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Pilsner Urquell: 5 weeks does not equal 3 months

After touring the Pilsner Urquell brewery last November I promised that when I got a chance I’d take a look at Michael Jackson’s video report from 1989 (the Beer Hunter series) to compare what he saw then with what Pilsner Urquell says is how long they’ve “always” lagered beer.

Michael Jackson at Pilsner Urquell

I tell you, that’s one great half hour of video. Discovery really needs to reissue the three hours of video in DVD form (before our VCR dies). Incredible details about the wooden vessels the brewery was using, the coopering, the whole process. I love watching Jackson wander through the caves, and the Hitchcockian moment where a giant barrel appears to be stalking him. You get thirsty seeing him march around open wooden fermenters, then he climbs a ladder to loom over one and explain that this is one of the things that make Pilsner Urquell different, presumably better. He says that others in the industry have told the brewery it is crazy not to modernize but that its leaders swear they won’t abandon open fermentation. Sigh.

But back to the question at hand. These days Pilsner Urquell lagers its beers five weeks, claiming this is the same amount of time as when Josef Groll first brewed the beer in 1842. On the other hand, the Beer Hunter report in 1989? “Three months,” which on my calendar is one quarter of a year (13 weeks).

Innovation, Czech style

Rambousek beerWe already know this, but brewing innovation doesn’t stop at the U.S. borders. It isn’t limited to Belgium, or even to such new-ish hotbeds as Denmark and Italy.

Evan Rail of the Prague Daily Monitor writes that 10 new Czech microbreweries are due to open this year. He describes some beers I think we want to try:

Partly inspired by the nascent homebrewing movement, many of these smaller makers have introduced highly innovative half-liters: Rambousek’s outstanding chestnut-honey lager, Primátor’s excellent English Pale Ale and Zamberk’s to-die-for Imperial Stout.

Bigger breweries, Budvar and Pilsner Urquell, are also experimenting with new beers. Rail doesn’t have much nice to say about Budvar’s effort, but Pilsner Urquell seems to be showing an unusual willingness to think small although its plant for producing Pilsner Urquell itself expanded.

As if to counterbalance, Pilsner Urquell’s two new beers imitate the limited production, historic origins and unusual styles of a great Czech micro. Called Master, the new line claims inspiration from a sixteenth-century text on brewing by the court physician to Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph II. (It’s worth noting that the new brews are only said to be “inspired” by the past: both are modern, bottom-fermenting lagers, produced in Pilsner Urquell’s state-of-the-art brewery in Plzen.)

For now the beers are available only on draft and only at home. Bottles will come next but not distribution aboard.

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