Since I mentioned Lagers first, that is what I’m going to talk about (yes, it’s that arbitrary). I know that we have all heard the term ”Johnnie come lately.” In the beer world, the pinnacle of this saying is found in the Pilsner style of beer. As you might or might not have guessed, Pilsner is actually an appellation that denotes where the beer came from. Pilsners came from a Czech town called Pilsen. A few factors really led to the dominance of Pilsners. Here they are.
One: Pilsners picked up steam because of advances in malting techniques. Grains were now more evenly cooked, and this led to lighter colors in the grains and, therefore, in the beer. Two: The mass usage and availability in glassware allowed these new phenomenal beers to be seen in a different light, so to speak. Before this time, glassware was not able to be mass produced. In addition, there was not a great deal of continuity in glass size (in that they were blown by mouth). Three: Advances in refrigeration allowed these Lager beers to be clean and crisp in the mouth. Prior to the advances in refrigeration, there was not the ability to ship and spread these beers around the world. These three really led to the almost hegemonic dominance of Pilsners in the world of beer. It is amazing to think that this style came about in the very late 1800s and is now the world’s most popular beer style.
Yet not all is well in the world of Pilsners (which can roughly mean a beer resembling the color of the original Pilsner beer). In the case of most Pilsners, especially of the mass brewery variety, they are not remotely like the O.P. (Original Pilsner). And I’m not down with O.P.P. (Other People’s Pilsners). The true tragedy is that it has lost much of its distinctness as a style. Original Pilnsers were crisp and had a biting hop quality. Most Pilsners are now known for their “drinkability,” which basically means their palatability…which basically means their ability to produce generation after generation of beer zombies. When you get down to brass tacks, it really means that they make a beer that appeals to the largest group possible. No alarms and no surprises (to make a Radiohead reference). The reputation of the true Pilners is further denigrated by the addition of adjuncts such as rice hulls, which further reduce the harshness of cheap and inferior grains (along with any undesirable character; yes, I did mean character and not characteristics).
So, a true Pilsner will have a bit of a hop bite. The original Pilnser is called Pilsner Urquell. According to Michael Jackson (the beer guy), it is not quite as hoppy as it once was. This was a cave to the pressures of the market. One that I really enjoyed is called Jever. It is crisp and hoppy. I beg you to try a real Pilsner some time. At the very least, it’s got character.