What Is The Difference Between Pilsner And Lager?
One of the major difficulties in the homebrewing and beer world is knowing the differences between various beer styles.
In this blog post, I will guide you through what the difference between a pilsner and lager is and what makes them similar.
What Is The Difference Between Pilsner And Lager? A pilsner is actually a type of lager originating from the Czech Republic. The main difference between the two is the more aggressive use of hops in pilsners and the difference in yeast used. That means that a Pilsner is really just a spicier and more hop flavored Lager.
Read on as I go into further detail about the differences between pilsners and lagers as well as some nice recipes for each style of beer!
What Is a Lager?
The word Lager is German and means “to store”. The origin of the word is due to a method that German brewers adapted in the 19th century, which included long fermentation and storing periods, resulting in the name “Lager”.
The Germans would dig out cellars specifically for this purpose, and fill them up with ice from nearby lakes and rivers. This would help keep the beer cool even during summer months, and was perfect for the fermentation and aging of lagers.
In modern times brewing lagers is obviously a lot easier, since we have advanced refrigeration so we can completely control the temperature conditions.
Lagers are the second most popular beer style in the world, topped by Ales.
In the homebrewing world, it is considered one of the hardest beer styles to master, since they require very specific conditions in terms of temperature and aging times.
Lagers use bottom-fermenting method, which the reason why it takes longer than other beer styles to ferment.
The cold temperatures used in fermentation in Lagers makes the yeast consume the sugar a lot slower, resulting in a more clean and crisp flavor.
Types of Lagers
Lagers are generally divided into 2 main categories: Pale and Dark lager.
These 2 categories then have some subcategories where Pale lager has Helles, Pilsner, Märzen, and Bock, and Dark Lager has Dunkel, Doppelbock and Scwarzbier as its subcategories.
You may notice that Pilsner was mentioned as a sub-category, but don’t worry we’ll dive into that later.
The most common lager beer produced worldwide is the Pale Lager category.
The flavor in this type of Lager is often quite mild and welcoming. It is recommended to always be served cold compared to some craft beers that, like some wines are made to be enjoyed at room temperature.
The method of brewing Pale Lagers began around the middle of the 19th century when a man called Gabriel Sedlmayr brought Pale Ale brewing techniques back to the Spaten Brewery located in Germany and started experimenting with their own Lager brewing methods.
This resulted in the pale beer we see today, which is now the world's most commonly consumed type of beer.
Until the aforementioned introduction of Pale methods of brewing lagers, most lagers were dark.
Dark lagers are seen in very dark colors with the most bright one being an amber red/brown color. Dark lagers are generally less focused on hop flavors compared to their pale counterpart, and often has a more robust and smoky/bitter flavor.
Some examples of popular lager brands are; Pilsner Urquell, Corona, Heineken, and Carlsberg. There are many other popular brands which are lager type beers, but these are just some of the most well-known ones.
We made an article with some recipes to clone some of the most known commercial beers. If you want to know more, get to the post by clicking here.
What Is a Pilsner?
As you may have picked up already, a Pilsner is quite simply a type of Pale lager.
I already explained a bit about how the technique of brewing Pale Lagers was introduced, but there is a bit more history regarding the Pilsner type of Pale Lagers.
The Origin of Pilsners
The city of Pilsen in the Czech Republic began brewing beer as early as 1295.
However, for hundreds of years, their beers were considered quite terrible compared to the leading German brewers.
This was widely due to the fact that most beers from this region were top-fermented which lead to a taste and a quality which didn’t suit their western customers.
In 1839 the officials of Pilsen founded a city-owned brewery. This brewery would later be known as “Pilsner Urquell” which is one of the leading beer brands today.
The Czech brewery learned that the Germans had started to use cold fermentation which improved the quality and shelf life of their beers substantially.
So they went on and hired the Bavarian brewer Josef Groll who brought some new unique methods as well as ingredients along with him.
Josef Groll revolutionized the beer world.
Using his knowledge he combined his brighter malts with Pilsen's high-quality water and local hops to create a beautiful golden beer with a great taste.
This beer would be known as the “Pilsner” and was considered a sensation.
It also helped tremendously that in the same period of time, glass manufacturing in Europe lowered their prices substantially, and suddenly every household and tavern could afford clear beer glasses, further showcasing the beauty of the new golden pilsners.
The Difference Between a Pilsner And Lager
To put it into simple terms, a Pilsner is a lager, but it is a type of lager that was adapted a bit later than the traditional lagers.
The pilsner is a pale lager with a very golden and light color and with a large foaming. The dark lagers are very dark and sometimes completely black in color and with minimum foaming.
Today a pilsner is made from malted barley and has a heavy hop bill included to give it characteristic tastes and aromas.
The strength of pilsners is around 4.5% to 5.2% depending on the brand and is considered one of the most drinkable beer types.
Many people have no idea that lagers and pilsners are in the same category.
It isn’t uncommon to think that Pilsners are different from dark lagers since they look and taste quite different, but their brewing processes are very similar.
They both use cold-fermentation and longer storage periods which results in their high quality of flavor, aroma and even their shelf lives.
This is probably one of the reasons why its one of the most commercially brewed beers in the world, even though it isn’t the easiest, it is simply the one which lasts the longest, meaning you can store it for long periods of time without having to worry about it expiring.
Is Heineken a Pilsner or a Lager? Heineken is both a pilsner and lager. A pilsner is a subcategory of lager called “Pale Lager” which is golden or bright in color lager with a large amount of foaming. Pilsners/Pale Lagers use a heavy hop flavor and aroma compared to dark lagers which have a more robust and bitter taste.
Is Corona a Pilsner? Corona Extra is a Pale Lager which is also what a Pilsner is. There is some discussion as to whether or not a corona is exactly a pilsner since they are very similar. Pale lagers are all very similar in modern times, and you people probably won’t ask questions if you call a corona a pilsner.