Pilsner: The world's first light beer
Many historians place the end of the Dark Ages at the beginning of the 12th century. The age of dark beer, however, lasted for several more centuries - until man, technology and place coalesced to produce the world's first light beer.
In 1295, King Wenceslas of Bohemia, in what's now the Czech Republic, granted permission for the town of Plze (Pilsen) to brew beer. Unfortunately, their beer industry deteriorated over time. By 1836, the town's dark ales were so vile, probably due to bacterial contamination, that 36 casks had to be dumped into the sewer. Pilsen was forced to import lagers from Bavaria and Austria.
A group of concerned citizens built a state-of-the art brewery and ordered a search for a new brewmaster. They found a young Bavarian named Josef Groll. Little did the townsfolk know that Groll would change the world's definition of beer.
Courtesy of the Industrial Revolution, Groll had access to a modern brewery where the processes could be controlled and repeated. He also brought a new malting technique from England that used indirect heat, which produced the legendary ultra-pale Pilsner Malt. The new beer recipe included generous doses of the indigenous floral Å½atec (Saaz) hops. Rather than using the local ale yeast, Groll smuggled lager yeast from Bavaria. (The Bavarian government had banned yeast shipments to protect its growing beer exports.) Finally, there was the water. Pilsen was blessed with incredibly soft water that muted the beer's hop profile for incomparable smoothness and drinkability.
The new beer - the world's first golden lager - was served Nov. 11, 1842. It was a smash hit. The town named beer the Pilsner Urquell - "ur" is German for original and "quell" for source.
The Pilsner style has set the standard for appearance, flavor, ingredients and brewing techniques for at least 90 percent of the world's beer. It has spawned many variations, including the American, which is often spelled Pilsener.
These are wonderful session beers, under 5 percent alcohol, perfect for the coming sweltering summer months. Pilsners are also versatile in their food pairings, able to complement delicate seafood dishes; fried finger foods, like chicken wings; and even spicy sausage. Serve in a traditional pilsner flute at 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Enjoy the selections. Prost!
Sunshine Pils: TrÃ¶egs Brewing; Hershey: This is a German style Pilsner, which is drier than the Bohemian and has a crisper hop bitterness due to a higher mineral content in the water. Sunshine Pils pours pale blonde with a foamy head. The aromas are a mix of malt and earth. The flavor is clean full-bodied malt, cleansed by Saaz hops that linger on the tongue.
Prima Pils: Victory Brewing; Downingtown: Prima is the German exclamation for joy. You'll understand why. The color is straw with hues of gold. Aromas are a mÃ©lange of malt, lemon and grass. The flavors are grainy malt with hints of bread and cracker, and a satisfying hop finish. This one was one my favorites of the sampling.
Good Chit Pilsner: Rogue Ales; Ashland, Ore. Brewmaster John Maier is a soft-spoken man. His beer does the talking. Rogue Ales is an industry leader in organic and sustainable brewing. This interpretation is made from barley grown and hand-malted on the premises. "Chit" refers to the barley rootlets that sprout during the malting process. The Liberty hops used in this Pilsner, the domestic equivalent of the German Hallertau, are also grown on Rogue Farms. Good Chit has flavors of malt and cracker, with hints of lemon. The Liberty hop finish has a lovely bite that seems more pronounced than the Saaz. It's an exquisite drinking experience.
Pilsner Urquel: Plzensky Prazdroj; Plze, Czechoslavakia: This is the progenitor of all pilsners. It pours pale with an active carbonated head. The flavors and aromas of malt and floral hops are more delicate than the Americanized versions. The finish is dry and refreshing - an excellent reward after mowing the lawn. Buy Pilsner Urquell in sealed packages only. The green bottles don't provide protection from light, which reacts with hop compounds to produce a distinct skunky aroma.
(The Brew Dude will be published every other week on the Food and Drink Page. For comments, suggestions, or questions, email Mark Pasquinelli at email@example.com.)