True pilsners are soft, fragrant and complex, and express in their overall character a distinct contribution from each of the four basic beer ingredients: malt, hops, yeast and water. Water is mentioned in beer character only in special cases. This is one of them. The water of Bohemia is extremely soft, and this imparts a distinctly mellow profile all the way around, especially in the manifestation of the hops.
The prized malt grown in Moravia is considered by many to be the finest in the world. It may, in fact, be the forerunner of all pale continental European malt grown today. Some is malted using traditional floor-malting methods. It is relatively sweet and quite smooth, and is often under-modified by the maltster. This necessitates a complex and lengthy decoction mashing procedure that adds some extra color, richer flavor, and better mouthfeel than in most pale beers. The wort produces a finished beer in the range of 4.5 to 5.0 percent alcohol by volume (ABV).
No beer style showcases a specific type of hop more than a Bohemian pilsner. The finest hops are grown in the Zatec region in northwest Bohemia. They are known as Zatec red or Bohemian red, but might be most familiar by their German designation, Saaz. Their distinctive spicy, floral aroma and gentle bittering qualities make them an ideal hop for all kettle additions. The soft water erases the lingering bitterness that is common in most well-hopped beers. The aroma of a fresh pilsner is quite something to experience, like burying one’s head in a bag of fresh hops.
The yeast used in Bohemian pilsners, although a descendent of German bottom fermenters, ferments a little less crisp than its German counterparts. There is plenty of dextrinous body, a slight sweetness, and perhaps even a very light buttery (diacetyl) footprint in a Bohemian pilsner owing to the yeast.
The most famous of the Bohemian pilsners are Pilsner Urquell and Budvar (Czechvar in the U.S.), but the Czech Republic is loaded with breweries and pubs, most specializing in pilsners. Staropramen, Crystal, Lev, Lobkowicz, Rebel, and Primator are just a few available via export. A slow, steady amble through the Czech Republic would be a beer trip worthy of any in Germany, Belgium or the British Isles.