What is a Pilsner: A Guide to the Classic Beer Style

Pilsner is a popular beer style that originated in the city of Pilsen, Czech Republic, in the mid-19th century. Since then, it has become one of the world’s most widely consumed beer styles. In this article, we will explore what is a pilsner, its history, how it’s made, and other interesting facts.

A Brief History of Pilsner

Pilsner, as we know it today, was first brewed in 1842 by a Bavarian brewmaster named Josef Groll. The beer resulted from an experiment by the citizens of Pilsen, who were unhappy with the quality of their local beer. So they decided to hire Groll to create a new beer that would be of higher quality.

Groll used local ingredients, including Saaz hops and soft water from the nearby Bohemian hills, to create a beer that was pale in color, clear, and crisp, with a refreshing taste. The beer became an instant success and was soon being brewed and imitated throughout Europe.

What is a Pilsner?

Pilsner is a lager beer that is light in color, with a mild hop flavor and a crisp finish. It is characterized by its golden color, effervescence, and clean taste. Pilsners are made using a combination of malted barley, hops, water, and yeast.

The malted barley is usually lightly kilned, which results in a lighter color and a more delicate flavor. The hops used in pilsners are typically noble hops with a mild taste and aroma and are known for their low bitterness. In addition, the yeast used in pilsners is a lager yeast, which ferments at cooler temperatures than ale yeast, resulting in a cleaner flavor profile.

How is Pilsner Made?

Pilsner is made using a process that involves several steps.

The first step is to malt the barley, which involves soaking the barley in water and allowing it to germinate. The germinated barley is then dried and kilned, which stops the germination process and creates the desired flavor and color. The malted barley is then mashed, which involves mixing it with hot water to extract the sugars.

The resulting liquid is called wort, which is then boiled with hops to add flavor and bitterness. After boiling, the wort is cooled, and yeast is added. The yeast consumes the sugars in the wort and produces alcohol and carbon dioxide. The beer is then conditioned, also called lagering which involves storing it at a cool temperature for several weeks to allow the yeast to settle and the flavors to develop.

Different Types of Pilsners

There are several types of pilsners, including German-style, Czech-style, and American-style pilsners. German-style pilsners are typically lighter in color and have a more pronounced hop flavor than Czech-style pilsners. On the other hand, Czech-style pilsners generally are darker in color and have a slightly sweeter taste than German-style pilsners. Finally, American-style pilsners are a newer style of pilsners that are brewed with American-grown hops and are typically less bitter than their European counterparts.

Pairing Pilsner with Food

Pilsners are a versatile beer style that pairs well with a variety of foods. They are particularly well-suited to lighter, more delicate dishes like seafood, salads, and grilled chicken. Pilsners’ crisp, clean flavor also makes them a good match for spicy foods, as the beer can help cut through the heat.

Top Brands of Pilsner to Try

There are countless brands of pilsner available on the market today, each with its own unique flavor profile and brewing style. Here are a few of the top brands of pilsner that are worth trying: 

a pint of pilsner on a boat dock beside the words "what is a pilsner".
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Pilsner Urquell – This Czech-style pilsner is widely regarded as the original pilsner, having been brewed in the city of Pilsen since 1842. Pilsner Urquell is characterized by its bright golden color, crisp hop flavor, and smooth, clean finish.

Bitburger – Hailing from the Bitburger brewery in Germany, Bitburger pilsner is a classic example of a German-style pilsner. It’s known for its bright, straw-colored appearance, subtle hop aroma, and well-balanced flavor.

Victory Prima Pils – This American-style pilsner from Victory Brewing Company is a popular choice for craft beer enthusiasts. It’s brewed with German hops, giving it a floral, spicy aroma and a crisp, refreshing flavor.

Sierra Nevada Summerfest – Another American-style pilsner, Sierra Nevada Summerfest is a seasonal beer perfect for warm weather.

Stella Artois – This Belgian-style pilsner has been a favorite among beer drinkers for over 600 years. It’s characterized by its light, golden color, subtle malt sweetness, and crisp, refreshing taste.

These are just a few of the top pilsner brands available to try. Whether you prefer a traditional Czech-style pilsner or a modern American-style version, there’s a pilsner out there that’s sure to please your palate.

How to Serve Pilsner

Pilsner is a beer that’s best served cold, but how cold exactly? Serving temperature can make a big difference in how a beer tastes; pilsner is no exception.

To properly serve pilsner, it should be chilled to a temperature between 38 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit (3 to 7 degrees Celsius). This is slightly colder than the typical serving temperature for most beers, but it’s necessary to help bring out the crisp, refreshing qualities that make pilsner so beloved.

When pouring a pilsner, it’s essential to use a clean, glass that’s free of any oils or residues that could affect the taste of the beer. A pilsner glass, with its tall, slender shape and tapered rim, is ideal for serving this beer. The glass is designed to showcase the beer’s golden color and effervescence while also preserving its aroma and flavor.

When pouring the beer, hold the glass at a 45-degree angle and pour the beer down the side of the glass, gradually straightening the glass as you pour. This will help to create a nice, thick head of foam on top of the beer, which is characteristic of the pilsner style.

Once the beer is poured, be sure to take a moment to admire its appearance and aroma before taking your first sip. The beer should be crystal clear and golden in color, with a mild hop aroma and a subtle sweetness from the malt. The flavor should be light and refreshing, with a slight hop bitterness and a clean, crisp finish.

When it comes to serving pilsner, simplicity is key. Keep it cold, pour it properly, and enjoy it with good company and your favorite foods. With its timeless flavor and versatility, pilsner is a beer that’s sure to please any palate.

Last Call

In conclusion, pilsner is a classic beer style with a rich history and a distinctive flavor. Its light, refreshing taste makes it a popular choice among beer drinkers, and its versatility in pairing with a variety of foods only adds to its appeal. Whether you prefer a traditional German-style pilsner, a crisp and hoppy Czech-style pilsner, or a modern American-style pilsner, there’s a pilsner out there for everyone. So next time you’re in the mood for a refreshing beer, consider reaching for a pilsner and enjoy the simple pleasure of this timeless brew.

P.S. Be sure to pick up your gift of Big Robbs’s top 5 favorite beer recipes from his brewpub. Details are on the side of the blog or at the bottom if you are on your phone. Cheers!

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