The reinvention of beer in America is happening at a breakneck speed as brewers at small breweries and brewpubs, and even homebrewers, get a wild hair and try something completely different. It also happens when agri-science brings us a new hop or yeast.
But in this time of change it’s easy to overlook a style that has become such a pervasive part of beer culture that living without it would be like not having running water or email: the Czech lager known as pilsner that in the 1840s launched a beer revolution. Although most of the beers put out by the largest producers of beer in this nation call themselves pilsners, they are a far cry from the original.
For refreshment in a glass that is pleasing to the palate and the eye, it is hard to beat a Czech pilsner. The style was invented when brewers in the town of Pilzen discovered that a yeast that could withstand colder temperatures and sank to the bottom of the fermentation vessels would produce a clear, golden beer. It was a world first and would soon be duplicated in other Czech breweries, then Germany and the world.
Most beers used to be consumed from clay vessels or metal mugs because the murky ales that dominated brewing weren’t necessarily much to look at. It wasn’t long after pilsner’s debut that clear glassware began to pop up to let the beer put on a show, with light illuminating a fresh poured pint and bubbles dancing from bottom to top in streams .
The Saaz hop strain spices a good pilsner, and a soft mouthfeel pervades the crackery malts. Although even the Czech breweries have embraced some new technology, the magic of the process, the hops grown on Bohemian soil, and the special quality of the water still bring wonder time after time.
Pilsner Urquell is the orginal pilsner beer, and Budweis, after which the not-so-similar American beer was named, followed soon after. Budweis is sold in the U.S. under the name Czechvar.
My most recent discovery on local shelves is a pleasing brew called Bernard Premium, made with Moravian malt and spring water at a brewery still run by the family that started it. Also keep an eye out for Zatec and Rebel beers from the Czech Republic for a well-synchronized quick step of flavor that only the real deal can deliver. •
Travis E. Poling writes about beer weekly for the Current and is author of the book Beer Across Texas: A Guide to the Brews and Brewmasters of the Lone Star State. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org