When ABI took over SAB in 2016, the local beer industry was filled with questions: would they decide to crush craft? Would Budweiser replace Black Label as South Africa’s favourite beer? How many jobs would be lost? And perhaps most worryingly of all, how would I get my Pilsner Urquell fix?
The takeover came with many provisos, introduced to ensure ABI didn’t yield too much global beer power – and one of those provisos was the sale of Pilsner Urquell, then owned by SABMiller. The centuries’ old Czech beer was snapped up by Japanese brewery Asahi and quicker than you could say promiňte, prosím, mohl bych získat další půllitr původního plzeňského stroje*, my beloved pilsner was gone.
*Google translate is hilarious – I typed in “excuse me, please could I get another pint of the original pilsner”. Try posting the Czech version above and translating it back to English…
Earlier this year I finally made the pilgrimage to Plzen to taste the beer at the source. You can read more about that in the summer issue of On Tap, but for now, let’s just say I drank copious amounts of PU and never got bored of doing so.
Those who know me know just how much I love this beer. They WhatsApp photos of it when they travel and the best of them bring a bottle or two back to share (thanks Cam, thanks Briiiiiian). Some don’t understand the infatuation, the obsession that many brewers, beer writers and general beer nerds have with the original pilsner (that’s right, it’s not just me – without giving too many spoliers, get yourself a copy of Mark Dredge’s The Best Beer in the World and you’ll see that). So just what is it about this beer that is just so special?
If I had to sum it up in a single word it would be balance. It is a deliciously malty beer with an initial bready, slightly biscuity sweetness. But the bitterness is assertive and long and cleansing. It makes you go back for another sip and before you know it, your whole bottle is gone and your beer review is barely written; before you know if you are five pints in at the brewery and not once did it cross your mind that you might like to drink something else.
It is a beer that is in equal parts approachable to the everyday drinker and as complex as the triple decoction mashing process that’s needed to create it. It is equally at home as an all-day quaffer and as a partner for food, though if I’m honest, for me the best pairing is another bottle of the same.
It is the perfect beer to drink in my hammock as I write this, because folks, following a two-year drought that quite frankly was every bit as bad as Cape Town’s better known drought; two years of lamenting and begging and dreaming and hoping, Pilsner Urquell has made a return to South African shores. For now, it’s in 330ml bottles only, but there is talk of kegs possibly coming in at a later date.
When I have more info – pricing, stockists and such – I will share it on Facebook and Twitter, but for now, know that Pilsner Urquell is making its way to select South African liquor stores and perhaps the odd bar or restaurant. Taste it when you can and tell me what you think.
UPDATE: A case (24 bottles) or PU is retailing for around R500, while a six-pack is retailing at R139. So, y’know, it pays to buy by the case… (Disclosure – I am not on commission for PU. I just want you to drink good beer. And also, the greater the demand, the greater the chance it will remain on South African shelves!!)