If you like your beer then chances are you like pilsener style beers whether you know it or not. Here’s why they make up the vast majority of beers drunk anywhere in the world.
The birth of Pilsner beer can be traced back to the ancient city of Plzen in the Czech Republic, which was then in Bohemia, part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire where it was first brewed in 1842.
The world’s first ever blond lager was the Pilsner Urquell, making it the inspiration for more than two thirds of the beer now produced in the world today.
Pilsener was an instant success, not only on its home turf, but also in the most elegant and fashionable cafes and bistros of Europe and was soon imitated by every major brewing nation on the continent.
The introduction of modern refrigeration into Germany in the late 19th century did away with the need for caves for beer storage, enabling the brewing of bottom-fermenting beer in many new locations.
Since then, pils has become one of the most popular styles of beer in the world, accounting for nine in ten of all beers drunk today.
Pils v lager?
But how does it differ from lager? In actual fact, pilsner is a type of lager, as opposed to an ale, a different style of beer.
The difference between lager and ales lies in the types of yeast used in fermentation during the brewing process. Ales use “top-fermenting” yeast strains, which ferment at the top of the fermentation container, and typically at higher temperatures than lager yeast, which as a result makes for a quicker fermentation period of 7 – 8 days or even less.
Lagers, which come from the German world lagern “to store,” is a perfect description as this type of beer is brewed with bottom fermenting yeast that works slowly at cooler temperatures to mature.
Lager yeasts also produce fewer by-product characters than ale yeasts. This allows for other more complex flavours, such as hops, to emerge.
Crisp, clean taste
Lager yeast strains don’t typically feature the fruit aromas and other flavours that the top-fermenting yeast in ales do. As a result, lagers tend to have a crisper and cleaner flavour than their ale counterparts.
Modern pilsners have a golden hue, brilliant clarity, subtle flavour and a crisp finish. Their colour can range from pale to deep golden yellow, with a moderate amount of effervesence and a distinctive hop aroma and flavour. Typically their alcohol strength is around 4.5 – 5%. If pilsner is brewed stronger, it is usually labelled Export
Czech or Bohemian style
The Czech or Bohemian style of pilsner is the original and offers the most pronounced, grainy and crackery malt flavour with a soft floral bitterness. German and Bavarian styles tend to emphasise the bitterness and spicy hop flavour, while American craft brewers borrow freely from both styles.
Difficult to brew
However, pilsners are amongst the most difficult style of beer to brew, requiring extensive and expensive lagering or cold ageing, before packaging.
As a result, most young craft breweries avoid lager styles entirely to focus on faster-fermenting ales. But over the years craft breweries have started to rise to the challenge and today make examples that can go head to head with some of the most venerated old world brands.