Origin of Pilsner Beer

Pilsner Urquel

Knowledgeable beer drinkers know that Pilsner-style means fine lager. This style of beer originated in the Bohemian town of Plzen, population 165,000in the Czech republic. Plzen is well known for its abundant and suitable brewing water and has been brewing since 1295 when Vaclav II, King of Bohemia, granted the city the right to brew.

Czech citizens have always been enthusiastic beer drinkers (average per capita beer consumption is approximately 150 litres), which is almost double of that Canadian per capita beer consumption.

The majority of the population started brewing beer in their basements using hops from nearby Saaz and Zatek.

Both regions are world renown for the distinct flavour of their hops. At first brews were dark in colour, murky and unsightly looking concoctions, sometimes with high alcohol content, at other times very low. Consistency was not one of the objectives of home brewers.

This continued for almost five centuries. By then the collective palates of the citizens of Plzen had become sophisticated, and started demanding consistent and flavourful beer.

Eventually, a Bavarian brew master by the name of Josef Groll was hired with the objective to brew a uniform, clear, light, brilliant and refreshing beer. He got working immediately, and soon after came up with a blond beer that was tapped at Mirwald`s pub on the town square in 1842.

The Plzen Urquell (Urquell = the original) became an instant sensation. The brewery Mestanky Pivovar (Citizen`s brewery) still brews fine beer, and locals never tire from its distinct clarity and taste.

In those days there were neither patent offices nor copyright laws to protect a successful brand. Soon European brewers (mainly German), and at least one American brewer started brewing Pilsen-style beer taking advantage of the fame of the original.

Today many brewers world wide brew Pilsener beer, but they are at best imitations, since over 90 per cent of a beer is water and it cannot be duplicated.

If you ever happen to be in Prag (only two hours from Plzen) take a train or bus and visit the brewery. The un-pasteurized and unfiltered draught beer served in the brewery’s pub tastes far superior to what we get in bottles outside of the country.

The first Pilsener Urquell was shipped to Canada in 1867 by boat and soon became a favourite.

By 1961 Labatt`s decided to brew a Plzen-style beer and started marketing it as Pilsener lager; by 1979 the brand was renamed Blue.

Today all three major Canadian brewers (J. Labatt, Molson and Sleeman brew and market Plzen-style beers).

Of course most craft breweries have their own brands.

Creemore, today owned by Molson, has one of the better Pilsener-style beers.

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