tl;dr – There aren’t pilsners.
After Boak and Bailey’s intriguing premise for their round of The Session caught my attention, I didn’t think I’d necessarily be writing anything for the next spin of the wheel. However, Alistair Reece at Fuggled has asked people to write on the subject of Pilsners and, since I’m actually in Czech Republic, right now, immersing my progeny in their Slavic legacy, I felt it would be inopportune not to write a few hundred words on the matter.
Which is lucky, because a few hundred words is probably all I’ve got.
I’m not an expert on Pilsner, I don’t think, despite frequently coming to Czech republic and drinking almost nothing else. I’m still working on developing the palate, on being able to identify flavours when someone hasn’t prompted me to expect them, on moving beyond the binary ‘”yes, I like it” or “no, I don’t”.
Pilsner, pilsener or pils is widely considered the most popular beer style in the world, reproduced to greater or lesser worthiness in almost every beer drinking nation, producing pale imitations in abundance and influencing, even if only tangentially, the most-drunk beer in almost every country on Earth. The original call to arms acknowledges this, asking people to compare and contrast the myriad varieties produced over an extensive array of countries.
That is not how things are perceived here, though, in rural South Moravia. There is only one pilsner here, the orginal source, Plzeňský Prazdroj or, in its more familiar German, Pilsner Urquell. This isn’t merely a matter of locality or origin though, in the same way that a beer must be brewed in Cologne to be truly called Kölsch. Gambrinus is brewed in Pilsen and isn’t considered a pilsener. Primus is also brewed in Pilsen, and isn’t considered fit for human consumption. In its homeland, there is only one meaning to the term ‘pilsner’. The idea of an ‘American Pilsner’ is nonsense.
However, this strangely reductive approach to beer is peculiar to the Czech people, and hardly helpful to other people considering similar beers elsewhere in the world. Czechs usually call beers in this style ‘Světlý Ležák’ and, outside fancy metropolitan areas, it’s pretty much the only beer style in the world. Other countries might produce a range of styles, but Czechs have chosen one, and they’ll keep working on it till it’s perfect. They’re pretty close, too. It’s a bugger to spell, though, and even harder to pronounce. I can’t see the name catching on.
Still, I bet you know someone who smugly tells you it’s not Champagne unless it’s produced in Champagne… he’ll probably say Pilsner at some point, and you can tell him.