, with honey and wheat right on the nose. Dig deeper and an interesting note takes shape: pineapple. While this seems like a strange scent to find, it can probably be attributed to the hop variety used in the beer. It seemed like we were in store for a sweet, almost saison-esque experience, but we knew that there would be something beyond the first simple sniff.  After the foam was allowed to settle, a nice long pull revealed an effervescent, pleasant mouthfeel. It was definitely a familiar experience, as this fizzy quality is something to be expected from a pilsner-type beer, but what was different here was the fact that it had a distinct stickiness in the mouth; this is usually something that is experienced with highly hopped beers, but this time around, it was the malt flavors that lingered in the mouth. There was definitely sweetness to the front of the swig, but as it’s swallowed, a notable hop flavor emerges. Piney, dry and clean, this beer finished very much like a low IBU IPA. The taste could best be categorized as a fresh maple syrup flavor, sweet, but with a distinct earthy, pine-like flavor one would expect from a continually-hopped beer. After the glass was lowered, a truly ridiculous amount of thick, heavy lacing can be found all around the glass. But observe the lacing while you can, because the gaps between drinks will not last long.

I have to say, I approached this beer cautiously, but can now recommend it heartily. With a beautiful pour, unique flavor and a light, clean finish, this is a great beer for the warmer months that we now find ourselves in. Take a break from the saison overload, grab a big pint glass, and spend your balmy Louisville evening with My Antonia. You will not be disappointed.

– Josh Dolan