Pilsner vs Lager – Differences Between Pilsner and Lager Explained

- May 8, 2022

With hundreds of beer styles differentiated by color, flavor, and aroma, telling them apart can become confusing. To those who drink whatever’s available, the differences don’t matter. However, to you beer nerds, the pilsner vs. lager question has probably crossed your mind a few times. 

This post discusses the differences between a pilsner and a lager and what makes them similar. 

Pilsner vs Lager – Differences Between Pilsner and Lager

Pilsners and lagers seem like opposites. From their color to their taste, they have more in common than you think. 

All Pilsners Are Lagers, But Not All Lagers Are Pilsners. 

A pilsner is a lager but with a slight twist. The key difference is that pilsners use a different yeast and are a spicier, more hoppy lager due to the aggressive use of hops and the resulting more hop forward flavors.

However, the brewing process between a pilsner vs. lager is pretty similar. Both use bottom-fermenting yeast at cooler temperatures, letting the yeast ferment for longer at the bottom of the barrel.

This gives lagers (pilsners included) a high-quality aroma, flavor, and shelf life, making them one of the most commercially viable beers in the world due to how long they can last without expiring.

What Is a Lager?

Lager is a collective name for plenty of beer styles tracing their origins back to German immigrants who flooded the US back in the 19 century, bringing this lager style of beer with them. The word lager is derived from “lagern”, a German word that means “to store”.

A lager (pilsner included, but more on this later) is a kind of beer made with a type of yeast suited to bottom-fermenting at cold temperatures. Bottom fermenting beers need a rest period (called lagering) in cold conditions (around 33-34 °F), meaning the yeast “eats” slowly in colder temperatures.

The resulting drink is a smoother, crisper, lighter drink with fewer esters and phenols than ale. A lager’s color varies from light blonde to dark brown, with an ABV ranging from 0% to 10%.

5 Types of Lagers

What Is a Pilsner?

Pilsner (sometimes referred to as “pilsener” or “pils”) originated in the city of Plzeň (Pilsen) in the Czech Republic, thanks to Josef Groll. 

Picture this: you’ve waited ever so patiently for your beer to ferment, only for it to taste spoiled once done. The citizens of Plzeň had this exact predicament, which forced them to dump 36 casks after fermentation. Josef Groll, a Bavarian brewer, hit upon adding Saaz, a noble hop, to correct the bad taste and never looked back. It wasn’t long before this type of lager became popular amongst brewers throughout Bohemia, Germany, Europe, and the rest of the world. 

Pilsner, a light-colored lager, is a bottom-fermenting beer made through a carbonation and brewing process characterized by cooler temperatures. This lagering process lets the yeast ferment for longer at the bottom of the barrel. Pilsners then get an infusion of Saaz hops.

Hops have spicy aroma and spice flavor characteristics. Saaz hops, in particular, have a bite/kick that’s harder than what you get from Bud Light or a Budweiser. This gives pilsner lager a flavor-filled distinct spicy kick.

Types of Pilsners

Various countries and cultures worldwide have put different spins on the pilsner. The two most common pilsner styles are the German Pilsner and the Bohemian Pilsner. Here are five types of pilsners: 

  1. Czech pilsner: The original Josef Groll brewed pilsner is the Bohemian pilsner. It has a low to moderate carbonation, is a pale golden yellow, and has low-to-medium hop bitterness. It features a bready, malty, slightly sweet, toasted biscuit flavor. Bohemian Pilsners are the darkest in the Pilsner family despite their pale golden yellow color. 
  2. American pilsner: The American pilsner owes its origins to German immigrants who, in the 19th century, brought traditional pilsner brewing styles to the US. Today, the American Pilsner is brewed with “Up to 25% corn and rice” to represent the traditional American-Style Pilsner before prohibition. The result is a medium-to-low, toned-down, sweet malt flavor with fewer hops, flavor, and bitterness than classic European Pilsners.
  3. German pilsner: German Pilsners (often referred to as Pils in Germany) are adapted from Czech Pilseners. However, they switched things up to suit Germany’s domestic hops and mineral water. The result is that German Pilsners are more bitter than other pilsners, are more carbonated, lighter, and less hoppy than Czech pilsners.
  4. European pilsner: Although not as common as German Pils or the Czech Pilsner. Europe boasts popular pilsner brands that are generally very light and smooth. It is slightly sweeter than the German Pils or the Czech Pilsner, and the brewing process can involve grains other than barley malt. Dutch pilsners and Belgian Pilsners fall into this sub-style.
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