Pilsner Beer Style Guide | VinePair

Pilsner


Pilsner Beer Style Guide

Pilsner beers have a pretty well documented history (some Pilsner origin stories even begin with the founding of Plzeň, in the former Kingdom of Bohemia, home of Good King Wenceslas himself). But we’re not writing a history paper here, we’re writing about beer, and the most important thing is that after the Pilsner style emerged—the original was the Bohemian or Czech Pilsner—it erupted in popularity, and remains a globally adored beer style.

Czech Pilsner Essential Info

  • Color: Pale yellow to light gold
  • ABV: 4.5%-5.5%
  • Commercial Examples: Pilsner Urquell, Oskar Blues Mama’s Little Yella Pils, Lagunitas PILS

The O.G. of the Pilsner style, Czech (or Bohemian) Pilsner was the brainchild of Josef Groll, who combined Bavarian bottom-fermenting lager yeasts, lighter malts, and spicy Saaz hops for the first time in 1842 and (we assume) never looked back. The style travelled rapidly through Europe and eventually to America, but today the Czech Pilsner is still thoroughly available, with a flavor profile that’s a balance of soft malts with the spicy, floral Saaz hops and sometimes some good grassiness. There’s a bitterness that’s more bracing than aggressive, but the finish is nice and clean. (Groll was clearly onto something.)

German Pilsner Essential Info

  • Color: Pale yellow to light gold
  • ABV: 4.5%-5.5%
  • Commercial Examples: Bitburger, Jever Pilsener, Victory Prima Pils

German Pilsner, aka Pilsener, aka “Pils,” is the style that became popular after Bohemian Pilsner (made with German lager yeasts) took off. Made with Pilsner malt, the German style could be made with Saaz or any combination of German Noble Hops, resulting in a style that’s a bit more hop-forward than the Czech Pils. Malts, even some malty sweetness, may make an appearance, as can clean, delicate citrusy flavors, but the hops are the star, making for a clean, crisp beer that refreshes the palate. Commercial varieties abound, but you’ll do better with German or American craft versions.

American Imperial Pilsner Essential Info

  • Color: Gold
  • ABV: 6.5%-9%
  • Commercial Examples: Sam Adams Hallertau Imperial Pilsner, Dogfish Head My Antonia, Heavy Seas Small Craft Warning Uber Pils

When you love something, but you’re moving, you take it with you, right? Well, that’s what Germans did with their German Pilsners when they came to America. And while that brought about a Classic American Pilsner style that’s not as much seen today outside of homebrewing, it also eventually led to the development of the American Imperial Pilsner. A product of the craft beer movement, the American Imperial Pilsner is a kind of lovingly turned-up version of the Pilsner style with more aggressive flavors, hops, and (of course) alcohol. (Remember, “imperial” is basically shorthand for “stronger.”) To be true to the Pilsner’s origins, hops will more likely favor European (not American) styles, with a higher level of spice and bitterness playing around with some citrus and even some sweet malt flavors.