Groll, Josef (1813–1887) was a gifted Bavarian brewer commonly believed to have created the first Pilsner lager. Groll was born in Vilshofen, a small village northeast of Munich in Bavaria. The son of a successful brewer, beer was in his blood but apparently he wasn’t easy to get along with. He is described by historians as “a simple man without any manners,” and “coarse even by Bavarian standards.” His own father declared Groll to be “the rudest man in Bavaria.”

Whatever his personal faults, Groll’s brewing skill was unmistakable. He was recruited by Martin Stelzer, founder of the Burgher’s Brewery of Pilsen in neighboring Bohemia, to brew high-quality beer. Groll smuggled a Bavarian lager yeast across the border, combined it with the local Saaz hops, soft Bohemian water, and the pale malt that had been perfected by British ale brewers to create a light, golden beer which was christened Pilsner Urquell, or “original Pilsner.” See pilsner urquell.

Urquell was not the first golden lager, as is often claimed. But the combination of ingredients gave birth to a new style of beer, one which set the template for 95% of the world’s beers today.

Despite that beer’s phenomenal success, when Groll’s contract expired in 1845 it was not renewed. (Maybe the rudeness and coarseness was just too much, no matter how good his beer was.) Groll returned home to Vilshofen and eventually inherited his father’s brewery. He died at the age of 74, at the regular’s table in his favorite pub, the Wolferstetter Keller.

See also pilsen (plzeň) and pilsner.