There’s an ongoing debate on how to pair food and beer. Some argue that cheap, watery beer goes best with food, and while we don’t exactly agree with this point per se, there’s an underlying truth to the fact that beers with neutrality (unsurprisingly) taste well with a wide variety of flavor profiles. Why? Because softer, less aggressive beers are happy standing in the background of whatever dish is front and center.
While we don’t believe pilsners are ‘neutral’ in the sense that they’re tasteless, these Czech-born beers are pretty universally easy to appreciate. Their grassy, lemon flavors are easy companions for summer salads, picnic snacks, or even lighter barbecue. But don’t conflate easy with flavorless! A good pilsner displays just the right proportions of sweetness, spice, and crispness. Don’t fall trap to the one-step-above-filtered-water pilsners. Instead, prep an outdoor summer feast and enjoy one of these bright, balanced sippers.
1. Lagunitas Pils
While pilsners typically aren’t too hopped, Lagunitas Pils is pretty bitter for the style. If you’re an IPA swigger, Lagunitas Pils might be the pilsner for you. Brewed with a healthy dose of Saaz hops, this light beer has a delectable sweet bitterness along with spicy, fruity flavors. The gentle, hopped sting goes well with bitter veggies like chard or bok choy, and salads with tangy dressings.
2. Pilsner Urquell
A sip of this frothy, yellow pilsner yields bread, malt, and fresh cut grass. While Urquell (which reminds us a lot of Urkel) has a solid backbone, it’s also perfectly content being a beer that’s passed around and enjoyed without fanfare. Because of its yeasty undertones, this Czech beer is an optimal sidekick for a Mediterranean spread like pita hummus or pizza on the grill.
This tart pilsener tastes like it was freshly yanked from the ground. Jever has a special, subtle herbaceousness. Yes, there’s grass. But there’s also mint and spice – great for a rosemary rubbed rack of ribs or herb-basted rotisserie chicken. Despite the slightly sweet (and yes, at times a bit skunked) flavor, Jever has a dry finish, a nice perk that will cleanse your barbecue-stuffed mouth.
4. Oskar Blues Mama’s Little Yella Pils
We’re all for a good pun, a convenient can, and an excellent craft American pilsner rolled into one awesome product. Mama’s Little Yella Pils leaves bread and biscuit flavors at home in favor of a blooming floral nose and a supremely refreshing palate with plenty of citrus to go around. Although technically not a session beer (MLYP caps in at 5.3%), we’re ready to drink a few cans of this in lazy, summer succession.
5. Sierra Nevada Summerfest BEST ON A BUDGET
Contrary to some of the more bold craft brews out there, Sierra Nevada’s Summerfest announces exactly what’s within the bottle: a perfectly quaffable summer sipper. This pilsner contains tropical fruit like banana that’s more commonly found in wheat beer, along with a smidge of hoppiness and lemon. At $8 a six-pack, you can afford to be on summer vacation all year long.
6. Steam Whistle
To those who hate on Canada, we bring you a foot to stick in your mouth. Steam Whistle Pilsner isn’t a pretty pilsner that dances around your tongue. Rather, it’s a flavor bomb. You’ll taste blatant alcohol, hops, citrus, baked bread, and ripe fruit. Like Lagunitas Pils, this is a pilsner that’s great for someone who generally prefers more forthright, hoppy beers. It’s also the perfect beer if you’re a loyal Canadian.
7. Neumarkter Lammsbräu Pilsner BEST OVERALL
This German beer is organic, but that’s not why we love it. We’re googly-eyed over the fresh fruit palate, which is bursting with raspberries, strawberries, and apple. A little hibiscus along with grainy heartiness complete the complex taste of this outstanding brew. Weirdly enough, this beer has the ability to taste chilled even while being served lukewarm, because it’s just that crisp. Thumbs up for having an animal on the bottle.
8. Victory Prima Pils
Pilsner, meet seafood, seafood, meet Prima Pils. If you prefer trout or salmon as opposed to meat or poultry on the grill, Prima Pils is the choice for you. There’re plenty of succulent fruit, like ripe melon and tart grapefruit – a great foil for the pungent minerality found in different kinds of fish. For this very reason Prima Pils is also an ideal oyster mating beer. Pairing abilities aside, this is a knockout standalone beer with medium body and abundant foam.
9. Sly Fox Pikeland Pils
Like Mama’s Yella Pils, this is another delightful canned option. The flavor profile is straightforward: grass, wheat, citrus, and bread – but sometimes, simplicity is a beautiful thing. Pikeland Pils isn’t a beer the demands domination of the conversation, so serve it as an appetizer or for dessert, like a digestif that caps off a delicious meal with friends.