By Jared Dillon
1842 is an important year in the world of beer. In the small Bohemian village of Plzen, Josef Groll would create the style of beer which we call Pilsner. Groll had been contracted by a group of unhappy brewers who did not like the style of beer they were drinking and producing.
Legend says they felt forced to do something after they watched multiple casks of beer being poured into the streets because of how unsatisfactory it was. In response, they commissioned Groll, a German brewer who was renowned for his ability to produce lagers. Combining the local Saaz hops and then fermenting the beer in oak barrels, Groll created Pilsner Urquell, the first pilsner to be made.
A quick lesson in brewing techniques
Although there are thousands of names for different beer styles, in reality there are really only two main distinctions — ales and lagers. The difference between an ale and a lager has to do with where the yeast ferments and the temperature at which the beer ferments.
Ales have top fermenting yeast added and are generally fermented at a warmer temperature than lagers. These have bottom fermenting yeast added and ferment at temperatures less than 50 degrees. Lagers, and pilsners are lagers, tend to also take much more time to ferment, which is the reason you don’t see many small craft breweries brew pilsners or lagers. For these brewers, which are typically working on a much smaller scale than a industrial brewery like Coors or Budweiser, financial returns are quicker when the brewing process is shorter.
On the subject of Coors and Budweiser, these giants of the beer industry made their money on the pilsner style. As more and more immigrants fled to America, the demand for pilsner and lager came with them. Eventually Budweiser would make pilsner the world’s favorite style.
The only issue was with this increased market came a suffering in the quality of pilsner. Bud and Coors watered down the taste of pilsner to make it more acceptable to the average palate. While it did make the style more popular, it also has little in common with say Pilsner Urquell (which ironically enough is owned by SABMiller). Today, many individual’s opinion of pilsner or lager is based on the version that Budweiser and Coors pander as beer.
The taste of true pilsner is a wonderful experience. The color of the beer is a beautiful clear gold. The Saaz hops showcases wonderful grainy flavors, while the beer itself is typically very light-bodied with just the right amount of hoppiness.
If one is lucky enough to travel to the Pilsner Urquell brewery, a small batch of the beer is still aged in oak barrels and served on cask (without the aid of carbon dioxide which propels most tap beer systems). This in my opinion is one of the finest beers I’ve ever tasted in my life and simply an unparalleled treat when it comes to the realm of pilsner and lagers.
On April 18, we will be tasting a variety of pilsner and lagers at Idyll Awhile Wine Shop. The price is $25 per person and each beer will be paired with a food course. If you have any questions or would like to reserve a seat call (951) 659-9463.