Straw to Gold / 3.5 – 6 SRM
Pronounced / 30 – 45 IBU
Well Balanced between Malt & Hops
Have you ever been at a town council meeting and thought to yourself, “I could really use a beer right now?” You wouldn’t be alone: the town elders leaders in Plzeň thought the same thing in the early 1840s, so they hired a brewer and created one of the most important beers to ever be brewed. Although you might not be cracking one of these every Friday to celebrate the weekend, the seemingly unassuming Czech Premium Pale Lager has arguably had a greater impact on the beer world than any other beer style in history.
As with most iconic products, a special synchronicity led to the incredible success of this beer. Dark lagers dominated the Bavarian scene since around the time of the Reinheitsgebot in 1516, and their massive popularity led the folks in Plzeň to hire a Bavarian brewer, Josef Grolle, to help with their enterprise. Grolle advanced new malting technology used by English brewers to create pale malts, and created the pale Pilsner Urquell (“original Pilsner”), which became so popular that German, Belgian, and English brewers were forced to create similar beers to keep up with consumer tastes. Perhaps the most stunning statistic to highlight the impact that Grolle’s creation has had is the popularity that the beer’s descendants continue to enjoy today: Budweiser, Miller, Coors, and Pabst (though remarkably different than the original) all share a lineage in the first pale lagers that came from his brewery in 1842.
Ingredients played a huge role in the popularity of this beer…you might think of it as one of the OG local farm-to-glass beers. Malt came from barley grown in the Haná valley in what’s now the Czech Republic, and the beer was hopped with the Saaz varietal, which are named after the Czech city Žatec where they originated. Haná barley became such a popular ingredient that it spawned breeding programs that produced barley varieties with the same brewing and agronomic qualities but could be grown in different geographic regions. Saaz hops remain such an important aspect of this style that they accounted for a full 2/3 of hops grown in the Czech Republic well into this century. The naturally soft water in Plzeň also played an important role, allowing all of those local ingredients to come together in a smooth, rounded, and easy-drinking lager. Thirst (the final, most important ingredient) also likely played a huge role in the growth of the style. Czech drinkers still top the worldwide list of beer consumption per capita (no, the last party at the Delta house doesn’t count) at around 143 liters per person. At about a pint per person, per day, that’s a lot of parched beer-lovers. The US doesn’t even make the top 20, by the way… we drink less than half that amount annually (come visit if you’d like to help our brewers break the trend).
Even the most optimistic town council in Plzeň could barely have imagined the impact this beer would have when the first batches were brewed in 1842. The next time you throw back a liter (but not really because you can’t serve that much beer in one glass in Vermont), make sure to thank history’s best town meeting.
Aroma – Complex and balanced between malt and hops. Bread, biscuit, cracker, and sometimes light caramel from malt. Spicy, herbal, and sometimes floral from hops
Appearance – Gold and clear with a long-lasting pillowy head
Flavor – Rich, complex mix between malt and hops… Strong but clean lingering bitterness, but never harsh
Mouthfeel – Medium body and carbonation with a soft, easy-drinking mouthfeel
Vitals – 4.2 – 5.8% ABV, 30 – 45 IBU
Serve in a Praha mug, Stein or tankard at 38°F
Rich, characterful, pale Czech lager, with considerable malt and hop character and a long, rounded finish. Complex yet well-balanced and refreshing. The malt flavors are complex for a Pilsner-type beer, and the bitterness is strong but clean and without harshness, which gives a rounded impression that enhances drinkability.
Medium to medium-high bready-rich malt and medium-low to medium-high spicy, floral, or herbal hop bouquet; though the balance between the malt and hops may vary, the interplay is rich and complex. Light diacetyl, or very low fruity hop-derived esters are acceptable, but need not be present.
Gold to deep gold color. Brilliant to very clear clarity. Dense, long-lasting, creamy white head.
Rich, complex, bready maltiness combined with a pronounced yet soft and rounded bitterness and floral and spicy hop flavor. Malt and hop flavors are medium to medium high, and the malt may contain a slight impression of caramel. Bitterness is prominent but never harsh. The long finish can be balanced towards hops or malt but is never aggressively tilted either way. Light to moderate diacetyl and low hop-derived esters are acceptable, but need not be present.
Medium body. Moderate to low carbonation.
Generally a group of pivo Plzeňského typu, or Pilsner-type beers. This style is a combination of the Czech styles světlý ležák (11–12.9 °P) and světlé speciální pivo (13– 14.9 °P). In the Czech Republic, only Pilsner Urquell is called a Pilsner, despite how widely adopted this name is worldwide. Kvasnicové (“yeast beer”) versions are popular in the Czech Republic, and may be either kräusened with yeasted wort or given a fresh dose of pure yeast after fermentation. These beers are sometimes cloudy, with subtle yeastiness and enhanced hop character. Modern examples vary in their malt to hop balance and many are not as hop-forward as Pilsner Urquell.
Commonly associated with Pilsner Urquell, which was first brewed in 1842 after construction of a new brewhouse by burghers dissatisfied with the standard of beer brewed in Plzeň. Bavarian brewer Josef Groll is credited with first brewing the beer.
Soft water with low sulfate and carbonate content, Saazer-type hops, Czech malt, Czech lager yeast. Low ion water provides a distinctively soft, rounded hop profile despite high hopping rates. The bitterness level of some larger commercial examples has dropped in recent years, although not as much as in many contemporary German examples.
More color, malt richness, and body than a German Pils, with a fuller finish and a cleaner, softer impression. Stronger than a Czech Pale Lager.
Bernard Sváteční ležák, Gambrinus Premium, Kout na Šumavě Koutská 12°, Pilsner Urquell, Pivovar Jihlava Ježek 11°, Primátor Premium, Únětická 12°
Original Gravity (°Plato) 1.044-1.056(11-13.8 °Plato)
Apparent Extract/Final Gravity (°Plato) 1.014-1.018(3.6-4.5 °Plato)
Alcohol by Weight (Volume) 3.2%-4.0%(4.1%-5.1%)
Bitterness (IBU) 30-45
Color SRM (EBC) 3-6(6-12 EBC)
More rich maltiness, fuller body and softer mouthfeel than German Pilsner.
Double decoction brewing is still a hallmark of this style in the Czech Republic. Instead of mixing hot water with malt and then letting it rest at a single temperature, brewers begin the mash at lower temperatures, then pull a portion of the mash and boil it (see this post on why we decoct for more info on this). The boiled portion is then added back to the main mash, and the whole process is repeated twice before the wort is drained into the kettle and boiled with hops. The finished wort is chilled and fermented cool with a lager yeast, then held at lagering temperature (usually around 32º F) for several weeks to clarify, soften, and round the flavors together.
AT THE BREWPUB: ***
TAKEOUT: Pad Thai
SWANKY DATE NIGHT: Lobster Tail
FROM BF DISTILLING CO: ***
ANY: Gin (barrel-aged too!)
In a pint glass, pour beer at an angle to eliminate head. Add 1.5 oz. of bourbon or rye. Top with Lemon/Lime Soda. Garnish with lemon wedge.
Following Dan Sartwell’s trip to the Czech Republic October 2019, we quickly brewed the first pilot batch using the mash schedule Dan learned from various brewers in the Czech Republic which is essentially the method used by virtually every brewery in the Czech Republic. Using simple Pilsner Malt base with a nice charge of Noble Saaz hops, the first batch came out quick nice with a rich head with the longest retention of any of our beers to date.