Brewed for the first time in 1842, Pilsner is actually one of the newest beer styles. Its dramatically varying flavours and light, crisp, subtle taste make this universally-adored lager an excellent choice.
Ready to find out more about this beer’s heritage, hoppy taste and smash-hits? Keep reading!
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- What is the History of Pilsner Beer?
- What Kind of a Beer is a Pilsner?
- What Is The Difference Between A Pilsner And A Lager?
- What Does Pilsner Beer Taste Like?
- Different Types of Pilsners
- Highly Recommended Pilsners
- How to Serve Pilsner Beer
- Which Breweries Make the Best Pilsner Beers?
- What Foods Can You Pair with Pilsner Beer?
- Why You Should Drink Pilsner as Soon as Possible
What is the History of Pilsner Beer?
The name Pilsner (Pilsen in English) refers to a small town in the Czech Republic. Although beer has been brewed in Pilsen since the 1200s, they were all dark and the quality was inconsistent. To rectify this, people in Pilsen found a brewery in 1839 with the aim of brewing a brand-new type of beer using bottom-fermenting yeast and storing the liquid in cold ice caves. This aging process which is called ‘lagering’ produces clearer beers that endure for longer.
The Pilsen brewery recruited Joseph Groll, a Bavarian brewer, who, using the new fermentation techniques, introduced the first batch of beer in 1842. The world’s first blonde lager was called Plzensky Prazdroj or Pilsner Urquell in German and continues to be made at the same brewery today.
Factors contributing to this enjoyable new clear and golden beer were Pilsen’s soft water, local Saaz hops, paler malts and Bavarian lagering. Groll successfully kilned a malt so pale that it made a golden brew. He used copious amounts of Saaz hops, a bottom-fermenting lager yeast with soft water to produce a pale and clear Pilsner beer and this recipe is still used today.
The old-style dark beers continued to be serviced in wooden, metal or ceramic mugs but the clear, gold beer was served in glass vessels. At the same time, efficient glass manufacturing in Europe lowered the prices of glass which had previously been a luxury.
People were delighted to be able to drink in vessels that showcased the golden clarity of the beer. The advent of refrigeration in the late 19th century eliminated the need to store the beer in caves, enabling the brewing of cool fermenting beer in many other locations. In no time at all, the new beer became the rage in Europe and the style was imitated in the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and America.
What Kind of a Beer is a Pilsner?
Pilsners are light beers with bready and floral flavours and mild bitterness and ABV. A pilsner or pils is a type of pale lager beer as the result of carefully controlled lagering – the process by which lager beer is aged for extended periods at cold temperatures. Therefore while all pilsners are lagers, not all lagers are pilsners.
The ingredients in pilsner include soft water, Saaz hops and malty barley which gives pilsner a distinct spicy flavour. Pilsners are among the most difficult beers to make because the process involves complex brewing and fermenting. Getting a pilsner right is a mark of an excellent brewer.
- Colour – Pale, golden colour
- Common flavours – Medium to high Noble hop bitterness. Malty bread-like sweetness with herbal and floral notes and a crisp finish.Aroma – Bread or dough-like. Smells like the malt and hops used.
- Mouthfeel – Thin and carbonated, very crisp with a short finish.
- IBUs (Bitterness) – 25-50
- ABV – 4.4-6%
What Is The Difference Between A Pilsner And A Lager?
A lager is a type of beer made with yeast suited to bottom-fermenting at cold temperatures. The lager style varies in terms of how dark or light as well as how high or low the alcohol by volume (ABV) is for each beer type. Lagers are generally less hoppy than ale-style beers.
A pilsner is a type of light-coloured lager that maintains its bright colour during production. Like other lagers, pilsners are bottom-fermenting beers produced with a brewing process using cooler temperatures. To ferment at the bottom (lagering), the lager yeast spends a longer period at the bottom of a container. Pilsners are never dark – they are bright yellow and they are much smoother with more malt flavour than other beer styles.
What Does Pilsner Beer Taste Like?
Pilsners are great to drink in the summer because they are on the lighter side and do not have a heavy beer taste such as those produced in the Czech Republic. German pilsners have a crisp flavour and are somewhat darker with more bitterness.
The flavour depends on the wheat styles but pilsners are generally low in hops with a yeasty flavour. They have a malty-sweet aroma and taste with a hint of graininess and the finish is crisp, clean and refreshing.
Characteristics of pilsners include herbal and floral notes from the hops and a wheaty taste with hints of citrus and spice with mild bitterness and they range in ABV from 4.4-6%.
Different Types of Pilsners
There are four broad categories of pilsners:
- American pilsners have notes that are sweet, bready, and malty.
- Belgian pilsners are very light and smooth
- Czech pilsners taste like sweet bread and are sometimes referred to as a Bohemian pilsner.
- German pilsners typically taste more bitter than other pilsners and the flavour is somewhere between very light lagers and darker ales.
Czech brands include Pilsner Urquell, Budweiser Budvar (Czechvar in the United States)), Staropramen and Gambrinus.
German Pilsners are often referred to as ‘pils’ and are brewed all over from Munich to Hamburg. Popular brands include Bitburger, Warsteiner, Holsten, König, Jever, Beck’s and St. Pauli Girl.
Pilsners from Belgium and the Netherlands often have a sweeter taste and brands include Stella Artois, Jupiler, Heineken, Amstel and Grolsch.
American pilsners were brought over mostly by German immigrants who, at that time, used local water, hops, malts and corn to brew robust pilsners. When Prohibition wiped out many of these breweries, those that survived began making the watered-down, fizzy beers that have dominated the American market since World War II and some of the brands are Wayfinder, Perennial Pilsner, Trumer Pils and Aslan Coastal Pils.
Highly Recommended Pilsners
According to Joshua Bartlett, these are the most highly recommended pilsners:
The most highly recommended Pilsners are:
- Brand: Pilsner Urquell Brewery
- From: Plzeň, Czech Republic
- ABV: 4.4%
- IBU: 36
- Hops: Saaz
- Taste: It has a sweet malty and honey taste and subtle fruit and floral aromas. It has a crisp, clean mouthfeel.
- Brand: Victory Brewing Company
- From: Downingtown, Pennsylvania
- ABV: 5.3%
- IBU: 43
- Hops: Tettnang, Hallertau, Spalt, Saaz
- Taste: This German-style pilsner has spicy and floral notes, citrus and lemon and subtle bread notes with a peppery finish.
Lazy River Pils
- Brand: New Trail Brewing Company
- From: Williamsport, Pennsylvania
- ABV: 4.4%
- IBU: N/A
- Hops: German noble and American
- Taste: Brewed with German pilsner and malts, this has a light and refreshing taste with light bread, grain and citrus notes as well as a hint of lemon.
Mama’s Little Yella Pils
- Brand: Oskar Blues Brewery
- From: Lyons, Colorado
- ABV: 4.7%
- IBU: 33
- Hops: Saaz, Aramis
- Taste: Brewed with pilsner and honey, this pilsner has a sweet bread-like taste and the malt and hop balance results in a harmony of floral and sweet notes.
Live Oak Pilz
- Brand: Live Oak Brewing Company
- From: Austin, Texas
- ABV: 4.7%
- IBU: 36
- Hops: Saaz
- Taste: A clean and crisp taste with a floral and spicy taste.
- Brand: Firestone Walker Brewing Company
- From: Paso Robles, California
- ABV: 5.3%
- IBU: 40
- Hops: Spalter select, Tradition, Saphir (Kettle and Dry-hop)
- Taste: Aromatic floral and spicy, herby notes with hints of lemongrass.
- Brand: Sixpoint Brewery
- From: Brooklyn, New York
- ABV: 5.4%
- IBU: 44
- Hops: Tettnang, Hallertau
- Taste: Brewed with Cargill pilsner malt to create a crisp, clean taste. Mild herbal, grassy and lemon notes.
- Brand: North Coast Brewing Co.
- From: Fort Bragg, California
- ABV: 4.5%
- IBU: 22
- Hops: Hallertau, Tettnang
- Taste: This has a crisp, clean hop taste with floral, spicy and herb notes.
- Brand: Hill Farmstead Brewery
- From: Greensboro, Vermont
- ABV: 4.6%
- IBU: 60
- Hops: German hops
- Taste: Earthy and spicy notes from the German hops and malt used. Light citrus and bread notes with a hint of pepper.
- Brand: Revolution Brewing
- From: Chicago, Illinois
- ABV: 5.5%
- IBU: 45
- Hops: German hops
- Taste: Light and subtle taste of citrus and herbs with hop spice.
How to Serve Pilsner Beer
If you are drinking a pilsner, your best bet is using a flute but not a Champagne flute. Drink from a glass that has a conical shape, is narrow at the bottom and that opens a bit at the rim to clearly show the pilsner’s frothy head and straw-golden colour. A pilsner glass is best because it keeps a foamy head from breaking apart. It also showcases colour, clarity and carbonation because of its tall, slender shape.
Which Breweries Make the Best Pilsner Beers?
13 expert brewers were asked to rate their favourite pilsners and here are their picks:
- Alma Mader Premiant Czech-Style Pilsner
- Firestone Walker Pivo Pils
- Rothaus Tannenzäpfle
- Bierstadt Lagerhaus Slow Pour Pils
- Wayfinder Beer Czech AF
- Sierra Nevada Nooner
- Weihenstephaner Pils
- Ardent Craft Ales Pilsner
- Notch Brewing Desítka
- Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery Saaz Pils
- Wild East Brewing Co. Patience & Fortitude
- Ex Novo Perle Haggard
- Russian River STS Pils
What Foods Can You Pair with Pilsner Beer?
Pilsners can be herbal, floral and spicy so they pair well with spicy, complex food but they also go well with sweet, simple desserts.
Pilsner is delicious with many varieties of cheese including Monterey Jack, Muenster and Havarti and it is great with seafood, salads and fish such as trout, tuna and salmon. The bitterness of German pilsners pairs well with tangy cheeses like white cheddar. Pilsners are light so they do not overwhelm delicate flavours but hold their own with spicy food and barbecued meats.
The earthy hoppiness of a pilsner makes it a good match with similarly flavoured vegetables such as beetroot, asparagus and zucchini. Adding a little fatty cheese into your dishes will soften the beer’s bitterness. Pilsner goes down well with fried, fatty foods because the beer’s earthy bitterness contrasts with the deep, fried oiliness so pair your pilsner with fish and chips. Other delectable pairings include grilled shrimp flatbread, fish tacos and seared scallops.
Why You Should Drink Pilsner as Soon as Possible
Pilsner is not only great to drink before a meal but it goes well with all sorts of food. It is popular because of its gorgeous colour, bubbly carbonation, bready, malty body and aromas of spices and herbs that are highlighted by a crisp, dry finish.
What’s not to like?