Pilsner is one of the few beer styles to have a clearly defined birthday, the first ever glass of this golden lager was served in Plzeň on November 11th 1842 and soon gave birth to a multitude of imitations around the world. In the Czech lands however, Pilsner style beers eventually came to mean the vast majority of beer from Bohemia and Moravia. Thus any brewer which makes a “pilsner” lager will be judged next to the standards set by Josef Groll and subsequent makers of golden lager in the Czech lands.
When I received a bottle of BrewDog’s 77 Lager along with the production versions of Zeitgeist and Chaos Theory I knew I wanted to compare it to a couple of Czech lagers, in this case Budvar and Žamberecký Kanec. I choose Budvar because of the major Czech lager brewers they still use all malt and whole hops, rather than the somewhat ambiguous ingredient in Pilsner Urquell, “hop products”, Kanec because it is a small artisan brewer, and the BrewDog label calls 77 Lager a “artisan rebel lager”.
In an effort to be as fair minded as possible I decided to do the tasting blind, and so had Mrs Velkyal bring me each glass of beer individually without telling me what was what, here are my thoughts on each beer:
- Sight – pale golden, firm white head
- Smell – quite malty, touch of smoke, a bit grainy – like Weetabix
- Taste – nicely balanced, light caramel
- Sweet – 2/5
- Bitter – 2/5
- Sight – golden with a white head
- Smell – not much going one, some grass and citrus notes
- Taste – gentle sweetness up front, but delicately bitter aftertaste
- Sweet – 2/5
- Bitter – 1/5
- Sight – light amber with a smallish head
- Smell – heavy on the citrus, grapefruit in particular – American C hops?
- Taste – citrus in your face with malty undertones
- Sweet - 1.5/5
- Bitter – 3/5
From the tasting I guessed that the beers were as follows:
- A – Kanec
- B – Budvar
- C – BrewDog 99 Lager (not really a guess after smelling it)
I identified all three correctly, and while I enjoyed them all in their own right when it comes to being a Czech style pilsner lager, the BrewDog version was never in the running. It simply isn’t a pilsner beer despite claims to the contrary on the label. Of the other two, I enjoyed them very much, and they are both in the Bohemian tradition, but the one I would choose to drink regularly is the Budvar, which has long been my favourite mass produced Czech lager and thus my first task in Charlottesville is to find a regular supply of Czechvar as our American friends call it.
For a comparison of 77 Lager with German style pilsners, see Adeptus' thoughts over on The Bitten Bullet.