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A Czech, a German, and an American Walk into a Bar: Pilsners in Context

Thanks to a few drain-poured barrels of bad ale, Pilsners were born and became the most popular beer style in the world, showcasing the flavor potential of hops long before the first IPAs came on the scene, but giving brewers no place to hide faults.

Josh Weikert Nov 30, 2016 - 15 min read

A Czech, a German, and an American Walk into a Bar: Pilsners in Context Primary Image

Most great successes in history are preceded by spectacular failures—and it was barrels of rancid ale being dumped in the streets of a brewing-proud Czech city that led to the creation of what is probably the most imitated beer style in the world. You see, something stank in the Kingdom of Bohemia in 1838 (spoiler alert: it was the beer). Whatever the cause (and a good guess would be rampant mutation and contamination in the common top-fermenting brewing yeasts in use), the city of Plzen’s civic and brewing leaders decided that enough was enough and significantly changed the way beer was brewed in their city. The result was Pilsner, one of the first broadly produced lager styles and a beer that has become the mainstay of global beer consumption, production, and emulation.

Though the Bohemians can take credit for Pilsner thanks to geography, it was a Bavarian who gave them the opportunity. The first blonde lager produced in Plzen was brewed by Josef Groll, a German brewer who was tasked with producing an entirely new kind of beer and given a new brewery in which to do it. Using lighter-kilned malts (thanks to English technological advances), locally sourced Saaz hops, the soft water common to the area, and a monk-smuggled (or so the stories go) strain of new bottom-fermenting lager yeast, Groll produced the first Pilsner-style lager in October 1842.

It was an immediate success.

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