On the eve of the 40th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, a more joyous occasion happened in the heart of Toronto’s financial district:
After years of absence, the grandfather of all pilsners, Pilsner Urquell, found its way to taps at select Ontario restaurants. SABMiller, the importer, in co-operation with Consul General of the Czech Republic in Toronto Richard Krpač, hosted a grand-opening dinner at Toronto’s Beer Bistro restaurant.
After a brief address by Mr. Krpač, in which he instructed the guests on the proper pronounciation of Czech toast “Na zdraví“, the audience received a special treat: a presentation about the origin of Pilsner Urquell by Ryan N. Johnson, a beer specialist with SABMiller. He complemented his brief lecture with an explanation of proper ways to taste beer and enjoy Pilsner Urquell to its fullest.
After the dinner we asked Mr. Johnson and his marketing colleague Katie Rankin a few questions:
ND: What makes Urquell unique among beers? Ryan mentioned the historical perspective and the 0-120 scale that beer geeks use…
RYAN JOHNSON: Pilsner Urquell was the first and original golden beer. Before 1842 and Pilsner Urquell’s birth, all beer was dark and cloudy. It is also a very hoppy, weighing at 36 International Bitterness Units- IBU’s. That is relatively high for this style of beer and makes the beer that much more delicious then others in its class.
ND: Explain the difference between beer tasting and wine tasting. How do you properly drink and taste Urquell?
RJ: With beer, the liquid must be swallowed to understand and enjoy the delicious bitterness. Bitter taste buds are at the rear of your tongue- so one must enjoy the finish of beer to properly enjoy the experience. Beer glasses must be beer clean- meaning cleaned really well with little soap, rinse very well and then allowed to air dry. Never use a towel to polish, never use heavy soaps, never face down when drying, and always, always, always RINSE with hot water thoroughly. The beer should be served at 45 degrees F as well, so as not to freeze the taste buds and allow the full flavor of the beer to blossom on your tongue.
ND: With all the intricacies of beer tasting, why is beer drinking considered not as cultivated as wine drinking?
RJ: There are many more occasions when drinking beer then drinking wine and many of them aren’t sensory analysis oriented. Whereas most wine occasions are. However, beer deserves all of the respect and honor that wine has been granted over the last 20 years because it is much more complex with many more ingredients, depending on the style. Each liquid is delicious and both deserve their due. It just depends on the occasion and when and how and why and what is occurring when the liquid is being enjoyed that truly makes the experience.
ND: What type of food goes best with Urquell? Are there restaurants that specialize in “beer friendly” food? How to find them?
RJ: The Beerbistro on King in downtown Toronto is one of the best in North America. One should begin there to truly understand the beauty and scope of this wonderful culinary pairing phenomenon. With Pilsner Urquell the chef should just remember not to overpower the beers’ subtle complexities and to attempt to bring out the caramelized sweetness from the Moravian barley malt. So I recommend pork tenderloin, mild to stronger tasting fish (halibut to salmon) and earthy vegetables as sides, such as roasted, buttery Yukon gold potatoes or Belgian Frites. The beautiful thing about Pilsner Urquell is that it is one of the friendliest beers in the world with a plethora of culinary dishes. Explore and have fun and drink a Pilsner Urquell!
ND: My grandmother had a gallbladder ‘episode’ when she was about 35 years young. The doctor told her to have a glass of beer every night before she went to bed. She hated the bitterness of beer but complied, never to have gallbladder trouble again. She lived to age 89. Are there any known health benefits of beer?
RJ: There are many tales and myths regarding the magic of beer. I would consult a doctor that you trust to answer that question. And remember if you want a specific health-oriented answer then you must ask a very specific question. Remember, many of the things we consume are very good for your body, mind and soul – BUT ONLY IN MODERATION.
ND: How would you compare Urquell with its closest competitor?
RJ: It has no competition; it is the “original.” Every other clear golden lager wouldn’t exist without it! Most of the other Czech beers are sweeter and don’t have the spine of Pilsner Urquell. This beer deserves the most respect for those beers that are the most similar, typically other Czech beers.
ND: Urquell is being ‘reintroduced’ here in Canada, after years of absence. Can you tell us something about what led to this happy event?
RJ: Toronto beer lovers spoke and the world listened.
KATIE RANKIN: Pilsner Urquell has been in Canada a long time in bottles and tall boy cans which are available at the Beer Store and LCBO. New to Canada is Pilsner Urquell on draught which became available to Canadian consumers 10 short days ago. In order to bring the draught to Canada we wanted to grow the market and introduce the bottled product so that there would be a demand for the draught and it would be well received.
ND: What are your plans with Pilsner Urquell in Canada? How can we find which restaurants / pubs have it?
KR: Pilsner Urquell has seen dramatic growth in Canada over the last 5 years through increased sales of bottles and cans. Due to SABMiller’s initiatives, many restaurants and bars across Ontario are carrying packaged Pilsner Urquell. Since draught has just recently been introduced, (10 days ago) we are just starting to see restaurants carrying the draught. We expect Pilsner Urquell to continue to grow in Canada; we are very excited about the brand and are happy to provide draught to our Canadian consumers. Currently in Toronto there are some restaurants already pouring Pilsner Urquell draught such as Beerbistro, Boardwalk Pub, Fiddler’s Dell, One, Spoke Club, Hair of the Dog and many more.
We would like to thank Katie and Ryan for their time, and wish them all success in bringing this wonderful beverage to Canadian consumers.