From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Pilsner Urquell, the world's first pale lager and ancestor of today's Pilsners

Pilsner (also pilsener or simply pils) is a type of pale lager. It takes its name from the German name of the Bohemian city of Plzeň (Pilsen), where it was first produced in 1842 by Bavarian brewer Josef Groll.[1] The world's first pale lager, the original Pilsner Urquell,[2] is still produced there today.


Historical examples of German Pilsner beer labels from East Germany
Can of Belgian Pils represented on a mural of the railway station of Louvain-la-Neuve (Belgium)


The city of Plzeň began brewing in 1307,[3] 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.[4] The officials of Plzeň founded a city-owned brewery in 1839, called in German: Bürger-Brauerei Pilsen (Czech: Měšťanský pivovar Plzeň, English: Citizens' Brewery) which is now known as Pilsner Urquell. It was here they began to brew beer in the pioneering Bavarian style.[5]

Brewers had begun aging beer made with cool fermenting yeasts in caves (lager, i.e., German: gelagert [stored]), 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 (German: Franz Andreas Paupie) (1753–1805) from Brno.[6]

The Plzeň brewery recruited the Bavarian brewer Josef Groll (1813–1887) who, using the specifics of local ingredients and paler malts, presented his first batch of pale lager on 5 October 1842. The combination of Plzeň's remarkably soft water, local Saaz noble hops from nearby Žatec, brighter malt prepared by British technology, and Bavarian-style lagering (bottom-fermented beer termed at the time) produced a clear, golden beer. The recipe was regarded as a sensation and took hold very quickly.

Groll's contract with the brewery ended in 1845, he returned to Vilshofen in Bavaria and later inherited his father's brewery. The Groll brewery no longer exists.

Parts of the brewery, however, were acquired by Wolferstetter, another brewery from Vilshofen, which still produces a Josef Groll Pils.

Emergence of efficient glass manufacturing in Europe around the same time, lowered glass prices. This allowed the general population to purchase glass drinking vessels for the first time. These former luxury items showcased the visually pleasing golden clarity of the beer, further influencing the Pilsner's rapid dissemination.

In 1853, the beer was available in 35 pubs in Prague. In 1856, it 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 Plzeň. In 1898, the Pilsner Urquell trademark was created to put emphasis on being the original brewery (Urquell, meaning 'original well', the English equivalent would probably be 'prototype Pilsener beer').

Some beers are labeled Urtyp Pilsener (UP) meaning they are brewed according to the original process, although many breweries use this accolade for their top beer.[7][8]

Modern developments[edit]

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 cool fermenting beer in many new locations.[9]

Until 1993 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 pale lager termed a Pilsner may have a very light, clear colour from pale to golden yellow, with varying levels of hop aroma and flavour. The alcohol strength of beers termed Pilsner vary but are typically around 4.5%–5% (by volume). There are categories such as "European-Style Pilsner" at beer competitions such as the World Beer Cup. Plzeň style lagers are marketed internationally by numerous small brewers and larger conglomerates.


A glass of Bitburger, a German-style Pilsner
German-style Pilsner
Light straw to golden colour with more bitter or earthy taste – Beck's, Bitburger, Flensburger, Fürstenberg, Holsten, Jever, König, Krombacher, Radeberger, St. Pauli Girl, Veltins, Warsteiner, Wernesgrüner, Einbecker.
Czech-style Pilsner
Golden, full of colours, with high foaminess and lighter flavour – Budějovický (Budweiser), Gambrinus, Kozel, Pilsner Urquell, Radegast, Staropramen, Svijany
European-style Pilsner
Has a slightly sweet taste, can be produced from other than barley malt – Dutch: Amstel, Grolsch, Heineken[10] or Belgian: Jupiler, Stella Artois[11]
American-style Pilsner
German immigrants brought pilsner style beers to America in the mid-19th century. American pilsners today are still closer to the German style, but the grist contains up to 25% corn and/or rice. The style generally has medium-low to medium sweet malt flavor, and medium to high European hop notes.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Jackson, Michael. "Prague: twinned with Burton-upon-Trent". The Beer Hunter. Retrieved 28 April 2011.
  2. ^ German Beer Institute, PILS Archived 19 October 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ "Traces of the Pilsen History" (in Czech). City of Plzeň. Retrieved 29 August 2021.
  4. ^ Oliver, Garrett (2011). Oxford Companion to Beer. Oxford University Press. p. 960. ISBN 978-0-19-536713-3.
  5. ^ "Plzeňský Prazdroj, a. s." prazdroj.cz. Retrieved 17 October 2009.
  6. ^ Basařová G.: Der legendäre böhmische Brauer František Ondřej Poupě (Franz Andreas Paupie) 1753–1805. Jahrbuch 2003 Gesellschaft für die Geschichte und Bibliographie des Brauwesens e.V. (GGB), (2003) 1, 128–146.
  7. ^ "RateBeer". ratebeer.com. Retrieved 16 April 2019.
  8. ^ Urtyp on the Craft Beer and Brewing website
  9. ^ "Altbier im Alltag" by Genno Fonk, 1999, page 11
  10. ^ "Heineken bier – Pils gebrouwen door Heineken Brouwerij". biernet.nl.
  11. ^ "Michael Jackson's Beer Hunter – Belgium's Great Beers". beerhunter.com.
  12. ^ "The Differences Between Czech, German, and American Pilsners".

External links[edit]