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Lager Vs Pilsner: What Is The Difference Between The Two?

Dec 2021 | Last modified: November 14, 2023 | 7 min read | By David Scott

pilsner and lager beer cans

When you walk the isles of your favorite liquor store, it’s hard not to see the huge variety and styles of beers lining the shelves and staring you in the face.

But what you might not realize is that only two beer styles, lagers and ales, make up the majority of these beers that you see.

You’ll be surprised to know that they are much more similar than you think. In fact, a pilsner is part of the lager family tree, but with a slight twist.

Difference Between Pilsner and Lager

So, what is the difference between lagers and pilsners?

Pilsners are simply a more hop-flavored and a spicier version of a lager. A pilsner is in fact a kind of lager that originated in the Czech Republic. The main contrast between the two beers is the different types of yeast used and the abundant amount of hops that is added to make pilsners.

They are one of the most popular styles amongst the noble hops beer varieties.

The definition of Lager in German means to “to store.” The name comes from a technique breweries in Germany used in the 19th century. The Germans built cellars filled with ice and chilled the beer even during the hot summer months. It was a perfect temperature for the fermentation of lagers.

A pilsner is simply a lager that was adopted at a later time. Compared to lagers, the pilsner is a pale lager with a golden light color and large foam. The dark lagers tend to be very dark in color even some as dark as black. Pilsners are made with malted barley and often have a hoppier flavor to give them a stronger characteristic of taste, aroma, and a foamier head.

Pilsner and Lager Fermentation

As a comparison, an ale will ferment with a top-fermenting yeast ferment at a much shorter time, and in a warmer environment.

But a pilsner and a lager require cold fermentation with bottom-fermenting yeast and longer periods of cold storage. This usually results in a clear, crisp, and refreshing beer. This is likely the reason why these styles of beer are some of the most popular around the world for commercial consumption.

If you are interested in brewing your own lager or pilsner, just know that they are not the easiest and fastest beer to make, especially for a new homebrewer.

What Is a Lager: Characteristics and Types

Lager beers are served cold and have an accentuated taste. Fermentation happens at lower temperatures using special yeasts known as “bottom-fermenting” strands. The many shades of lager range from a toasted hue to black.

Aroma and Color

The aroma of hops dominates its dry finish with a light pale golden color.

Taste

Crisp and dry with notable malt character along with hints of hop. It is perfect as a palate cleanser when eating foods such as seafood, herbed chicken, cheese plates, lemon-based desserts, and chips.

How To Serve a Lager

To serve a lager beer properly, fill a glass at a 45-degree angle. The experts say to serve at an ideal temperature of 38 degrees for the best flavor, but for many beer drinkers, the colder the better.

Choose an American shaker or pint glass, which will usually holds 16 ounces.

Variations of Lagers

  • American Lager has minimal or no bitterness, a light body. It has little or no malt aroma and can be grainy and sweet.
  • Vienna Style Lager has a reddish-brown or copper color. It has a slight hint of malty sweetness and a medium body. The aroma and flavor from the malt give it a toasty character. This beer has a caramelized but subtle malt character.
  • California Common Lager uses the same yeast as other lagers, but is fermented at ale temperatures. It has a good level of toasted malt character in flavor and aroma.
  • Marzen-Style Lager originated in Bavaria. It is traditionally served at the Munich Oktoberfest. It is thinner and crisper with amber-colored malt. A rich and sweet taste makes it refreshing and very popular.

Get Inspired From These Popular Lager Brands

  • American Budweiser
  • Jamaican Lager Red Stripe
  • Hacker-Pschorr Oktoberfest
  • Molson XXX
  • Weihenstephaner Festbier
  • Bell’s Lager Beer

What Is a Pilsner: Characteristics and Types

Pilsners are quite refreshing ideal for cleansing the palate with meals. It is light in color that ranges from light straw to light golden. It has a spicy flavor that comes from Saaz hops.

Aroma and Color

It has a pale straw color to light golden color with a dominant hop aroma and malty sweet hints.

Taste

The pilsner’s malty sweetness along with its hop bitterness at a medium to high intensity make it a great thirst quencher. The yeasty flavor is light, perfect for the summer season.

Pilsners are great before a meal and it pairs deliciously with curry dishes, fish and chips, boiled shellfish, and BBQ.

How to Serve a Pilsner

To properly serve this beer, start by using a pilsner glass. A pilsner glass is a tall and slender glass that is usually smaller in size than it’s pint glass cousin. The shape of the glass is intended to show the color and the carbonation of the beer, while maintaining the foam head.

You want to fill the glass quickly at a 45-degree angle and let the foam rest for about one minute. To enjoy the best flavor, a pilsner is ideally served at a temperature of 38 degrees.

Some Variations of Pilsners

  • Czech (or Bohemian) Pilsner has a hint similar to sweetened bread. The Czech pilsner is named Bohemian after a region in Czech Republic.
  • American Pilsner has toned-down flavors compared to the European pilsner. It has sweet, malty, and bready notes.
  • German Bock Pilsner has a high level of malt sweetness. It is balanced by the toasted or nutty hints of the malt.
  • Belgian Pilsner is light and smooth and is very highly preferred amongst popular pilsner commercial brands.

Get Inspired From These Popular Pilsner Brands

  • Alma Mader Premiant Czech-Style Pilsner
  • Firestone Walker Pivo Pils
  • Sierra Nevada Nooner
  • Ardent Craft Ales Pilsner
  • Rothaus Tannenzäpfle

FAQ

Is Budweiser a Pilsner?

If you are wondering if Budweiser is a lager or pilsner, it is an American pale lager, but its origins come from pilsner-brewing European styles. Americans adopted the beer with local ingredients to create a slightly different style than the original pilsner type of the old world.

Is Corona Light a Pilsner?

Corona Light is a light and refreshing beer that is one of the most popular beers from Mexico. Corona is known as a pilsner-style lager that contains a honey fruity aroma. Its light characteristic makes it perfect for pairing with citrus dishes and garnishes.

Which is More Popular: Lager or Pilsner?

Compared to pilsners, lager beers are much more popular, taking about 87% of the beer market in the United States.

Although IPAs (Imperial Pale Ales) are gaining popularity throughout the United States and Europe, lagers are the most popular beer types in the world. However, you have to remember that lagers come in a vast variety of subtypes that make it a diverse style.

What is the Shelf Life of Lagers and Pilsners?

Typically, because pilsners fall under the lager style of beer, they both have similar shelf lives. It is best to consume these types of beers 120 to 180 days after packaging. Some beers may stay fresh for up to two years if refrigerated properly.

Final Say

Although very similar, you’ll find many variations to suit your particular preference. Keep in mind that a pilsner is a specific type of lager, it just has a more hoppy character that makes it spicier.

Think of a pilsner as bursting with a stronger flavor because of the use of Saaz hops. This is why every pilsner does not taste like every lager. Noble hops are like using spices that enhance the floral and spicy flavor.

Now that you know the difference between a lager and pilsner, you can appreciate their unique characteristics and flaunt your knowledge at your next homebrewers meeting!

Cheers!

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