Top 5 German Pilsners

A beer style that I enjoy very much that I’m embarrassed to say I don’t drink nearly enough of, German Pilsner has ‘Summer’ written all over it. Sometimes spelled ‘Pilsener’, or referred to as ‘Pils’, this beer is a bottom-fermented, pale lager that is a copy of Bohemian Pilsner (the original clear, light colored beer) that was adapted to brewing conditions in Germany. I’d like to expand on the history of this style, but since I want to save that for when I write my Top 5 Czech Pilsners, let’s get to the meat and potatoes of what German Pils is all about.

German Pilsner Characteristics

Bright and beautiful, German Pilsners will appear straw to light gold, and be very clear with a creamy long-lasting white head. They’ll have a light, grainy Pils malt aroma (sometimes resembling Graham crackers) and prominent flowery, spicy noble hops courtesy of the Hallertauer, Tettnanger, or Spalt varietals. However, this complex aroma will be VERY clean without fruity esters. Keep your nose peeled also for an initial sulfury aroma from the water and/or yeast, and possibly some Trumer Pils“corny” notes (Dimethyl Sulfide, or DMS). German Pils taste crisp and bitter, with somewhat of a dry finish, and will have a malty flavor with some hints of grain. A spotlight will be on the noble hop bitterness it and will linger into the aftertaste. Again, there shouldn’t be any fruity esters and no diacetyl (that buttery/butterscotch flavor you get in a lot of other beers), and have a medium-light body with medium to high carbonation and be VERY drinkable. German Pilsners will be drier and crisper than Bohemian Pilsners, with a bitterness that will linger more in the aftertaste, have a lighter body and color, and have more carbonation. As you move from Southern Germany to Northern Germany, the examples you’ll find will be paler in color, drier in finish, and more bitter.

German Pilsner Food Pairings

Being a delicate, light, unobtrusive beer, German Pilsner (and all Pilsners, really) are incredibly versatile with a variety of foods. So clean and crisp, it may lack the fruity, malty, roasty, complex flavors that pair well with a lot of grub, but its attributes in other arenas make up for that, as it provides palate-cleansing bitterness, high carbonation, and malty sweetness. It will cut right through a spicy dish such as Thai, Vietnamese, Indian, Mexican, or Jamaican food, and will handle fatty foods just as well, especially oily, robust fish. And speaking of seafood, bring it on…ANY type of shellfish will be happy with a glass of Pilsner. Ham, bacon, and prosciutto go great with Pilsner, as the beer will slice through the fat and muffle the sodium-bomb that ham can be at times. If cheese is your poison, feel free to pair it with some light cheddar of any variety.

Sometimes choosing a Pilsner, be it Czech/Bohemian or German can be difficult, as many of the breweries in Europe just LOVE those green bottles, which sunlight wreaks havoc on and can render a perfectly drinkable and enjoyable beer a skunky mess. Fortunately, most of the ones on my Top 5 come in brown glass, so you don’t have to worry. But if you do seek out ones in the green enemy, spring for a 12-pack if you can, so you’re getting a product that’s been protected from light (whether it’s natural or artificial) from the point it left the packaging line to the point it makes it in your hand while you’re mowing the lawn. Cheers!

8 Comments

  • Beer Nut June 27, 2010 @ 7:45pm

    How on Earth did Victory Prima Pils not make that list????

  • Deron June 28, 2010 @ 8:35am

    Beer Nut,

    Point well taken. Prima Pils is an excellent beer, and a classic example of the style. However, when I write my ‘Top 5’s’, not only do I try my best to educate people on beer, but my “list” is more along the lines of my “favorite” 5, not necessarily the “best” 5 that are commercially available. It’s also sort of a small excuse for me to showcase some commercial examples that are a bit more under the radar and might be less known, since we both know Prima Pils, and Victory Brewing Company in general has a very large presence in the craft beer industry and a solid portfolio. Thanks for reading!

  • Kyle October 20, 2015 @ 4:12pm

    Asking for Victory in a German list? Where in Germany is Victory made…or Sly Fox?

    • Jeff February 19, 2018 @ 10:31pm

      Or Stoudt’s, or Troegs? (All four are from Pennsylvania!) I suppose the (latest generation of) Pennsylvania Dutch know something about German Pils

  • Tony July 27, 2017 @ 5:50pm

    How in the world is Jever not on this list. You should try it.

    • Rasp December 24, 2017 @ 5:03am

      I agree with Tony – how is Jever not on this list? It is widely known in Germany as the best example of a German pils. And how did Bitburger make it on here? Bitburger is the Budweiser of German pils – available everywhere, and universally despised by anyone who appreciates good German pils.

  • Mike Taylor August 21, 2017 @ 4:41pm

    What about Rothaus pils tannenzapfle or Waldhaus diplom pils? Rothaus is available in America, waldhaus wins all kinds of world beer awards, but only available in Europe. Both are from the Black Forest of Germany and great examples of a supreme pilsner.

  • Friedrich W O Vonostrowo November 5, 2017 @ 5:27pm

    How did you ever miss König Pilsener from the brewery in Duisburg-Beeck, Germany? The real king of pilsner beers. Park Pils, brewed by Parkbrauerei in Pirmasens, Germany and Jever are also very fine pilsners indicative of their regions.

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