Thursday, 15 December 2011

The truth about Pilsner Urquell

Evan Rail has written a wonderful post correcting the Czech entries in the Oxford Companion to Beer. It corrects many errors about the origins of Pilsner Urquell (errors that have appeared in multiple English-language publications). Go and read it. It'll be time well spent.


Rod said...

Great piece - you're right. The history of cold fermentation fascinates me, and there's so little written about it. Perhaps you and Mr Rail should get together and write the definitive book - Lager!

Gary Gillman said...

I have a few questions for any interested to answer:

When it is stated that 1/10th of Bohemian breweries were using bottom fermentation prior to 1842, were some producing a light-coloured beer similar to Pilsner Urquell? I seem to recall Ron finding early 1800's German sources describing the colour of some lager as "yellow", thus showing that blonde lager existed decades before its emergence in Munich circa-1900 I was believe it was.

If some German lager was yellow or yellow-brown this early, is there any reason to think some Czech lager wasn't either?

When it is stated that Pilsen was flooded with bottom-fermented beer before Urquell was created, was the beer in question imported Bavarian beer or beer made elsewhere in Bohemia in the Bavarian style?

For that matter, is it possible a brewery established in Pilsen before Pilsner Urquell was brewing light-coloured lager, part of the 1/10th mentioned above?

Finally, in the light of these further studies and comments by Evan Rail which indeed seem very helpful, what particularities (if any) should be associated to the founding of Pilsner Urquell and its beer? What significance does the word Urquell, which means original, have?


Gary Gillman said...

Continuing my thoughts on Pilsner Urquell: we get canned and draft Urquell here in Ontario. (Green bottles too I think but I ignore them). The quality generally is wonderful. It is still the best pilsener beer in the world IMO. I have had some fine German and U.S. craft examples, but none as good as this.

Does it have the quality of the beer made before the lined cypress vessels were retired and some of the production was simplified? Perhaps not. I think the old one had possibly a touch of wood or tar to it, and it seemed a little darker as I recall it.

But the current one is very good. It was even better in Prague when I was there last year, but the import here is almost as good. It has at its best a honeyed concentration with that big Saaz character that is not grassy/fresh loamy like most German and Austrian lagers I've had, but more flowery and fruit-like, the total effect being almost English in a way (without getting further into that intriguing issue).

It's really extraordinary that the beer is still excellent, given that international ownership doesn't always favour retention of traditional standards.

By the way current samples seem the best I've had this year. I'd like to think this is a seasonal impact, i.e., resulting from newer malt made from the last harvests and ditto for hops gathered in September.