Plzeňský Prazdroj – Pilsner Urquell

Pilsner Urquell bottle

A short history lesson is in order. Pilsner Urquell is the famous original pale lager. A “Czech Pilsner” is not actually a beer style given that the word pilsner itself is a demonym indicating the beer’s origin in Plzeň. The Czechs do not define their native brews by styles such as lager, India Pale Ale, porter/stout1, and so on but by color and degrees Plato with stronger beers of the same color not simply being the weaker beer “scaled up” but separate styles2. The Plzeňský Prazdroj brewery was founded in the 19th century to brew Bavarian-style lagers  – then mostly dark at the time – but with pale malts pioneered in England and relatively highly-hopped compared to the common Dunkel. Pale lager became the type of beer that was copied around the world, was cost-reduced with adjuncts, and eventually made into the mixed beer and carbonated water soft drink that is Miller Lite with its “Great Pilsner Taste”. Unlike most beers, Pilsner Urquell continued being fermented and lagered in giant wooden vats and barrels into the 1990s when it was privatized and sold to conglamerate SABMiller. The international piss brewers “modernized” the brewery, replaced the wooden vessels with stainless steel tanks, slashed the lagering time to a third, and replaced most of the whole cone hops with hop oils. This review is of the filtered and pasteurized export variety which is a pale imitation of the rare unfiltered and cask versions usually unavailable in the US.

Pilsner Urquell pours a dark shade of gold with a frothy head. Not uric gold but a rich, vaguely ambery shade of gold. The beer smells vaguely of fresh bread and slightly floral, grassy hops. The taste is biscuits and bread interspersed with hints of butterscotch, caramel, and a mildly spicy hop bitterness. Pilsner Urquell is balanced, unlike many of the hop bomb, onions and cat piss craft IPAs best suited to keep teenagers away from drinking in the same way that putting hot sauce on your food will keep the dog from trying to steal it. The beer may be dumbed down by accountants and many of the flavors typical but it’s well made, tastes great, isn’t sour, doesn’t resemble animal piss, and you can easily down a six pack in a couple hours like I did.

Quality: ****/*****
Purchase: ****/*****

1Porter and stout are interchangeable. Despite stout formerly indicating a stronger porter – a “stout porter” -, many breweries that brew beers called by both terms make a porter stronger than their stout.
2Read Ronald Pattinson’s excellent rundown of Czech beer styles on his Shut Up About Barclay Perkins blog. A more comprehensive detailing may be found on his European Beer Guide website.

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3 thoughts on “Plzeňský Prazdroj – Pilsner Urquell

  1. MP says:

    I was honored to get a chance to visit the brewery in Pilzen and there they do let you descend into their cellar and sample the original cask version. Truly fantastic. That version was preserved only for reference, unfortunately.

  2. Rainer Weikusat says:

    Pilsner actually does denote a beer style, at least in Germany. Unless it has been softened up for exporting into English speaking countries or comes from Frankfurt, it’s a bottom-fermented, pale beer with a distinctive, bitter taste while Lager is much more lemonade-like. A pilsner is also supposed to be sparkling (to some degree) and not still like a cask ale. Minus latter characteristic, a good English pilsner would Hogstar.

    1. Yeah German pils is a style while “Czech pilsner” isn’t and just refers to one beer from one place. Czech pale lagers of that degree plato or whatever have a much wider variety of flavors than German pils do. Compare Czechvar to Pilsner Urquell to Staroproman, which is brewerd with corn grits. German pils would never have the diacetyl and slight caramel notes of Pilsner Uruell but I have noticed that even the cheap German pils like Bitburger have much better mouth feel than most American “craft” pils outside of Trumer and Victory.

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