Plzen - Where Beer Runs In The Streets
In 1838 the citizens of Plzen, Bohemia (The Czech Republic now) saw something that would make any beer lover cringe. The brew masters of the town rolled 36 barrels of ale out into the street, opened them up, and spilled the beer in the main square of town letting it run into the ditches and finally into the nearby Radbuza River. The brewers had decided that the ale had become undrinkable. Even for breweries of Plzen with over 800 years of brewing experience, issues of contamination could still come up. Ales were prone to being spoiled either by wild yeasts or bacteria.
A New Beginning
This time, though, would be different. The brewers gathered after watching their work run down the street and decided that they to take drastic measures to make sure that this would not happen again. By this time, brewers in Bohemia and across Europe had learned of the importance of yeast to the brewing process. There was some debate about whether fermentation was a living process or the by-product of the death of yeast, but there was no question that this mysterious little life form had a big affect on the character of a beer.
They hired Josef Groll, a Bavarian brewer, to come to Plzen and teach them the German lagering method of brewing. Legend holds that in 1840 a monk smuggled some of the precious lager yeast out of Bavaria. Whether this is the case or not, when Groll arrived in Plzen there was a supply of lager yeast available. He also found a nearby source of excellent Saaz hops, a Noble variety of hops that he would have been familiar with from Germany. The brewers of Plzen had a well that supplied very soft water. With caverns carved for lagering in the local sandstone, the stage was set for lager brewing.
A New Recipe
Using light barley that was only partially malted and none of the roasted or smoked barley that the German brewers were using, Groll added generous portions of the fragrant Saaz hops to his brew. On October 5, 1842 he and the other brewers of Plzen gathered for their first taste of the new beer.