The Czech pilsner is credited for inspiring the lager brewing revolution of the 19th century. Ever since, the pilsner has perhaps been the most ubiquitous beer style. The distinctive Czech version is very flavorful, with lots of mouthfeel and body, the standard from which other pilsners are often compared. After perfecting the recipe in its southwest Wisconsin brewpub, Potosi Brewing started offering its Czech Style Pilsner in bottles to the Madison area some weeks ago. It's a beer that's been capturing a lot of attention from pilsner fans.
What is it? Potosi Czech Style Pilsner from the Potosi Brewing Company of Potosi, Wis.
Style: The Czech pilsner originated in Plze? (Pilsen), located near the western border of the Czech Republic. This beer sometimes gets called a Bohemian pilsner, another reference to its geographic origin. The style dates back to the 1840s. The defining characteristics of the Czech pilsner includes clarity and a color that ranges from light golden to amber, topped with a dense, soft white head. These beers are medium-bodied, with more mouthfeel and a more complex and pronounced flavor than mainstream American lagers made by the big breweries. Czech pilsners are known for a moderate bitterness, yet there should still be balance between its malty underpinnings and its aroma and flavor. There may also be a light toasted or biscuit-like character. The Czech pilsner will commonly range from 4-5% ABV.
Background: Potosi brewmaster Steven Buszka makes his Czech Style Pilsner with Pilsner and Cara-Pils malts. However, it's his use of Czech Saaz hops that adds authenticity to this beer. Saaz hops are among a handful of varieties called German Nobel Hops, and offer a mild-yet-earthy herbal or spicy bitterness to the flavor. They are the longstanding choice of brewers for the style, and their use goes back to the earliest versions. Buszka says the famous Pilsner Urquell provided some inspiration for his recipe. That beer is often cited as the first of this kind in the world. (Its name "urquell" in German means primary source or fountainhead.) Buszka also makes small additions of Northern Brewer hops, which complement the Saaz to sharpen the overall bitterness.
This new beer should be easy to find for the next month, if not longer. The brewery is assessing its sales to determine how and where it might fit in its rotation of seasonal beers. Potosi Czech Style Pilsner is made with Czech Pilsner Lager yeast, and takes about six weeks to complete. It finishes at 6% ABV and about 35 IBUs (International Bittering Units).
Buszka originally developed the beer's recipe at the brewpub in Potosi. He turned to the brewery's older pre-Prohibition packaging to come up with the current old school label design. While the beer is a bargain at the brewpub in growlers for around $10 (refill), it is available in southern Wisconsin in bottles produced at the Stevens Point Brewery. Buszka travels to Stevens Point on brew days to oversee the making and bottling of his beers. Potosi Czech Style Pilsner sells for about $9/six-pack.
Admirers of the Potosi Brewery and the brews of Steve Buszka should also watch in early June for Wee Stein Wit, a light Belgian ale made with coriander and orange peel.
- Aroma: Light malty.
- Appearance: Clear golden with a medium, soft, white head.
- Texture: Medium-bodied, bubbly with an overall round mouthfeel.
- Taste: Malty, light grainy front, then bitter background.
- Finish/Aftertaste: Light hoppines with just a hint of roastedness.
Glassware: The pilsner glass or even a wine flute is great for appreciating the beer's color and effervescence. Serve it below 40 degrees to bring out the clean, crisp and dry qualities.
Pairs well with: Potosi Czech Style Pilsner is a very versatile beer. It's great for cleansing the palate between the salad and main course, and will go very well with burgers, veggies, moderately spicy Asian cuisine. It's good with a meal, but even better for enjoying on its own while standing over a hot grill cooking.
Rating: Four Bottle Openers (out of four).
The Verdict: Potosi Brewing has turned out another great seasonal with its Czech Style Pilsner. It has all that a pilsner fan looks for in color, clarity and crispness -- only with lots more flavor. The Saaz hops give it that herbal and earthy bitterness so rarely found in local renditions. There's also a firm malty backbone that gives its flavor some balance. The bottle version is very nice, and for those who have ability to travel to the brewpub, the draught-growler version offers just a bit more hoppy bite and biscuity finish.