Beer Review: Pilsner Urquell

YOU are reading my most suicidal post to date. Regular readers will know that I’m not shy about giving uninformed opinions. This upsets some people. So much so, that they feel compelled to leave a multitude of obscenities in the comments section. Duvel Golden Ale and Budvar Czech Lager got so bad that the posts themselves escaped, never to be read and abused again.

With this in mind, diplomacy and tactful genius helped me get away with a Guinness post. Sadly, that Irish luck is about to run out. You see, every angry lager enthusiast, in their passionate critique of my intelligence and taste, would mention something called “Urquell”. So when I found this bottle of Pilsner Urquell at the ExCel exhibition centre in East London’s Docklands, I couldn’t resist the challenge. Would I love it as much as the angry mob? What would happen if I didn’t? I had to find out.

Pilsner Urquell bottle

So. What can I say about the way it looks? Bearing in mind the angry mob reading this, I’ll say it looks magnificent and noble. And that’s not much of an overstatement. The green bottle and classy labelling make it look better than most.

Pilsner Urquell neck label

The neck label, again, does exactly what you want it to do. It tells you a little bit about what’s inside the bottle, so you get an idea before you buy it if you’ll like it. The shield looks intriguing. No idea what all the characters and symbols mean, but no doubt an Urquell fanatic will answer that question in the comments at the end of this post.

The best things about what it says are where it came from and the date. 1842 is a reassuringly long time ago. The words “Imported” and “Brewed in Plzeň Czech” are, as ever, incredibly welcome. The world does not need more licensed beers pretending to be genuine. What’s more, even I can tell that Plzeň bares an eerie resemblance to “Pilsner”. As Pilsner style lagers go, this is genesis.

Pilsner Urquell front label

The front label is similarly elegant and concise. There’s an attractive red seal saying…  something. And it is proudly “The Original Pilsner”.

Pilsner Urquell back label

Over on the back label, and this imported version takes the mysterious approach of having tiny lettering on a big label. That aside, it has an excellently informative description of what the beer will be like.

They describe it as having “a uniquely rewarding taste, intensely hoppy, with a balance of subtle sweetness & velvety bitterness, wrapped in a gloriously crisp body”. Even for someone like me who is not that keen on lager, it sounds appetising.

Under that is the start of the small-print. The full name of the brewer, Plzeňeskŷ Prazdroj, a.s. is on there. The Surrey based Miller Brands imported address is on there. As are the brief list of ingredients which are water, barley, malt and hops.

Under that are the much easier to read vital statistics. This 330ml bottle has a 4.4% alcoholic volume. Which, isn’t that strong frankly. Presumably that has no bearing on the taste, because they label also says “Discover how beer is meant to taste at”.

If you haven’t been to their website, then do so. Positioning themselves as the Bang & Olufsen of beer, their website is all about perfection. Keen not to poke the angry mob reading this review, I studied the pouring instructions carefully.

With a chilled bottle, a rinsed glass and lots of tension, I went for the pour and produced this:

Pilsner Urquell poured into a glass

Okay, I didn’t get the second part of the pour right. I beg for forgiveness from the angry Urquell fans out there.

First impression? Like they mentioned on the website, and like some of the classier lagers, it doesn’t have that cheap, pale yellow hue. I’m going to describe it as copper coloured and delicious looking. It really is quite unlike the big name lager I detest so much.

How does it smell? Unusually for a lager, the smell was one of the first things I noticed about Pilsner Urquell. It is an order of magnitude more pungent than most lagers. Yet it manages not to smell synthetic and horrible. Impressive.

Sniffing closer reveals more unexpected odours. Virtually every lager I’ve smelt has had that familiar malted barley smell. This kind of has a rich and nice variation on that, but topped off with a smell of hops. Lots of lagers boast of hoppiness but fail to deliver, so I’ve stopped believing them. Pilsner Urquell honestly smells more like the mouth watering ales that I love so dearly.

This is the big one. What does it taste like and can it match the stratospheric expectations? The first sip is a very pleasant one indeed. Usually at this point, I say “it’s a lager so it has no flavour”. Not this time. The website describes it as honey, nutty and malty. I can’t disagree. It has a mild flavour of all those things.

Then the aftertaste comes into play. This is what Pilsner Urquell is all about. The gentle hoppy aftertaste dominates the taste. Not least because of how long it lingers. The most remarkable thing about it is that it’s bitter, but not too bitter. I’ll describe it as bittersweet.

What am I genuinely enjoying about Pilsner Urquell? A lot of things. I like how much better it is than nearly every other lager I’ve endured. It receives massive kudos from me for having something called flavour, which the brewers of most lagers have forgotten about. The experience is more like drinking an ale. Which is good if you enjoy ale type beers. There’s no horribly bitter “bite” to the aftertaste. The quality of the brew and ingredients are plain to see with no unpleasant artificial smell or taste to be found. Compare it to a Polish “Mocne” or UK super-strength lager for an entertaining contrast. All of which help make it clean, crisp and refreshing. All qualities a Pilsner style lager should aim for. And together, make Pilsner Urquell a tasty and easy beer to drink.

What don’t I like about Pilsner Urquell? It would be easier to submit to the furious mob and simply say “nothing”. But that would loose the integrity you came to this site for. So, here goes. As outstanding as it as, as one of the pinnacles of lager kind, it is a compromise. If you want intense and interesting flavour, have an ale type of beer. If you want a fizzy, easy to drink brew, then choose a regular lager. Pilsner Urquell sits in a throne, on a pedestal, on a fence.

If you’re still reading and haven’t wrathfully scrolled down to the comments to dispense your disgust, allow me to sum up. Pilsner Urquell, the genesis of Pilsner style lager and favourite of many an angry, and level-headed commentor, deserves its reputation. It is unique. It is the original. And it is an outstanding drink. But will I buy it again? If neither ale nor a regular lager is the right choice, Pilsner Urquell will be perfect.

Have you tried Pilsner Urquell? What did you think of it?

Do please leave your Czech translations, corrections, opinions, recommendations, requests and places to buy here in the comments.

If you take your beer so seriously that you insist on leaving angry comments on the blogs of people who disagree with you, then cheer up.

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8 Responses to “Beer Review: Pilsner Urquell”

  1. Mark Raymond Says:

    I had the privilege to be in Plzeň, Czechoslovakia. Before I went there my personal impression of Pilsner beer was that if I were suffering from a mild headache and the only thing I might be able to drink to swallow my asprin with was this type of beer then I would rather forgo treatment. As I was not likely to ever be in Plzeň again I determined to try the original Pilsner Urquell, for the experience, and bought two bottles. At the time the total cost was between five and six pennies if exchanged into american currency. I gave one bottle to a friend and drank the other. I was expecting to drink a sip or two and either toss out the rest or, if my friend liked it, give it to them. I was surprised to find the beer was excellent. Years later I found the same beer in metropolitan Phoenix, Arizona. I bought One bottle of Pilsner Urquell. The beer was afull. I did not finnish the bottle. It was everything I disliked about American Pilsner. This beer was bitter, metallic and skunky. To add insult to injury I had payed $3.95 for the abuse. If I could magically be at two different places at the same time then I might with $4 either fill a large pickup truck with tasty beer that would be welcome at many social gatherings or get a bottle of liquid which might kill a cactus. Either purchase would carry the same label. This beer does not travel well. When I was sipping on that last bottle I imagined a man of wealth, refinement and taste. He had travelled Europe and remembered Pilsner Urquell for the excellent beer it is. I imagined the end of prohibition in America and brewers who wanted to get into business. I imagine my refined tourist being asked what would be the single best type of beer to make on a large scale. He could of honestly answered Pilsner Urquell. If the brewers ordered bottles of Pilsner Urquell and faithfully reproduced samples as they arrived rather than learning from brew masters in Plzeň I suspect the results would be the beer that Americans have had to drink for the following fifty years. I believe that it is both possable to love this beer as well as hate it. The determining factor is most likely how long the bottle has been sitting on the shelf. This story is also proof that you do not always get what you pay for.

  2. Bob Says:

    My neighbors are form Czech Rep. The wife’s brother came over last week and his son sent me (2) 500 ml cans of this beer with a mug as a gift which came over on the plane. I am not a big beer drinker.. I drink mostly Euro brew.. nothing domestic. This pilsner was awesome.. damn good, looking where to but it now..

  3. dan Says:

    Hi All,

    I live in Czech (formerly Czechoslovakia).. I am beer drinker already for 18years and during my bussines and private trips I have tried many foreign beers including the bavarian beers (spent month in Munchen) which are considered as one of the best world beers. I can say Pilsner beer is totaly different league of beer..
    If you will have a chance to visit Czech, do not miss a chance to try the draughted Pilsner Urquell in some of the pubs.

    There is big difference between “glassed” and “canned” and draughted Pilsner. I do not like canned beer at all, it allways takes little bit metalic taste or suppress the mild tones of the beer taste. Glassed is quite OK, taste can be very good but watch out about the tempretaure – better is to have it slightly warmer. If having it too cold you will again not be able to enjoy the complete spectrum of tastes which Plzensky pivo have.. I prefer temps around 8C (5C or below is not good).

    It is good to take some food before starting with Plzen.. Heavier, rich food is better (no, I do not mean McD/KFC/BK). Talking about grilled meat, bacon, duck or something like that..

    Finally get to the draught beer – when comming to CZ you should know one thing – there exists taste differences between Plzensky pivo in different pubs.. So try more than one pub and also more expensive does not always mean better!

    If you will be lucky and you will find licensed Pilsner pub you can get Pilsner in its best quality – draughted from tank (tanker car directly from brewery is comming to fill the local pub beer tank) and not from barrels (beer from barrels is often draughted with high pressure with artifical gas which makes the beer nicely sparkling but it suppress the taste and beer becomes too “sharp” for drinking – anyway even this is better than any other beer ;-))

    If you will be extremely lucky, you can take the Pilsen brewery tour with degustation and presentation.

    If going to Prague here are some usefull links 😉

    enjoy and pivu zdar 😉


  4. Gil Says:


    I simply LOVE this beer. I’m a pilsner/lager lover, but this is quickly becoming my number one beer of choice. Granted, I will treat myself to some Duvel once in a while, but Urquell does it for me. It’s readily available and inexpensive here in the US. I did have Budvar, and frankly, I prefer Urquell. I like it a bit on the cold side for my tastes.

  5. Ho ho ho Says:

    Funny that you made such a fuss about people leaving angry comments, then only four people bothered to leave any comment at all! Clearly no-one reads your blog. Get over yourself.

  6. Patrick Says:

    If you can get your paws on the original locally brewed stuff, then you’ll find it is absolutely delicious. Unfortunately SabMiller now owns the brand and have started operations in Poland and Russia. Although it might be hard to notice a difference between the brews, it does undermine it’s reputation.
    I know an Austrian brewery called Trumer brews in California by shipping over all the ingredients and combining that with the local spring water. Apparently it’s quite successful and popular and is expanding their distribution network there.
    My advice is to head straight to Pilsen and try the real stuff. I also recommend visiting Prague and testing out what the local micro brewers have to offer. U Flecu, U Medvidku brew some excellent dark lager. There is also of course Staropramen, Budvar… and my particular favourite Kozel which is hitting it big in Vienna at the moment.
    Have you ever considered trying out some Austrian beer? Or perhaps some German/Austrian wheat/weiss beer?

    some Austrian breweries for your consideration:



  7. Laszlo Vecsey Says:

    You are 100% right. A Czech would not be able discriibe this beer better. I drink only this beer (or water ) since 1960 when I was in service near
    Plzen. By the way I’m a proud Hungarian.

  8. Cindy Magacs Hutchinson Says:

    My grandparents came to the U.S. from Czechoslovakia years ago (well before the split), and I visited their homeland with my grandmother when I was in high school. I loved Pilsner Urquell from the very first sip!

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