It was Josef Groll, a Bavarian that brewed the first Pilsner. Using the German technique of cool, longer storage (‘lager’ means to store), lager yeast, the local Saaz hops and the newly available paler malts he was able to produce a beer that has survived through the ages. Pilsner is one of the most drunk beer styles around the world.
Water: The low mineral content of the Pilsen water permits a high hop rate without a harsh clinging bite. The soft water, sometimes pulled from wells 300 meters deep, also enhances the clarity and delicate flavours of the grain. Often breweries will soften water from their local sources in an attempt to replicate the Pilsen water, so crucial is it to the success of a good Pilsner.
Hops: Ah, and so we come to the defining factor of the Pilsner, the Saaz hop. The distinct earthy, spicy flavour that this hop imparts is evident both in the aroma and flavour. It’s classified as one of the four “noble hops” meaning it has a low bitterness and high aroma. The name comes from the Saaz region in the Czech Republic.
Yeast: Typically Czech or German lager yeast is used.
Grain: Bohemian brewers favour Moravian malted barley, so named because of the region from where it comes. This particular malt seems to give a soothing softness to the finished beer. The German variations use Pilsner Malt, the palest malt available, giving this beer its light golden colour.
Appearance: It is common for the traditional Bohemian Pilsner to range from pale to deep gold. German Pilsners should be straw to light gold and the American version should be yellow to deep gold. All three variations should be brilliant to very clear with a dense, long-lasting creamy white head.
Aroma: It’s the distinctive Saaz hop that gives this beer its bouquet. It offers up a spicy, slightly floral overall clean aroma. It shouldn’t have any fruity esters coming through. The American Pilsners can have a more neutral smell because of the rice adjuncts that are sometimes used.
Taste: As with the aroma, the Saaz hop has a strong influence on this styles flavour. Complex maltiness combined with the bitterness and spicy nature of the hops is what you can expect from the Pilsner. The bitterness is prominent, but never harsh, although the German beers are not hopped quite as aggressively. Crisp, clean and noble, a description you have to taste to understand, really.
Enjoying a Pilsner
The original Pilsners were served out of Bohemian crystal glasses which accentuated the delicate bubbles and light golden colour. Modern day Pilsner glasses should do the same. A pilsner glass is tall, with a shape that evenly tapers from a wider mouth to a narrower base with no curves. This shape provides a stage to show off the colour, while the wide mouth allows for the formation of a foamy head to keep in the flavour and aroma of the hops. A good Pilsner should not be consumed from the bottle as this won’t release the full potential of the beer.
As with most lagers, Pilsners are best served cold, between 7.2° and 8°C.
Try it with ….
Pan fried trout and rosemary / balsamic vinegar reduction. It should pair well with more complex or spicy food varieties.