For 175 years we’ve been making Pilsner Urquell with the same four locally sourced ingredients: water, grain, yeast and Saaz hops. From these simple beginnings, a revolutionary beer was born.
Each ingredient serves its own important purpose, but the Saaz hops are especially irreplaceable. Their unique characteristics go a long way to making Pilsner’s flavour and aroma immediately recognisable. But what really makes Saaz hops so special?
Saaz hops are named after the Czech city of Saaz, or Žatec in Czech, where these hops are cultivated. They’re one of only four types of “noble” hops in the world, which refers to Central European hops that are high in aroma and low in bitterness. Considered aromatic hops rather than bittering hops because of their low acid content, Saaz hops are added late in the brewing process to lend their particular fragrance to the beer.
Hops are like seasoning. The flowers of the hop plant give the beer aroma, flavour and bitterness. The exact qualities of any beer depends in large part on the hops. When Joseph Groll was creating the recipe for the world’s first golden lager back in 1842, he chose Saaz hops because of their delicately spicy aroma. The oils in Saaz hops give Pilsner a light herbal essence, while the high content of polyphenols helps preserve the beer, which was especially important in the days before widespread refrigeration.
Of course, it didn’t hurt that the fields where Saaz hops are grown and harvested are only about an hour up the road from where we brew Pilsner Urquell. It seems that even in the 19th century brewers knew the importance of provenance and local ingredients. We grow all our hops in Saaz and we always have. These hops are sought-after around the world for their distinct properties, so we’ve never had to look anywhere else for the highest quality ingredients for our beer.
Joseph Groll’s decision to use Saaz hops changed the world of brewing forever. The singular flavour balance of Pilsner Urquell, just a bit bitter and not too sweet, as well as its light, hoppy aroma have made pilsner-style lagers the most admired and most consumed type of beer in the world. No wonder Czechs call Saaz hops “green gold.” So the next time you’re enjoying a freshly poured Pilsner Urquell, thank the tiny green hop flowers from the small town of Saaz in the heart of the Czech Republic.