Food & drink

Craft Beer: Pilsner Urquell an underground hit

Pilsner Urquell is the real deal
Paul McConville

CRAFT beer owes a lot to innovation and the exploration of new tastes and flavours. This is probably why it has been classed as something of a modern movement, but perhaps one of the world's most common and popular beer styles owes much to a radical shift in how beer was made and viewed almost 200 years ago.

Lager often gets a bad rap in the craft beer world, perhaps because of the low standard of golden fizz that populates supermarket shelves.

However, as the Czechs and Germans will tell you, crafting a perfect lager takes every bit of care and attention to processes and ingredients as the most highly-acclaimed IPA or imperial stout.

Our story starts in Pilsen, a city in what at various times has been called Bohemia, Czechoslovakia, the Czech Republic and now Czechia.

Now, you've probably spotted that the city bears a striking resemblance to a particular style of beer. The year was 1836 and the beer was rotten – quite literally. Local tavern owners poured almost 40 barrels of it down the drain rather than serve it to their loyal customers.

From that moment, a commitment was made to make better and more consistent beers and local businessmen and tavern owners pledged to stump up the cash to invest in new methods – some borrowed over from Munich and involving cold fermentation (they had previously fermented their beer at higher temperatures) and a form of cold cellaring known as lagering.

And so, Pilsner Urquell was born. Literally meaning 'orginal Pilsner', this sparkling, golden beer kicked off a brewing revolution.

The Pilsner Urquell we drink today is made with close adherence to the mid 19th century methods – which includes boiling the wort (essentially the mixture of grains and water) in copper kettles over flames. This has the effect of almost caramelising the grains at the bottom of the kettle.

This gives Pilsner Urquell a sweet, caramel and biscuity malt flavor. The use of Saaz hops, now ubiquitous with European lagers, helps to balance that sweetness out with a subtle lemony flavor and bitterness.

The great thing about Pilsner Urquell is that it brewed underground, in cool temperatures and the liquid itself doesn't see the light until it's finally decanted into a glass. It's available locally in 330ml cans in some supermarkets, but it if you ever get the chance to have it on draught, grab it with both hands.

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Food & drink