Ale vs. Lager vs. Pilsner

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Almost everybody likes beer. In fact, many would say it’s their default alcoholic beverage.

On average, it doesn’t have a massive percentage of alcohol, and it’s perfect for relaxing with your friends at home, or in a bar.

As you probably know, though, there are many different types of beer, and this doesn’t only pertain to the taste and color.

So let’s look at what the difference is between the three most common varieties. Here’s more about ale vs. lager vs. pilsner. Welcome to the world of beer.

Lagers and Ales

No, we haven’t forgotten about pilsners here. There’s a good reason for it, which we’ll get into later. For now, let’s talk about lagers and ales.

The difference between lager and ale beers is in the type of yeast used in the fermentation while brewing.

Brewing and Fermentation

Lagers, compared to ales, are brewed in colder temperatures, with yeasts that are bottom-fermenting. This is when the yeast is fermented at the bottom of the container.

Ales, on the other hand, require warmer temperatures or brewing, and top-fermenting yeast (which ferments at the top of the container).

Taste

Where the yeast is fermented in the container plays an essential role in the taste of a beer. In lagers, where yeast is fermented at the bottom, you won’t get the fruity characteristics that the top-fermenting beers (ales) tend to boast.

This doesn’t mean that either of the two is necessarily “better” than the other.

It all boils down to taste. Lagers have cleaner and more crisp flavors than ales, whereas ales tend to have a fruitier, more potent flavor. Some people prefer a cleaner, crisp taste, while others are all about the fruity, stronger one.

The difference between lagers and ales is very easy to tell – it’s clearly noticeable in taste.

Pilsners

As stated earlier, there’s a good reason why we haven’t compared pilsners with lagers and ales. And that reason is outlined in the various types of lagers.

Bear with us. Here are some of the most popular lager styles: California common, marzen, malt liquor, schwarzbier, dunkel, pilsners. Yes, that’s right, pilsners! Pilsners are actually one of the most popular types of lager beers.

Is there any sense in comparing pilsners with ales and lagers then, especially with the latter, as pilsners are lagers themselves? Well, strangely enough, yes. But you’re going to have to be patient here. Let’s start by digging into the world of pilsners.

The Origin of Pilsner Beers

Pilsners were initially invented in the city of Pilsen, way back in the mid-19th century. They came about as a complete accident. The inventor of pilsner beer, Josef Groll, wanted to find a way to prevent his dearly beloved beer for spoiling.

For this, he used Saaz hops. Turns out, not only did he succeed in his task, but he hit the spot when it comes to the tastes of many. It’s the Saaz hops that defines pilsner beers and it’s the Saaz hops that keeps many coming back for more pilsner.

Pilsner Characteristics

Let’s not forget that pilsner beers are a type of lager — a pale lager, to be exact. Pilsner beer is palate-cleansing, refreshing, and thirst-quenching.

Pilsners are one of the most common beer types in the world. They actually define the appearance of beer in pop culture – a color that ranges from light straw, all the way to golden.

Compared to ales and other lagers, pilsner beers are lighter. But pilsners do have a certain zest to them.

Although they aren’t nearly as “exotic” as ales, pilsners are on the spicier side of lagers. Thanks to the aforementioned Saaz hops, they do have a kick to them, and you’ll get a, shall we say, hoppier taste than your regular lager.

Why Pilsners are a Lager Subcategory

Well, because they’re lagers, to all intents and purposes. Sure, the Saaz hops are what makes pilsners taste special, but other lagers use different brewing principles, as well. It’s still a bottom-fermenting beer, despite its zest, doesn’t taste as fruity and as spicy as ales.

So, pilsners are, in theory, lagers. But many don’t tend to think of them as lagers. And for a good reason.

Why Pilsners Aren’t a Lager Subcategory

To reiterate: Pilsners are lagers. However, although this type of discussion is a perfect one to enjoy over a lager or an ale, when it comes to preference, pilsners might as well be a completely separate type of beer.

For one, they taste very different from other lager types. Secondly, there are actual types of pilsners. Yes, they might as well be an equal player in the ale vs. lager vs. pilsner game!

Types of Pilsners

By far, the most common pilsner style is a Czech pilsner.

Even if you’ve never been anywhere near Europe, as a beer connoisseur, you’ve doubtlessly tasted this common pilsner type. It’s sometimes referred to as the Bohemian pilsner. Clearly, this is because pilsners were invented in the region.

But then you’ve got your German pilsners, as well as the classic American pilsner (also known as American pale lager).

Sure, these non-bohemian pilsners share some of the same traits that put them in the same category, but they’re different enough to deserve their own subcategory.

So, there you have it, one of the main reasons why pilsner beers are just as popular as other lager types combined.

Ale vs. Lager vs. Pilsner

Ales vs. Pilsners

Ales and pilsners are in completely different beer categories. The best way to compare the two is by putting pilsners alongside ales that are the most similar to pilsners.

Given the fact that pilsners are, essentially, pale lagers, they’re best put against pale ales.

Visible Differences

The first difference that you’ll notice between the two is that pilsners are much clearer. Pale ales, on the other hand, are somewhat cloudy. Color-wise, they’re fairly similar, as both belong to the light beer subcategory. Still, the difference is visible even before tasting.

Differences in Taste

Then, there’s the difference in taste itself, which is significant. Pilsners are cleaner and crisper, whereas pale ales are maltier, hoppier, and more bitter. Therefore, it’s almost impossible to confuse the two in terms of taste.

Lagers vs. Pilsners

Finally, we’ve reached this point. Comparing a beer category and its subcategory. Well, there isn’t much to say about it that we haven’t already said. As previously stated, pilsner beers, like lager beers, are also bottom-fermented, which gives both beer styles a cleaner, crisper look, taste, and overall flavor.

So, what’s the difference here? The mentioned Saaz hops. The hops that Groll used back in the 19th century were intended to “correct” lager beer. It’s the Saaz hops that gives pilsner beers that zest and that spicier taste.

In other words, pilsner is, essentially, lager, that “goes to 11.”

Other Important Beer Styles

Although ales and lagers are the largest categories that separate the world of beers into two, as we’ve seen with pilsner, subcategories can play an equally essential role. Here are some beer subcategories to keep in mind.

Ale vs. Lager vs. Pilsner

Pale Ale vs. IPA

If you’re into beer, you’ve doubtlessly heard of, and probably tried, IPA beer. IPA is short for Indian Pale Ale. And then you have pale ales. What’s the difference?

Although IPA beers are a subcategory of pale ales, the two are remarkably different.

First of all, IPAs tend to get various taste characteristics from various flavors, such as hops, citrus, herbal, or fruity flavors. Some can be bitter and contain remarkable alcohol levels, while others can taste like pure citrus. IPAs are the pillar of the world of craft beer.

Then, you have the regular pale ales. They’re much less “exotic” than IPAs and tend to carry lower alcohol levels. Still, they’re just as hoppy.

IPAs are another example where a subcategory can be on par with its parent category.

Stout Beer

Stout beer is a dark type of beer. The flavor, however, depends on where the beer comes from. Some are sweeter, while others are particularly bitter. The prime example of stout beer is Guinness.

Stout beer is a roasty type of ale that’s often compared to the sweetened espresso or coffee-and-cream type of taste.

Owing to their appearance, you may think that stout beer is hard to drink. However, as a matter of fact, stouts tend to be sweet. Even if they are bitter, the combined sweetness makes the stout beer very drinkable. Well, if you’re into stout beer, that is.

Porter beer is a type of stout beer that tends to have a brighter taste – more like chocolate than coffee.

Belgian Beer

Belgian beer isn’t exactly a beer style. They’re usually dark ales, pale ales, sour ales, and fruity beers. However, what sets this ale subcategory apart is that it’s very popular across the world.

The general description of Belgian beer is spicy, fruity, sweet flavors, high alcohol content, and low levels of bitterness. This all, of course, varies from beer to beer.

Sour Beer

With sour beers, we’re moving even further into the world of beer subcategories. Sour beers have been getting increasingly popular in the US recently.

They’re tart and sour, and take on many forms, such as fruity Flanders ale, Lambic beer (Belgian style), as well as Berliner Weisse (known for its extra lemony flavor).

Wheat Beer

When brewing wheat beers, wheat is used as the malt ingredient. This gives the wheat beer a light color and low alcohol content. This is perfect for summer.

Even more so, when you consider the fact that wheat beer goes like a charm with slices of orange/lemon.

Best Ales, Lagers and Pilsners

All categorization aside, when you’re at the bar or in front of the beer aisle in the supermarket, you won’t really care about the origin of beer.

You’re trying to make up your mind as to which one to grab. With this in mind, here are some of the top ales, lagers, and pilsners now available.

Best Ales

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is one of the most popular West Coast pale ale style beers. It goes great with spicy food. It’s refreshingly bitter, although its malt is well-balanced.

Orval Trappist Ale

Orval Trappist Ale is certainly an interesting choice. Thanks to the Brettanomyces yeast, it certainly has a distinctive flavor.

Saison Dupont Farmhouse Ale

If you’re looking for a Belgian beer, Saison Dupont Farmhouse Ale might be right up your alley. It’s fermented with a peppery hops, which makes for an interesting taste for your nose and palate.

Best Lagers

Hell by Wayfinder

This is a light pale lager, with a great focus on malt. This beer has that lager crispness, but with a full malt body twist that makes it taste very unique.

Death & Taxes

If you’ve ever tried Schwarzbier and liked it, Death & Taxes is going to be right up your alley. If you aren’t familiar with it, expect a black beer that may look like a stout, yet tastes like a malty lager and coffee.

Vienna Lager by Chuckanut Brewing

This one has a unique biscuity taste and is an amber-style beer. Expect a toasty flavor and a degree of dryness.

Best Pilsners

Pivo Pils by Firestone Walker Brewing

This one has won three gold medals at the Great American Beer Festival. In a row! An aromatic, citrusy flavor of tangerine makes this pilsner quite unique.

Prima Pils by Victory Brewing

This pilsner has quite the history. Its story dates back all the way to 1996, making Prima Pils one of the forefathers of the currently trendy craft beer movement.

100 Pre-Pro Pils

If corn-heavy pilsners are up your alley, the 100 Pre-Pro Pils is top-notch. Instead of corn syrup, this beer is flaked-corn based, which gives it a creamy body with a slight haze.

Battle of the Beers

As you probably know, when comparing ale, lager, pilsner, or any other subcategory of beer, there’s no outright winner.

It all depends on your personal taste and preferences. We hope that this guide will help you find your way in the majestic and vast world of beers.

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