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