A pilsner glass of light colored beer.

Bohemian Pilsner: a Classic Beer Style to Try!

The beer industry is one that’s been around for hundreds if not thousands of years. Various styles have been copied and altered with subtle variations to form new ones. Brewers have been doing this for centuries and modern brewing is no different.

A Pilsner glass of light colored beer, similar to a Bohemian pilsner beer.

The beer that we’ll be discussing in this article, the Bohemian Pilsner, is one of the foundational beers of modern brewing. It, like many of its predecessors, was developed with slight alterations and tweaks over the years. Today, however, there are dozens of beer varieties and styles that owe their beginnings to the Bohemian Pilsner.

What Exactly is a Bohemian Pilsner?

The Bohemian Pilsner, originally known as the pilsener, is one of the most iconic and legendary beer varieties. It features moderate to heavy malt flavors and qualities but manages to maintain a healthy balance of hops and diacetyl. The Bohemian Pilsner is very similar to other pilsner varieties, namely the German pilsner, with a few exceptions.

Bohemian pilsners tend to be lighter in color and palate than German pilsners. They also have a history of being conditioned in wooden tanks which made them less bitter than their German counterparts. In comparison to modern light beer that’s so popular among the general public, Bohemian Pilsners are bolder and more flavorful.

History of the Bohemian Pilsner

Bohemian pilsners and pilsners, in general, have a long and storied history. While the first Bohemian pilsner was brewed in 1842, its beginnings go all the way back to the 1200s AD. Pilsners are named after the town of Plzen, which was founded in 1295 by King Wenceslas II. Almost immediately, he granted the citizens of Plzen the right to brew, and brew they did.

After the first commercial brewery was opened in 1307, Plzen and Bohemia at large turned brewing into one of their main means of commerce and income. It became part of their history and culture and helped shape their Bohemian nation.

A tall glass of light-colored beer.

In the early to mid-1800s, brewing seemed to hit a wall. Traditional top-fermenting methods weren’t cutting it anymore, but nobody knew the proper bottom-fermenting process of brewing. Luckily, the neighboring country of Germany had figured it out and managed to let the secret recipe escape their grasp. Ironically, an unknown monk was the one to smuggle the recipe to Bohemia.

Very soon after, a Bavarian brewer named Josef Groll was hired to streamline bottom-fermentation brewing in Plzen. Two short years later, the Pilsner Urquell brewery began operations and successfully created the first Bohemian pilsner.

Characteristics of a Bohemian Pilsner

Bohemian pilsners have been copied and redone in many nations and breweries across the world. As such, it’s sometimes difficult to determine what a truly original version should taste like. In general, however, Bohemian pilsners should be malt-forward but slightly subdued with the use of noble hops and other ingredients.

The malt character should be slightly sweet and toasty with an almost biscuit-like quality. The hop bitterness should be slightly noticeable, but never overpowering. The last thing you want in this variety, however, is a lack of flavor. Bohemian pilsners are meant to be bold in their flavor and go against the grain of light beer.

Pouring beer into a fluted beer glass.

Flavor and Aroma

Malt flavors should set the tone of a Bohemian pilsner. Traditional pilsners preferred a rich and complex malt structure. Toasted, biscuit-like, and/or bready malt flavors along with low levels of fermented-malt-derived sulfur compounds may be evident when the brew is done correctly.

The bold maltiness is somewhat offset by noble German hops, specifically Saaz. Hops are meant to round out the pilsner and offer a smooth bitterness, but never to be the focal point. Saaz will also give subtle spicy notes to the end product.

Small amounts of diacetyl are acceptable and will offer a slight buttery flavor, but this isn’t required and should be used with restraint. The end product is meant to be clean, crisp, and refreshing.

Malt Character

The malt will set the tone of a Bohemian pilsner. Caramel, coffee, toffee, toasted, bready, or biscuity malt flavors should be utilized and featured.

Man sifting fingers through malt grains.

Mouthfeel

Bohemian pilsners should feel soft in your mouth and have a medium to medium-full body, depending on if you add diacetyl. Diacetyl will make the body slightly heavier, but never too heavy. There should also be medium to medium-heavy carbonation when you pour it from the tap or open a can.

Clarity and Color

The head on this beer variety should be full, white, and last for a while, similar to a stout or porter. The color of the beer itself can range from light gold to a slightly darker amber orange. It should never be too light or dark, but somewhere in the middle.

Person pouring light-colored beer into fluted beer glasses.

Alcohol Content

These pilsners have a low to moderate ABV range, typically between 4% and 5.5%. You may be able to detect slight hints of alcohol in the taste, but it shouldn’t be overwhelming.

Food Pairings With a Bohemian Pilsner

Bohemian pilsners go great with just about anything. Traditionally, they were paired with lighter foods such as seafood, chicken, salads, or shellfish. They also tend to go well with lighter cheeses such as mild cheddar or mild Colby, and you can even pair them with shortbread cookies.

Shrimp skewers -- seafood pairs well with Bohemian pilsners.
Grilled shrimp skewers pair nicely with a Bohemian pilsner!

What are the Ingredients in a Bohemian Pilsner?

The ingredients of this brew are simple and straightforward, but you should adhere to them religiously. Remember, early brewers struggled greatly to perfect the Bohemian pilsner until they found the right brewing process and ingredients. Soft water with low mineral content, Saaz hops, Moravian malted barley, and Czech lager yeast are the classic ingredients.

Can I Brew My Own Bohemian Pilsner at Home?

While it’s certainly possible to make your own Bohemian pilsner at home, it might take a few tries to perfect. The main thing is to have the right ingredients, including traditional European malts. The second most important thing is that you find a reliable recipe and follow it to a T.

Strict lager fermentation temperatures should be adhered to, with primary at about 50°F, secondary at 35 to 40°F, and a couple of days later in fermentation at 60 to 65°F. The toughest part with this homebrew is getting the mash, boiling temperatures, and fermentation process just right. As I said, it will probably take a few tries, but all things worth having require some hard work.

Person adding dried hops pellets to a kettle.

Where Can I Get a Good Bohemian Pilsner?

There are seemingly unlimited versions and options when it comes to finding a Bohemian pilsner at a store near you. Unfortunately, not all of them hold true to the original style. However, here are a few of the top options, including original styles and post-modern ones.

  • Pilsner, Ninkasi Brewing Co.
  • Mama’s Little Yella Pils, Oskar Blues
  • Sweet Ride, Bagby Beer Co.
  • Pilsner Urquell (Pilsner Urquell Brewing, Czech Republic)
    The definitive example of the style, brewed at the same place since 1842.
  • Pravda (Ninkasi Brewing, OR)
    Great American Beer Festival winner 2013.
  • Czech Style Pilsner (Gordon Beirsch Brewing, CA)
    Great American Beer Festival winner 2013.
  • Radegast Premium (Radegast, Czech Republic)
    World Beer Cup winner 2014.
  • Velkopopovicky Kozel O11 (VelkePopovice, Czech Republic)
    World Beer Cup winner 2014.
  • Parda Echt (Budweiser Budvar, Czech Republic)
    World Beer Cup winner 2014.

A Classic Beer to Put on Your Bucket List

Whether you prefer the original Bohemian pilsner or one of the newer modified versions, the important thing is to choose the one you like. Nobody should be forced to drink a beer that they hate simply because tradition demands it. Beer, especially Bohemian pilsners, is meant to be enjoyed, so drink the one that makes you happy.

A tall glass of light colored beer in a bar or pub setting.

To learn more about other kinds of beer, read our beer styles blog posts.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *