Let’s talk about a beer style with a great history that is also immensely popular… THE PILSNER.
Let the history lesson begin:
Plzen – The History
In 1838 the citizens of Plzen, Bohemia (now the Czech Republic ) saw something that would make any beer lover cringe. The brew masters of the town rolled 36 barrels of ale out into the street, opened them up, and spilled the beer in the main square of town letting it run into the ditches and finally into the nearby Radbuza River. The brewers had decided that the ale had become undrinkable. Even for breweries of Plzen with over 800 years of brewing experience, issues of contamination could still come up. Ales were prone to being spoiled either by wild yeasts or bacteria.[easyrotator]erc_16_1387374625[/easyrotator]
The New Beginning
This time, though, would be different. The brewers gathered after watching their work run down the street and decided that they to take drastic measures to make sure that this would not happen again. By this time, brewers in Bohemia and across Europe had learned of the importance of yeast to the brewing process. There was some debate about whether fermentation was a living process or the by-product of the death of yeast, but there was no question that this mysterious little life form had a big affect on the character of a beer.
They hired Josef Groll, a Bavarian brewer, to come to Plzen and teach them the German lagering method of brewing. Legend holds that in 1840 a monk smuggled some of the precious lager yeast out of Bavaria. Whether this is the case or not, when Groll arrived in Plzen there was a supply of lager yeast available. He also found a nearby source of excellent Saaz hops, a Noble variety of hops that he would have been familiar with from Germany. The brewers of Plzen had a well that supplied very soft water. With caverns carved for lagering in the local sandstone, the stage was set for lager brewing.
The New Recipe
Using light barley that was only partially malted and none of the roasted or smoked barley that the German brewers were using, Groll added generous portions of the fragrant Saaz hops to his brew. On October 5, 1842 he and the other brewers of Plzen gathered for their first taste of the new beer.
When they tapped the cask, they saw a beer unlike any other that they or anyone else in the world had seen. The color of straw, it was light and clear. One could see right through it to the other side of the Bohemian crystal glass. Still cool from the lagering tunnels, this was a surprisingly refreshing beer, not dark and heavy like the ales that they were used to.
The brewers of Plzen knew that they had a great new beer here. Thanks to the Radbuza River, not only did news of this new beer from Bohemia spread, but so did a lot of the beer itself. Plzen, or Pilsner, beer was born.
A lot of Variations, One Original
Since then Pilsner Urquell has become one of the most copied beers in history. So much so that the brand name – Pilsner – became the name of the new style.
Aside from improvements brought about though advances in refrigeration and sanitation little has changed about the way that Pilsner is brewed. There are many different variations on the recipe but most contain lightly kilned malt and Noble hops varieties, usually Saaz. Often breweries will soften water from their local sources in an attempt to replicate the naturally occurring soft water of the Plzen brewery. Doing so enhances the delicate flavors of the grain.
By whatever name you call it Bohemian Pilsner, German Pils, American Light, etc– Pilsner is easily the most popular beer in the world.
Here are the most popular style Pilsners and an example of each:
German Style Pilsner
Light straw to golden color with more bitter or earthy taste – Classic Example Warsteiner
Golden, full of colors, with high foaminess and lighter flavor – Classic Example – Pilsner Urquell
Have a slightly sweet taste, can be produced from other than barley – Classic Example – Grolsch
All are available at your local Consumers Beverages location, so let your Pilsner education start by trying a few of the classic examples listed in this article.
Craft Beer Consultant