Home / German Beer Styles / Pils
Not strictly a German beer type, Pilsner originated in the Bohemian city of Plzen (or Pilsen) in the mid nineteenth century, and is also referred to as Pils or Pilsener. The light colour of the beer results from the use of lightly toasted malts in contrast to the darker malts previously used in beer.
The Germans shortened the name to Pils when the Czech brewers from Pilsen took legal action. Some of the best Pilsners in the world are still brewed in the Czech Republic (try Pilsener Urquell or Budweiser Budvar, for example), but the style has become popular the world over, with poor, industrially brewed imitations from big brands like Stella Artois readily available almost everywhere. The term is heavily overused. Real pilsners should have a distinctively hoppy, flowery nose that becomes apparent as soon as you open the bottle, with a bitter hoppiness to the taste and a dry, lingering finish. There should also be a noticeable maltiness with a depth of flavour that comes from weeks of lagering, which you won't find in those awful industrial lagers like the Anheuser-Busch (US) Budweiser or many of the Japanese, Mexican and Spanish lagers, which tend to be brewed with rice, corn or other grains -- a great way to kill the flavour of a beer. You should be able to taste the difference between a Czech pils and a German pils, because whilst the Czechs almost always use Saaz hops, the Germans usually use Hallertauer hops. There's a difference in taste, for sure, but I can't quite put it into words. If you can describe the difference, please mail me using the form at the bottom of the page.
The German variations of the pilsner style are interesting in that they tend to vary greatly from region to region. Bavarian pilsners, for example, tend to have more sweet maltiness and less hop bitterness than the classic Czech examples and although they are quite delicious in their own right, some are perhaps not best described as pilsners. Perhaps the term "Helles" would be closer to the mark for some of them. The sweet maltiness of the pils from Southern Germany originated from the need to reduce the amount of hops because the heavy level of carbonates in Southern German water caused excessive bitterness if too many hops were used. Up in the North of Germany, you should find considerably drier pils with more hop bitterness and less sweet malt. Jever Pils is a notable example of the Northern type and you can contrast this with Spaten Pils from Munich, way down South in Bavaria.
I don't know much about brewing, but you can find out more about how to brew German Pilsner from the Brewer's Handbook.
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Last updated: 15th April 2004
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