Thursday, February 21, 2013

Time To Take Your Pils

Something I had been planning to do for a while was collect a batch of 'Bohemian' Pilsners from various breweries and do a blind tasting. Last night, with not much else to do, I imposed on Mrs V's sweet-hearted nature and sent her up and down the stairs several times to bring me glasses of beer, without telling me which was which. The aim of the tasting was twofold, firstly to decide a ranking for each of the beers in question, and secondly to see if I could correctly identify each one. The five beers in the tasting were:
I took notes using my slightly simplified version of Cyclops, and here are the findings...

Pilsner 1

  • Sight - golden, slightly hazy, thick rocky white head
  • Smell - fresh bread, grass, light lemony citrus
  • Taste - juicy bready malts, sharp citric tang
  • Bitter - 4/5
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Notes - lovely balance between the malt and the hops, medium bodied, long lingering soft bitter finish.

Pilsner 2

  • Sight - light amber to orange, loose rocky white head
  • Smell - heavily grassy, musty, doughy, slight honey note
  • Taste - a little sweetness and a touch of lemon
  • Bitter - 2/5
  • Sweet - 2.5/5
  • Notes - really kind of bland, light-medium bodied and with a watery finish

Pilsner 3

  • Sight - rich golden, inch of rocky white head with loose bubbles
  • Smell - fruity, a touch of bread, something corn like in the background
  • Taste - rather fruity, sweet with cocoa notes and a bit of nuttiness
  • Bitter - 2/5
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Notes - more of a pale ale than a pilsner, slick buttery finish and medium bodied.

Pilsner 4

  • Sight - rich gold to light amber, thin white head
  • Smell - grassy, herbal notes, backed with some bread and a little orange aroma.
  • Taste - rich toasty malts, sweet honeyed edge, firm hop bite
  • Bitter - 3.5/5
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Notes - nicely balanced between the hops and the malt, mouthfeel was crisp and clean with a long lingering bitter finish

Pilsner 5

  • Sight - light amber, half and inch of white head
  • Smell - citrus, lemon/orange, some grass and floral notes, touch of bread, bit of weed
  • Taste - toasted bread, some grass
  • Bitter - 4/5
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Notes - Crisp with a hop bite that smooths out to a slightly sweet finish, medium bodied.

Having got through the 5 beers, though admittedly numbers 2 and 3 didn't get finished, I ranked the beers in order of preference as follows:
  • 1st - Pilsner 1
  • 2nd - Pilsner 4
  • 3rd - Pilsner 5
  • 4th - Pilsner 2
  • 5th - Pilsner 3
When it came to identifying them I went with:
  • Pilsner 1 - Port City Downright Pilsner
  • Pilsner 2 - Staropramen
  • Pilsner 3 - Lagunitas Pils
  • Pilsner 4 - Pilsner Urquell
  • Pilsner 5 - JosephsBrau PLZNR
Happily I was correct in each instance, though Mrs V managed to nip any smug moment in the bud by commenting that 'it's no bloody wonder, you know more about pilsners than most people'.

One thing though that surprised me was how much I liked the Josephsbrau PLZNR, which is Trader Joe's own brand beer, brewed by Gordon Biersch, and costs an insanely cheap $5.99 for a six pack. I really thought it was a pretty decent beer, a tad strong at 5.4%abv, but with 32 IBUs not shying away from the proper hopping level for Czech style pale lagers (one thing guaranteed to piss me off is 'Bohemian lager' with about 20 IBUs). However I need to take issue with the label, which reads:
JosephsBrau PLZNR (Pilsner) is a celebration of noble hops from Central Europe. This style of beer was developed by German brewmaster Josef Groll in 1840 in the town of Plzn (Pilsen), Bohemia (modern day Czech Republic) and was the first beer to be brewed golden and clear. This beer's pin-point fine bitterness is perfectly accentuated by its crisp body.
Firstly, if you are going to spell the name of a town in the language of the country the town is it, please do it properly, it is 'Plzeň' in Czech, not 'Plzn', if your printer can't handle the háček over the 'n', use the German name instead rather than mangling something together that, to be frank, makes your marketing people look like rank amateurs.

Secondly, Josef Groll developed the beer that became known to the world as Pilsner Urquell in 1842, not 1840. He brewed the first batch of the beer on October 5th of that year and the first tapping was on November 11th.

Thirdly, the beer brewed by Groll was not the 'first beer to be brewed golden and clear', pale ales had existed in England long before the Bürgerliches Brauhaus decided to use English malting methods to produce pale malt. Sure it might have been the first lager to be 'brewed golden and clear' but not the first beer.

Here endeth the lesson....thanks be to Groll.


  1. Not available in Virginia, or at least, not in the Charlottesville area.

  2. Their Pilsner is not that much better than Straponformen anyway. Their Cerne is excellent though. IMO.

  3. When I lived in Prague I drank a lot more Budvar than I did any of the other major brands. Czech friends of mine always told me that most people either preferred Budvar or Pilsner Urquell, and I generally preferred the former, especially either tankové or kroužkované. I agree the Černé is a damned fine beer. Staropramen was never a favourite of mine, though I would drink it in a pinch, the Granát was decent enough from time to time, though it was actually better when it first came out as 'Millennium'.