German Pilseners vs Czech Pilseners

Discussion in 'Beer Talk' started by SummitSeries72, Apr 11, 2017.

  1. SummitSeries72

    SummitSeries72 Initiate (164) Mar 17, 2011 New Jersey

    Now that the warm Spring air is upon us, it's the perfect time for the Pilsener style. I like both Czech Pilseners as well as German Pilseners. Re the former, I tend to favor Czechvar (Budvar in Czech). Re the latter, I like Rothaus as well as some excellent American takes on the style (Sixpoint, The Crisp and Victory Prima Pils). If you look at the respective descriptions of Czech Pilseners and German Pilseners, there is really little that distinguishes them. Just curious to see if there are Pilsener drinkers out there whose palates are sensitive enough to discern a difference between the two. If so, how would you differentiate in taste between Germans and Pilseners? And do you prefer one over the other? If so, which?
  2. Premo88

    Premo88 Meyvn (1,438) Jun 6, 2010 Texas

    No, I do not prefer one over the other. I love them both and love them both *real* *hard*.

    My general experience with the two versions is just when you think you've got a handle on their differences, you find a German that tastes exactly like the Czech or vice versa.

    For me, the Germans tend to feature more bread malt flavor (and sweetness), the Czechs are a bit drier with more cracker malt flavor (less sweetness, more grain flavor). Pilsner Urquell is the biggest outlier from the Czech side for me -- I find it bursting with bread malt sweetness. Beer gods be praised, for I do love that brew. :grinning:

    My biggest preference is imports over American-made versions, though when it comes to the pils, our stateside brewers have a fantastic handle on how to make an authentic version. They also like to trick them up with American spins on the original, but those versions (Prima Pils, The Crisp, some of Sierra Nevada's stabs at it and plenty of others) can be super tasty and great additions to the genre. Prima Pils, in particular, is bad ass -- loads of bread malt and a bunch of good bitter hops biting away at the same time.
  3. TwoTrees

    TwoTrees Disciple (352) Oct 31, 2012 Washington

    This is a good question and I'm curious to see what more seasoned drinkers chime in with. I have a hunch of an answer, but I don't want my ignorance on full display.

    Perhaps a multi Pilsner tasting is in order? You've just given me my weekend activity...
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  4. Lurchus

    Lurchus Aspirant (247) Jan 19, 2014 Germany

    There is no such thing as "Czech Pils" in the czech republic.
  5. SummitSeries72

    SummitSeries72 Initiate (164) Mar 17, 2011 New Jersey

    Then what would they call it?
    lester619 likes this.
  6. SFACRKnight

    SFACRKnight Meyvn (1,148) Jan 20, 2012 Colorado
    Beer Trader

    There is ten pages of Pilsner love right here in this very forum.:rolling_eyes:
    For me the two styles share a blurred line to differentiate themselves. I love em all though.
    Bitterbill, HuskyHawk and Premo88 like this.
  7. Roadkizzle

    Roadkizzle Aspirant (211) Nov 6, 2007 Texas
    Beer Trader

    Pilsner just means "from pilsen". There is technically only one Pilsner and that's Pilsner Urquell. Even then that isn't a Czech Pilsner as labeled by the Czech people because they wouldn't feel the need to specify that it is Czech because that's understood.

    But really Pilsner Urquell is just a brand of beer in the style the Czech call Světlý ležák (literally translated it just means pale lager).
    Budvar, Staropramen and the like are not pilsner style beers they are just pale lagers from the Czech Republic.

    I haven't had Budvar, or Staropramen in many years, but the general consensus is that Czech Pale Lagers are more balanced tasting, with complex malt bodies. Some people here have mentioned that Staropramen tastes drier than PU.
    German Pils vary but the generality is very light malt body with some light crackery flavor and strong hop character.
  8. Premo88

    Premo88 Meyvn (1,438) Jun 6, 2010 Texas

    I think therein lies the problem trying to separate the supposed two styles ... are they really two styles? Or just a spectrum of one style with a bit of latitude in the parameters? I think "English pale ale family" -- we got many styles listed here on (10?) that are basically one style with small differences separating them, very small differences.

    On, the pils is separated into two styles and probably could use a third ("American pilsener"). But that's venturing farther into the weeds ...
  9. Roadkizzle

    Roadkizzle Aspirant (211) Nov 6, 2007 Texas
    Beer Trader

    Yes but then you have to also wade through an absurd off-topic argument about Terroir... It is hard to find descriptions on what is the difference between these two general styles.
  10. scottakelly

    scottakelly Devotee (498) May 9, 2007 Ohio

    I can't wait for another 10 pages of arguments! :slight_smile:

    Anyway, I love pilsners from Germany and the Czech Republic. Pilsner Urquell is probably the one I drink the most as it is widely distributed and sometimes fresh, but other German examples come in next on my oft-consumed list, with, unfortunately, other Czech pils offerings being rare or, when found, old these days.

    But anyway, PU is very different to me from a German Pils, and rather different from other Czech pilsners. Compared to a German Pils, the malt profile is more complex, and the hop profile less pronounced. I think this is more a function of the yeast than anything else, since PU is, after all, 40 IBUs, a level not matched by many German pilsners.

    I also want to add that German pils are really different to me as well. Some are very malt forward, others have more hop presence.
  11. StetsonWeizen88

    StetsonWeizen88 Initiate (125) Dec 1, 2010 Texas

    The original pilsner or Pilsner Urquell, which is of the Czech Style, is brewed with Pilsner malt, Saaz hops and soft water. When I think of Czech Style Pilsner this is what I think of: pilsner malt and saaz hops. Not much else. That's from a historical standpoint. There are a lot of American brewed Czech Style Pilsners that will include one or two other hop variety's other than Saaz. In summation: Czech Style Pilsner: 5.0% alcohol, bready malt and spicy/grassy Saaz hops.

    German Style Pilsner, on the other hand, especially from an American standpoint, tends to be much hoppier, leaner and quite brisk, usually utilizing multiple Noble Hop variety's. There is more than just the classic spicy/grass hop character. German Style Pilsners are usually quite citrusy leaning a lot of times toward lemon notes from the classic Tettnanger, which is the main hop variety I associate with German Style Pils. German Style is usually higher in alcohol, too, with 5.3% being that most common number. Malt character is still in play, though.

    With all of the American brewed pilsners out there, it is sometimes hard to discern between the two styles, because like I said before, a lot of breweries market the beer as Czech Style but utilize several hop varieties, which easily blurs the line. Both are two of my favorite styles. When I worked for Santa Fe Brewing Company as a less refined craft beer drinker, their Freestyle Pils really opened my eyes to the style. Other examples that catapulted my enjoyment are as follows: Sierra Nevada Summerfest, Victory Prima, Firestone Walker Pivo and Live Oak Pilz. Smuttynose Vunderbar is another great example of an American brewed Czech Style Pilsner. Cheers to pilsner, of all kinds!
  12. Premo88

    Premo88 Meyvn (1,438) Jun 6, 2010 Texas

    My bad ... I even posted in that one :flushed: (I think; I damn sure read some of it -- Plzen-inspired beer gets me excited :grinning:).
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  13. HuskyHawk

    HuskyHawk Devotee (465) Jun 5, 2014 Massachusetts

    Interesting. If someone can point me to a German Pilsner that doesn't use Saaz hops or have that spicy/grassy character, or that funky/skunky note I often get, I'd be up for giving it a try.

    I'm generally not a fan of pale lagers. I like Jack's Abby House Lager, Dogfish Piercing Pils and Peak's Fresh Cut. I also thought that Wehenstephaner 1516 was very good. I have struggled mightily to find beers I enjoy across the entire pale lager range.
    tasterschoice62 likes this.
  14. Roadkizzle

    Roadkizzle Aspirant (211) Nov 6, 2007 Texas
    Beer Trader

    I don't think there's as much difference in the yeast. From what I've seen as a homebrewer trying to select yeast the Czech strains may have a slightly higher diacetyl production while the German styles clean that up more... But there are many people that swear by the yeast labeled as czech lager yeast for their German pilsners.

    A big difference classically talked about is the water profile. Everyone talks about the Pilsen water being some of the softest available while Germany often has harder water. I've thought of using more Cl- ions in the bohemian pale lagers to round out and balance the hop bitterness and malt while more SO4- ions in the German Pils to accentuate the hop bitterness and spiciness, with a slight sulphur note possible.

    But then also the Bohemian breweries used Moravian (Eastern Czech) barley for their malt while the German breweries used German malt... That difference can explain some of the difference between the malt character of the two beers.

    It appears that German Pils are often more highly attenuated. There may be some difference between the mashing schedules of the Czech and German breweries to produce a more fermentable wort or it may be yeast differences.

    I love German pilsners. I love Bitburger, Konig Pilsner, Rothaus Tannenzaepfle, Wernesgruener, EKU Pils.
    I don't really care for Pilsner Urquell.

    A big differentiator I think with the German pils is the hop character. Reading through the German homebrewer forum I see them talking about the Pilsner style being about late-addition hop character. I know I read on this forum that some German breweries even hop-burst their pilsners (virtually all the hops as late addition hops)
  15. TongoRad

    TongoRad Poo-Bah (2,327) Jun 3, 2004 New Jersey
    Premium Member Beer Trader

    You're still pretty close to the fairway. In international competitions there are also International Pilsners :wink::sunglasses:. Oh, and American Pilsners are different from American Pale Lagers and Lite Pale Lagers...
  16. steveh

    steveh Poo-Bah (2,021) Oct 8, 2003 Illinois

    Find yourself some Ayinger Bavarian Pils, recently introduced to the U.S.

    It uses Hallertauer hops, although they can be perceived as spicy and grassy. But Ayinger also uses brown bottles, so you shouldn't get any skunkiness (a condition caused only by light effecting hop isohumulones).
  17. reefer_bob

    reefer_bob Disciple (354) May 13, 2014 California
    Beer Trader

    I find myself confused often between the two. I enjoy versions of both!

    I would say, that the new Alesmith Spezial Pilsner is a FANTASTIC beverage. Really hits all the right notes to my taste buds. :slight_smile: Worth checking out as a new kid on the block.
  18. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Poo-Bah (3,491) Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania
    Premium Member

    I posted on this topic in the other Pilsner thread:

    "Oh boy, I was not intending to go down the road of German Pilsner vs. Bohemian Pilsner (Czech Premium Pale Lager) but...

    For my palate the 'bigger' difference between a German Pilsner and a Bohemian Pilsner is the malt backbone. From my perspective a Bohemian Pilsner has a richer malt backbone and a more substantial body from a higher final gravity. In contrast a German Pilsner tends to be drier and consequently a bit more crisp in nature.

    The difference in the malt backbone of a Bohemian Pilsner and a German Pilsner is due to differing ingredients (Moravian Pilsner Malt vs. German Pilsner Malt) and potentially differing brewing process."

    To augment the above:

    A Bohemian Pilsner (Czech Premium Pale Lager) features Saaz hops while German Pilsners are brewed with a number of hop varieties (e.g., Saaz, Hallertauer Mittelfruh, Tettnanger, Spalt, ...).

    Also, do not let the sentence structure of the last quoted sentence be a source of confusion: both brewing process and differing ingredients are important matters of distinction.

  19. SFACRKnight

    SFACRKnight Meyvn (1,148) Jan 20, 2012 Colorado
    Beer Trader

    Do you feel terroir plays into the differences?:rolling_eyes:
  20. steveh

    steveh Poo-Bah (2,021) Oct 8, 2003 Illinois

    Okay, it may be controversial, but I'm going to post the most recent BJCP style comparison for Pilsner -- mostly because it falls in line with my own palate:
    * **My own notes.
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  21. steveh

    steveh Poo-Bah (2,021) Oct 8, 2003 Illinois

    Honestly? Try a Northern German Pilsener (such as Wernesgrüner) next to a Jever and Urquell. The one thing I noticed about the Wernesgrüner is that the malt character is very similar to Urquell -- the brewery is not far from the Czech republic. Terroir in the malt? I'd buy it.
  22. TongoRad

    TongoRad Poo-Bah (2,327) Jun 3, 2004 New Jersey
    Premium Member Beer Trader

    Maybe some of the more experienced brewers here can expound on how that grassy character is achieved. In my limited experience, the larger late hop additions, even dry hopping, tended to bring it out, and the type of hop was secondary (as long as I used noble hops).
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  23. Givemebeer

    Givemebeer Zealot (567) Apr 6, 2013 Vermont

    German pilsners are lighter in color, more dry and crisp. They also tend to be slightly more bitter. Czech pils have a slightly fuller mouthfeel. German water is hard - full of kinerals while Czech water is the opposite. I prefer German style. Mostly because Pilsner Urquell doesn't do it for me and its the most readily available for the style - especially in Vermont. Too much diacetyl.
    utopiajane likes this.
  24. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Poo-Bah (3,491) Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania
    Premium Member

    Michael, I generously late hopped my Pilsners (and other German style lagers) using noble hops:
    • My Amber Kellerbier: both Hallertauer Mittelfruh and Spalt hops
    • My Bohemian Pilsner: Saaz hops
    • My Classic American Pilsner: Halleratuer Mittelfruh
    I have consistently never perceived "grassy" in any of those batches; I have been homebrewing my Bohemian Pilsner since 1998 (annually and sometimes twice a year).

    I have never heard any family or friends remark upon "grassy" in any of my beers.

    I have seen some homebrewers remark that if you dry hop beers too long that "grassy" will result. I have dry hopped many batches of beers (of varying styles) with up to 14 days of dry hop contact time and I have never perceived "grassy" in any of those beers.

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  25. ManBearPat

    ManBearPat Devotee (433) Dec 2, 2014 Colorado

    Had a super fresh PU about a month ago and was completely blown away.

    I wish there were more American brewers that could execute a delicate style like this with so much flavor and such a low ABV. I think that's what really surprised me- low ABV with tons of flavor.
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  26. keithmurray

    keithmurray Meyvn (1,157) Oct 7, 2009 Connecticut

    This is in the States now? Can't wait to try!
  27. steveh

    steveh Poo-Bah (2,021) Oct 8, 2003 Illinois

    Must'a missed this?
  28. Ranbot

    Ranbot Zealot (508) Nov 27, 2006 Pennsylvania

    Well, there is Sierra Nevada Summerfest, but generally speaking finding good examples of low-ABV lagers in the US takes more work and patience. They don't generate buzz like other beer styles do, and this site's ratings aren't much help because most reviewers under-rate or don't know how to rate a beer that doesn't hammer their tastebuds like an IPA or imperial stout.
  29. Roadkizzle

    Roadkizzle Aspirant (211) Nov 6, 2007 Texas
    Beer Trader

    I think a big part of this is Pilsner Urquell has a lower attenuation than other beers like a german pils.

    There are larger, more complex sugars remaining in the beer that provide body. It is essentially a 5% abv beer that has more non-fermentable (not sweet) sugars so it can only ferment out to 4.4% abv.

    That is possibly a product of specific decoction mashes used by the brewery, or the malt characteristics.
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  30. hopfenunmaltz

    hopfenunmaltz Meyvn (1,354) Jun 8, 2005 Michigan

    I have read that they crash the yeast once they are at 4.4%. That explains the Diacetyl. The unfiltered unpasteurized still has yeast in suspension as it has not been crashed, and no Diacetyl. My threshold is high, but my wife and others who have ultra sensitivity to Diacetyl say none in the unfiltered.
  31. Roadkizzle

    Roadkizzle Aspirant (211) Nov 6, 2007 Texas
    Beer Trader

    Are the unfiltered unpasteurized versions significantly higher abv? For the lower attenuation achieved by halting the fermentation at 4.4% then if they did not halt the fermentation (cleaning up diacetyl) then it would be finishing eating up the sugars.

    Most European breweries that have different beers exported send a higher abv to the USA and keep the lower abv for their local customers. At least that's been the experience I've seen.

    The difference between halting fermentation and not would lead to a much different beer other than just lower diacetyl. It would significantly change the body and sweetness.
    AlcahueteJ likes this.
  32. hopfenunmaltz

    hopfenunmaltz Meyvn (1,354) Jun 8, 2005 Michigan

    I am not sure of the ABV. I would be higher, yes.

    The Czechs are said to like the fuller body, and don't mind the Diacetyl.

    Edit one site says 4.5 ABV.
  33. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Poo-Bah (3,491) Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania
    Premium Member

    Jeff, Peter Ensminger in his article entitled “The History and Brewing Methods of Pilsner Urquell - Divining the Source of the World's Most Imitated Beer” reports:

    “The yeast is pitched at 39 °F (4 °C), and primary fermentation lasts 11 days. The temperature is allowed to rise to a maximum of 48 °F (9 °C) before fermentation is halted and the young beer from each of the fermentors is combined for lagering (18).”

    No specific mention that the fermentation is halted when a certain specific gravity is reached but it sure looks like a controlled fermentation process certainly takes place.

    Brewing process will certainly dictate how the resulting beer tastes.

    AlcahueteJ likes this.
  34. StetsonWeizen88

    StetsonWeizen88 Initiate (125) Dec 1, 2010 Texas

    Well, in my before post I listed some of my favorite American brewed pilsners, so I won't hash over that list again. Perhaps you should try Firestone Walker Pivo Pils? It highlights the Sahphir hop, which is a lovely hop in pilsners. I perceive a really unique lemon-like character from it. It's also quite spicy, though. Most of the Noble hops are going to have that spice character. I don't perceive any of the top American pilsners to be skunky. Maybe that is just for imports? If a green bottle is involved, skunk will follow.

    A ton of great pilsners being made in America right now. My home state of Texas is flooded with great lagerbier and Pilsner in general. A few of note are
    TongoRad likes this.
  35. StetsonWeizen88

    StetsonWeizen88 Initiate (125) Dec 1, 2010 Texas

    Wow, my phone jacked up and entered my post too soon.

    Anyway, some Texas pilsners of note are the aforementioned Live Oak Pilz, Real Ale Hans Pils and the great Austin Beer Works Pearl Snap Pils. All solid examples of pilsner. Oh, don't want to leave out Saint Arnold 5 O' Clock Pils. Lots and lots of great lagerbier being made in Texas, and boy, am I happy for it.
  36. StetsonWeizen88

    StetsonWeizen88 Initiate (125) Dec 1, 2010 Texas

    Another widely distributed, high-quality pilsner is Sierra Nevada's Nooner. Off the top of my head, I don't think they use Saaz. Not completely positive, though. If so, it's definitely not the forefront hop. You might check it out, if you haven't already. Cheers!
  37. Roadkizzle

    Roadkizzle Aspirant (211) Nov 6, 2007 Texas
    Beer Trader

    I would definitely say that Texas does not have lots and lots of great lagerbier... Well at least not lots of variety. Shiner has a lot of quantity, and Real Ale, Saint Arnold, and Live Oak aren't the tiniest of breweries. But we only have a few examples of reliable pilsners. There's a couple of decent schwarzbiers, and not much else. Lagerbier is very few and far between in the state. Live Oak and Saint Arnold are decent examples similar to Pilsner Urquell. Hans' Pils is a bit one-dimensional I think to be considered a really good example of a german pils. I prefer Pearl Snap personally.

    But we have nothing like Stoudts, Troegs, Jack Abby, Von Trapp, Urban Chestnut. We don't even have many examples of these breweries making americanized lagers (wannabe IPA's).
    marquis likes this.
  38. Roadkizzle

    Roadkizzle Aspirant (211) Nov 6, 2007 Texas
    Beer Trader

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  39. hopfenunmaltz

    hopfenunmaltz Meyvn (1,354) Jun 8, 2005 Michigan

    ABGB makes some fine lagers.
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  40. Lurchus

    Lurchus Aspirant (247) Jan 19, 2014 Germany

    Depending on strength/style:
    Světlé Výčepní Pivo, Světlý Ležák, Světlé Speciální Pivo, maybe a kvasnicové,,,:wink: For the first one, which is the most popular style in the czech republic, you won't even really find an equivalent in germany.......
    Whoever doesn't see a difference between pale czech and german lagers and the culture around them should visit those 2 countries asap:wink:
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