What’s The Difference Between a Pilsner and a Lager? Pilsner vs Lager

by Dane Wilson | Last Updated: March 1, 2020
The Difference Between a Pilsner and a Lager_Sound Brewery

When you think of a beer, what do you imagine? Ale? A stout? Or maybe you think of a lager or a pilsner? As you can see, there are more varieties of beer than you may realize, and each of them have their own aromas, flavors, and colors. Learning the differences between more popular styles, like pilsners and lagers, can help you when it comes time to navigate the beer aisle or a beer hall. 

Today, we’re going to explain the differences between a pilsner and a lager, so get ready to take some notes. 

Pilsner vs Lager – What’s the difference?

Let’s get into it…

What is a Lager?

In the world of beers, things are generally split between ales and lagers. The separation comes down to the yeast used during fermentation. Ales use a top-fermenting yeast and higher temperatures, while lagers brew in cooler temperatures and have bottom-fermenting yeasts. In other words, the yeast ferments at the bottom of the barrel or container. 

This also changes the flavor of lagers. Unlike ales, which are fruitier, a lager is going to be cleaner and crisp. Put an ale and a lager side by side, and you should be able to tell the difference in taste and scent alone. 

Common Misconceptions About Lagers

While we’re on the topic of lagers, we wanted to discuss some common myths that often confuse people new to the beer scene: 

What is a Pilsner?

So, here’s the thing: every pilsner is a lager, but not every lager is a pilsner. Mind blown? 

Pilsner beer has a long history that has the development of the 18th century kilning method invented by the British. Then, in 1842, Josef Groll from the Bohemian city of Pilsen decided to use Saaz hops in his brew to prevent spoiling alongside things like soft water, pilsner malt, and lager yeast. He ended up creating magic—the Pilsner Urquell. To this day, it is the Saaz hops that separate pilsners from other lagers. 

However, there are a few pilsner styles in existence: Czech (Bohemian), Bavarian, German, and American. Czech pilsners are the most traditional (and the most popular). For many years, the Pilsner Urquell enjoyed soaring popularity. It took a few decades for the beer wizards in Bavaria to imitate the Bohemian pilsner. It ended up becoming known as the modern day Munich helles. In German, “helles” means “light” or “pale.”

Later, a German-style pilsner emerged that had more assertive flavors while having a lighter color, making it stronger than the Czech pils. Then, there is the American pilsner, also called the American pale lager. 

Characteristics of Pilsners

As mentioned earlier, a pilsner is a golden or pale lager. Because of the ingredients, pilsners are a very unique beer, but they do have the typical characteristics of a lager, such as the crisp flavor. The Saaz hops used in pilsners also add a little zing or kick to the beer. 

The Difference Between a Pilsner and a Lager_Sound Brewery

Different Kinds of Lagers 

There are various kinds of lagers. Introduce yourself to a few so you can start picking dark lagers apart from light pilsners and other brews.

Here are some of the lagers that are bound to show up on a dinner menu or in the stores: 

Conclusion: Pilsner vs Lager

Now, you’re definitely an expert on both lagers and pilsners. As long as you remember that pilsners are a kind of lager, then you are good to go! The main difference is in the flavors. Hops tend to have more of a presence in pilsners than other forms of lagers, but all lagers have that classic refreshing flavor.