Pilsner Urquell‘s beer in the U.S. wreaks of diacetyl (butter aroma and flavor) so I don’t drink it. But here in Europe it tastes much better. I don’t understand why, they claim the beer is the same and it’s pasteurized so the diacetyl is not coming from an infection in the bottles. My guess is that it’s so much more fresh here that the malt and hops mask the diacetyl while the older, less fresh and poorly-handled beer that is shipped to the U.S. loses the malt and hops aroma so it doesn’t mask the butter aroma as much.
Since Pilsen (Plzen) is the birthplace of Pilsner beer I wanted to come here while traveling nearby. And because Pilsner Urquell invented the Pilsner beer style and because I’d seen pictures of it in Michael Jackson’s Beer Hunter TV shows, I wanted to visit the brewery. It’s definitely worth the $10 or so for the ticket!
Interesting brewing facts I learned:
- Pilsner Urquell is triple-decocted (they call it “triple-mashing”)
- It takes 12 days to ferment at 4-7°C (which is it?)
- They lager it for 30 days at 5°C
- They malt the Moravian Barley themselves on site
- They now have a water treatment plant to treat the water they pull from 100-meter wells nearby – the famously soft and pure Pilsen water isn’t what it used to be, I guess
- They always used copper kettles and even today only the lauter tuns are stainless steel
- They lagered the beer in wood barrels lined with tar until the 1994 when they switched to stainless steel lagering tanks (and decommissioned the cellar)
- The lagering tanks are vertical, not horizontal
- They implied that there is a secondary fermentation in the lagering tanks but I’m not sure
- They use membrane filtration, not a centrifuge
- They pasteurize the beer
- The tour guide said brown bottles are used for export and green bottles are for local distribution – however, the U.S. gets green bottles and I don’t recall ever seeing it in brown bottles
The brewery gate:
Havana (and Ouzo) next to an old wort-chiller:
The original brewery building in 1842:
The packaging facility, bottles, cans and plastic bottles (for their other beers):
The brewhouse from the early 1900s to 2004:
The brewhouse from 2004 on:
The Czechs wanted to make a pale lager, pale like the wheat ales that were popular in Germany at the time, as lagers then were darker. They hired Josef Groll as the first brewmaster and he is the one that invented Pilsner beer: lightly malted barley from Pilsen, Czech Saaz hops, soft Pilsen water and yeast he took from some German brewery. It was only 5 years earlier that a German physiologist, Theodor Schwann, discovered that yeast is a living organism and is what causes fermentation. The hydrometer was invented the following year by a Czech chemist, Karl Balling. The same year Pilsner Urquell started, Emil Hanssen was born, who discovered decades later that there were many strains of yeast, including that ale and lager yeasts behaves differently.
At least one reason Pilsen was chosen was because it was on top of easy-to-excavate sandstone and they knew they’d be digging underground to make caves to store (“lager”) the beer.
The kids in the cellar next to barrels:
One of many (70?) ice houses — until 1987 they brought ice from a nearby lake and filled these rooms to bring the cellar from a natural 8°C to 5°C: