What’s the difference between a lager and a Pilsner?

Answered by Vince Keith

As a sommelier and brewer, I can tell you that the difference between a and a pilsner lies in their distinct characteristics. While pilsner is actually a type of lager, it is named after the Czech city of Plzen. Let's delve into the specifics to understand the unique qualities of each.

1. Method:
Both lagers and pilsners are brewed using a process called bottom fermentation, where ferments at cooler temperatures. This results in a cleaner and crisper taste compared to ales, which are top-fermented. However, the brewing process for pilsners is more intricate and involves specific techniques.

2. Ingredients:
The key ingredients in both lagers and pilsners are , , , and yeast. However, the choice of these ingredients and their proportions can vary between the two styles. Pilsners typically use lighter malts, such as Pilsner malt, which gives them a pale golden color and a slightly sweet taste. On the other hand, lagers can incorporate a wider range of malts, resulting in varying flavors and colors.

3. Hop-forward Flavors:
One notable difference between lagers and pilsners is the hop profile. Pilsners tend to have more hop-forward flavors, with a pronounced bitterness and herbal or floral notes. This is achieved by using specific hop varieties, such as Saaz hops, which are known for their spicy and earthy characteristics. Lagers, on the other hand, generally have a more balanced hop presence, with a milder bitterness.

4. Yeast Varieties:
The choice of yeast plays a significant role in distinguishing lagers from pilsners. Pilsners are brewed using a specific strain of lager yeast known as the Czech Pilsner yeast. This yeast ferments at cooler temperatures and imparts distinctive flavors and aromas to the . Lagers, on the other hand, can be brewed using various strains of lager yeast, each contributing its own unique characteristics.

5. Regional Influence:
The origins of these styles also contribute to their differences. Pilsner beer originated in the Czech Republic in the 19th century, where the city of Plzen played a crucial role. The local water, malt, and Saaz hops available in the region influenced the creation of this distinct style. Lagers, on the other hand, have a broader regional influence and can be found in various countries around the world.

In my personal experience, I've had the opportunity to taste and brew both lagers and pilsners. The difference in hop profiles is evident, with pilsners showcasing a more assertive and spicy character. The use of specific malt varieties in pilsners also lends a unique sweetness to the beer, which complements the hop bitterness.

Ultimately, pilsners can be considered as a subcategory of lagers, but they have their own distinct attributes that set them apart. Whether you prefer the hop-forward flavors of a pilsner or the balanced nature of a lager, both styles offer a refreshing and enjoyable drinking experience.