Pilsner or Lager, What’s The Diff?
By Timothy Long
Summertime is upon us. It’s time to enjoy picnics, baseball, beaches, cookouts, and swimming pools. But most importantly, it’s a time to indulge in lagers and pilsners. Those wonderful golden refreshing brews that become so popular when the weather warms. Summer is when these lighter crisper beers come into their season. Nothing is better on a hot sunny afternoon while you’re scarfing down a hot dog at Nats Park. But which one should you choose? Aren’t lagers and pilsners the same thing?
No, my friends. They are not. But they are similar. So, do you know the difference between a lager and a pilsner? No? Well then, little buckeroo, you need to pull up a barstool and have a seat. And let Uncle Tim tell you a classic tale. A tale worthy of any story book. The tale of the lager and the pilsner.
A long time ago in a faraway land known as Bavaria, a revolution in brewing was occurring. A new yeast had just been discovered. A yeast that behaved very differently than any known before it. This yeast fermented at the bottom of the brew instead of the top, and at colder temperatures over a longer period. Bavarian monks began making a new beer with this odd yeast. They would store or “lager” their new brews in ice caves in the Bavarian Alps over the summer. When these casks were opened in the fall, a lighter, cleaner, crisper beer emerged. As the centuries passed, the process evolved. As the website beerexpert.co.uk explains it:
“The word lager comes from the German lagern (“to store”), and it is in Bavaria that the drink finds its origins. In the early nineteenth century Bavarian brewers began experimenting with brewing techniques that involved storing their beers in cold beer cellars for prolonged periods, using bottom-fermenting yeast. After an initial fermentation the beer would be given a second “lagering” period at a low temperature, and then would be stored in refrigerated beer cellars. They could be kept for a few weeks or several months, during which time the drink would mellow and clear.”
Until the discovery of this new yeast, brewers were making only ales. Ales ferment at room temperature and at the top of the brew. To this day, all beers are either ales, lagers, or a hybrid of the two. And the two processes produce very different beers. Ales tend to be fruitier and fuller on the palate. Whereas lagers tend to be lighter and crisper tasting. There are, of course, many variations of both.
Our story then takes us to a beautiful city in what is now the Czech Republic, Pilsen. It’s the nineteenth century, and a brewer named Josef Groll is experimenting with lagers. He comes up with a lager recipe that is made with soft water, malty barley, and Saaz hops. This noble Saaz hops gives the beer a bit of spicy flavor. Groll has just given birth to the pilsner. Light, crisp, and with a touch of spice, the beer becomes a huge hit, first with German immigrants, then throughout Europe and all the world. Now you know the difference between a pilsner and a lager. A pilsner is a type of lager. Just like tequila is a type of mezcal. And just like tequilas and mezcals, all pilsners are lagers. But not all lagers are pilsners.
I have often stated in the past, and I stand by my words, that whatever beer you like is the right one to drink. Just because it’s summer, that does not mean that you must forgo those wonderful ales that you so enjoy. Some ales, like a light citrusy West Coast Pale Ale, are great for summer drinking. But summer is perfect for experimenting with lagers, especially pilsners. Here are a few local craft ones that I recommend.
Downright Pilsner, Port City Brewing Company
This is one of my favorites. It is medium bodied and crisp with a hint of spice, just like a pilsner should be. It is a true traditional Czech pilsner that uses 100% pilsner malt and Saaz hops. A great summer afternoon just-finished-walking-the-dog-beer.
Born Bohemian Pils, Denizens Brewing Company
Another great Czech-style pilsner with a light body and a round mouthfeel. It has light toasted malt and spicy hop flavors, just as it should. This great little pilsner is perfect for an afternoon of baseball or a round of golf.
Hardywood Pils German Style Lager, Hardywood Park Craft Brewery
I order this beer anytime I see it on tap. Hardywood brews it according to Germany’s Beer Purity Laws. It has a small bite of hops at the beginning. On the palate, it’s biscuity with a hint of fruit. This is a well-rounded pilsner with a light dry crisp finish. Picture yourself drinking it in the backyard while grilling hotdogs, or better yet, bratwurst.
Quayside Kolsch, Fairwinds Brewing Company
Kolsch is an example of a hybrid between lagers and ales. It is usually brewed with top fermenting yeast and then conditioned at cold temperatures like lager. The Quayside Kolsch is a great summer beer. It has both Pilsner and Munich malts. This gives it floral aromas with a hint of spice. A great relaxing by the pool beer.
De Gens German Style Pilsner, Aslin Beer Company
You get a little lemon and honey on the front and a graham cracker-like maltiness as you drink this very refreshing pilsner. I honestly could have written this entire article on Aslin’s lager and pilsner selections. If you visit them, also try the Much Ado Helles Lager and the That’s Facts Pilsner. In fact, just sit at the bar and try all their lagers. You will not be disappointed.
Tim’s Whiskey and Cigar Recommendation
Copper Fox’s Dawson’s Reserve Bourbon Whisky
Copper Fox Distillery is in Sperryville, VA. I have previously tasted several of their whiskeys and have always found them to be quality products. However, this bourbon is exceptional. Our publisher, Bob Tagert, wanted me to try it. We tasted it with a superb cigar provided by John Pann at John Crouch Tobacconist; more on that to follow. This is the perfect bourbon for summer. It starts off light and fruity on the nose. I get a bit of citrus, mainly peach, as I sniff it. The palate starts off smoky, and then becomes earthy but sweet. The finish is smooth with some light smoke and fruit flavors. At 90 proof and about $60 a bottle, it’s well worth the price. But you may have to visit Sperryville to get it. I’ve yet to see this one in a store.
- Upman’s Herman’s Batch Robusto
A great summer cigar to go with a great summer pilsner, lager, or bourbon. Or all three if you are a slow smoker. This marvelous mild to medium cigar starts off with cocoa and citrus notes. Some earthy notes come through as you get halfway through the smoke. The body stays at about medium all the way to the end. The citrus and cocoa blend with some red pepper for a fine finish. This cigar blended perfectly with the Dawson’s Reserve Bourbon. Both are great summertime delights. Enjoy.
This cigar, and many other fine cigars, are available at John Crouch Tobacconist at 215 King St. in Old Town Alexandria. Mention this article and get 10% off the purchase of this month’s recommended cigar.
About the Author: Timothy Long is an educator, writer, consultant, and experienced restaurant operator. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Instagram and Twitter: @wvutimmy. Blog: What is that fly doing in my soup? http://whatflyinmysoup.com