Nestled in the heart of Western Bohemia, the city of Pilsen (Plzeň) in the Czech Republic stands as a beacon of brewing history and cultural richness. Known worldwide as the birthplace of Pilsner beer, this vibrant city offers much more than just a sip of history.
In this in-depth journey, I explore the roots of Pilsner beer, the town that gave it life, and the culture that makes Pilsen a magnet for beer lovers. Whether you’re a beer drinker, beer enthusiast, or simply an avid traveler who is visiting the Czech Republic, here is the story about the beer that changed the world.
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About the City of Pilsen
Pilsen, also known as Plzeň in Czech, is a city located in the western part of the Czech Republic. It’s the fourth most populous city in the country and is known for its cultural and economic significance. Pilsen is famously recognized as the birthplace of Pilsner beer, a renowned style of lager that originated from the city in the 19th century. The city is also noted for its unique architecture, historical landmarks, and vibrant cultural scene. Pilsen’s blend of tradition, history, and modern development makes it an important and interesting destination in the Czech Republic.
The Invention of Pilsner
The creation of Pilsner beer in Pilsen, Czech Republic, marks a pivotal moment in the global brewing industry. This section delves into the rich brewing heritage of Pilsen, the visionary brewmaster Josef Groll, and the profound impact of Pilsner beer on the world.
History of Beer Brewing in Pilsen
Pilsen has a long-standing tradition of brewing that dates back to the early 13th century. The city’s unique location and access to quality ingredients fostered a thriving beer culture.
By the 19th century, Pilsen’s citizens were dissatisfied with the quality of their local beer. Legend has it that the beer had gotten so bad that they dumped it all and decided they must restore their reputation. The discontent led to the foundation of the Citizens’ Brewery in 1839 (now Pilsner Urquell Brewery), aiming to improve beer standards.
The Story of Josef Groll and the First Batch of Pilsner in 1842
To address the problem, the brewery hired a Bavarian brewer named Josef Groll in 1842 to create a new type of beer.
Utilizing the soft water of Pilsen, local Saaz hops, and pale malt, Groll brewed the first batch of what we now know as Pilsner Urquell on October 5, 1842. This new beer was a clear, golden lager, a stark contrast to the dark, cloudy ales common at the time. Its clarity, refreshing taste, and golden color were revolutionary.
This new lighter lager, eventually named Pilsner, was bottom fermented at cold temperatures, unlike ale which is top fermented at a warmer temperature.
How Pilsner Beer Revolutionized the Brewing Industry
Pilsner beer’s immediate popularity set new standards for quality and taste, influencing beer production techniques worldwide.
The success of Pilsner Urquell led to the widespread adoption of the bottom-fermentation process. This method, along with the use of pale malts, became the foundation of the pilsner beer style.
But Pilsner beer’s impact extended beyond brewing techniques; it influenced beer legislation, labeling, and consumer expectations, establishing pilsner as a benchmark for lager quality.
The invention of Pilsner beer in Pilsen not only transformed the local brewing landscape but also initiated a global beer revolution. The legacy of Josef Groll and his pioneering brew continues to influence the beer we drink today, making Pilsen an essential chapter in the history of beer.
Explore the History of Pilsner
Tour the Pilsner Urquell Brewery
One of the most popular things to do in Pilsen is to visit the Pilsner Urquell brewery. I’m a big fan of brewery tours as well as the beer they give you at the end of the tour. Plus, as we found out, this brewery has quite a bit more history than most.
While you are here, consider stopping by the pub & restaurant in the former fermentation cellar. Na Splice has a pub atmosphere but is also regarded as one of the best restaurants for traditional Czech food in Pilsen. Click here for the latest updates about open hours and menu.
Visit the Brewery Museum & Underground Tour
Another great place to stop is the Brewery Museum. It is located near the city center and will introduce you to the history of pubs in Pilsen, tell you the story of beer from ancient times to the present, and learn about different methods of beer production. You will also see a late Gothic malt house, an original malt kiln or so-called paint roller. And of course the tour ends with a glass of Pilsner Urquell beer. They also brew the Gambrinus brand of beer here, which is one of the most popular beers in the Czech Republic.
But one of the coolest parts about here, is that you can also take a guided underground tour. This labyrinth of tunnels were built in the 14th century and are nearly 20km long.
Pilsner Fest - A Celebration of the Beer
Pilsner Fest is a celebration that beer enthusiasts should not miss, especially given its historical significance. In early October of each year, thousands of people gather at the brewery to commemorate the brewing of the first batch of Pilsner Urquell. There are food vendors, live music, and of course lots of beer.
Visitors have the opportunity to immerse themselves in the traditional beer-making craft, sometimes even participating in activities while dressed in period costumes. And activities include special brewery tours, contests, and informative sessions that provide insights into the brewery’s rich history and present operations.
There’s also a draft beer workshop where the best Czech bartenders showcase their skills.
An important and symbolic aspect of the event is the celebratory toast held at 6:42pm (18:42) that is a nod to the year 1842 when Pilsner Urquell was first brewed.
How to Get to Pilsen
Pilsen is located about an hour west of Prague. The trip is quite straightforward and can be done by various modes of transport, depending on your preferences and needs.
- Direct Transfer from Prague Airport to Pilsen: If you’re traveling at night, as a family, or in a group, a direct transfer from Prague airport to Pilsen might be the most convenient option. It’s less time-consuming compared to public transport, taking less than an hour. This service can be booked online in advance, and for a group of four, it typically costs around US$85.
- By Train: The Czech Republic has an extensive railway network, and taking a train is both a popular and affordable option. Trains run several times a day from Prague’s main railway station (Hlavní Nádraží) to Pilsen. The journey takes approximately 1 hour and 50 minutes. Train tickets are reasonably priced and can be bought without needing to book in advance, although it’s recommended during busy periods.
- By Bus: Another economical option is taking a bus from Prague to Pilsen. FlixBus operates this route with an average duration of 1 hour and 20 minutes. The service is frequent and tickets can be booked online. Buses are equipped with amenities like Wi-Fi and power outlets.
Best Time to Visit Pilsen
Generally speaking, I’d say the best time of year to visit Pilsen is from late spring to early autumn. Summer isn’t too hot and autumn temperatures are mild, making it an ideal time for exploring the city’s rich history, cultural sites, and, of course, its breweries.
But, the very best time to visit Pilsen is the first weekend of October when Pilsner Fest is held. The festivities and events offer a deeper insight into the city’s vibrant culture and traditions.
Restaurants & Bars in Pilsen
These are some of the great places to go eat and drink in Pilsen.
Bikers Bar: An underground biker themed bar that admittedly might not be for everyone. But if you want inexpensive beer and to meet some interesting people, this is my favorite spot in town. Location
U Salzmannů: This is a restaurant in a hotel, so it attracts mostly tourists. But it’s the oldest hotel and restaurants in Pilsen and is a great place to try things like beef goulash, pork knee, or wild boar. Location