Thursday, July 10, 2008

Pilsner Beer Review

I thought it was time for a beer review and this time, due to my inability to decide on a single beer to review, I am going with a style review. And I’m not even going to ‘review’ a beer at all, just the style. Because this style is so often misrepresented and it’s time that those perpetrating this charade were exposed and shamed.

I chose pilsner because of its popularity and resultant availability. And partly because it is the moniker that I have chosen to write under. That’s right; Prof. Pilsner is not my real name. Or title. I did spend time at a tertiary institute – or three – but the closest I got to a professor was in the uni bar.


Pilsner is one of those beer styles that is the subject of some confusion, misinterpretation and misuse. Take a cursory glance at the labels of the beers in the fridge of your local retailer and you will see the pilsner tag represented frequently. Perhaps too frequently. In fact, many bearing the name are imposters.

I will use, as a base reference point, the BJCP (beer judge certification program) definitions of the pilsner breed. There are two categories; Bohemian Pilsner and German Pils. At least with these definitions it should be a little easier to work out wether the pilsner in your glass is in fact a pilsner or a marketing man’s idea of what you should accept as one. Those bastards!


In the beginning there was the Ale, and the Ale was good. Then came the Lager, and it, too was good. But even the lightest coloured lagers were considerably darker than the ones we enjoy today. The maltsters had not worked out how to kiln the grain without toasting it, even slightly, and so most beer had to be served in wooden, clay or other likewise non transparent vessels. Then, in 1842 a revolution occurred. In the Czech town of Plzen a German brewer employed by locals angry at the shit quality of beer being produced in the town came up with the worlds’ first light golden coloured beer. Huzzah! He used a malt kilned at low enough temperatures to do the job without frying it and also used the very floral and mildly bitter Saaz or Zatec hops.

It probably helped the market value of this new discovery that the region of Bohemia was a fairly dab hand at producing a nice line of crystal glassware as well as good beer and that the new golden lager looked rather nice in a tall, tapered pilsner glass. They probably didn’t call them pilsner glasses, though. The fame of the new brew quickly spread – as did stocks of the beer itself, a special train left the Czech brewery each morning bound for Vienna – and before long every brewer was making his own pilsner. Many brewing centres in Germany still have a dedicated pilsner brewery to this day.


Apart from being a light golden coloured beer, a pilsner should display the following in order to ‘qualify’ for the style; rich, complex malt and spicy, floral Saaz hop aroma. A very pale gold to deep burnished gold colour, brilliant to clear in appearance with a dense, long lasting head. Pretty simple. Or so you’d reckon.

Have a taste of many of the commercial brewers’ offerings labelled pilsner, pils, pilsener or pilz with these fairly broad definitions in mind and you’ll see that they may hit the mark in one or two respects but rarely do they tick all the boxes. Some are merely ‘premium lagers’ (which often means,’ here is our standard shit lager but with no additives’) and is re-badged for sales and profit.

From my humble research, (over many, many beers, years) I have concluded the following. A true pilsner should have a noticeable aroma – a real nose to it – fresh, bright and floral. That’s the Saaz hops. It should be rich and satisfying in the first mouthful with complex maltiness which is bold yet not boastful. That’s the combination of malts. It should have an earthy, real taste and flavour and its bitterness should leave you thinking; ‘yeaaah, that’s bitter!’ It should have a smooth freshness and genuine ‘beerness’ to it. That’s the extended maturation. Above all, it should just FEEL different in your mouth, its texture and its integrity accentuated compared to a run of the mill, six pack sitting, session swilling, bog standard lager.

As I said earlier, this is not always the case. But don’t let the marketers get you down. Just keep trying as many new pilsners as they come on to the market and train your palate to detect the ‘phonies’. And train your memory to lock away the names of the good ones. For next time.

Until next time,
Prof. Pilsner.

1 comment:

Steve said...

Hey Prof, can you email you contact details to