When you spend all day at Pilsner Urquell, you learn lots of things.
Above is a shot of senior trade brewmaster Václav Berka in the maltings with the crew from the Discovery Channel. During a full day of shooting, I had time to ask a number of questions about the brewery and how it operates. The malt house is a case in point: it’s not on the standard tour at Pilsner Urquell, so few visitors get to see it. And yet it’s a rather special feature: Pilsner Urquell is the only major Czech brewery which still has its own maltings, buying raw barley from Czech and Moravian farmers and producing just one type of malt which constitutes 100% of the grist of Pilsner Urquell. Any extra malt is sold to Czech homebrewers and small producers, or used to make Kozel.
And while many people assume Pilsner Urquell and Gambrinus to be the same brewery, there are enough differences to consider them as separate entities. To start, the Pilsner Urquell brewhouse is only used for that beer; Gambrinus has its own, separate brewhouse.
More factoids gleaned during a day at Pilsner Urquell:
• Yes, Gambrinus is now produced through high-gravity brewing: there is just one original Gambrinus beer which is brewed at 13° and then diluted to make the two Gambrinus beers on the market.
• Gambrinus and Pilsner Urquell are produced in two different brewhouses using two different yeast strains: Gambrinus uses the company’s W strain, Pilsner Urquell the H strain.
• Every week a new batch of yeast is started from a single yeast cell.
• Each batch of yeast is used three or four times.
• Pilsner Urquell today has 40 IBUs. The hops, in the form of pellets, are 100% Saaz, added in three hoppings.
• Pilsner Urquell has about 35 days of lagering, which the brewery says is the same as in Josef Groll’s time.
• Pilsner Urquell recently switched to flash pasteurization, using a very moderate amount of 15 pasteurization units.
• The only unpasteurized beers from the Pilsner Urquell group are sold in tanks. There is tank Pilsner Urquell, tank Gambrinus, tank Kozel, tank Radegast, and even tank Birrell, the group’s non-alcoholic beer which did so well at the World Beer Cup.
• Nine coopers remain on staff to maintain the oak barrels shown in the brewery tour at Pilsner Urquell. This year the coopers made the brewery’s first new wooden fermentation vessels in 35 years.