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Saturday, December 1, 2012

A Pilsner Urquell story

The first was in September. I was at the brewery in Pilsen, in the Czech Republic. We saw the huge, modern brewery with the big copper brewing kettles (heated by direct fire) and the massive stainless fermentation and maturation tanks . . . all aboveground. Then we were led below ground, into nine kilometers of tunnels cut through the native sandstone.

Down here, in the dim, wet halls where all Pilsner Urquell used to be lagered in great wooden barrels, they still make a small amount of it in the old, traditional way: fermented in open vats, aged in the big barrels that are still made by an onsite cooperage, and cooled by the natural temperature of the earth. They do that to make sure the beer made the modern way tastes the same as the old school stuff.
Vaclav handing Thomas his first beer

And there I was, in the very birthplace of pilsner, drinking fresh-as-life beer tapped directly from those barrels, with none other than the Pilsner Urquell brewmaster, a huge blond bear of a man named Vaclav Berka. It was cool, deliciously zingy with Saaz hop aroma and bitterness, and fantastically fresh.

The second moment was in mid-October. It was my son’s 21st birthday, and I managed to get him to hold off having a drink until 4:30 in the afternoon. That was when we went to a Pilsner Urquell event (at City Tap House), and my son’s first legal beer was a Pilsner Urquell, tapped and handed to him by a huge blond bear of a man . . . named Vaclav Berka. I got the next one, and it was cool, deliciously zingy with Saaz hop aroma and bitterness, and fantastically fresh....

And you can read the rest of that story here. It's a trade journal piece, but a good piece. And I have a follow-up, too. Yesterday I picked up a liter of unpasteurized Pilsner Urquell in the beautiful bottle you see to the left. I got it from the people at Muller Beverage, who told me it was one of only 60 in the country (edit: It was actually one of 60 that Muller got, which is quite a bit different! I was moving fast, and it was a simple misunderstanding. My apologies to all). They also told me I should drink it right away, because it had been held up in shipping because of Hurricane Sandy (that bastard).

So I did. I picked up some lobsters at a local supermarket (I'd say where and give them a plug, but they sold me a piece of bad bluefish at the same time, so screw 'em), got some barbecue mushrooms at the farmer's market, and went home to Cathy and Thomas. I popped open the liter, poured it into two beautiful Pilsner glasses I got at the Grey Lodge some years back and cherish, and Thomas's mug (which you see in Vaclav's big hand above), and we drank that sweet thing... And we all said, hey, that's pretty good! And it was. I hope the whole Express Shipped Cold thing works out, because then we'll see more of this kind of thing, and it won't just be lucky journalists and bar owners who get this delicious stuff.


Bill said...

I have no idea how it compares to the stuff you drank, but I'm really enjoying the cold-shipped Urquell. Especially the 4-packs of 500 ml cans for $3.49. Wow.

Steven said...

"...who told me it was one of only 60 in the country."

Wait... what?

For probably the first time ever -- I feel like one of those BA members who have to get their paws on something rare -- I want one!

Anonymous said...

" I hope the whole Express Shipped Cold thing works out"...

I've really enjoyed the Shipped Cold stuff, esp. the 500 ml cans sold for $3.49-3.99 a four pack in the Chicago area.


Gary Gillman said...

Lew, is Shipped Cold different from the canned Urquell we get in Canada? The latter, by interpretation of date codes, usually arrive here about 8 weeks after packaging, which is darn fast, comparable to domestic beer shipping times. And it tastes great (the can, I don't but the green bottle which never tastes as good to me).

I have drunk Urquell in Prague on draft and this canned stuff is almost as good.

It is still the best pilsner lager in the world IMO.


P.S. I don't think the unfiltered version you can get sometimes in CZ is half as good as the filtered one. This beer needs filtration otherwise the yeast dominates the taste. IMHO.

Lew Bryson said...

Gary, Vaclav told me -- barring crap like Sandy! -- that the stuff should be in U.S. wholesalers' warehouses 31 days after leaving the brewery packaging line. That's pretty fast indeed, and it really is shipped in containers with individual, self-contained refrigeration units. Don't know that I agree about the unfiltered stuff, though. What we had was "lightly" filtered; maybe an ongoing process?

Charles Bockway said...

Lew you should be catching your own Bluefish off the Jersey shore. ;)

Peter LaFrance said...

Many years ago I asked the brewer how much more alcohol and hops are added for the export version. Still waiting for an answer.

Gary Gillman said...

Lew, thanks. The canned beer we get definitely has a 9 month BBD, since I wrote my last comment, I've seen the production dates and expiry dates stated literally on the cardboard cases, and they always span 9 months.

That was my previous inference anyway, so I am right that it comes on the retail shelves in Ontario 60 days (sometimes up to 80 or 90) after packaging, but never 30.

This is why I am wondering if the 30 day refrigerated stuff sent to the U.S. is different.

But anyway, our canned Urquell is great, very reliable.


P.S. A light veil won't hurt Urquell and may help flavor a bit, but I've had too many gauzy lagers and ales said to be unfiltered which in my opinion are wrong for the style unless it is Keller Beer or Wheat Beer (or some Belgian ales). The problem is the yeast covers over the other elements! Never a problem with the exported canned Urquell, and yet as in any beer, the yeast background is still there, its contribution is still felt.

Lew Bryson said...

Got a response on that export question from the brewery.

"To clarify – Pilsner Urquell is Pilsner Urquell. Nothing different is done in the brewing for a “US Specific” brew. The only thing different for a batch produced for the US is that the label on the bottle and the packaging configurations (ex: fully enclosed 6pack vs wrap-style 4pk, etc) are different. The actual beer is exactly the same as the non-export."

Happy to help.

Unknown said...

Hey everybody!
It was me developing the beer tap from Pilsner Urquell in this picture!

So nice to see it!

hugs and beers from Italy!