Beer Birthday: Evan Rail

evan-rail
Today is the 44th birthday of Evan Rail, expat American writer living, and writing about beer, in Prague, Czech Republic. Evan was born and raised in Fresno, but discovered his love for beer while attending U.C. Davis as a French and German literature major. While there, he spent his time at the nearby Sudwerk Privatbrauerei brewpub, and counted among his friends several students in the Master Brewers program. That’s also where he began homebrewing in 1993. He also studied in New York and Paris, before making the Czech Republic his home in 2000. His move to Prague was meant to be for a single year, but he’s still there fifteen years later. Given that he met his wife there, and they’ve started a family, it’s likely he won’t be moving home any time soon. In addition to writing the Good Beer Guide to Prague and the Czech Republic, Rail’s also penned Why Beer Matters, In Praise of Hangovers and Triplebock, all Kindle singles. We finally had a chance to share a beer in person last year when he was in San Francisco for an event sponsored by Pilsner Urquell. Join me in wishing Evan a very happy birthday.

IMG_2260
Last year at event in san Francisco, where Evan was doing an event for Pilsner Urquell.

copenhagen
Earlier this year in Copenhagen, along with, clockwise from left: Martyn Cornell, Jeff Alworth, Evan, me, Stephen Beaumont, Pete Brown, Stan Hieronymus and Ron Pattinson.

SAM_5803
Talking with Stan Hieronymus during a tour of the Carlsberg Laboratory.

Evan-Rail-1
A Facebook cover photo of Evan (which is where I purloined it from, along with the next one, too).

Evan-Rail-2
A screenshot from a video of Evan talking about Czech beer.

Historic Beer Birthday: Josef Groll

pilsner-urquell
Today is the birthday of Josef Groll (August 21, 1813-November 22, 1887). He was born in Vilshofen an der Donau, Germany. Many consider the Bavarian brewer to be the inventor of pilsener beer.

Joseph-Groll
Josef Groll’s portrait.

According to the Wikipedia account:

The citizens of Pilsen were no longer satisfied with their top-fermented Oberhefenbier. They publicly emptied several casks of beer in order to draw attention to its low quality and short storage life. It was decided to build a new brewery capable of producing a bottom-fermented beer with a longer storage life. At the time, this was termed a Bavarian beer, since bottom-fermentation first became popular in Bavaria and spread from there. The climate in Bohemia is similar to that in Bavaria and made it possible to store ice in winter and cool the fermentation tanks down to 4 to 9 degrees Celsius year-round, which is necessary for bottom-fermentation.

Bavarian beer had an excellent reputation, and Bavarian brewers were considered the masters of their trade. Thus, the citizens of Pilsen not only built a new brewery, but also hired Josef Groll, a Bavarian brewer. Josef Groll’s father owned a brewery in Vilshofen in Lower Bavaria and had long experimented with new recipes for bottom-fermented beer. On October 5, 1842, Groll produced the first batch of Urquell beer, which was characterized by the use of soft Bohemian water, very pale malt, and Saaz hops It was first served in the public houses Zum Goldenen Anker, Zur weißen Rose and Hanes on 11 November 1842, and was very well received by the populace.

Josef Groll’s contract with the Bürgerliches Brauhaus (citizens’ brewery) in Pilsen expired on April 30, 1845 and was not renewed. Groll returned to Vilshofen and later inherited his father’s brewery. The Pilsen brewery was directed by Bavarian brewers for nearly sixty years until 1900.

Josef-Groll-60
Groll around age 60.

Here’s a description of Groll and his development of pilsner from the German Beer Institute:

The modern Pils may be a northern German brew, but it was a Bavarian brewmaster, Josef Groll, who started it all a scant 160 years ago, when he accepted a new job. Groll, who was born in 1813 in the Bavarian village of Vilshofen (some 100 miles northeast of Munich), prepared a new mash on October 5, 1842, at his new place of employment, the Burgher Brewery in the Bohemian city of Pilsen. As it turned out, the brew that Josef was mixing in the mash tun that day was truly revolutionary…it was the very first blond lager. It was a brew that was to set the style for an entirely new line of beers. The beer that resulted from that first brew was first served on November 11, 1842…and it has conquered the entire world ever since.

Until Groll made his new beer, the standard drink in Pilsen was a top-fermented brew, an ale. But not all was well with the Pilsen ale, because on one occasion, the city council ordered that 36 casks of it be dumped in public. It had become all too frequent that the beers available to the good burghers of Pilsen had been unfit to drink. This caused them to stick their heads together and to hatch a drastic plan: They would invest in a new, state-of-the art brewery and contract a competent brewer to come up with a better beer. In the 1840s, that meant a brewery capable of making Bavarian-style bottom-fermented brews, that is, lagers. Because of the reputation of Bavarian beer, Bavarian brewmasters, too, were held in high regard. So the citizens of Pilsen not only built a Bavarian brewhouse for Bavarian beer, they even engaged a Bavarian brewer to rescue the Pilsner beer from oblivion.

The fellow they engaged for the job was the above-mentioned Josef Groll of Vilshofen. He was an intrepid brewer who clearly rose to the challenge. Instead of using the standard dark malts of his day, he kilned his malt to a very pale color — a technique that had only recently been perfected in Britain. Groll then made use of only the finest of local raw materials. He flavored the brew with plenty of hops from the Saaz region of Bohemia (today, Czech Saaz hops is considered one of the finest aroma hops money can buy) and, of course, brewed with the city’s extremely soft water. From these ingredients he made an extract, which he fermented with good Bavarian lager yeast — and a new beer was born. Nobody before Groll had ever made such an aromatic golden-blond, full-bodied lager.

When Joseph’s contract was up, on April 30, 1845, he went back home to his native Bavaria, but his new beer’s reputation spread quickly beyond the limits of Pilsen. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Joseph Groll sure had cause to feel flattered. Initially, the designation Pilsner beer was just an appellation of origin — a beer made in the city of Pilsen. But soon the new brew was copied everywhere. The first imitators were in adjacent towns with similarly soft water and equal access to Saaz hops. This was the beginning of the Bohemian Pilsner style. But breweries across the border, in Germany, began also to be interested in the Bohemian phenomenon … they had to, because it started to eat into their own sales. This was the time in Europe, when the emerging railway network made the transportation of beer possible to just about any major city.

By the turn of the 19th century, it had become chic from Paris to Vienna and from Hamburg to Rome to drink the beer from Pilsen. The beer’s name had become a household word, usually in its abridged form of Pils. The term Pils had evolved from an appellation of origin to a designation for a new beer style, the very model of a modern lager beer. When Groll died in the village of his birth, in little Vilshofen, on October 22, 1887, he probably had no idea how profound a revolution he had brought about in the world of beer!

Groll’s beer was taking the continent by storm and was even making inroads in Munich, where brewers were starting to make their own variation on the Groll brew. The Burgher Brewery of Pilsen, however, where it had all started, was far from flattered by the imitations its beer had spawned. This brewery was far more interested in supplying the demand for Pilsner beer itself than having other breweries usurp what it considered its proprietary brand name. In 1898, therefore, the Burgher Brewery of Pilsen went to court in Munich. It sought an injunction against the Thomass Brewery, which had come out with a blonde lager, named “Thomass-Pilsner-Bier.” The verdict that the court handed down in April 1899, however, went against the plaintiff. The court argued that “Pilsner” was no longer an appellation, but had become a universal style designation.

josef-groll-diorama
A diorama of Groll in his lab at the Pilsner Urquell Museum.

And this account is from Food Reference, but appears to have been written by Pilsner Urquell:

Most importantly, Martin Stelzer also discovered a brewmaster who would change the way that beer was brewed forever: a young Bavarian called Josef Groll.

The first brewmaster, a visionary, young Bavarian Josef Groll, revolutionized how beer was brewed, looked and tasted.

Beer as we know it has always been produced using the same basic ingredients, hops, barley and water, and for thousands of years was brewed in open vats with fermentation occurring at the top of the brew.

Groll was able to look beyond what was possible and combine his knowledge of an innovative new bottom fermenting process, known as ‘lagering’, with his access to the finest local ingredients at Plzen: a special type of two-row fine-husk barley, the locally grown Saaz hops and of course the uniquely soft local water.

In 1842 Josef Groll’s vision became reality. He succeeded in making a beer the best it could be.

Josef Groll was an unlikely hero, so rude and bad-tempered he was described as the ‘coarsest man in the whole of Bavaria’ by his father.

But it is the fate of every genius to challenge those around him. Throughout history those who have made a step change in their fields, those who have had an idea of true originality, have had one thing in common, the ability to see beyond the ordinary, and create something extraordinary.

Sir Issac Newton observed an apple, and it changed how we see the world. A certain Mr Columbus discovered the New World by rejecting how everyone had seen the old one. And in 1842 Josef Groll created a beer that changed the way the world would see beer.

From the dawn of civilization, beer had been a dark, murky liquid. Then a protest by the citizens of Plzen, Bohemia, inspired the change that would influence the entire beer industry and set the standard for all lagers.

After furious citizens had dumped no less than 36 barrels of undrinkable sludge into the city’s gutters in 1838, it sparked off a remarkable chain of events – a new brewery building, an innovative new brewmaster and finally the world’s first golden beer.

On 4 October 1842 in St Martin’s market, Plzen, Josef Groll unveiled his new creation to widespread sensation, after all a golden beer had never been seen before.

News of this remarkable Plzen beer spread throughout Bohemia. The arrival of the railway and the beer’s popularity amongst German and French tourists soon meant that Plzen’s famous brew gained international appeal.

But with success inevitably came competition. Josef Groll’s original golden beer soon spawned many imitators, many of which also claimed to be Plzen or Pilsner beer, whether they came from Plzen or not. In fact, today Pilsner has become a generic term around the world for any bottom-fermented golden beer sold as ‘pils’ or ‘pilsner’.

In 1898, the brewery acted to protect itself against inferior competitors and the beer’s name was changed to Pilsner Urquell- a German phrase meaning literally “from the original source, Plzen”.

Some say the name was changed to satisfy consumer demand for the original golden beer. But as those who know their beer will tell you: you can tell the original Pilsner by its slightly darker shade of gold, and of course by its taste which is a world apart.

Beer Sweden also has a nice two-part account, as does Brewing Techniques and Food Reference. Pilsner Urquell’s Czech website also has a brief history and a timeline. Brewer K. Florian Klemp wrote Presenting Pilsners for All ABout Beer, which includes Groll’s story.

beer-pub-crawl4

Czech Republic Wants You To Call Them “Czechia” To Sell More Beer

czech_republic
This is interesting, if odd, news. The Czech Republic wants you to call them “Czechia,” believing that the shorter name is easier to remember and will ultimately sell more Czech — excuse me — Czechia beer. According to the CIA World Factbook, the official name of the country is simply the Czech Republic, in the local language, “Česka republika.” The “name derives from the Czechs, a West Slavic tribe who rose to prominence in the late 9th century A.D.”

The nation’s website claims that “apparently it’s difficult for a country to make its way in the world if it has not got a shortened, easy to pronounce, name; something that fits in big letters on a shirt. And the Czech Republic has been dealing with that handicap ever since the split up of Czechoslovakia in 1993. Various unofficial options have been tried, Czech, the Czech lands, for example, but the safest option has often been to revert to the full, official name. After months of deliberations, they think they have a solution. Here’s what they decided.

Czechia-no

Now, the Czech Republic appears ready to end confusion and take the plunge with an official choice. Foreign Minister Lubomír Zaorálek, who is often confronted with confusion over the name, explained what is at stake.

“We are not talking here about the official political name, Czech Republic, Česká Republika, which is clearly established. But in Europe, every country or almost every country, has a shortened geographical title, for instance the Polish Republic is just Poland, and the same follows for others. In our case, unfortunately, it’s not quite so simple because we have not been able to share with the rest of the world the shortened name we use in Czech, Česko. But for us there exists just one possible option as a correct translation of that and that is something along the lines of Chequia or Czechia.”

Czechia in English, and various similar forms in other languages, is reckoned to be the most faithful translation of Česko. And it will be raised at a meeting on Thursday evening attended by the foreign minister, prime minister, heads of two chambers, and the president. If the idea is approved, then the shortened name will be registered with the United Nations, and should start to become common verbal and visual currency.

Minister Zaorálek says sporting bodies for one appear to be keen for a final agreement on a shortened name.

“Perhaps it will be something of a relief for them because it will be clear what must be written on the kits and there will be a general agreement about that. The problem is that we have not been able to agree on this as fast as we would have liked. I had the idea that it would be great if we could have got this done in time for the Olympic games but this whole process of approval by constitutional officials and the government has taken a certain amount of time and in the meantime they have had to start making the uniforms. So if it not this time it will be the next. And I have seen that sportsmen and women are willing to do this but they need some time to prepare.“

Some are asking whether Czechia might not cause confusion among the geographically challenged. In a far from isolated example, in 2013 the US broadcaster CNN confused the Russian province of Chechnya with the Czech Republic, suggesting that the Boston Marathon bombers came from the Central European country.

Czechia-yes

It’s worth noting that the local term for the country is “Česko,” so it’s not to far off from that, though it seems like it will take some time to get used to it.

Business Insider asserts in their headline that The Czech Republic is changing its name to Czechia to make it easier to sell beer, adding “Because the name of the country is quite long, companies often brand their merchandise with the word “Czech” to show which country their product comes from. One company that does this is Pilsner Urquell beer, which has “Brewed in Plezen – Czech” written on the bottle. The problem with this is that the word “Czech” is an adjective so can’t really be used as a proper noun.”

pils-ur-6pk

So the official line doesn’t mention beer as one of the reasons for the country’s new nickname, but several news outlets have brought it up. For example, the New York Times mentions Pilsner Urquell, and their use of “Czech” on packaging already, rather than the official “Czech Republic.”

Variants that did not make the cut included “Czechlands,” “Bohemia” and, simply, “Czech.” (Pilsner Urquell, the storied beer maker, uses “Brewed in Czech” on its cans.)

But they’re hoping to make the change before the Olympics take place, hoping that the Czech Republic’s team can be referred to instead as the team from Czechia later this year in Brazil.

“It’s not good when a country does not have any clearly defined symbols, or cannot say clearly what its name is,” Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek said on Tuesday, unveiling the proposal. “It would be good to set the record straight once and for all. We owe this to ourselves and to the world.”

On Thursday, Czech officials said they would have the name added to the United Nations database of geographical names, which records country names in the world body’s six official languages.

Fans of the change have set up a website, Go Czechia, to dispel myths about the name, its origins and other facts surrounding it.

Czechia

There’s also an interesting post from transculture, written by faculty of the School of Humanities within the Faculty of Arts, University of Wolverhampton, entitled From Czech Republic to Czechia, in which they reprint an excerpt from an article by linguist Tom Dickins, who wrote ‘The Czech-speaking lands, their peoples and contact communities: titles, names and ethnonyms’, published in The Slavonic and East European Review, 89 (3), 2011, pp. 401–54. Here’s what Dr. Dickens had to say:

“The degree of acceptance of short forms for the Czech Republic in foreign languages varies significantly. Some languages have largely embraced a new descriptor; for instance, French Tchéquie, German Tschechien and Spanish Chequía. Others have proven more resistant. Neither Czechia in English nor Cechia in Italian (which is perhaps too close to cieca [blind woman]) have become so well established, despite their endorsement in 1993 by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic, and their appearance in official geographical lists.105

There can be few precedents of a small state attempting to impose usage of this type on the speakers of major foreign languages, so it is difficult to predict the likely degree of acceptance of the promoted forms. For what it is worth, a poll conducted in 2006 found that ordinary Czechs overwhelmingly prefer the adjectival form Czech (used as an odd-sounding substantive in English) to Czechia, Czechlands and Czecho.106 Amongst native English speakers, Czecho, the misnomer Czechoslovakia (cf. continued references to ‘Yugoslavia’), the Czech-speaking lands and the Czechland(s), all appear to be more common than Czechia, for which there is only one citation in the Bank of English corpus.107 It is striking that even English-speaking Bohemicists are reluctant to adopt Czechia, and in some cases oppose it on the not altogether rational grounds of euphony.

To some extent, the Czechs recognize the anomaly of the situation, as exemplified in the variety of terms which they use to promote themselves abroad, including Czech/CZ made (which invites the unfortunate pun šmejd [junk]), Made in Czechia, Made in (the) Czech Republic, Made in Czech R./Rep./CR/CZ, Czech (Team) or Czech Republic (on sports kit), Czech beer or Brewed in Bohemia/the Czech Republic/in Plzeň, Czech (on the Prazdroj bottle) and Moravian wine.”

made-in-czechia

Pre-Pilsner Pilsen

pilsner-urquell
This morning Pilsner Urquell tweeted the quetion “What happened in Plzen in the 1830s to make the citizens decide to build their own brewery?”

pilsner-urquell-imports

The answer Pilsner Urquell gives to Plzen Before Pilsner Urquell is a short history lesson about Bohemia in the mid-1800s.

What was the town of Plzen like when Pilsner Urquell was founded back in 1842? To get a feel for things, imagine the number 563. That’s the total number of dwellings — just 563 buildings for living in — that stood in Plzen at the time of the town’s 1840 census.

Despite its small size, Plzen was still a relatively important place, especially after the construction of the military barracks that were built there in 1826 (this was crowd-funded and paid for by the citizens), after which the town’s population and strategic importance grew substantially. By 1840, Plzen had grown to 10,184 inhabitants, up from 6,447 inhabitants some fifty years earlier.

Along with the barracks, Plzen also developed a more cultivated side in the 1820s and 1830s, developing a merchant class and showing theatrical performances and concerts in both Czech and German languages. Perhaps because of that cosmopolitanism, as well as the town’s setting not far from the Czech-Bavarian border, a number of imported beers, including many Bavarian dark lagers, began showing up in Plzen by the mid-1830s. These proved to be quite popular, and some residents complained that Plzen was flooded by imported beers. Ironically, the imports were quite cheap, much cheaper than Plzen’s own beer at the time, which thus had trouble selling fast enough to keep up with its relatively short shelf life.

The result was a major problem for local beer lovers. The first solution suggested by the citizens of Plzen? A ban on all imported beer. Only after this idea was laughingly dismissed by the town’s mayor Martin Kopecký did the good people of Plzen came up with their second proposal: to build a new brewery that could compete with the imports.

It’s funny to see concerns about imports being an issue even 175 years ago, something that’s still talked about today.

The image Pilsner Urquell uses part of with the story is from 1649. It was a “copper engraving, uncolored as published,” and is a “Bird’s eye view of the city of Pilsen, published in the Topographia Bohemiae by Matthaeus Merian.”

Pilsen-1649

PilsNOIR Urquell, Czech Brewery’s New Black Pilsner

pilsner-urquell
The pilsner style, with it’s brilliant golden color, was first brewed in the Bohemian town of Plzen in 1842. Pilsner Urquell started a revolution in brewing and it became the most widely copied type of beer, quickly transforming it into the most popular beer style in the world.

After over 170 years making just one beer, Plzeňský Prazdroj decided it was time to do something different and today are launching PilsNOIR Urquell, a totally new black pilsner. Made with the same Moravian barley and their signature Czech Saaz hops along with the naturally soft local water that’s made Pilsner Urquell to make one of the finest beers in the world, it’s sure to start another revolution.

pilsnoir-urquell

April Fools!

Just kidding. Mark Dredge, who’s been doing some work for Pilsner Urquell in England, sent me this mock-up spoof the brewery created just to have a little fun. No matter which beer you choose to drink today, remember to have yourself a little fun. The real copy should read:

“We’ve been making the same beer in the same way for 172 years. Why change now. Even on April Fools Day.”

Beer In Ads #1065: Pilsner Urquell Keeps You On Earth


Wednesday’s ad is for Pilsner Urquell, from what looks to be the 1950s based on the style of illustration on this postcard. Showing a geeky-looking mathematician in front of a blackboard filled with a calculation. I wonder if it’s just gibberish or if it really does express something mathematically — gravity perhaps? But the idea is that if it weren’t for math we wouldn’t be here on planet beer to enjoy our Pilsner Urquell.

pilsner-urquell-card

Animated Beer Production In The Czech Republic

czech_republic
Today’s infographic is slick animated graphic showing the brewing process. It’s a pretty cool graphic. There’s different panels for brewing, basic types of beer, production by European countries, and some beer history. The only thing that would make it cooler would be if I could read Czech. But click on the image below to see it in all its glory.

Beer production (brewing)

by Newslab.
Explore more infographics like this one on the web’s largest information design community – Visually.

How To Efficiently Drink Pilsner Urquell

pilsner-urquell
This is an interesting piece of breweriana I stumbled upon. It’s from around 1900 and apparently is “an instruction manual how to efficiently drink Pilsner Urquell.” Although Google Translates it as “A glass of Pilsner Urquell in one fell swoop,” so I’m not entirely certain. It looks like a postcard to me.

Stara-Plzen
Click here to see the advertisement full size.