One of the big events of American brewing is called the World Beer Cup, which took place last weekend in San Diego, California. Also known as the “Beer Olympics,” every two years the World Beer Cup hands out gold, silver and bronze medals in 91 beer categories, including one for the so-called “Bohemian-style Pilsener.”
Unlike the strangely named World Series, the World Beer Cup actually claims to have an international scope, noting that it had entries from 56 countries and judges from 18 different lands at the last event in 2006. At least a few Czechs served as judges at the 2008 competition, including Jan Šuráň from Pivo Praha / Pivovarský dům and Honza Kočka from Pivovar Kocour Varnsdorf and Pivnidenik.cz.
The results are out. Two Czech beers won medals at the World Beer Cup.
For the world’s best “non-alcoholic malt beverage,” a gold medal — first place — to Radegast Birell from the Pilsner Urquell group.
For the world’s best “Bohemian-style Pilsener,” a bronze medal — third place — to Gambrinus Premium from the Pilsner Urquell group.
And that’s it.
If you’re a fan of Czech beer, these results are surprising.
How can I put this? I guess I could say that Gambrinus Premium is not widely thought of as our country’s best brew.
In fact, it’s not even thought of as the Pilsner Urquell group’s best brew. If Gambrinus Premium wins a medal for “Bohemian-style Pilsener” and Pilsner Urquell doesn’t even place, something is off: as you might expect, Pilsner Urquell is the brewery’s flagship, and widely considered the beer of the highest overall quality among high-volume Pilsner-style beers in the Czech lands. By contrast, it would be an understatement to say that Gambrinus has a less-than-glowing reputation here.
Was Pilsner Urquell not entered?
Were no other Czech beers present in San Diego?
Are we supposed to understand that Gambrinus Pilsner actually is the best golden lager from the Czech lands?
(What fools we are! All this time we’ve been drinking rich, luscious lagers from regional producers, when we could have been enjoying Gambrinus!)
So much for Bohemian “Pilsener.” (On that note, how can I trust a competition that claims knowledge over, for example, German brewing styles, but which has trouble using the correct German orthography? Forget the extra E on Pilsner, I’m talking about when the Brewers Association guidelines repeatedly spelled Leipzig’s great sour beer as “Göse” instead of Gose.)
And while Radegast nonalcoholic doesn’t have the same reputation, it’s hard to believe it’s the best such beer in the world when a couple of other Czech nonalcoholic brews taste better: mainly, those from Bernard. SPP, the Czech beer consumers’ organization, seems to agree, awarding Bernard the prize for nonalcoholic beer of the year at their awards ceremony in 2007. Even people who don’t like beer rate Bernard’s nonalcoholic above Radegast.
It’s hard to think much of the awards announcement without knowing more about who was present and who was judging. For now, it gets a big meh.
But I can add this: from Europe, the World Beer Cup does seems a lot like the World Series — another American event that claims a global perspective while reinforcing a widespread opinion of American myopia.
And when I say widespread, I do not mean “widespread in America.” I mean widespread in the world.