Pils (also pilsener) is a type of pale lager. It took its name from the city of Pilsen (Plzeň, Bohemia, Czech Republic, where it was first produced in 1842). The original Pilsner Urquell beer is still produced there today.
The City of Pilsen began brewing in 1295, but until the mid-1840s, most Bohemian beers were top-fermented. The taste and standards of quality often varied widely, and in 1838, consumers dumped whole barrels to show their dissatisfaction. The officials of Pilsen founded a city-owned brewery in 1839, called Měšťanský pivovar Plzeň (German: Bürger-Brauerei, English: Citizens’ Brewery – now Pilsner Urquell), which should brew beer according to the pioneering Bavarian style. Brewers had begun aging beer made with bottom-fermenting yeasts in caves (lager, i.e. German: gelagert [storage]), which improved the beer’s clarity and shelf-life. Part of this research benefited from the knowledge already expounded on in a book (printed in German in 1794, in Czech in 1799), written by Czech brewer František Ondřej Poupě (Ger: Franz Andreas Paupie) (1753–1805) from Brno.
The Pilsen brewery recruited the Bavarian brewer Josef Groll (1813–1887) who, using new techniques and paler malts, presented his first batch of modern pilsner on 5 October 1842. The combination brighter malt prepared by English technology, Pilsen’s remarkably soft water, local Saaz noble hops from nearby Žatec and Bavarian-style lagering produced a clear, golden beer that was regarded as a sensation. Three years later in 1845, Groll returned to Vilshofen and there later inherited his father’s brewery.
In 1853 the beer was available in 35 pubs in Prague, in 1856 came to Vienna and in 1862 to Paris. Improving transport and communications also meant that this new beer was soon available throughout Europe, and the Pilsner style of brewing was soon widely imitated. In 1859, “Pilsner Bier” was registered as a brand name at the Chamber of Commerce and Trade in Pilsen. In 1898, the Pilsner Urquell trade mark was created to put emphasis on being the original brewery.
The introduction of modern refrigeration to Germany by Carl von Linde in the late 19th century eliminated the need for caves for beer storage, enabling the brewing of bottom-fermenting beer in many new locations. Until recently the Pilsner Urquell brewery fermented its beer using open barrels in the cellars beneath their brewery. This changed in 1993 with the use of large cylindrical tanks. Small samples are still brewed in a traditional way for taste comparisons.
A modern pilsner has a very light, clear color from pale to golden yellow and a distinct hop aroma and flavor. The alcohol strength is typically around 4.5%-5% (by volume), if pilsner is brewed stronger, it is usually labeled “Export”. Pilsners compete in categories like “European-Style Pilsner” at the World Beer Cup or other similar competitions. (Article from Wikipedia: “Pilsner”)
European-style pilsners have a slightly sweet taste, can be produced from other than barley malt. This style makes up the bulk of beer production and consumption in Belgium. Belgian Pilsners are not particularly distinctive or renowned by connoisseurs. The top brands include Jupiler and Stella Artois (both brewed by Inbev), Maes pils and Cristal (both brewed by the Alken Maes branch of Heineken). (Article from Wikipedia: “Beer in Belgium”)
Pils Beer Characteristics
NOTE: Since the Belgian (European) Pils style is based off of the Bohemian Pilsner style, we’ll describe those characteristics.
BELGIAN BEER JOURNAL TASTE NOTES FROM PREVIOUS EXPERIENCES OVER THE PAST 3 DECADES:
The Belgians make a softer version of the Bohemian style. Meaning that, the floral bouquet from the hops are not quite as prevalent, and the taste and palate are softer.
AROMA / BOUQUET:
Rich with complex malt and a spicy, floral Saaz hop bouquet. Some pleasant, restrained diacetyl is acceptable, but need not be present. Otherwise clean, with no fruity esters.
Very pale gold to deep burnished gold, brilliant to very clear, with a dense, long-lasting, creamy white head.
FLAVOR / TASTE:
Rich, complex maltiness combined with a pronounced yet soft and rounded bitterness and spicy flavor from Saaz hops. Some diacetyl is acceptable, but need not be present. Bitterness is prominent but never harsh, and does not linger. The aftertaste is balanced between malt and hops. Clean, no fruity esters.
MOUTHFEEL / PALATE:
Medium-bodied (although diacetyl, if present, may make it seem medium-full), medium carbonation.
Crisp, complex and well-rounded yet refreshing.
Pils beer characteristic descriptives from 2008 BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) style guidelines. (http://www.bjcp.org)