When disgruntled citizens of the (now) Czech Republic town of Pilsen (Plzen), watched 36 barrels of virtually undrinkable beer being poured down local drains in 1838, they knew something had to be done. And it was -- a Bavarian brewer named Josef Groll was brought to town and put to work combining some bottom-fermenting lager yeast with the local Saaz hops, soft water and pale malts. In 1842 he produced a revelatory brew, a bright, clear, golden lager that was crisp and quenching.
In time it became known as Pilsner Urquell (literally, “original well”), but it was an immediate sensation, and a model for any number of pale lager descendants, including oceanic generations of mass market American bellywash.
Pilsners call on all of a brewer’s skills -- there’s nowhere to hide in the style’s delicate balance of malt and hops. Which makes a well-made pilsner still a joy to consume, including the original, still brewed in Pilsen, rightfully considered a world classic and widely available here.
While grand year round, pilsners are particularly agreeable in warm weather. With fresh corn and ripe tomatoes embellishing the barbecue season, there’s no better time to be quaffing one. If we’re being honest, perhaps more than one, preferably poured into a tall pilsner-style glass.
We have a solid lineup here in a geographically diverse six-pack of pilsners that should be fairly easy to track down, regionally if not nationally. And some states allow craft beers to be shipped from mail order outlets like Tavour.
A suitable New England tribute to the Bohemian-style classic, made with Moravian malts, golden in color with an almost puckering bite at the finish. Most pilsners are easy-drinking, with moderate ABV (alcohol by volume) numbers, usually ranging from 4.5 to 5.8%. Schilling distributes to New England, New York, Michigan, Virginia and Washington, D.C.
This Queens brewery is best known for high ABV double IPAs, but its pilsner has game, with a slight haze and a typically generous white head. There are distinct floral aromas and a touch of citrus in the palate, no doubt due to the addition of New Zealand and Pacific northwest hops along with Czech hops. Available in the northeast, mid-Atlantic and midwest.
Victory has been around for 25 years and I put it in the same can’t-miss category as, say, Sierra Nevada -- meaning anything they make is bound to be of superior quality. Prima Pils is a German-style pilsner, hence the more common Pils moniker. Most will find the differences all but indistinguishable, but in general Czech-style pilsners tend to be more golden in color, richer in malt and softer in the finish. Pils use German hops and are often more highly carbonated, drier, with a more lingering bitter finish. Prima Pils checks all the boxes and is easy to find, distributed in over 30 states.
Live Oak has almost been around 25 years, established in 1997 and educating Texas palates ever since, no doubt an originally daunting task with mostly German-style lagers. One can hope this exemplar of a Bohemian-style pilsner, the brewery’s flagship beer, is one day distributed outside of Texas. For now routing flights through Austin might be the best option; the brewery is across the street from the airport.
Old by craft brewing standards, North Coast has been going strong since 1988. And strong in terms of some of their classics -- Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout (9%) and Old Stock Ale (10.2%). Yet Scrimshaw remains the brewery’s best-seller, available nationwide, a German-style pils like the engravings it is named for, fashioned by 19th-century whaling men -- both delicate yet sharp, a clear-eyed beauty.
Pilsners have the added virtue of pairing well with most foods -- meat, fish, poultry, spicy dishes. This gem from Oregon is no exception, and is exceptional in any case, from a 9-year-old brewery that has been cleaning up brewing competition awards. The company’s beer portfolio is vast and adventurous, but its Pilsner is the flagship beer, a significant nod to the abiding love for the style.