Pilsner vs. Lager: What’s the difference?

lager beer

When looking for the right beer, there are plenty of options to consider. Not only do craft brews vary by flavour profiles, but they are also classified by type of beer – namely lager and pilsner.

However, what is the true difference between a lager and a pilsner?

What is a Pilsner?

A pilsner is a type of light-coloured lager beer that originated in the city of Plze? (Pilsen), located in western Bohemia, Czech Republic. It is one of the most popular styles of beer consumed around the world today.

The traditional style has a pale golden colour, moderate bitterness and a mild aroma and flavour, with the characteristic of a clean finish. Pilsner beers typically have a light- to medium-bodied mouthfeel and an alcohol content that can range from 4%-6%.

The popularity of this beer style has led to many modern interpretations, including variations in colour, hop levels, and malt sweetness. Pilsner is a refreshing and thirst-quenching beer that is perfect for any occasion.

It pairs well with a variety of foods, especially dishes with bold flavours such as spicy Mexican cuisine or strong cheeses. Many craft brewers have experimented with the Pilsner style and created unique variations on the classic recipe by using different ingredients, techniques, and fermentation processes.

Types of Pilsner

American Pilsner

American Pilsner is a classic style of lager beer that was first brewed in the United States in the mid-19th century. It has become one of America’s most popular styles and is characterised by its light colour, crisp taste and low-hop bitterness.

American Pilsner has a delicate malt character with hints of sweet grain and a light, floral hop aroma. Its flavour is light and clean, with a subtle bitterness that comes from the use of American hops.

Belgian Pilsner

Belgian Pilsner is a light-bodied, straw-coloured beer with a strong hop character. It originated in the mid-19th century in Belgium and has since become popular worldwide.

The main ingredients of Belgian Pilsner are two-row malted barley, which gives it its characteristic golden hue, and noble hops such as Saaz and Stella, which give it a distinctively spicy, herbal aroma and flavour.

Czech Pilsner

Czech Pilsner is a style of beer that originated in the Czech Republic. It is a light-coloured, hoppy lager made with Saaz hops and pale malts. The hop bitterness, malt sweetness, and dry finish make it one of the most popular styles of beer around the world.

The traditional Czech Pilsner is made with a single-decoction mash, which produces complex malt flavours and aromas. This process also helps to create the signature golden hue that has become synonymous with this style of beer.

German Pilsner

German Pilsner is a classic style of beer that has its roots in the Bohemian region of what is now the Czech Republic. It is a very light, highly carbonated lager with a characteristic hop bitterness and herbal aroma.

The pale straw-like colour comes from using mostly barley malt, giving German Pilsner a more refined flavour than its darker counterparts like Marzen and Bock. German Pilsner is usually brewed with Noble hops, which are traditional European varieties known for their delicate yet flavourful character.

What is a Lager?

A lager is a type of beer that has been brewed using bottom-fermenting yeast and stored at lower temperatures than ales. This process results in ale with a cleaner, crisper flavour profile and less fruity character compared to an ale.

Lagers also tend to be more carbonated than ales, giving them a light, refreshing taste that is popular with many beer drinkers. The most commonly known lagers are pale lagers like Pilsner and Marzen, though there are also dark lager styles such as Schwarzbier and Dunkel.

Lagers have become increasingly popular over the years as more craft breweries focus on producing a variety of different types of beer, making them accessible to a wider audience.

Types of Lager

Pale Lager 

Pale Lagers are the most popular type of beer in the world. They originated in Central Europe, specifically Germany, and have since become widely available around the world.

Pale Lagers are light-coloured beers made with pale malt or a combination of pale malt and other grains like wheat and corn. The fermentation process results in a crisp, refreshing beer with moderate alcohol content.

Amber Lager 

Amber Lagers, also known as Viennese/Munich style lagers, are a type of beer brewed with high-quality ingredients and a slow fermentation process. These beers have a deep amber hue and a slightly sweet flavour that makes them popular among craft beer drinkers.

They are usually full-bodied with a moderate to strong hop bitterness and a rich malty aroma. Amber Lagers are known for their smooth and balanced flavour, making them easy to drink and enjoyed by many different types of beer drinkers.

Dark Lager 

Dark Lagers are a type of beer that is brewed using specially prepared and kilned malts. These malts give dark lagers their unique flavour profile, which includes notes of cocoa, coffee, nuts, toffee, and caramel.

The roasted malt used in the brewing process also imparts a deep amber or even black colouration to the beer. Dark Lagers are typically characterised by a higher bitterness and alcohol content than pale lagers.

The crisp and dry flavour profile of dark lagers makes them an ideal accompaniment to roasted meats, earthy vegetables, or even rich chocolates. They also pair well with spicy foods and barbecue dishes.

Bock Lager

Bock Lagers are a popular style of beer that originated in Germany and has been brewed for hundreds of years. Known for their rich, malty flavour, dark colour, and higher alcohol content, bock beers have become a staple of the craft beer world.

The name “bock” comes from the German word for goat – “bock” – which is often used as a symbol of strong, hearty beer. Bock Lagers are typically brewed with roasted barley and Munich malts, giving them their distinct flavours and colours.

Specialty Lagers

Specialty Lagers are a unique subset of the larger style of beers known as lager. These beers use particular hops and malts in their brewing process, creating distinct flavours and aromas that separate them from other lager styles.

Specialty Lagers often have a range of different tastes, from fruity to earthy or spicy notes, and can be light or dark depending on their unique ingredients. They are typically a bit more expensive than traditional lagers, but they offer a much wider range of flavours that craft beer enthusiasts love to explore.

Pilsner vs. Lager

Pilsner and Lager beers are two of the most popular types of beer in the world. While these two styles share many similarities, several key differences distinguish them from one another.

At a basic level, both pilsner and lager beers are brewed using bottom-fermenting yeasts that ferment at cooler temperatures. This fermentation process gives both beers a crisp, clean flavour with a light body and light colour. However, there are a few differences between the two that set them apart.

Pilsner beers often have a more strongly-hopped aroma and bitter taste than lagers. They typically contain higher levels of hops compared to lagers, and this gives them a more intense flavour that is often described as “crisp” or “spicy.”

Pilsners also tend to have a slightly higher alcohol content than lagers, with some pilsner beers reaching up to 8-10% ABV. Lager beers, on the other hand, typically have a milder hop aroma and flavour than pilsners. They are often slightly sweeter due to the use of maltier grains in the brewing process. Lagers also tend to have a lower alcohol content than pilsners, with most lagers ranging between 4-5% ABV.

It’s worth trying these two types of beer to find which you prefer, so that the next time you want a refreshing beverage, you know just what to reach for.