Updated at: 11-08-2023 - By: John Lau

Are you a beer enthusiast who’s puzzled about the difference between pilsners and lagers?

In this article, you will delve into the fascinating world of brewing to understand what makes a pilsner different from your generic lager.

Grab your glass, it’s time to become a beer connoisseur!

Characteristics of Lagers and Pilsners

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A discerning palette will note that the ingredients of Lager and Pilsner beers play a crucial role in their distinctive flavors. Here’s what goes into each:

  1. Lagers rely heavily on malted barley, clean yeast strains like Saccharomyces pastorianus, and a mild use of hops. The main focus here is to achieve a balance between sweetness and bitterness.
  2. They also often feature hints of caramel or toasted bread due to the involved brewing process and careful selection of ingredients.
  3. Meanwhile, Pilsners are brewed with softer water which imparts its iconic light body.
  4. Their key ingredient is the high-quality Saaz hops from Czech Republic – this hop strain gives pilsners their clean crisp taste and slightly bitter finish.
  5. Pilsners have an aggressive use of hops compared to lagers, creating more pronounced floral or spicy notes in the flavor profile.
  6. These beers also utilize bottom – fermenting yeast, specifically Saccharomyces pastorianus, during fermentation at lower temperatures for a longer time period.
  7. Finally, both types undergo lagering – this involves conditioning them at low temperatures over several weeks or even months. This meticulous process contributes to their nuanced flavors and smooth mouthfeel.

Brewing process

Here’s a breakdown of the brewing process for these beer styles:

  1. Mashing: Grains, usually barley, are mixed with hot water to activate enzymes that convert starches into fermentable sugars.
  2. Lautering: The liquid mixture is separated from the spent grains using a lautering tun or filter, leaving behind a sugary liquid called wort.
  3. Boiling: The wort is brought to a boil, where hops are added to provide bitterness, flavor, and aroma. For pilsners, hops usage tends to be more aggressive.
  4. Cooling: The boiled wort is rapidly cooled to the desired fermentation temperature using heat exchangers or immersion coolers.
  5. Fermentation: This is where lagers and pilsners differ from other beer styles like ales or IPAs. Lager yeast strains (Saccharomyces pastorianus) are used instead of ale yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae). This bottom-fermenting yeast ferments at lower temperatures and produces fewer fruity esters, resulting in cleaner flavors.
  6. Lagering: After primary fermentation, lagers and pilsners undergo a secondary fermentation process called lagering. The beer is stored at near-freezing temperatures for several weeks or months to allow further flavor development and clarification.
  7. Carbonation: Before packaging, carbonation levels are adjusted either through natural carbonation during bottling or force carbonation using CO2 tanks.

Flavor profile

Lagers and pilsners each have their own unique flavor profiles that set them apart from other types of beer. Pilsners, known for their clean and crisp taste, offer a refreshing experience with a balanced maltiness and moderate hop bitterness.

They often have a light golden color and showcase the flavors of the ingredients used during brewing, such as barley and hops. Pilsners can range from being slightly sweet to having a dry finish, making them extremely versatile in terms of pairing with different foods.

In contrast, generic lagers typically exhibit a milder flavor profile compared to pilsners. They are often characterized by their smoothness and easy drinkability. Generic lagers tend to have a lighter body with subtle hints of malt sweetness and minimal hop character.

While they may lack some of the distinctiveness found in pilsners, lagers provide an enjoyable drinking experience for those seeking a more straightforward taste.

Key Differences Between Lagers and Pilsners

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Origin and history

Lagers and pilsners have a rich history, with pilsners originating from the Czech Republic. Pilsner beer was first brewed in the city of Plzeň in the early 19th century. The creation of this style revolutionized the brewing industry at that time.

It was a response to dissatisfaction with the quality of beer being produced, leading local brewers to develop a clearer, golden-colored lager using bottom-fermenting yeast.

On the other hand, lagers have been around for centuries and are believed to have originated in Germany. They gained popularity across Europe and beyond due to their clean taste and refreshing qualities.

Over time, different regions developed their own unique styles of lagers.

Hops usage

Hops are an essential ingredient in both lagers and pilsners, but they are used in slightly different ways. In lagers, including pilsners, hops are primarily used as a flavoring agent rather than for their aromatic qualities.

This means that while they do contribute some bitterness to the beer, they are not as prominently featured as in other styles like IPAs or ales.

Pilsners specifically tend to have a more aggressive use of hops compared to other lagers. This results in a clean and crisp taste with just a hint of bitterness. The hops also help balance out the malt sweetness, creating a well-rounded flavor profile.

It’s worth noting that different hop varieties can be used in both lagers and pilsners, each adding its own unique characteristics.

Some common hop varieties include noble hops like Saaz or Hallertau, which add subtle spiciness and floral notes to the beer.

Brewing techniques

Brewing techniques play a crucial role in the production of both lagers and pilsners. Here are some key brewing techniques used for each beer style:

  1. Fermentation process: Both lagers and pilsners undergo fermentation, but they use different yeast strains. Lagers, including pilsners, are fermented at lower temperatures compared to ales.
  2. Hop addition: Pilsners have an aggressive use of hops compared to other lagers. This means that more hops are added during the brewing process, resulting in a distinct hoppy flavor.
  3. Lagering: After fermentation, lagers and pilsners go through a process called “lagering.” This involves conditioning the beer at a low temperature for an extended period, typically several weeks or months. Lagering helps develop the smoothness and clarity associated with these beer styles.
  4. Bottom-fermenting yeast: Both lagers and pilsners use bottom-fermenting yeast called Saccharomyces pastorianus. This type of yeast is known for its ability to ferment at cooler temperatures and produce clean flavors.

Popular Brands of Lagers and Pilsners

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Examples of lagers

  1. Budweiser: Known as the “King of Beers,” Budweiser is a well-known lager that originated in the United States. It has a smooth and crisp taste, with a balanced hop flavor.
  2. Heineken: This Dutch lager is recognized for its iconic green bottle and distinct flavor. Heineken has a light and refreshing taste, with a subtle bitterness from the hops.
  3. Corona: Hailing from Mexico, Corona is a light and easy-drinking lager that is often enjoyed with a wedge of lime. It has a clean and crisp taste, making it perfect for hot summer days.
  4. Stella Artois: Originally brewed in Belgium, Stella Artois is a classic European lager known for its golden color and smooth, malty flavor. It offers a well-balanced profile with hints of breadiness and hops.
  5. Modelo Especial: Another Mexican favorite, Modelo Especial is an amber-colored lager that delivers rich flavors of caramel and toasted malt. It has a full-bodied taste with a mild hop bitterness.
  6. Yuengling Lager: America’s oldest brewery produces this traditional amber lager with roots tracing back to 1829. Yuengling Lager offers a well-rounded flavor profile with notes of caramel and roasted malt.
  7. Samuel Adams Boston Lager: Crafted by the Boston Beer Company, Samuel Adams Boston Lager is an award-winning example of an American Vienna-style lager. It boasts robust flavors of toasty malt, balanced by floral hops.
  8. Tsingtao: Originating from China, Tsingtao is one of the most widely consumed Asian beers worldwide. The lager has light flavors with notes of grainy sweetness and mild bitterness.

Examples of pilsners

  1. Budweiser: One of the most well-known pilsner brands, Budweiser is a classic American lager with a clean and crisp taste. It is known for its smoothness and balanced flavor profile.
  2. Pilsner Urquell: Considered the original pilsner, Pilsner Urquell hails from the Czech Republic. It has a golden color, distinct hop aroma, and a rich malty flavor that combines sweetness with a slightly bitter finish.
  3. Stella Artois: This Belgian pilsner is characterized by its pale yellow color and floral hop aroma. Stella Artois has a smooth and refreshing taste, with some fruity notes complementing its light bitterness.
  4. Heineken: Although Heineken is often associated with being a lager, it falls into the category of international pale lagers, which includes pilsners. It has a bright golden color, mild maltiness, and a subtle hoppy bitterness.
  5. Sierra Nevada Summerfest: A seasonal offering from Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, Summerfest is an American pilsner that showcases the use of noble hops. It delivers a crisp and clean taste with hints of lemon zest and grassy notes.


In conclusion, while both lagers and pilsners fall under the broad category of beer, there are distinct differences between them.

Pilsners originated from the Czech Republic and have a clean and crisp taste due to their aggressive use of hops.

On the other hand, lagers encompass a wider range of styles and flavors. Whether you prefer the boldness of a pilsner or the versatility of a lager, exploring these beer styles can be an enjoyable journey for any beer enthusiast.