Top 10 Pilsners Every Beer Connoisseur Should Try

Top 10 Pilsners Every Beer Connoisseur Should Try

Pilsner, originating from the Czech town of Pilsen in the 19th century, has become a global favorite, captivating beer connoisseurs and casual drinkers alike with its bright clarity, effervescent carbonation, and balanced hop character. In this exploration, we’ll delve into the top pilsners every beer enthusiast should try, offering a guide to the quintessential brews that define and elevate the pilsner category.

The Quintessence of Pilsners

Before discussing the Top Pilsners of All Time, we need to understand what characteristics define a pilsner as distinct from other beers.

The name “Pilsner” comes from a brewery in the city of Pilsen in the Czech Republic, where brewers began experimenting with the Bavarian style of brewing around 1842. This Bavarian style is a type of lager, which means that the yeast sinks to the bottom of the cask while fermenting. It prefers cooler temperatures and longer fermentation times.

By comparison, ales are brewed using strains of yeast, which float to the top of the cask and require less fermentation time than lagers. Although lagers require more fermentation time and better temperature control, they have the advantage of a longer shelf-life and are less likely to spoil during transportation.

The Pilsner beer quickly gained popularity throughout Europe, particularly because it was less likely to spoil as it was transported across the continent.

Today, the term “pilsner” covers a wide variety of lagers, which includes several subcategories such as the American Pilsner, Czech Pilsner, Imperial Pilsner, etc. The word “pilsner” may also be spelled “pilsener,” “pilsner,” or simply “pils” for short. The modern pilsners, true to the original Czech recipe, typically are defined by the taste of the Saaz noble hops and are light golden in color and without any cloudiness.

Now let’s talk about the top 10 pilsners of all time by my examination. We will not only consider the traditional criteria for beer judgment (i.e., taste, mouth feel, color, and smell), but We will also consider their availability and price within the US and Canada. My point is to recommend the top 10 pilsners that my readers will reasonably have a chance to taste without having to travel the world. On to the ranking:

1. Unplugged Bohemian Lager, New Glarus Brewing Company in New Glarus, Wisconsin

Unplugged Bohemian Lager

Although New Glarus, Wisconsin, is known for its predominantly Swiss heritage, they make a fantastic traditional Czech Pilsner. At the time of writing, it is the second highest-rated Czech Pilsener (worldwide) by members of BeerAdvocate with 99 independent reviews. The Unplugged Lager has a fantastic hops aroma from the moment the bottle is opened. The taste is excellent with a little sweetness and a little stronger hops, which is characteristic of German and Swiss pilseners made in the Czech style. The mouthfeel and carbonation levels are perfect. This pilsner is widely available, particularly in the Midwest.

The New Glarus Brewery also has free self-guided tours. If you should visit the brewery, I strongly recommend you also try their Wisconsin Belgian Red Ale and the Raspberry Tart Ale, which happen to be rated #1 and #2 worldwide by BeerAdvocate in the fruit beer category, with almost 1000 independent reviews!

2. Okocim Beer, Browar Okocim (Okocim Brewery) in Brzesko, Poland

Okocim calls their beer a German Pilsner, and rightly so, as it has a relatively strong taste of hops and a thicker mouthfeel than many pilsners. People who are used to the American style of pilseners might find the hops a little more than they would prefer, but people who enjoy more hoppy beers such as pale ales, barleywines, IPA, etc., will find that this pilsener stands out above others.

Okocim is one of the oldest breweries in Poland and is now owned by Carlsberg Brewing Group. They also make a fantastically rich porter.

3. Rogue Morimoto Imperial Pilsner, Rogue Ales Brewery in Newport, Oregon

All of Rogue’s beers are well made, and their Imperial Pilsner is no different. From the first taste, you will realize that this beer is substantially different from the traditional Czech-style pilsner. It’s made with French Pilsner malts and traditional Czech Pils Yeast, but the big difference is the use of Sterling Hops instead of the usual Saaz hops. It is distinctly malty and bitter, not to mention that at 8.8% ABV, it contains substantially more alcohol than most pilsners.

Rogue’s beers have a history of winning many awards, and the Morimoto Imperial Pilsner has won many awards for its unique bottle design. Also, try their Hazelnut Brown Ale, Imperial Stout, and Smoke Ale if you have a chance.

4. Pilsner Urquell, Plzensky Prazdroj (Fountain Head at Pilsen Brewery), Czech Republic

Pilsner Urquell is a relatively average pilsner as far as taste, mouthfeel, and smell, BUT there are some important reasons why it’s one of the top 10. First of all, this is the original pilsner from which all other pils were ultimately derived. It was at this brewery that the first pilsner was made in October of 1842, and the recipe has changed little since. Secondly, it’s widely available and inexpensive in comparison to other imported Pilsners. Third, many people believe it is one of the best pilseners. In fact, it was voted “Beer of the Year” at the Helsinki Beer Festival, and it has had almost 1000 reviews on BeerAdvocate. If you’re interested in beer, you need to try this beer just to get a taste of the origins of the pilsner. Although it’s only a little above average to drink, it is historically one of the most important beers in the world and belongs on the list of the top 10 pilsners of all time.

5. Sierra Nevada Summerfest Lager, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company in Chico, California

Although the Sierra Nevada is famous for their hoppier pale ale, this is an excellent pilsener and was a Gold Medal Winner in the 1999 California State Fair. It has a rich cider-like color when poured into a glass and has a little hops aroma. This beer is widely available during the summer months and usually is very inexpensive, considering the quality. With light hops and subtle malt flavors, this beer definitely leans close to the Czech-style pilsener using Saaz and Perle hops.

6. Polestar Pilsner, Left Hand Brewing Company in Longmont, Colorado

Polestar is a classic German Pilsner. Left Hand’s light beers all have a fresh, crisp taste, which is particularly refreshing. Following the German style, it has a hint of sweetness but also has lighter hops, more similar to a Czech Pilsner. This is a good example of the basic pilsner and is a great companion for grilling on a hot summer day.

7. Warsteiner Premium Verum, Warsteiner Brauerei in Warstein, Germany

This is another great example of a Pilsner. Although Warsteiner lists it as a German Pilsner, it is arguably much closer to a Czech Pilsner. This beer is widely available, and almost any decently stocked liquor or grocery store will likely have it. It can be readily purchased in a bottle, can, or even in mini kegs. Much like the Polestar above, this is a classic example of the style. Also, try their Dunkel beer.

8. Prima Pils, Victory Brewing Company in Downingtown, Pennsylvania

Prima Pils is a solid example of a German Pilsner with much greater than average hops. The character of this one might be a little too much for some who are shy of hops. This beer is also interesting in that many people prefer the taste from the bottle rather than getting it on tap. It has over 1000 independent reviews on BeerAdvocate and was given an “A+” by beer critic Jason Alström.

9. Reality Czech, Moonlight Brewing Company in Fulton, California

Has a great crisp Czech Pilsener smell and warm straw color. The taste is typical with a light Saaz hops flavor. Particularly light and refreshing as far as beer goes. This is another good one to enjoy in the summer.

10. Live Oak Pilz, Live Oak Brewing Company in Austin, Texas

Pleasant level of hoppiness and a light malt flavor. Unfortunately, this one is only available on tap or in growlers, but the company is steadily growing, so that might change. Nice body and a full mouth feel. Primarily made with Czech ingredients to try and recreate the classic pilsner. Try it on tap around the Austin area.

How do you serve a Pilsner?

To fully appreciate the subtleties of a great pilsner, attention to serving and tasting is paramount. Serve pilsners cold, but not too cold, as overly low temperatures can mute the flavors and aromas. A temperature range of 38-45°F (3-7°C) is ideal, allowing the beer’s full spectrum of flavors to shine through. Pouring the beer into a tall, slender glass not only showcases its beautiful color and carbonation but also concentrates the hop aromas, enhancing the overall tasting experience.

When tasting, take a moment to appreciate the beer’s appearance and aroma before taking the first sip. Notice the clarity, the color, and the way the light plays through the liquid. Inhale deeply to detect the nuances of the hops, whether they’re floral, herbal, or spicy. As you taste, let the beer linger on your palate, exploring the interplay between sweetness and bitterness, the carbonation, and the finish. A great pilsner should leave you refreshed, with a clean aftertaste that beckons for another sip.

The journey through the world of pilsners is a rewarding exploration of flavor, tradition, and craftsmanship. These beers, with their golden hues and balanced profiles, are a testament to the art of brewing. They remind us that simplicity does not preclude depth and that the pursuit of the perfect pilsner is a noble endeavor. For the beer connoisseur, the pilsners highlighted here represent a starting point, an invitation to delve deeper into a style that has captivated beer lovers for centuries.

As you embark on this journey, remember that each pilsner has its story, its nuances, and its place in the tapestry of beer. Whether you’re drawn to the traditional brews of Europe or the innovative interpretations from craft breweries around the world, the pursuit of the perfect pilsner is a journey of discovery, one that promises new tastes, new experiences, and a deeper appreciation for one of the world’s most beloved beer styles. So raise a glass to the pilsner, a beer that continues to inspire, refresh, and unite beer lovers across the globe.