In these early weeks of 2015 and we’re all feeling just a wee bit bloated. Chances are you’ve had your fill of overindulgence and looking to take things down a notch, maybe you’re even daft enough to have made some sort of New Years resolution. So there is very little point in me wasting a few hundred words eulogising about the latest Calvados cask aged imperial stout, or cantaloupe and naga chilli infused Belgian sour.
Instead, lets a take a look at that most basic, of beer styles: the humble, much maligned lager-specifically the classic Czech pilsner.
If you’ve decided to make 2015 the year you turn your back on cooking lager then there really is no better place to start. Even if you consider yourself in the vanguard of new beer trends, it’s a great time to re-acquaint yourself with the basics.
Much to (presumed) chagrin of the Germans, it’s a matter of record that the Czech’s perfected lager as we know it today. The gold, gassy, refreshing social lubricant that is drunk throughout the world was first brewed in the Czech town of Pilsen (hence the name). Despite their enviable brewing history Czech beer is not renowned for its diversity. What they do is one thing really well.
A classic pilsner should be a rich gold and poured to maximise its fluffy, white head. It should offer much more on the nose than a bog standard lager- cereal, shortbread and lemon rind (by comparison, industrial lagers always smell like damp cardboard to me). The palate tends to be lighter and crisper than the German equivalents with a gentle bitterness and a persistent effervescence that seems to last even to the dregs. But the very best thing about Czech lagers is their ubiquity, there really is no need to place an online order or trek down to your local independent store (though you are most welcome).
Strangely enough, the market leaders are every bit as good as the niche, artisan regional brewers. Pilsner Urquell has been owned by Miller now for over a decade and despite being part of a megacorp its quality is undimmed. It’s a great lager; crisp, zesty and bitter with a real bite.
Budvar is the the other big guy of Bohemian brewing and it’s a richer, maltier beer; less quaffable, more satisfying. It’s been partly state owned for most of its history (helpful when fending of the attentions of an American rival).
Both beers are widely available, cheap and accessible; their inherent superiority makes the continued existence of lesser branded lagers an enduring mystery.