Thursday, September 3, 2015

Always There

Sometimes it seems as though every time you turn around there are breweries bringing out new beers, retiring old (or simply unappreciated, whether by brewery or customer) beers, or adding American hops to an extant beer style and calling it a IPA of some level of bastardisation. This constant obsession with the new, whether actually new or not, can leave one's head spinning. Thankfully though, there are some breweries for whom the constant demand for new products holds no sway, for whom having their beer dispensed in a different manner is not something they aspire to, who understand that for the vast majority of beer drinkers the beer that is always there is the one that they will come back to time and again. Yet at times it appears that such beers slide under the radar, ignored, sometimes despised, simply because of their ubiquity.

I have a beer that I come back to time and again for simple drinking pleasure, and really if you don't actually like drinking beer rather than just doing sampling flights then what's the point? It is the classic of its style, consistently good, and one that I can never remember having been disappointed by. People that know me well or have followed Fuggled for a while will know it is Pilsner Urquell.


Whatever the veracity or otherwise of the creation myth that surrounds Pilsner Urquell, the fact remains that when Josef Groll revealed his pale golden lager to the drinkers of Plzeň he changed the beer world forever. Just a few decades later and brewers from across Europe and America were copying, to varying degrees of success, this archetypal Bohemian beer. I'll admit that when I lived in the Czech Republic I drank more Gambrinus that Pilsner Urquell to begin with, and that when I started discovering the many wonderful beers from smaller breweries I drank a lot of their beer too, but the simple pleasure of going to a Prazdroj pub like Bruska or U Pinkasů and drinking several pints of bracingly bitter lager was something to be savoured.


When Mrs V and I upped sticks and moved to the US, the sight of Urquell in a grocery store was a little reminder of that much loved distant land about which we knew plenty and so it became a delight to come home from the shop with a 6 pack and drink it from one of my Czech beer glasses, usually with the wrong branding, but who really cares about that shite anyway? On those rare occasions when it was available on draft, I practically parked myself at the bar. Sure it was pasteurised and filtered, and as such not quite as good as the kvasnicové, or even the tanková, to be had back in Plzeň, but it was a darned sight better than the majority of attempts at Czech pilsner being brewed by small American breweries at the time. Then came the changes.


They didn't change the recipe, the lagering time, the shape of the fermenters or any of that stuff, they changed the shipping procedure. In came 'express cold shipped' Pilsner Urquell and the difference was palpable. Yes it was still filtered and pasteurised, but it was fresher, kept in better conditions through the transport process and as such tasted closer to that I would drink in the Czech Republic. Then they went back to brown bottles and again the beer was more like itself. Then, o miracle of miracles, a Charlottesville pub had unfiltered, unpasteurised Pilsner Urquell on tap (a proper tap no less!), and there it was, Pilsner as Groll intended.


I probably drink a 6 pack or two of Pilsner Urquell every month. I love that beer. I don't care that it is brewed by a 100% owned subsidiary of SABMiller. I don't care that it doesn't use the latest experimental hops from the Pacific Northwest. I don't care that it is a style of beer so roundly disregarded and misunderstood by the ignorati of the craft beer world. I care that it is always good, it's always the same, and it always transports me to another time and place, that city with claws.

3 comments:

  1. I've seen a few comments that it seems to have lost something when it was put into the new-shape stubbier bottles. I can't say it's a beer I drink regularly, but I've felt that from one or two recent tastings.

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  2. Pilsner Urquell is a good pilsner but if I'm drinking imported pilsner,it is Radeberger.

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  3. The brown bottles really were a godsend. No more skunk!

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