Surely you have met Pilsner

David | Blog | January, 30 2012 | No Comment

Victory Prima Pils is a multi-award winner.

Ah Pilsner, the most ubiquitous beer in the world!  For much of the 20th Century, this single style was simply synonymous with beer in the United States, and in any other part of the world that did not have its own strong beer culture.

At its worst, Pilsner (or Pils, Pilsener, Pilz) is a pedestrian refresher. There are numerous anemic examples made on nearly every continent but Antarctica—and I hear there is a brewery opening there shortly. But when it is done well, Pilsner is a beautifully-balanced style as noted by David Miller in his 1990 brewing book Continental Pilsener:

“It is light without being insipid or bland; hoppy, yet smooth and mellow. It is simultaneously refreshing and immensely satisfying—two characteristics that may seem to be mutually exclusive and that are not, in my opinion, so successfully combined in any other beer style.”

Miller goes on to say that this balance, and the sublime understatement of Pilsner’s flavor profile have played a major role in making it the most successful  beer style in the world.  Of course there is much more to the story than that.

Numerous beer and brewing histories recount the parallels between 19th century industrialization and the rise in popularity of golden lager beers. The advent of controllable gas-fired kilning allowed for lighter colored malts. Eventually refrigeration aided in a more precise production of lagers, which prefer a cool fermentation and cold aging. The newly-developed ability to isolate yeast strains was integral to producing clean-flavored beer where malt and hops need not share the stage with yeast flavors. Even the emergence of cheap glassware came into play. Dark ales tasted great from pewter and earthenware vessels, but clear, delicate drinking glasses were the perfect match for a bright golden Pilsner.

Fast forward to the 21st century.  Belgian style beers and hoppy American IPAs are building a niche market from Tampa, Fla., to Naples, Italy, and all points in between. Yet we still have plenty of Pilsners.

Pilsner Urquell, from the Czech Republic, has long been considered the standard for the Bohemian sub-style.

The Beer Judge Certification Program Identifies three sub-styles of Pilsner: German Pilsner, Bohemian Pilsener, and Classic American Pilsner. All three are described as crisp, clean and golden with a nice balance of bitterness and malt. They should also be highly carbonated.

For many years Pilsner Urquell has been the commercial standard, particularly when considering Bohemian Pilsner. There are other great Pilsners from the Czech Republic and Germany–the best ones probably from smaller breweries that do not send them around the world. Of course these days, those of us in the U.S. don’t have to look far to find a great Pilsner. Victory Brewing, Downington, Pa., has won accolades for its Victory Prima Pils. Rogue Ales, of Oregon makes  a couple of outstanding Pilsners, too.  In Chicago, Metropolitan’s Flywheel Bright Lager is a nice, clean beer, that is essentially a Pilsner. It is available in the bottle, and on tap across the market. Many brewpubs keep a Pilsner on tap. In Chicago this includes Haymarket Brewpub, with its well-balanced Speakerswagon Pilsner. Some European craft brewers send Pilsner to export, and among the big Munich brands, Spaten’s  is a nice offering, and it is widely available around the world.

A good Pilsner pairs easily with lots of different foods. That crisp bitterness and robust carbonation cut and lift hearty, spicy dishes. It also works pretty well with fish, salads and even desserts.  Numerous cheeses pair nicely with Pilsner. I would recommend chevre with peppercorns for a lighter, hoppier beer, and an aged American Cheddar or an Alpine cheese from Europe (or the stateside interpretations), for a sweeter, malty Pilsner. A really dry Pils can also work with a quality aged Gouda.

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