Pilsner vs Lager: The Ultimate Showdown

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I am often asked what the difference is between lagers and pilsners. Well, this is a lot like asking what the difference between a Labradoodle and a dog is. Lager is a broad beer category, whereas a Pilsner is a pale, hoppy type of lager. But I’m not going to leave it there because if you’re not familiar with my previous posts, I enjoy squeezing 1000 words out of a question that can be summed up in 10. This article will break down pilsner vs lager by exploring the origins and history of both, the difference in brewing and taste profiles, and even through your labradoodle, a bone with a few favourites to try! 

Origins and History 

The origin stories are the best place to start when comparing lagers and pilsners. However, it’s strange as Pilsner is actually a category of lager. It’s like comparing the origin of the X-Men to Professor X. Let’s give it a go!

Lager’s Origin Story

Lager is a type of beer that is fermented and conditioned at low temperatures. Its name comes from the German word “lagern,” meaning “to store.” The history of lager dates back to the early 15th century in Bavaria (now part of Germany), where brewers began storing beer in cool caves during the summer months. These cool conditions favoured a slow fermentation process using bottom-fermenting yeast (Saccharomyces pastorianus), which thrives at lower temperatures.


The discovery of lager yeast is often attributed to the lucky blend of local brewing traditions and the scientific advancements of the time. The cooler fermentation and storage conditions prevented the beer from spoiling and imparted a clean, crisp taste, distinguishing it from the ales of the time. Over the centuries, lager brewing techniques were refined, and the practice of brewing lager spread across Europe.

Pilsner’s Origin Story

Pilsner, a specific type of pale lager, has its roots in the city of Plzeň (Pilsen) in what is now the Czech Republic (Czechia). The creation of Pilsner is credited to Josef Groll, a Bavarian brewer who was invited to Plzeň in 1842 to improve the local beer quality. Groll combined his knowledge of lager brewing with the local Saaz hops, known for their aromatic properties, and the soft water of Plzeň, which was ideal for brewing pale lagers.

Pilsner vs Lager: Plzeň - the Home of Pilsner
Plzeň – The Home of Pilsner


The result was the first golden-coloured beer, the Pilsner Urquell, which set a new standard for beer and became immensely popular. This new beer style was characterised by its pale colour, clear appearance, and refreshing hop bitterness. The success of Pilsner Urquell led to widespread imitation and the expansion of Pilsner-style beers across Europe and the world.

Brewing Process: Pilsner vs Lager

Next, let’s explore the differences in the brewing process between these two beers. While the brewing process for lagers and pilsners shares many similarities, given that pilsners are a type of lager, some distinct steps and ingredients differentiate them.


The differences in ingredients between pilsners and lagers primarily lie in the types of hops, malt, and water used and the specific yeast strains.

How to Brew a Pilsner


Lagers: Lagers can use various hops, depending on the specific style and desired flavour profile. The hops can range from mild to more pronounced but generally contribute a balanced bitterness without overpowering the malt.

Pilsners: Pilsners typically use Saaz hops, known for their mild, earthy, and slightly spicy characteristics. These hops contribute to the distinct hoppy bitterness and floral aroma of pilsners.


Lager: Lagers use a variety of malts, from pale malt to darker malts, depending on the type of lager being brewed. This results in diverse colours and flavours, from light and crisp to rich and malty.

Pilsner: Pilsners use pale malt, specifically Pilsner malt, which provides a light, golden colour and a clean, crisp taste.


Lagers: The mineral content of the water used in lagers can vary significantly. Different mineral compositions can influence the taste and mouthfeel of the final product.

Pilsners: The water used in brewing pilsners is usually soft, enhancing the delicate hop flavours and clean finish.


Lagers: Lagers use bottom-fermenting lager yeast, similar to pilsners, but the specific strain may vary. The yeast ferments at cooler temperatures, producing a clean, smooth taste with minimal fruity esters.

Pilsners: Pilsners use a specific strain of bottom-fermenting lager yeast that works well at cooler fermentation temperatures, producing fewer fruity esters and more sulphur compounds, contributing to the beer’s clean profile.

Fermentation Temperature

Lagers: Lagers are generally fermented at cooler temperatures, typically between 7°C and 13°C (45°F and 55°F).

Pilsners: Pilsners are also fermented at cooler temperatures. However, they are usually fermented on the slightly cooler end of the lager temperature spectrum, often between 7°C and 12°C (45°F and 54°F).

Summary of Flavour Differences

While both lagers and pilsners share a clean and refreshing character, pilsners stand out with their more pronounced hop bitterness and floral notes, making them more distinct and complex in flavour compared to the broader category of lagers. Let’s break this down more. 


Lagers typically have a smooth, clean, and crisp taste. They can vary widely in flavour, ranging from light and mild to rich and malty, depending on the specific type of lager.

Lagers can be malty, slightly sweet, or even have a mild hop presence, but they generally avoid extreme bitterness or strong hop flavours. The finish is usually light and refreshing.


Pilsners have a pronounced hop bitterness and floral aroma. They have a more robust and distinctive hoppy flavour than other lagers.

Pilsners are typically crisp, refreshing, and slightly more complex. They have a balanced malt backbone that supports the hoppy bitterness. They often have a bright, golden colour and a clean, dry finish.

Popular Examples 

Popular Lagers

Budweiser can in the sand
America!! A Bud in the Sand!
  1. Heineken 5.0% (Heineken N.V.): This internationally renowned lager offers a balanced, smooth flavour with subtle hints of grain and mild hop bitterness. Its clean finish makes it a refreshing choice.
  2. Budweiser 5.0% (Anheuser-Busch): Known as the “King of Beers,” this lager is light-bodied with a crisp, slightly sweet taste and a subtle hop aroma. It has a clean, smooth finish.
  3. Stella Artois 5.2% (Anheuser-Busch InBev): This classic Belgian lager features a malty sweetness with hints of fresh apple and a light, floral hop bitterness. The finish is crisp and refreshing.
  4. Coors Banquet 5.0% (Coors Brewing Company): This American lager is characterised by its malty sweetness and slight corn-like flavour, balanced by a gentle hop bitterness. It’s smooth with a clean finish.
  5. Asahi Super Dry 5.2% (Asahi Breweries): A Japanese lager known for its dry, crisp taste with subtle notes of rice and malt. Lightly hopped, it delivers a refreshing, clean finish.

Popular Pilsners

  1. Pilsner Urquell 4.4% (Plzeňský Prazdroj): The original Czech Republic Pilsner offers a balanced bitterness, a floral hop aroma, and a rich malt backbone. The finish is crisp and refreshing.
  2. Bitburger Premium Pils 4.8% (Bitburger Brauerei): This German Pilsner is bright golden clean and dry in taste. It has a pronounced hop bitterness and a light malt sweetness. The finish is crisp and lingering.
  3. Czechvar (Budweiser Budvar) 5.0% (Budweiser Budvar Brewery): This Czech Pilsner boasts a rich, hoppy flavour with a hint of sweetness from the malt. It has a well-rounded, slightly bitter finish.
  4. Jever Pilsener 4.9% (Friesisches Brauhaus zu Jever): Known for its distinctive dry and bitter taste, this German Pilsner features a robust hop profile with a clean, crisp finish and a slight malt sweetness.
  5. Trumer Pils 4.9% (Trumer Privatbrauerei): This Austrian Pilsner has a floral hop aroma, a light, crisp body, and a balanced bitterness. The finish is clean and refreshing, with a slight hint of breadiness from the malt.


Lagers originated in 15th-century Bavaria and are fermented and conditioned at low temperatures using bottom-fermenting yeast. This process produces a smooth, clean, and crisp taste ranging from light and mild to rich and malty while avoiding extreme bitterness. On the other hand, Pilsners are a specific type of pale lager from Pilsen, Czech Republic, created in 1842 by Josef Groll. Pilsners use Saaz hops for their distinctive hoppy bitterness and floral aroma, Pilsner malt for its golden colour and clean taste, and soft water to enhance hop flavours. Pilsners are known for their pronounced hop bitterness, floral notes, and complex, refreshing flavour with a bright, golden colour and a clean, dry finish.


Is Peroni a Pilsner?

Peroni is not a pilsner; it is an Italian pale lager. The most famous variety, Peroni Nastro Azzurro, is known for its crisp and refreshing taste, but it does not have the pronounced hop bitterness typical of pilsners.

What is the Difference Between Pilsner and Ale?

Pilsner is a type of lager brewed with bottom-fermenting yeast at cooler temperatures. This results in a clean, crisp taste with pronounced hop bitterness. Ale is brewed with top-fermenting yeast at warmer temperatures, leading to a more complex, fruity, and often maltier flavour profile.

Is Corona a Pilsner? 

Corona is a pale lager. It is not a pilsner, as it lacks the pronounced hop bitterness and floral aroma characteristic of pilsners. Instead, Corona is known for its light, crisp, and mildly sweet flavour, often enjoyed with a wedge of lime.

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