Why we're here...

Beer culture is coming of age. At any store, restaurant, bar, or friend's house you can now find at least a few good brews. In fact, there seem to be so many new beers, breweries and bars it's difficult to separate the good, the bad, and the mediocre.

If you're going spend $10 on one beer, what should you buy? If you're going to drive 2 hours to check out a brewery, what's worth your time? If you're going to plan a Friday night, what has a good selection and friendly atmosphere? We're here to help you answer these questions.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Showdown: Pilsner: Sudwerk vs Pilsner Urquell

Here is an interesting showdown - the "original Pilsner" versus the new American craft. Pilsner was one of the first popular lagers, so popular it was called "fit for a King". This beer style has a long and storied history...

Who will win?

Pilsner Urquell, now owned by the international brewer SABMiller, comes from the town that originally brewed the first Pilsner in 1842, Pilsen, Czech Republic. Pilsner was also one of the first lagers, which optimized new bottom or cold fermenting yeast that had recently begun use in Europe. Pilsen also had a healthy supply of soft water, which makes for a great beer. The brand Pilsner Urquell was first used in 1898.

Pilsner Urquell is specifically a Bohemian Pilsner, which slightly darker, thicker and maltier than a classic German Pilsner, which Sudwerk brews.

ABV: 4.4%
Beer Advocate: 3.66 out of 5
Rate Beer: 3.26 out of 5
Appearance: Light golden color slight head and no lacing.
Aroma: Spicy and crisp with hints of grass and bread.
Taste: sweet  pilsner malts and bitter bite up front, hop flavor in the middle, and an almost metallic aftertaste.
Mouthfeel:  Light to medium bodied.

Sudwerk is a young brewery, compared to Pilsner Urquell, having been founded in 1989 in Davis, California. The founders, who were local Davis residents, had spent significant time in Germany and hoped to recreate German beer culture in the US. Sudwerk's Pilsner has won numerous awards over the years. Sudwerk is probably the only lager-centered brewery on the West Coast.

California Brewer’s Guild Commercial Craft Brew Competition: Silver 2001, Bronze 2003, Silver 2004, Bronze 2005, Gold 2006, Gold 2007, Gold 2008, Gold 2009, Bronze 2010, 1st Place Gold 2011
Great American Beer Festival: Silver 1990
California Brewers Festival: Gold 2002

ABV: 5%
Beer Advocate: 3.79 out of 5
Rate Beer: 3.2 our of 5
Appearance: It pours a clear yellow color with a fluffy white head and decent lacings
Aroma:  Pilsner malts, grass, bread, and a little floral hops.
Taste: The taste is balanced between the crisp, bready malts and floral hops
Mouthfeel: Light bodied and crisp with a clean mouthfeel and lively carbonation.

Four of us did a blind taste test. 3 of us picked Sudwerk as our favorite. We felt that Sudwerk's Pilsner was just more sessionable and crisp. Urquell was a little thicker and less fresh tasting.

While both had similar flavor profiles, the freshness, drinkability and crispness won the day for Sudwerk.

I think what it comes down to is freshness. Beer is made to be drank fresh, like in a matter of weeks. Internationally made and distributed beers just cannot compete with freshness. It's also hard to tell, but I will make an educted guess that Urquell cuts corners on quality ingredients and perhaps uses adjuncts. Sudwerk, from our tour, uses some top notch barley and yeast. Their brewing system is even in German!

I had Pilsner Urquell before it's international takeover in 1999. It is a different beer today than it was then, despite claims from the brewer that its the same recipe.


  1. I do love the metallic aftertaste of true Bohemian Pilsners. It is what sets them apart for me. You'll still find that and great taste in the "true" Czech Pilsners, like Staropramen. If you don't have that, I'll just go drink Helles/Lager. Still, nice to see locals stomping on the big boys. Just proves the point, fresh beer is always better.

  2. If you had Pilsner Urquell in 1999, how old were you?

  3. I lived in Irelandin 1997/98, I was 18/19 years old. Which is legal age in Europe!