Wednesday, June 1, 2011
Pilsner Urquell Four Ways
Who knew one could get all fancy about Pilsner Urquell?
Hospoda, a new restaurant that recently opened in the old Bohemian National Hall on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, has brought back some of the eastern European flavor to what was once a heavily Czech area of the city. The place has a fine liquor list, topped by Becherovka, and a smattering of wines. But the drinking program's distinction lies in its treatment of the Czech Republic's home brew. Tanks of Pilsner Urquell are shipped over cold; according to the restaurant, they are the only people in the U.S. who go to this bother. All other tanks are shipped room temperature.
There are no other beers on offer. Instead, Hospoda serves the Urquell in four different way, based on the amount of head they give you. Here's how they describe it:
Creme Urquall (Hladinka): the classic way of draughting Czech pilsner, with a thick creamy head and a full, balanced flavor.
Slice (Snyt): drawn from the tap with a substantial four-finger foam to impart a refined bitterness and velvety mouth-feel.
Sweet (Mliko): a rich and original all-foam specialty designed to impart the beer with a hint of satisfying sweetness.
Neat (Cochtan): rarely seen, even in the Czech Republic, this headless beauty offers razor sharp bitterness that cuts straight through the heaviest meals.
Now, doubtless, this makes the usually pedestrian experience of ordering a Pilsner Urquell more exciting and fun. I have talked to people who have seen this done in Prague. However, I'm suspicious as to whether Czechs actually are in the habit of ordering their beer in four different fashions. My waitress pretty much said that, in Europe, the beer is mainly drunk in the Creme Urquell style most of the time. Nonetheless, I gave the gamut a try. I figured I'd been having Urquell in the Creme style, by default, all my life, so there was no need to order that. I started with the Slice (top photo), then the Neat (above) and finally the Sweet (below).
The beers were as advertised in appearance. The Slice had exactly four fingers of foam; the Neat had no head at all; and you can see for yourself what the Sweet looked like upon arrival. Did the flavor vary? At the start, somewhat. The head does lend a creamy softness, as it does to any beer. So the less of it you have, the more other flavors come through, such as the bitterness of the hops. But the difference lies in the first five minutes or so of drinking. once the head settles down, and you start to get down to the bottom half of the glass, you end up with Urquell regardless. Which isn't a bad thing. And it went very well with the delicious food.