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Czech-Style Pilsner vs. German-Style Pilsner: What’s the Difference?

In the world of craft beer choosing a style to enjoy can often be a daunting task. While many are quite distinct in their malt-to-hop ratio or flavor profile, some truly are just variations of each other.

Well, sounds like we’re doing another edition of “What’s the Difference?”

We’ve already explored Pale Ales versus India Pale Ales and Stouts versus Porters, so this time we thought we’d break down variations within a style.

With that, let’s dive into the differences between Czech-style Pilsners and German-Style Pilsners.

Dakota Soul Craft Lager Czech-style pilsner on Ratskeller bar
(credit: Summit Brewing Co.)

Which Came First?

In the case of Pilsners, this question is pretty easy to answer: The Czech Pilsner.

“Pilsner” is an English word that translates to “from Pilsen.” Pilsen is the city in the now Czech Republic where this style was born. So, while pilsners have grown to become the most popular beer style in the world, the original is the Czech version.

Keller Pils German-style pilsner on Ratskeller training room bar
(credit: Summit Brewing Co.)

Fact. Vs. Fiction

Unlike some other styles, there’s not too much mystery to how the pilsner came about.

The story goes that while the Bohemian city of Pilsen had been brewing beer since the end of the 13th century, by the 1830’s citizens were becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the taste.

In fact, according to Beer and Brewing, in 1838 people were so upset with the flavor they dumped barrels of ale in the streets. The belief is that there was contamination with the top-fermenting yeasts brewers had been using for years. This, along with variations in brewing methods, lead to varied quality and taste.

After the barrels were dumped, the city founded a brewery – now known as Pilsner Urquell – and brought in a Bavarian brewer, Josef Groll, to create a better beer.

Groll brought with him the Bavarian technique of cool fermenting yeasts, which he combined with local Saaz hops, pale malts and the soft water of Bohemia. In 1842, he brewed the first beer with these ingredients, the beer now known as the Czech Lager.

Groll ended his time in Bohemia in 1845 and returned to Germany, bringing the lager recipe with him. By the 1870’s, the style had spread throughout the then Austro-Hungarian territory into France and beyond.

Dakota Soul Craft Lager Czech-style pilsner and Keller Pils German-style pilsner cans
(credit: Summit Brewing Co.)

Genetic Makeup

As the style spread it took on a few variations – the traditional Czech-style, German-style and American-style. However, while each had distinct characteristics, they all maintained the same make-up: ingredients of only lager yeast, malt, hops and water, clean flavors, a balanced body and a crisp finish.

As we here at Summit Brewing Co. make a Czech-style inspired lager (our Summit Dakota Soul Craft Lager) and a German-style lager (our Summit Keller Pils), we’ll focus the characteristics of these two.

Czech-style pilsners are pale gold in color and brilliantly clear. They have a low-to-medium hop profile, and almost exclusively use the native Czech Saaz hop which gives a spiciness to the overall flavor. Often, Czech-style pilsners are slightly more malt-forward, with notes of biscuit, cracker and bread. They can be lower in carbonation and have a more full, rounded mouthfeel. They finish crisp and refreshing.

German-style pilsners, on the other hand, are pale yellow in color and can often be unfiltered causing a hazy appearance. As these recipes tend to utilize German hops, such as Tettnang or Hallertau, they’re bitterness is more pronounced. Flavors of lemon and honey can often be found in them as well. With higher carbonation, they have a drier, lighter mouthfeel and finish crisp with a lingering bitterness.

What both pilsners do have in common is the brewing process. Both require cool fermentation, around 50ºF, and an extended cold maturation period at which it should be stored just above freezing. The long cool fermentation and the extended cold conditioning is absolutely critical to producing clean, crisp pilsners without technical defect. We here at Summit Brewing Co. strive for at least 60 days of maturation for both. Few breweries have the capacity, or patience, to pull this off!

Dakota Soul Craft Lager is a Midwest-style lager that is inspired by the Czech-style. We utilize Saaz hops for the spicy notes and our malt blend offers flavors of biscuits and graham cracker. The end result is a clean, golden-colored lager with a balanced body and crisp finish.

Our Keller Pils is an unfiltered German-style pilsner. For this pilsner, we utilize Tettnang hops and a malt blend that offers aromas of citrus and honey. Pale yellow and a bit hazy, it has notes of pepper and basil and finishes sharp and crisp.

Since we’ve had two pilsners in our year-round profile since 2018, we’ve taken the liberty of breaking down the flavor differences we find in the two lagers. But, we’d love to know what you think! Pick up some Dakota Soul Craft Lager or Keller Pils and do your own taste-test today!

Dakota Soul Craft Lager and Keller Pils pilsner pour shots
(credit: Summit Brewing Co.)
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