The secret way to a Midwest girl's heart is beer. Especially when it's gourmet beer! Pilsner Urquell is taking a new twist on beer's long-time reputation of drinking in cornfields (maybe that was just me) and college frat parties. I visited the Pilsner Urquell Sensory Beer Experience at The Epicurean School of Culinary Arts in LA to learn more about tasty beer and food pairings.
Beer 101--now that's a class sure to keep my attention! Pilsner Urquell provides an education to the fine beer connoisseur ranging from brewing and complexities to food pairings. They actually have 47 salesmen trained in beer knowledge, and they have all passed Beer 101 (and to think I went to college for business).
Pilsner Urquell literally means "pilsner from the original source," making it the only true Pilsner in the world. Pilsner's history began in the town of Plezen, Bohemia, which is still home to the brewery today (got to love those Bohemians). Bohemian style Pilsner lager is what makes up 80% of all beers today. Two-row, fine-husk barley is the main contributor to achieving Pilsner Urquell's unique pale, golden hue. The finest Saaz variety hops from Germany are used for its characteristic aroma. To achieve its pleasant bitter-sweet taste, it is brewed with soft water drawn from aquifers beneath the Plezen basin. Apart from the yeast, which is technically not an ingredient as it is removed after fermentation, nothing is added to the three ingredients, assuring the purity of Pilsner Urquell. The malt is mashed three times instead of the usual two and direct flame, or fire-brewing, is used during decoction to develop a golden color, a toasted grain bouquet and a balanced caramel flavor.
A panel of experts at the prestigious Beverage Testing Institute (Really, where do I apply for this job?) has given Pilsner Urquell a score of 93 points, which is the highest rating ever given to a pilsner style lager due to its golden amber color, aromas of fresh baguette, caramelized nuts, citrus marmalade and earthy hops, honeyed nut toast and tart citrus flavors and rich body. This ranking places Pilsner Urquell above some of the most well known import lager brands. The Beverage Testing Institute was founded in 1981 with the objective of producing fair and impartial wine reviews for consumers--today their reviews and buying guides have grown to include spirits and beer, especially given that a recent study revealed that 50% of wine connoisseurs also enjoy beer.
Now, onto the hands-on experience! Pouring a beer is akin to decanting a wine to open up all the flavors. Pilsner Urquell should be poured at a 45-degree angle and then tilted upright when the glass is three-quarters full to achieve three fingers worth of foam at the top for the ultimate taste. The ultimate taste is also served at a temperature of 45 degrees. As you journey through a glass of beer, pay special attention to the appearance--color, clarity and foam stability; aroma--malt, hop and yeast; taste--flavors in the front of the mouth, the mid-mouth and the finish; mouthfeel; body and consistency; and finish--aftertaste. The Pilsner Urquell will go from a honey, nutty flavor sweet at the tip of your tongue to a caramel, nutty flavor bitter at your throat.
Tasting tips: Taste in an odorless environment (exclude smoke and perfume), find good lighting (avoid strong fluorescent lighting), use appropriate glassware (shape affects flavor), pour the beer properly, serve at the correct temperature (50 to 60 degrees for ales), work at it (breathe it in and swirl it in your mouth (I guess this rules out chugging contests), have palate-cleansers available (French bread or saltine crackers), and expand your tasting vocabulary (understanding the flavor chemicals). Keep in mind that "cutting" cleanses your tongue for the next bite. Highly carbonated beer styles and styles that offer a high percentage of bitterness and alcohol are inherently the best palate cleansers. Strive to "complement" and "contrast" to highlight the similarities complexities in the paring. Finally, a variety of "textures" are extremely important when pairing food with beer.
The logic used in food and beer parings is the same logic of body and texture used in wine and food pairings. A chef from The Epicurean School of Culinary Arts, and beer expert, Ryan Johnson of Pilsner Urquell, took us through each dish and pointed out what exactly the beer enhanced in the food. Of course, we were able to taste for ourselves! I was skeptical about the whole pairing food with beer concept, but I was amazed to sense the different flavors the beer highlighted in each plate.
First we sampled a beef rendag with coconut shallots and coconut rice, and the subtle flavors of coconut enhanced the nutty flavor of the beer--the malts in the beer are what extract the flavor. Pilsner Urquell revealed a tangy, spicy sweetness in the spicy shrimp with mangoes and snow pea salad. The gaminess of the crispy duck schnitzel with hazelnut brown butter and beet, orange and arugula salad (amazing and my favorite) complemented the barley in the beer. Lastly, our dessert consisted of Authentic Gruyere and Montgomery's Cheddar cheeses. Yum! Pairing the beer with cheese glides the cheese down your throat while cleansing your palate. When pairing, remember that you must have a balance of strong cheese and strong beer or weak cheese and weak beer. Next time, I want my date to show up at the door with a case of beer and cheese--forget the wine and chocolate!
Pilsner Urquell is brewed in Plzen in the Czech Republic by Plzensky Prazdroj AS and is owned, distributed and marketed internationally by SABMiller. Pilsner Urquell is currently exported to over 50 countries around the world including markets in Europe, North America, Australia and Asia. For more information about Pilsner Urquell, please visit www.pilsnerurquell.com.
For more information about The Epicurean School of Culinary Arts, please visit www.epicureanschool.com