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For many beer enthusiasts, the terms pilsner and lager are often used interchangeably. However, it’s important to understand that while all pilsners are lagers, not all lagers are pilsners.

In this article, we’ll explore the differences between pilsners and lagers in terms of taste and craft. We’ll delve into the origins of each style, their brewing processes, and the distinct flavor profiles that set them apart.

Key Takeaways:

  • Pilsners are a type of lager, but not all lagers are pilsners.
  • The differences between pilsners and lagers are important to understand for beer enthusiasts.
  • In this article, we’ll explore the taste and craft differences between the two styles.

What is a Pilsner?

If you’re a beer enthusiast, chances are you’ve come across Pilsner beer at some point. But what exactly is a Pilsner, and how does it differ from other beer styles like lagers? A Pilsner is a type of pale lager beer that originated in the city of Pilsen in the Czech Republic in the mid-19th century. It is a bottom-fermented beer that is brewed using a specific combination of malted barley, hops, and water.

One of the defining characteristics of a Pilsner is its light and crisp taste. It has a slightly bitter flavor with a mild sweetness and a dry finish. The color of a Pilsner ranges from pale gold to light amber and it has a moderate level of carbonation.

To be classified as a Pilsner, the beer must meet certain brewing specifications. For example, the beer must be brewed with soft water to achieve its distinct flavor profile. Additionally, Pilsners are typically brewed using Saaz hops, a variety that is native to the Czech Republic. These hops have a subtle spicy and earthy flavor that contributes to the unique taste of Pilsner beer.

Overall, Pilsner beer is a refreshing and easy-to-drink style that is popular around the world. Its distinct characteristics make it stand out from other beer styles, and its rich history and cultural significance make it a beloved choice among beer enthusiasts.

What is a Lager?

A lager is a beer style that originated in Germany and refers to any beer that is fermented and conditioned at low temperatures. Lager beers are generally lighter in color and have a cleaner, crisper taste than other beer styles. The term “lager” comes from the German word lagern, which means “to store,” as lagers are typically aged for a longer period of time than other beers.

There are several different varieties of lagers, including:

Type of Lager Description
Pilsner A light, crisp beer with a slightly bitter taste and a floral aroma. Pilsners are the most popular type of lager and are known for their clean taste and golden color.
Helles A German lager that is slightly sweeter and less bitter than a pilsner. Helles has a light golden color and a smooth, refreshing taste.
Marzen A darker beer with a rich, malty flavor. Marzen was traditionally brewed in March and stored in cool caves or cellars until it was ready to be consumed in the fall.

Unlike ales, which are fermented at warmer temperatures for shorter periods of time, lagers are fermented at much cooler temperatures for longer periods of time. This slower fermentation process allows for a cleaner, crisper taste and a smoother mouthfeel.

While pilsners are a type of lager, there are several key differences that distinguish them from other lager beers. In the next section, we will explore the defining characteristics of a pilsner beer.

Taste Differences Between Pilsners and Lagers

While both pilsners and lagers fall under the category of pale beers, there are notable taste differences between the two styles. Pilsners are known for their crisp, clean taste, with a subtle bitterness that lingers on the palate. The use of noble hops, such as Saaz, gives pilsners their distinctive herbal, floral notes. On the other hand, lagers have a smoother, sweeter taste with a milder hop profile. This is due to the use of different hop varieties such as Hallertau and Tettnang, which contribute to a more subdued flavor profile.

One of the main differences between the two styles is the yeast used in fermentation. Pilsners are fermented with bottom-fermenting yeast, which results in a cleaner and crisper taste. Lagers, on the other hand, are fermented with top-fermenting yeast, which contributes to a fuller, smoother taste profile.

The ABV (alcohol by volume) content of pilsners and lagers can also vary. Pilsners typically have a slightly higher ABV content than lagers, ranging from 4.5% to 6%. Lagers, on the other hand, tend to have a lower ABV content, ranging from 3% to 5%.

Overall, the taste differences between pilsners and lagers may seem subtle, but they are significant enough to distinguish the two styles. Beer enthusiasts can expand their knowledge and appreciation for both styles by exploring the nuances of their taste profiles.

The Brewing Process of Pilsners vs Lagers

The brewing process of pilsners and lagers has a significant impact on their taste and craft. While both styles share some similarities, there are also notable differences.

The first step in the brewing process is selecting the ingredients. Pilsners and lagers are both brewed with malted barley, but pilsners typically use a lighter malt that results in a more delicate flavor. Lagers, on the other hand, can use a variety of malts depending on the desired flavor profile.

The mashing process is also different for pilsners and lagers. Pilsners typically undergo a single infusion mash, while lagers may undergo step mashing or decoction mashing to extract the desired flavors and sugars.

Fermentation is another key step in the brewing process, and it differs between pilsners and lagers. Pilsners are typically fermented at cooler temperatures (around 45-50°F) using a specific yeast strain that produces a cleaner, crisper taste. Lagers, on the other hand, use a different yeast strain and are fermented at slightly warmer temperatures (around 50-55°F) for a longer period of time.

Finally, conditioning is where the flavors and aromas fully develop. Pilsners are conditioned at lower temperatures for a shorter period of time, while lagers are conditioned at slightly warmer temperatures for a longer period of time. This process allows for the flavors to fully develop and the beer to become smoother and more refined.

Understanding the technical aspects of the brewing process is essential in appreciating the craft behind pilsners and lagers. By learning the nuances of each style, beer enthusiasts can gain a deeper appreciation for the skill and expertise required to produce high-quality beer.

Historical Origins of Pilsners and Lagers

Pilsners and lagers have rich histories that span several centuries. Pilsners originated in the Czech town of Pilsen in the early 19th century, where they were first brewed using local Saaz hops and soft water from underground wells. The result was a clean, crisp beer with a golden color that quickly gained popularity throughout Europe.

Lagers, on the other hand, have a longer history, dating back to the Middle Ages in Germany. The name “lager” comes from the German word “lagern,” which means “to store.” This is because lagers are brewed using a bottom-fermenting yeast that requires cooler temperatures and longer periods of aging than other styles of beer. This process was originally used to ensure that beer could be stored for longer periods of time without spoiling, making it a popular choice for sailors and other seafarers.

While pilsners and lagers have distinct origins, they share several similarities in terms of brewing techniques. Both styles rely on a careful balance of malted barley, hops, and yeast, along with specific temperature and aging requirements that contribute to their unique flavor profiles. Additionally, both styles have evolved over time to incorporate new ingredients and brewing methods, resulting in a wide variety of options for beer lovers.

Key Points:

  • Pilsners originated in Pilsen, Czech Republic in the early 19th century, while lagers have a longer history dating back to the Middle Ages in Germany.
  • Lagers are brewed using a bottom-fermenting yeast and require cooler temperatures and longer periods of aging than other styles of beer.
  • Both pilsners and lagers rely on specific ingredients and temperature requirements to achieve their distinctive flavor profiles.
  • Both styles have continued to evolve over time, resulting in a wide variety of options for beer enthusiasts.

Craftsmanship: Pilsners vs Lagers

While both pilsners and lagers undergo a similar brewing process, there are distinct differences in their craftsmanship that result in unique flavor profiles. Pilsners are brewed using a specific type of malt, Saaz hops, and a bottom-fermenting yeast, which gives them a crisp, clean taste with a noticeable bitterness. Lagers, on the other hand, are brewed with a wider variety of malts and hops, giving them a more complex flavor profile.

The brewing process for lagers is also longer and requires more attention to detail. The fermentation process for lagers occurs at colder temperatures than pilsners, which requires more precise temperature control. Additionally, lagers are conditioned for several weeks to several months, allowing for a smoother taste and increased clarity. This longer conditioning process is not required for pilsners.

Overall, the craftsmanship behind both pilsners and lagers is crucial in achieving their unique characteristics. The specific ingredients, brewing techniques, and attention to detail required in their production makes them stand out in the world of beer.

Popular Examples of Pilsners and Lagers

Now that we have explored the taste and craft differences between pilsners and lagers, let’s take a look at some of the most popular examples of each style. Below are some acclaimed offerings from various breweries:


Brewery Name ABV IBU
Pilsner Urquell Pilsner Urquell 4.4% 40
Firestone Walker Brewing Company Pivo Pils 5.3% 40
Victory Brewing Company Prima Pils 5.3% 44

These pilsners showcase the crisp, clean taste and subtle hop bitterness that defines this style. Pilsner Urquell is a classic example, originating from the Czech Republic and widely considered the world’s first pilsner. Firestone Walker’s Pivo Pils has a hop-forward profile that combines traditional German and Czech brewing techniques. Victory’s Prima Pils uses German hops and pilsner malt to create a refreshing and balanced brew.


Brewery Name ABV IBU
Budweiser Budweiser 5% 12
Samuel Adams Boston Lager 5% 30
Yuengling Traditional Lager 4.5% 12

These lagers showcase the smooth, easy-drinking character that is synonymous with this style. Budweiser is a household name, with its light body and crisp taste. Samuel Adams’ Boston Lager is a flagship brew for the company, featuring a caramel malt sweetness and spicy hop finish. Yuengling’s Traditional Lager is a Pennsylvania favorite, with a subtle hop aroma and balanced malt profile.

These are just a few examples of the diverse offerings within the pilsner and lager categories. With so many flavorful and expertly crafted options available, there’s no shortage of delicious beer to explore and enjoy!

Pairing Pilsners and Lagers with Food

One of the joys of drinking beer is pairing it with the right food. When it comes to pilsners and lagers, their taste profiles make them ideal for certain food pairings. Here are some suggestions:


  • Spicy foods: Pilsners have a crispness that can help cut through the heat of spicy dishes like Thai curries or Mexican tacos.
  • Seafood: The light, refreshing taste of pilsners makes them a perfect match for seafood dishes like shrimp scampi or fish tacos.
  • Salads: Pilsners pair well with salads that have a light dressing, like a classic Caesar salad or a summer salad with fresh greens and berries.


  • Grilled meats: Lagers have a malt sweetness that pairs well with the charred flavors of grilled meats like burgers, sausages, and steaks.
  • Pizza: The crispness of lagers complements the savory toppings of pizza, making it a classic pairing.
  • Barbecue: Whether it’s pulled pork or baby back ribs, lagers are a great match for the smoky, sweet flavors of barbecue.

Of course, these are just suggestions, and everyone’s taste preferences are different. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different food and beer pairings to find what works best for you.

Exploring the Future of Pilsners and Lagers

As the craft beer industry continues to expand and evolve, so do the possibilities for pilsners and lagers. Brewers are experimenting with new techniques and ingredients, pushing the boundaries of traditional styles while still maintaining their core characteristics.

One emerging trend in the world of pilsners is the use of local and sustainable ingredients. Craft breweries are sourcing hops and grains from nearby farms, creating unique flavor profiles that reflect their community. Additionally, many breweries are experimenting with dry-hopping techniques to impart more hop aroma and flavor into their pilsners.

Lagers, meanwhile, are experiencing a resurgence in popularity among craft beer enthusiasts. Brewers are exploring the different styles of lagers from around the world, such as German dunkels and bocks, and infusing them with new flavors and ingredients. There is also a growing interest in barrel-aging lagers, which can impart complex and nuanced flavors.

Another exciting development in the world of pilsners and lagers is the use of wild yeasts and spontaneous fermentation. By allowing natural yeasts to ferment the beer, brewers can create unique and unpredictable flavor profiles. This technique, popularized by Belgian lambic breweries, is now being applied to pilsners and lagers, resulting in a new generation of “wild” beers.

Overall, the future of pilsners and lagers is bright and full of possibility. With creative experimentation and a deep respect for tradition, craft brewers are expanding the boundaries of these classic beer styles and bringing new and exciting flavors to beer enthusiasts everywhere.


Throughout this article, we have explored the differences between pilsners and lagers in terms of taste and craft.

Understanding the unique characteristics of each style is crucial for beer enthusiasts to develop a discerning palate and appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into brewing these beers.

Whether it’s the crisp, hoppy bite of a pilsner or the smooth, malty finish of a lager, each style has its own distinct flavor profile that sets it apart.

We have also discussed the origins and historical significance of these beer styles, providing readers with a cultural and historical context for their enjoyment.

As the craft beer industry continues to evolve, we can expect new trends and innovations to emerge, leading to exciting new flavor profiles within both pilsners and lagers.

Overall, the differences between pilsners and lagers are subtle yet significant, making them both unique and enjoyable in their own way. So next time you’re looking for a refreshing beer to pair with your favorite dish, consider trying a pilsner or a lager and savoring the nuanced flavors and expert craftsmanship.


Q: What is the difference between a pilsner and a lager?

A: While all pilsners are lagers, not all lagers are pilsners. Pilsner is a specific type of lager that originated in the Czech Republic. Lagers, on the other hand, are a broader category of beers that includes various styles. Pilsners are typically lighter in color and have a more crisp and hoppy flavor compared to other lagers.

Q: What are the main characteristics of a pilsner beer?

A: Pilsner beers are known for their light golden color, medium to high carbonation, and a clean, crisp flavor. They are typically brewed using pale malts and Saaz hops, which contribute to their distinct hoppy aroma and flavor. Pilsners have a smooth mouthfeel and a balanced bitterness that is well-suited for easy drinking.

Q: How is a lager beer different from other beer styles?

A: Lagers are a type of beer that undergoes a specific fermentation process at cooler temperatures. This results in a beer that is typically lighter in color, has a cleaner and smoother flavor profile, and a crisper finish compared to ales. Lagers are known for their drinkability and are often characterized by their well-balanced flavors.

Q: What are the taste differences between pilsners and lagers?

A: Pilsners generally have a more pronounced hop bitterness and aroma compared to other lagers. They can also have a slightly sweet maltiness and a dry, crisp finish. Other lagers may vary in terms of flavor profile, ranging from light and refreshing to richer and more complex. Overall, the taste differences between pilsners and lagers lie in the balance of flavors and the intensity of hop bitterness.

Q: How are pilsners and lagers brewed differently?

A: Pilsners and lagers are brewed using similar techniques, but with some variations. Pilsners, specifically, are brewed with a specific strain of lager yeast and undergo a longer fermentation process at colder temperatures. This helps to develop the clean and crisp flavor profile associated with pilsners. Lagers, in general, require a longer conditioning period compared to ales, resulting in a smoother and more refined beer.

Q: What is the historical significance of pilsners and lagers?

A: Pilsners originated in the Czech town of Pilsen in the 19th century, where the first golden, clear lager was created. This innovation revolutionized the brewing industry and paved the way for the popularity of lagers worldwide. Lagers, in general, have a rich history and are deeply rooted in European brewing traditions.

Q: How do pilsners and lagers showcase craftsmanship?

A: Brewing high-quality pilsners and lagers requires attention to detail and a focus on precision. From selecting the right ingredients to controlling fermentation temperatures and conditioning times, brewers must carefully orchestrate the brewing process to achieve the desired flavor profiles. Crafting a well-balanced pilsner or lager requires skill and expertise.

Q: Can you provide some examples of popular pilsners and lagers?

A: Popular examples of pilsners include Pilsner Urquell, Stella Artois, and Bitburger. As for lagers, some well-known brands include Budweiser, Coors, and Heineken. However, there are countless craft breweries that produce exceptional pilsners and lagers with unique flavor profiles.

Q: What are some recommended food pairings for pilsners and lagers?

A: Pilsners are often paired with lighter dishes such as seafood, salads, and grilled chicken. Their crisp and refreshing qualities complement these foods well. Lagers, on the other hand, can be versatile and pair well with a range of cuisines and flavors, including burgers, pizza, and spicy dishes.

Q: How do you see the future of pilsners and lagers evolving?

A: As the craft beer industry continues to grow, we can expect to see new and innovative approaches to brewing pilsners and lagers. Brewers may experiment with different hop varieties, aging techniques, and adjunct ingredients to create unique flavor profiles. Additionally, there may be a resurgence of traditional brewing methods and a focus on preserving the heritage of these beer styles.

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