Pilsner, the Czech Original

DSC_0656After discussing German Pilsners last week, it makes sense to turn south towards the Czech Republic and look at Bohemian Pilsners. Bohemian Pilsners are the original, first developed in Plzen, Czech in 1842. The story goes that a German Lager Yeast was smuggled from Germany, and combined with Plzen’s soft water, pale malts and Saaz hops, created the World’s first Pilsner.

Bohemian Pilsners are also crisp and bitter, but can have a sweeter finish than German ones. Overall, they are darker and maltier, and while bitter, the flavors and aromas are spicier and less floral. The flavors can be complex, richer than their German cousins; which are lighter in color and malt sweetness, drier, and bittered with German hops.

Bohemian Pilsners pour clear, ranging from light gold to deep gold, with a low SRM* of 4-6. They can have a spicy hop bitterness, with IBUs* from 35-45, a bit more than German ones. Like German Pilsners, they have a low ABV of 4.2 to 5.4%.

Commercial Examples

DSC_0646While there are other Bohemian Pilsners, there is only one prototypical pilsner: Pilsner Urquell. It’s the little beer from Plzen Czech that changed the world. It has a brilliant aroma of Czech Saaz hops, with its unique spicy, earthly and floral character. It’s so much richer than the Bitburger I had last week: darker, malter, more biscuity and sweeter. It’s more complex overall, there is more of everything! Yet, Pilsner Urquell is well balanced. Your nose notices the hops, while your mouth enjoys the bready sweetness, then it finishes with a spicy lingering bitterness. If you had one a few years ago in a green bottle, give it another try. It taste better since the switched to brown glass… less skunky!

Also, try Staropramen Lager, Golden Pheasant, Karlovacko, or Krusovice Imperial. A very interesting Bohemian Pilsner is Budweiser Budvar. Confused? In America it’s known as Czechvar. In most of Europe, it’s the real Budweiser. American Bud is simply called Bud over there. It is brewed in a little town the German call “Budweis.” So as Plzen (or Pilsen) makes Pilsner, Budweis makes Budweiser. Of course, they can’t sell it in America with that name. So pick up a Czechvar next time you see one, and stick it to the man.

DSC_0634A favorite American Bohemian-style Pilsner is Oskar Blues Mama’s Little Yella Pils. It has aromas of floral hops, bread biscuits and sweet malt. It’s light gold, darker than many Germans, but lighter than Pilsner Urquell. Mama’s is perfectly balanced. The bready, biscuity sweetness flows into the floral, lightly spiced bitterness.

There aren’t many American craft brewers making Bohemian Pilsners, it’s mostly the big boys of craft beer. Lagunitas Pils is very good, it reminds me a lot of Pilsner Urquell, but without the sweetness. It is a bitter beer, as you’d expected from Lagunitas, but with traditional Czech Saaz hops instead of loads of American ones. Also try Sierra Nevada Summerfest, Southern Tier Eurotrash, New Belgium Blue Paddle and Summit Pilsener.

Food Pairings

Like the German ones, Bohemian Pilsners are also versatile beers for pairing. Many of the same foods will work great with the bitterness and carbonation cutting through spicy and fatty foods. So think Mexican, Indian, grilled meats and ribs. But, with the richer maltiness of Bohemian Pilsners, try dishes that will complement the malt.


The Pilsner glass for German Pilsners will work just as well for Czech versions. The glass is tall and thin, taller than a lager glass, yet skinnier than a weissbier vase. The Spiegelau Pilsner Glasses is my favorite (the glass used in the pictures).

Na zdraví! (that’s Cheers! in Czech)


*Standard Reference Method
*International Bitterness Units
*Alcohol by Volume
All quantitative specifications are from the BJCP Style Guide.