What is a Pilsner? (Plus 12 of the Best Ones To Try in 2023!)

What kind of beer is a pilsner? Is it different from a lager? What are the main ingredients of a pilsner? Well, the pilsner style is a classic beer born from passion and revolution.

A pilsner is a light lager. This beer style uses German hops and German malt with lager yeast. Characteristics include floral and herbal notes from the hops. A bready taste with subtle hints of citrus and spice is common. Pilsners have a clear golden body with a foamy white head. Pilsners range in ABV from 4.4-6% with a mild perceived bitterness.

Continue reading for more information on everything pilsner including more about exactly what makes a pilsner, where the style comes from, and tasting notes for the beer. Plus, I’ve included a 12-beer list of the best pilsners to try in 2022!

What is a Pilsner?

Pilsners are a light beer with approachable bready and floral flavors with mild bitterness and ABV. They’re crisp and drinkable, and perfect for any occasion.

  • Color – Pale straw, golden color; 3-4 SRM
  • Common flavors – Medium to high Noble hop bitterness, hop flavor is present and dominant. Malty sweetness that is bread-like in both aroma and flavor with herbal and floral notes throughout. Crisp and short finish.
  • Aroma – Bread or dough-like. Smells like the hops and malt used.
  • Mouthfeel – Thin and carbonated, very crisp with a short finish.
  • IBUs (Bitterness) – 25-50
  • ABV – 4.4-6%

Additionally, it’s worth remembering that pilsner is a type of lager. All pilsners are lagers, but not all lagers are pilsners.

History of the Pilsner

Pilsners are a European beer. They were created out of a desire to brew a lighter beer. 

Born in Czechoslovakia, the pilsner style was first introduced to the world in the mid-1800s. Brewer Josef Groll is credited with brewing the first-ever pilsner beer in Bohemia. Pilsner Urquell is the original beer of this style. This beer is very similar, if not the same, to the original one that was created in 1842.

This style has been adopted in the US and changed to include rice, extracts, corn, and other ingredients for a lighter and ‘more drinkable’ beer. These beers are big domestic and commercial ones like Bud Light, Miller Lite, and Natural Light to name a few.

What is a German-style pilsner?

German-style pilsners are one of the two classic styles of this beer. They’re similar with subtle differences.

A German-style pilsner is a light-bodied beer made with barley malt. It has floral notes of German Noble hops in aroma and flavor. It has a crisp taste and a short finish.

The German-style pilsner was created sometime after the original Bohemia or Czech-style pilsner.

What is a Czech-style pilsner?

This is the original style of pilsner created in 1842. It’s very similar to its German counterpart.

Czech or Bohemia pilsners still have a malty sweetness and perceived hop bitterness. They’re more bready than the German style with less hop bitterness to it.

This beer style used to be conditioned in wooden tanks.

Is a pilsner a lager?

All pilsners are lagers.

A pilsner is a lager that uses cool, bottom-fermenting pilsner or lager yeast. They use German Noble hops and barley malt.

But not all lagers are pilsners.

What makes a lager a pilsner?

A lager is specifically classified as a pilsner because of the presence of hops, malt, and yeast used.

Pilsners use pilsner or lager yeast and German Noble hops that give the style its floral and spicy aroma and taste. Pilsners use barley, Munich and pilsner malt, and pilsner or lager yeast.

What do pilsners taste like?

Pilsners use simple ingredients to create a complex flavor.

Pilsners have a malt and hop taste that can range from floral and spicy to sweet, fruity, or bready. The style balances a few of these flavors perfectly so that none overpower another.

Pilsners are what many people first think of when someone asks what beer tastes like.

Common pilsner ingredients

The most common pilsner ingredients are:

  • Soft water
  • Pilsner yeast
  • Lager yeast
  • Hops (Saaz, Hallertau, Tettnanger)
  • Barley malt
  • Pilsner malt
  • Munich Malt

The best Pilsners to try in 2023!

Now let’s look at some of the best pilsners currently on the market. This list includes commercially brewed beer, as well as smaller craft options from around the country. Try to get your hands on one of these beers at some point in 2023.

The most highly recommended Pilsners are:

  • Pilsner Urquell
  • Victory Prima Pils
  • Lazy River Pils
  • Mama’s Little Yella Pils
  • Live Oak Pilz
  • Pivo Pils
  • The Crisp
  • Scrimshaw Pilsner
  • Hill Farmstead Mary
  • Sunshine Pils
  • Pikeland Pils

1. Pilsner Urquell

  • Brand: Pilsner Urquell Brewery
  • From: Plzeň, Czech Republic
  • ABV: 4.4%
  • IBU: 36
  • Featured Hops: Saaz
  • Taste: Sweet maltiness with honey and bread-like qualities. Subtly fruit and floral in aroma that translates into taste. Saaz hop bitterness, crisp and clean mouthfeel with short finish.

2. Prima Pils

  • Brand: Victory Brewing Company
  • From: Downingtown, Pennsylvania
  • ABV: 5.3%
  • IBU: 43
  • Featured Hops: Tettnang, Hallertau, Spalt, Saaz
  • Taste: German-style pilsner with floral and spicy notes. Cracker and subtle bread notes. Includes notes of citrus and lemon. Peppery finish. Thick white head and golden in color. Slightly carbonated.

3. Lazy River Pils

  • Brand: New Trail Brewing Company
  • From: Williamsport, Pennsylvania
  • ABV: 4.4%
  • IBU: N/A
  • Featured Hops: German noble and American
  • Taste: Brewed with German pilsner and Munich malts, and a combination of German and American hops. Very light and refreshing taste with light grain, bread and citrus notes. Hints of lemon on the nose and tongue. 

4. Mama’s Little Yella Pils

  • Brand: Oskar Blues Brewery
  • From: Lyons, Colorado
  • ABV: 4.7%
  • IBU: 33
  • Featured Hops: Saaz, Aramis
  • Taste: Brewed with pilsner and honey malt for a sweet brealike taste found in traditional Bohemian and Bavarian pilsners. The malt balances the hop presence and creates a great harmony of floral and sweet notes.

5. Live Oak Pilz

  • Brand: Live Oak Brewing Company 
  • From: Austin, Texas
  • ABV: 4.7%
  • IBU: 36
  • Featured Hops: Saaz
  • Taste: Bohemian-style pilsner brewed with Moravian malt and Saaz hops. Clean and crisp taste with a spicy and floral hop aroma and taste. Lingering grassy finish that fades into biscuity, grainy notes.

6. Pivo Pils

  • Brand: Firestone Walker Brewing Company
  • From: Paso Robles, California
  • ABV: 5.3%
  • IBU: 40
  • Featured Hops: Spalter select, Tradition, Saphir (Kettle and Dry-hop)
  • Taste: Brewed with pilsner and Carafoam malts. Aromatic floral and spicy, herb notes. Hints of lemongrass that balance the spicy floral hop presence. 

7. The Crisp

  • Brand: Sixpoint Brewery
  • From: Brooklyn, New York
  • ABV: 5.4%
  • IBU: 44
  • Featured Hops: Tettnang, Hallertau
  • Taste: Floral taste and aroma from the German hops used. Brewed with Cargill pilsner malt creates a crisp and clean taste and finish. Mild herbal and grassy notes in the taste with a short-lived lemon taste in the middle. Clear golden body with foamy white head.

8. Scrimshaw Pilsner

  • Brand: North Coast Brewing Co.
  • From: Fort Bragg, California
  • ABV: 4.5%
  • IBU: 22
  • Featured Hops: Hallertau, Tettnang
  • Taste: Brewed with Munich malt, it has a crisp and clean hop taste. Notes of pale malt. Floral, herb, and spicy notes on the nose. Earthy on the palate with a clean and dry finish. Golden with a thick white head. Strong lacing.

9. Mary

  • Brand: Hill Farmstead Brewery
  • From: Greensboro, Vermont
  • ABV: 4.6%
  • IBU: 60
  • Featured Hops: German hops
  • Taste: German-style pilsner brewed with German pilsner malt, German lager yeast, and German hops. Prominent earthy and spicy notes from the German hops and malt used. Light citrus and bread notes throughout the sip. Dry and lingering finish with notes of pepper at the end.
  • Where you can find it: In local markets in the Vermont area. At the Farm Hillstead taproom/brewery, and one location in Massachusetts.

10. Rev Pils

  • Brand: Revolution Brewing
  • From: Chicago, Illinois
  • ABV: 5.5%
  • IBU: 45
  • Featured Hops: German hops
  • Taste: Brewed with German pilsner malt, slightly grainy on the nose. Light and subtle taste of citrus and herb with subtle hop spice on the end. Crisp and thin mouthfeel. Clear golden straw body with thick and foamy white head.

11. Sunshine Pils

  • Brand: Troegs Independent Brewing
  • From: Hershey, Pennsylvania
  • ABV: 4.5%
  • IBU: 45
  • Featured Hops: Hersbrucker, Saaz
  • Taste: Brewed with German pilsner malt and lager yeast, two-row barley. Cracker and hay taste that translate from the nose, with herbal and subtle citrus notes throughout. Spicy notes from the Saaz hops toward the finish.

12. Pikeland Pils

  • Brand: Sly Fox Brewing
  • From: Pottstown, Pennsylvania
  • ABV: 4.9%
  • IBU: 44
  • Featured Hops: German and Czech hops
  • Taste: Bread and hop taste from the German and Czech hops used. Slightly spicy and herbal on the tongue and nose. Light straw color with white head. Dry finish.

Now that you’ve checked out some great pilsners to try, learn more about the best yeast to use for a Pilsner, how to get the right water profile for a pilsner, and how to brew a German Pilsner beer!