Welcome to Beers of Europe’s Beer Classification Guide. In this series we walk you through different beer styles, opening your eyes to the origins of the type and how it has developed over the course of its history. For the home brewers amongst you, we include the brewing specifications for the style and food pairings, as well as what makes it different from others. Finally, we give you the best examples of the type that you can buy straight from our website. The first style we present to you is the Pilsner.
While the origin of some styles can claim to be from several different breweries at multiple times, the Pilsner is much more straight-forward. The name derives from the town where it was first brewed, Pilsen, a town in Bohemia now known as the Czech Republic, at a time where Ale was vulnerable to outside contamination from wild yeasts or bacteria. Certain Belgian brewers had been able to tame these yeasts into a unique Lambic beer style, although this was not the case in Bohemia. By 1840, the problem drove the Pilsens to look further afar for help, bringing in Josef Groll from Germany to help provide a German efficiency to their brewing. Using local Saaz hops and a purer form of water, without such a high concentration of Ions, Josef brewed and stored the new beer in local sandstone caves in a process called lagering.
Thus Pilsner Urquell, the translation of which being Original Pilsner, was born. A new style of straw-like colour, and a light refreshing taste made this beer unique in the area and it quickly spread across Bohemia and Europe. The specification for Pilsners lies at the 4-5% ABV mark, with an IBU (International Bitterness Unit) rating of 30-45. Lager yeast is the obvious choice for brewing and the Saaz hops among with European varieties such as Tettnanger, Lublin or Hallertauer can provide the basics for brewing the style. It differs from other lager products such as Helles or Dortmunder by having a slightly hoppier taste than its malty cousins, as well as a more golden complexion.
Whilst ideally being served in a flute glass at 5-8⁰C, it can be paired with cheese (that and every other beer) as well as light proteins such as seafood and chicken. We have plenty of examples of Pilsners on our website, but here are a few of our picks;
It would be criminal to recommend a Pilsner without starting with this. Every other Pilsner is an imitation of Urquell and today it uses the same recipe it did in 1842, although the brewing process has been refined somewhat. It pours a golden colour with a white head, with a malty aroma and hoppy finish. The textbook Saaz hop is apparent and sweetens the taste. It is in every try before you die book and will always be a pioneer in the lager industry at a respectable 4.4%. A must have and available right on our website in 330ml or 500ml bottles.
Popular with ex-squaddies (similarly to Herforder and Warsteiner), Jever is similar to Urquell in the way it utilises its local water supply to promote a clean taste. Jever has used the same local well for over 100 years and uses Hallertau and Tettnang hops which are common in German Pilsners. The strength is 4.9% and it is renowned for its dryness in the finish as well as sweet malts and a hoppy taste. It is now owned by German giant Radeberger however it is still brewed at the same brewery with the same recipe since the 19th century.
While this craft lager does not have the centuries of history its Czech and German counterparts promote, it utilises its youth to address a new edgy side to the American brewing scene. It weighs in at 6%, stronger than the 4-5% your average pilsner contains, but this certainly doesn’t make it bitter at 35IBU. Saaz hops keep the American brew true to its predecessors but easy to drink and with high ratings to match. This is definitely worth trying as a new take on a classic and even though it has only been brewed since 1997, it is already a credit to Lagunitas and craft brewing.
The British entry on our list of recommendations is courtesy of Meantime, who confirmed themselves as one of the biggest craft breweries in England when they were bought by SAB Miller in 2015. Its Pilsner is 4.4% and uses German hops to create a crisp taste with a grassy aroma and an elegant bitter finish. It, along with the others on this list, comes highly recommended and is award winning for the same reason, they are excellent examples of Pilsners.
But by no means are these the only pilsners we stock. Beers of Europe carry a massive selection of pilsners from around the world which you can find on our website or in-store.
The next instalment in our classification will be the India Pale Ale, coming soon.
Article by Matthew Keeley-Smith