Pilsen (Plzeň in Czech, Pilsen in German) and beer are quite a colocation for beer lovers. The city’s beer brewing tradition began in 1295 but it took quite a number of years before brewers finally got the hang of what they were doing. King Wenceslas II granted 260 of Pilsen’s burghers the right to brew beer. A cool perk, but even better (besides the obvious opportunity to make some money), those who had the rights could sell beer right out of their own house. Handy for the neighbourhood, but unfortunately, the quality of what was being produced was more often than not, undrinkable.
Town councillors were so concerned by the situation they formulated a test to see if the beer a brewer was producing was fit to drink. Oak benches were placed in the entrance hall of the brewing building. The town magistrate would take a pitcher of the beer and in what seems like a very wasteful thing to do, pour it over the bench. When the pitcher was empty, the councillors would sit on the bench for one hour. When they stood up 60 minutes later, their leather breeches had to stick to the bench. If they didn’t, the beer was deemed unfit to drink and the burgher couldn’t sell it. No word if they were provided with a pint to occupy the hour spent sitting. Or how often they had to replace their breeches.
The pivotal event to permanently rectify the city’s bad beer situation came in 1838. Thirty-six barrels of beer so bad it was considered a health risk were dumped in front of the town hall. A group of enterprising beer brewers were thus inspired to build a new brewery. The new Bürgerbrauerei or “Burgher’s Brewery” was originally established to produce Bavarian style beer. The brewers recruited a Bavarian brewer with an excellent brewing reputation named Josef Groll. Shockingly, probably even for Groll, was that the beer he brewed was entirely different from what he had intended. Lucky for him (and us) the new lager had a fantastic colour and taste and its special characteristics soon made it popular around the world.
A trip to Pilsen really isn’t complete without sampling at least one Pilsner Urquell beer. If you take a tour of the brewery, you’ll enjoy a fresh one straight from the tank, or enjoy one with a hearty Czech lunch at U Salzmannů.