Take two pilsner and call me in the morning

Mike Buhler
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Czech roots run deep in popular beer style

Has your curiosity been piqued about beer? Has the thought of 20,000 different beers in the world been in the back of your mind ever since you read it a couple of weeks ago? Are you afraid to grab something off the shelf that you don’t know?

I’ve been there, too. How do you know what something is if you can’t see through the can?

Here’s a suggestion: try a traditional Pilsner.

There are plenty of convenience beers out there with the name “pilsner,” but when put next to a true example of the style they really don’t compare.

Some very good examples are available in Newfoundland, but they’re in cans and hard to look at in the store, (that’s actually a good thing).

Let me start at the beginning …

Pilsner is not a very old style when compared to some that we still see in parts of the world, but its influence has reached much further than any other style.

The Czech Republic has a long tradition of brewing beer, and in the mid-19th century consumers were demanding the highest quality.

In the town of Pilsen it climaxed in 1838 when a whole season’s batch of beer was poured down the drain.

This was unacceptable so the citizens got together and built a new brewery. The designer travelled around and finally found the man he wanted as the brewmaster — Josef Groll.  

Groll is often credited with stealing Bavarian lager yeast to start brewing in his new brewery, but the real claim to fame was what he did with it.

At the time the most popular beer in Europe was brown Bavarian lager and Groll was supposed to brew his own version to cash in on its success.

What he turned out in the fall of 1842 was very different. It was a clear fresh golden beer with a thick white foamy head.

This came right around the same time that the industrial revolution gave the average man a clear glass so that he could actually see his beer —  and he was impressed with this new brew

This bright fresh beer made waves and with the new railways and refrigeration, beer was suddenly able to travel long distances in a short time.

This was a revelation that led Pilsner to take over the world.

Before then, most beers were darker in colour and, with the exception of the Bavarians making their lagers, most beer were cloudy ales drunk out of tankards and other opaque drinking vessels.

This new beer was different and it had bright aromas from the local Saaz hops and rich malt flavours from the sweet Moravian barley that excited the senses.

Fast forward and today almost 95 per cent of modern beer is descended from Pilsner, although most of them don’t resemble the originals very much at all.

The good thing about real Pilsners is that they still exist, they are very tasty and they are available locally.

Pilsner Urquell is the same beer that started it all in 1842 and we’re lucky to get it in cans as it’s much better protected from oxidization and being lightstruck than when it’s sold in green bottles. Look for it on the shelf in green cans with gold lettering.

Czechvar is another excellent one. It’s actually the original Budweiser Budvar but, due to that much bigger brand of the same name, it can only be called Czechvar in North America. It, too, is on the shelf in a red and white can.

Both of these are what’s known as Bohemian Pilsners and they are light, refreshing beers characterized by their floral, grassy aromas with a malt base.

Try one and see where Coors Light ancestors came from.

Mike Buhler is a certified cicerone.

Email him at mike@beerthief.ca,

or check out beerthief.ca

for information on beer club offerings.

Organizations: Pilsner Urquell, Budweiser Budvar

Geographic location: Czech Republic, Newfoundland, Pilsen Europe North America

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