Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Pilsner Premium Blonde Export Lager Draught Beer - Part Four

More beer names

We know about lagers and we know about ales. So what’s next. Let’s look at pilsner. Or pilsener. Or pils. Or pilzner. They’re all the same thing no matter how you spell it - but not all pilsners are the same. Not the same as lagers or as each other. While commercially the most popular beer style sold in the universe, the pilsner is relatively young by beer standards. It is probably the only beer, to date, to have it’s own actual birthday - November 11, 1842. And it’s birthplace was Plzen, in Bohemia.

When this town in Bohemia (now the Czech Republic) developed this new brew, as clear as the town’s famous crystal it was only fitting that it take it’s name from the town itself - Pilsen or Plzen in Czech. The local brewers considered pilsner to be a beer made at one of two breweries in Plzen but as the beer blazed a trail through, first, Germany and on through much of Europe the name became synonymous with the liquid, not the location. So pilsner became the word to describe a pale, brilliant clear lager, smooth drinking with a rounded hop flavour and a delightful balance between malt sweetness and hop bitterness. And that’s pilsner..

And so to the present. Close your eyes, open the display fridge at any bottle shop and pick a stubby at random. Chances are you will pick out a pilsner. Or at least, a bottle with the word pilsner on the label.

The first pilsner was Pilsner Urquell and I will use this as the descriptive benchmark. A true pilsner should have the following; an alcohol by volume level of between 4 and 5%, a balance between malt sweetness and hop bitterness with an allowance for moderate hop aroma and flavour. Now, I’m not making this up, it’s all documented in the style guidelines for the BJCP - the beer judging certification program - an international standard for beer style identification.
I also reckon a good pilsner should have a natural, earthy sort of hop flavour.
Back to the bottleshop and you are hard pressed to work out what is a pilsner and what is just labelled pilsner. Some lazy beer marketing boys are calling a beer a pilsner because it is labelled “premium” - which is often market speak for ‘a metallic label and add a dollar-fifty‘. They possibly stole the idea from Spanish restaurants who pioneered tapas - a Spanish word meaning twelve dollar olives.

To further add to the confusion, some Premium imports are re-labelled pilsner for their export markets and some beers simply claim premium or pilsner status. I am a big fan of the pilsner and a fair judge of a good quality, well crafted beer. But I’m not so stupid as to think that every beer marked premium is anything close or that a beer labelled as a pilsner is in fact born of the spirit of the essence of the historical trademark of the style. Beer marketers - leave it alone!

For a more comprehensive Buyer’s Guide to Beer - stay tuned, I’m working on it.

1 comment:

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