Pilsner Vs. Lager: There’s a Difference?

by Karl | Updated: March 25, 2021

Sometimes, drunk conversations can go as far as talking about the meaning of life while you enjoy every shot. 

But have you ever talked about the actual beer you’re drinking?

You might have encountered various types of beer, but you may not realize that as you forget the day behind you.

We’ll explore two popular beer styles, pilsner vs. lager, and look into the differences between the two. 

Pilsner Vs. Lager: So, What Spells the Difference?

The Lager Legacy

German immigrants brought lagers to Americans until they became popular during the mid-19th century. 

Along with ale, a lager comprises the two main beer styles in the world. 

What Makes Lager Unique?

The main difference between lagers and ales lies in the type of yeast used during fermentation.

During brewing, top-fermenting yeast brewed ales such as an Indian pale ale (IPA) at warmer temperatures.

In contrast, bottom-fermenting yeast brewed lagers at low temperatures.

As the lager beer ferments inside cold storage during lagering, there is a significant improvement in the flavors over time.

How Can You Tell Lagers Apart from Ales?

During fermentation at a low temperature, fermenting yeast slowly consumes sugar at the bottom of the container.

The brewing process results in a more crisp and cleaner flavor compared to ale.

Compared to an ale, lager contains fewer esters and phenols. The latter is usually sleeker and lower-malt.

Therefore, beer drinkers can taste the difference between lagers and ales easily.

Types of Lagers

You need to understand first the two types of lager before you point out the difference between a lager and a pilsner beer.

Pale Lager

With its mild and enticing flavor, the pale lager emerges as the most common type of lager consumed by people.

Brewers often serve pale lager cold, unlike some craft beers usually served at room temperature.

Dark Lager

From the name itself, dark lagers appear dark in color ranging from amber red to dark brown. 

Unlike a pale lager, a dark type possesses less hop yet more robust flavor with a kick of bitterness.

Pros and Cons of Any Type of Lager Beers

Brewers find lager styles of beer exciting yet complicated to prepare. With that, both pale and dark lagers come up strong with:

  • Cleaner, crisp flavor
  • Fewer potential harmful chemicals
  • Longer shelf-life
  • High-quality aroma

However, brewers face several setbacks in its preparation, such as:

  • Complicated multi-stage brewing process and
  • Specific temperature and aging requirements.

While its preparation may not come in handy, lagers are among the most commercially brewed beer styles in the world.

Lager is a popular beer in the world, given that it can last long without worries of expiration. A popular lager is a pilsner beer. Unlike other beer types, a beer pilsner has its unique style.

The Pilsner Patrimony

The name of pilsner beers comes from its origin, a Czech Republic city that set up its brewery in 1839. The brewery, Pilsner Urquell, would then become one of the leading beer brands.

How Pilsner Came Into Play?

Moving backward, the city of Pilsner already started brewing beer at least in 1925.

For centuries, the Czech brewery has been competing against the top German brewers. However, their products always fell flat to consumers.

As their beers did not sell well, the citizens dumped dozens of casks of spoiled beer. This mass beer dump forced the city to come up with a solution to their problem.

Upon knowing that the Germans started implementing cold fermentation procedures, the Czechs looked for a Bavarian brewer to help them.

Luckily, they got Josef Groll on their side, who gave answers to the city’s beer problem.

Combining Pilsner’s finest water and local hops with his brighter malts, Groll produced a good-tasting golden beer. As time passes by, this beer becomes a unique category of beverages in the world.

How Is Pilsner Related to Lager?

Earlier, you became familiar with the two primary lager types. You have the pale and dark lagers.

Pilsner is a type of pale lager as it shares similar characteristics to other pale lagers out there.

You can easily distinguish pilsners from dark lagers with their golden and light color topped with huge foaming. It’s an obvious difference between the two.

However, drinkers might find it hard to think that pilsners belong to the lager beer category. As you guess it, pilsners and lagers undergo lager brewing with bottom-fermenting yeasts.

One can make pilsners with the actual process that makes lagers with a twist.

For that very reason, you can tell that a pilsner is a lager stepped up to another level.

Pros and Cons of a Pilsner Beer

What makes pilsner beer stands out among other lagers are its:

  • Fresh look and taste
  • Palate-cleansing and revitalizing effect
  • Unique hop flavors
  • Additional kick in every shot

Like lagers, making pilsners demands specific requirements that people can deem exhausting like:

  • Long-lived cold apparatus for cold stabilization and
  • Availability of local hops.

Now, you came across the difference between a pilsner and lager. It is time to see which type of beer would better suit your style.

Lager Vs. Pilsner: The Key Differences

You might be starting to take a closer look at the beer style you would be drinking in the future.

Fret not! This section will help you tell the difference between a pilsner and lager through the following bases of comparison:

  • Brewing method
  • Taste and appeal
  • Servings
  • Popular brands

How to Make Lagers and Pilsners?

For starters, brewing lager involves three stages, namely:

  • Primary fermentation
  • Maturation
  • Lagering

Meanwhile, making pilsner can be pretty similar.

You start by crushing whole-grain malt and mixing it with boiling water. It is necessary to pasteurize the wort to add to the flavors and hops of the beer.

Then, the cooled down solution must undergo fermentation for two weeks before being filtered for consumption.

How Do Lagers and Pilsners Stimulate Your Senses Differently?

While lager can be pale or dark in color, pilsners often appear as light and golden brown beers.

Adding to the crispy, tangy flavor and aromas, the Saaz hops add kicks to pilsners. These hops make pilsners a bit spicier than your typical lager.

Usually, both beer types contain between 4% to 6% alcohol volume.

How Do You Serve Lagers and Pilsners?

Whatever beer style, you want in place, we recommend serving them cold. 

Enjoy the crème on top with your cold pilsner. However, you might consider serving dark beers at a warmer temperature.

The Best Lagers and Pilsners to Try

Believe it or not, some well-known American beer brands offer either lagers or pilsners, sometimes both.

Here are some of the top pilsner brands:

  • Carlsberg Pilsner
  • Heineken
  • Pilsner Urquell
  • Samuel Adams Pilsner
  • Seedstock Czech Pilsner
  • Summerfest

Here are some of the top lager brands:

  • Amstel
  • Budweiser
  • Carlsberg Lager
  • Corona
  • Heineken Premium
  • Stella Artois

Final Thoughts

Pilsner is a type of lager, but the other way around isn’t necessarily true. What a word play, indeed. 

You witnessed the strong links between the two, from their origins to characteristics.

Choose lagers if:

  • You want a crisp, clean flavor.
  • You want a long-lasting drink.

Choose pilsners if:

  • You want a kick in every shot.
  • You want some spice and hops in your drink.

Each beer style has its strengths and limitations. It’s up to you which beer you would drink until next time. Taste the difference yourself.

Lead marketer, brewer, dad, and husband. Pretty much an all-round awesome guy.