Let's Pop Some Pils!

by: BeerAdvocate on 06-06-2001
In the world of beer, plenty of drinkers wade through lagers and pilsners as if they are the same drink. You can thank the bottomless dollars worth of promotions and hype from the big breweries that have nearly brainwashed most beer drinkers into thinking this by placing sick amounts of focus on brand name recognition rather than brand education. Little do they know that macro-breweries dilute and abuse these "products" with large quantities of rice and corn, in excess at times, and that both styles have very rich histories outside of the US.

One style that has yet to be desecrated with this kind of cheap minded ruthlessness is the Czech Pilsner, sometimes known as a Bohemian Pilsner. The birth of Pilsner beer can be traced back to its namesake, the ancient city of Plzen (or Pilsen) which is situated in the western half of the Czech Republic in what was once Czechoslovakia and previously part of the of Bohemian kingdom. Pilsner beer was first brewed back in the 1840's when the citizens, brewers and maltsters of Plzen of formed a brewer's guild and called it the People's Brewery of Pilsen. This was primarily out of frustration of the brewing scene of the day. The consumption of beer became more and more customary and drew a bigger demand, and a call for better quality was also at hand.

The land of Plzen was, and still is, rich in brewing resources, from Bohemian and Moravian malts to the renown Saaz hops (Zatec Red, being its ancient name). Saaz hops were such coveted treasures that back in the Medieval days the law was an ironfisted and unforgiving one. Records state that anyone caught smuggling rhizomes (hop root cuttings) out of the country would be sentenced to death! Even the waters of Plzen were perfect for brewing, being very soft and making for some pleasant brewing compared to the hard harsh waters of England. However, it was the last piece of the brewing puzzle that pulled this historic style together. The guild got the low-down that the Germans, notably in Munich, were using a bottom fermenting yeast (lager yeast) with much success. Bavarian monks managed to smuggle a working yeast strain into Bohemia and soon after Josef Groll became the first brewmaster for the guild in 1842. The rest lies in every bottle of Pilsner beer that we consume today, and nowadays you'll also find Belgian Pils, German and American Pilsners, each with their own distinct characteristics.

The Trademark Pilsner
Traditional Pilsners are typically around the 4 to 5% alcohol by volume, though some of the older renditions are a tad lower or higher. Colour is obviously light and crystal clear to the eye, light straw to golden. Hops are very prevalent usually with a spicy bitterness and or a spicy floral flavour and aroma, notably one of the defining characteristics of Saaz. Smooth and crisp with a clean malty palate, some of the originals will show some archaic yeast characteristics similar to very mild buttery or fusel (rose like alcohol) flavours.

Pilsners are also extremely refreshing, spirit and palate lifting and easy to knock back making them the quintessential session beer and a perfect match for almost any food style.

Pilsners from the Source
The style has been replicated all over the globe. In Boston we have to major local examples: Harpoon Pilsner and Sam Adams Golden Pilsner. Both are exceptional, however check out some Pilsners straight out of the Czech Republic, all of which are readily available.

Pilsner Urquell - Claiming to be "The First Pilsner On Earth," this brew is by far the grandfather of the Pilsner style and straight from Plzen. Clean and spicy with an unsurpassed maltiness that shows great balance and appeal. http://www.pilsnerurquell.com

Czechvar - Another original. This one had to change its name to get into the US. Who do you think would win a legal battle on name infringement in the US? Anheuser-Busch or a little known brewery in Eastern Europe by the name of Brewery Budweiser Budvar (B.B.N.P. in the US)? Now all of the beer geeks that have been waiting decades to try this beer, can. Imported by Czech Beer Importers. http://www.czechvar.com

Rebel - An authentic Pilsner. Nice, basic and easy to drink. It's a light bodied brew with tea-like floral hop flavours, a flash of lemon, grape notes with a crisp grain dryness. Imported by Czech Beer Importers. http://rebelbeer.com

Kumburak - One of our favorite beers to have around at all times, sometimes hard to find but well worth the purchase. Case of 20 - 17oz bottles usually runs around $18, less than a buck a bottle -- you can't beat that for quality. As far as being a Czech Pilsner, not as clean as the others but that is what sets Kumburak apart from the all the others available in the US. Word is that this beer should be available on tap soon. Imported by Collins International. http://www.britishbeers.com
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