What’s A Pilsner?

Pilsners. You’ve heard of them, and now you want to learn more about them! So, let’s learn.

Perhaps my favorite lager, the Pilsner (often referred to by beer drinkers as a pils) is technically a pale or blond lager. If you know anything about lagers, you may be saying to yourself, “hey, most lagers are pale and blond.” Hey, you may even be pale and blond. I am (depending on who you ask).

But no, we aren’t Pilsners.

To know exactly what the Pilsner is, we should look back at the interesting history of Pilsners. It all starts way back in 1842…

History of Pilsners

If you read any of my lager week pieces, then you might remember that lagers are common in countries like Germany and Austria. The style adheres to the German Purity Law, and it’s one of the region’s greatest gifts to the world.

Extending that gift, Bavarian beer brewer Josef Groll relocated his genius to the city of Pilsen, located not far from Prague, in what is now the Czech Republic.

Some of you see where this is going.

The Pilsner draws its name directly from Pilsen. It’d be like a genius brewer coming to Seattle and naming a beer the Seattler. Literally that same level of imagination. But hey, now we’ll never forget it!

What does a Pilsner taste like?

The best way to profile a Pilsner is to think about a Pilsner. And nothing is more Pilsner-y than Pilsner Urquell, which is essentially the first Pilsner ever.

Pilsner Urquell is a pale lager hopped with Saaz hops. This is a popular type of hop used today, although plenty of variations exist.

Like every Pilsner has after it, Pilsner Urquell abandoned the warm fermentation process used in of-the-era Bavarian beers. This cold fermentation process led to a lighter color and body, along with a crisper flavor.

In my opinion, Pilsners are among the best, if not the best, style of lager available. But hey, I may be biased due to my visit to Prague where I drank fresh Pilsner Urquell (jealous?).

Why doesn’t everyone brew Pilsners?

As far as I can tell, Pilsners aren’t particularly easy to make. As one brewer I asked about Pilsners said, “a lot can go wrong.” I believe that.

I won’t pretend to understand the entire brewing process, but from what I can gather, the temperature of the brew while its brewing is key. If it gets too hot or too cold, the flavor (and beer quality) can drop.

Another reason not everyone brews Pilsners? Well, there isn’t a ton of room for creativity. The Pilsner is a very specific style that just doesn’t have as much room for variation as other styles of beer. Many brewers love and embrace creativity, and they should.

Even though Pilsners are relatively tough to make and not very versatile, plenty of brewers still make the beer today. Why? Because it’s delicious! With summer coming up, Pilsners should be on everyone’s summer beer short list.

Thomas Short
Latest posts by Thomas Short (see all)

2 thoughts on “What’s A Pilsner?”

  1. One other point on why not everyone brews Pilsners. Traditionally, a lager is fermented cooler then an ale. While ales are typically fermented in the mid to upper 60’s (Fahrenheit) range, lagers are normally fermented in the low to mid 50’s (Fahrenheit)

    For the homebrewer, this can create a bit of a challenge if they don’t have the means to control fermentation temperatures. Of course there’s quite a bit of evidence out there that you can indeed ferment a lager at ale temperatures.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *