E-Malt.com News article: Australia & Czech Republic: Czechs no longer brew top pilsner
If you want to taste the world’s best Bohemian-style pilsner beer, you’re going to have to go a long way from Bohemia. At this year’s World Beer Cup in San Diego, California, the largest competition of its kind, the gold medal for “Bohemian-style lager” did not go to a Czech brewery for the first time since 2000, when the competition was smaller by nearly half and dominated by North American brewers, Prague Post reported June 4.
Rather, the world’s best pilsner beers can be found in two unlikely places: Portland and Sydney.
Australia’s James Squire Pilsner and Oregon’s Hopworks Urban Brewery Lager won the gold and silver awards, respectively, for their pilsner beers at the competition, which was held in late April. Coming in third was Gambrinus Premium, brewed by Plzeňský Prazdroj, the legendary Czech brewery that first invented the pilsner style of beer in 1842.
From its origins in Plzeň, west Bohemia, pilsner has become the most popular style of beer in the world, with more than 1 billion hectoliters consumed worldwide each year, from China to South Africa. Yet it has long been assumed that to taste the best Bohemian lager, the Czech Republic was the only place to go.
That assumption is being challenged by Chuck Hahn, the brewmaster at the Malt Shovel Brewery in Sydney, which won this year’s gold.
“Every brewer wishes to brew a good pilsner-style lager,” Hahn said. “So this was our challenge in 2000, and we decided to emulate some of the finest of the Czech pilsners.”
As it turned out, the manager of the brewery’s malt supplier hails from the Czech Republic. Miroslav Pražák continues to supply Hahn with high-quality pale and Munich malts.
“I can just close my eyes and return home at lunchtime rather than spending some 30 hours in transit,” Pražák said of Hahn’s beer. “[It] takes me home instantly.”
In the United States, the predominant barley strain is low in sugars, which made it necessary to modify the pilsner brewing process based on high-sugar barley. That eventually led to the addition of rice and corn to the mash, which many beer experts consider a tragedy.
In Australia, however, all barley is of the European style, which means “the resultant malt is fairly well modified and converts easily,” Hahn said.
Malt Shovel imports Czech Saaz hops, an essential ingredient for Bohemian lagers that accounts for the beer’s “spicy floral character,” Hahn said. “We also use Belgian Saaz hops and Super Alpha hops, both from New Zealand, to add a bit of herbaceous character,” he added.
Malt Shovel is not a microbrewery in the classical sense, but at 60,000 hectoliters, its production is still fairly small. “Pilsner will be just under 1 million liters this year,” Hahn predicted. Seventeen employees create the beer in batches of only 60 hectoliters.
The brewery’s small size spells bad news for the Czech beer connoisseur, who will have to travel to the fifth continent to get a taste. On the other hand, despite his award-winning brew, Hahn has never been to Bohemia. “I have spent time in Germany and England touring breweries, but have never been to the Czech Republic. That is next on my travel plans,” he said.
One reason for the Czech dominance of awards for Bohemian lagers in the past is the country’s single-minded focus on one style of beer. It’s sad to see that local brewers concentrate their efforts so much on this one type of beer, said Tomáš Maier, an expert with the Czech Beer Consumer’s Union.
It is no surprise that an “excellent Bohemian-style pilsner can be brewed elsewhere than [in the Czech Republic],” he added.
Another reason for the country’s success in the category is the bifurcating evolution of pilsner beer. The World Cup has a separate category for “German-style” pilsner (also known as European-style), which features less aggressive hopping, according to Hahn.
Václav Berka, the senior trade brewmaster at Plzeňský Prazdroj, who has overseen production of both Gambrinus and Pilsner Urquell, was magnanimous when talking about the World Cup. With so much pilsner consumed around the world, these awards show that it doesn’t matter on which continent the beer is brewed, he said.
Rarely seen on draft in Prague, Prazdroj’s 12-degree Gambrinus Premium has recently done well in competition. In addition to the World Cup, Gambrinus Premium won a bronze medal at the 2008 Australian International Beer Awards, the most important competition of its kind in the Asia-Pacific region.
Another brewer that did well at the World Cup was Bernard, based in Humpolec, halfway between Prague and Brno. Bernard won silver medals for its dark lager and amber ale brews.
“We expect higher brand visibility and subsequent higher sales,” said Bernard’s export manager for Australia, Jaroslav Soukal. “Every contest victory increases the interest not only of trade professionals, but also of clients,” he added.
Soukal oversaw the first export of Bernard beer to Australia in 2005. The beer made its way to the United States the same year, but Bernard is still struggling with setting up distribution, with the firm’s U.S. importer creating a network in Texas, Georgia and other states, Soukal said.
Pilsner is truly a global commodity. But, with so many beers going by that name, the term has become fuzzy and practically impossible to define, according to Maier.
“It’s unbelievable what is being sold today here and in other countries under the pils, pilsner or pilsen labels,” he said.
05 June, 2008