For July, my instinct tells me to recommend a Czech pilsner. Light, refreshing, grassy and perhaps a touch skunky at first, I think the style not only suits hot, humid days, but also complements the aromatics I associate with summertime. After being disappointed by other versions of the style, I am falling back on the original pilsner: Pilsner Urquell, brewed by the Pilsner Urquell Brewery in Plzeň (Pilsen), Czech Republic.
If you have tried Pilsner Urquell before, consider this a recommendation to revisit a classic. Frankly, I was pleasantly surprised by Pilsner Urquell because it pales the likes of Staropramen and Rebel, especially when it comes to the quality I love most about European pale lagers: a grassy aroma reminiscent of a meadow or freshly-cut hay. The Czechs apparently love it, too: They drink the most beer per capita in the world.
First brewed in 1842 in the Czech town of Plzeň, which lent its name to the style, Pilsner Urquell is best served in a tall, slender and tapered pilsner glass. The color is clean, clear, gold and after pouring into a glass, a finger of fluffy, white head will slowly dissipate.
Pilsner Urquell indeed offers classic aromas of freshly-cut hay or meadow grass, as well as the scents of pale malts, subtle herbal spice, hints of honey and a splash of lemon. A strong, skunk-like smell may be be present if the bottle has been exposed to light. (The skunky aroma is caused by hop compounds reacting to light—call me weird, but I think it is a quintessential characteristic of the style. Breathe it in and revel in it!)
The taste is crisp and clean. Like the smell, the flavor is earthy and grassy, complementing the taste of bready pale malts, herbal spice that lingers on the tongue, a sharp bitter bite, lemon and hints of apple and strawberry.
- Serving Temperature: Drink cold at 40ºF.
- Alcohol content: 4.4 percent ABV.
- Food Pairings: In his book Tasting Beer, Randy Moser suggests pairing the style with a “wide range of lighter food, such as chicken, salads, salmon, bratwurst.”
- Where to buy: It is available at most beer retailers. It is also served at a number of local restaurants and bars.
- Price: $8.50-$9 per six-pack.