Style Profile – Pilsner

Posted on 10.27.07 1:48PM under Pilsner, Style Profile

I recently had a “Battle of the Pils” where I bought three different commercial Pilsners to compare and contrast. This has prepared me to write about the various identifying characteristics that make a beer a Pilsner. There are actually a few different modern classifications for Pilsner.

The original Pilsner is Czech Pilsner (AKA Bohemian Pilsner). It was made in a town called Plzen (Pilsen), and thus was called Pilsner. This is really an appelation, meaning in order to be authentic, it must be from Plzen. But to me, I don’t like appelations – too much of a hint of snobbery there. But maybe that’s why there are German Pilsner and American Pilsner styles.

A pilsner is a pale colored, crystal clear lager beer. It has a well defined hop presence, normally from grassy European noble hops. Normally, there is a surprisingly strong malt background, considering their pale color. Pilsners are known to be smooth, crisp, and refreshing. German Pilsners are perhaps a bit hoppier and less smooth. American Pilsners might tend to lean towards American-style citrus hops. In a way, American Pilsner is what lead to things like Miller Lite (“A True Pilsner Beer”) but I would argue that beer like Miller Lite is more in the “Light Lager” category.

Another modern twist on the Pilsner is the Imperial Pilsner, or Double Pilsner. These share the basic characteristics of a Czech Pilsner, but have about twice the alcohol. To balance this, you generally need a lot more hops. The flavor is just like a Czech Pilsner, but more intense, as is typical for any Imperial or Double variety.

So in summary, Pilsner originally came from the Bohemain Czech town of Plzen, but now comes from all across the brewing world. It is light in color, but flavored generously with hops and malts. Commercial examples are numerous, but Live Oak Brewery’s Live Oak Pilz, Buzzard’s Bay Brewing Co.’s Buzzards Bay Pilsner, and New Glarus Brewing Company’s Home Town Blonde are three good domestic examples. There are, of course, so many more out there – go check out your local home town pils!

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