Despite being most popular beer style in the world today, Pilsner is probably not my favorite type of beer. I generally prefer ales to lagers, and I often prefer stronger beers to weaker ones. However, Czech Pilsner is quality stuff. No surprises there since although the world tends to associate Pilsner with the Germans, in fact it was the Czechs who invented the style.
Pilsner was invented in 1842 in the Bohemian town of Pilsen (Plzen), now located in the Czech Republic. It was not the first lager beer. Germany was already producing lagers, and in fact the yeast used in the first Pilsner was obtained from a German brewery. The new beer differed from its predecessors though in its clarity, pale color, and soft yet complex flavor. They key purportedly lay in the Czechs being the first to apply the thermometer to carefully control and optimize mash conditions. This allowed them to get a good fermentation out of lightly malted grains, resulting in an full flavored final product. The soft water of Bohemia contributed to the mellow profile of the beer.
There are probably two really well known Czech pilsners, Budejovicky Budvar and Pilsner Urquell. Budvar has a cult status arising from its legal battles over with the ubiquitous Budweiser. Budweiser allegedly stole the Budvar name, and recently took legal action to stop the older Budvar from selling its products in the United States on the grounds that the names were similar enough to confuse customers. Pilsner Urquell has always been my personal favorite though. Generally I have found that Budvar to be slightly sweeter and more malty, while Pilsner Urquell has a hoppier, more interesting profile.
However, I have never done a side-by-side comparison so I thought I’d give that a try.
Hmm. . .
On tasting them I was surprised at how similar they were. Still, I found myself enjoying the Pilsner Urquell more than the Budvar and it disappeared faster. The Pilsner Urquell definitely was a little more bitter, though there was less in it than I expected. The Budvar had a little more of a ‘sweet-and-sour’ character, with a stronger sweetness from the malt but also a tiny hint of vinegary ‘sourness’. Not unpleasant. The Budvar seemed to lack bite though.
Overall I’d say that the Pilsner Urquell has a little more character.
Czech Pilsner does not travel or store particularly well. It is not uncommon for older bottles to be really disappointing – in fact I’d generally avoid any bottles approaching their expiry date. With that in mind I checked the expiry date on the two bottles. The expiry on the Pilsner Urquell was in April, compared to September for the Budvar. So although the Budvar was fresher by five months I still preferred the Pilsner Urquell. I think that says good things about Pilsner Urquell versus Budvar. I guess my favorite has not changed then.