Pilsners – BJCP Style Category 2

Pilsners Beer Style Profile

NOTE: In the 2015 BJCP Style Guidelines, the styles of pilsners have been removed or reclassified.  German Pilsner is now Style 5D in Category 5 Pale Bitter European Beer. 

Bohemian Pilsner has been removed and Classic American Pilsner has been listed under Historical Beer: Pre-Prohibition Lager. 


The history of Pilsners has been well documented and most beer geeks know the story. Pilsner style beers are probably the most successful beer style in the world and have influenced 90% of the beers being drank today.

As the story goes, in the city of Pilzen, Bohemia, there were too many times when their local ale was unfit to drink. In fact one time the city council ordered 36 casks to be dumped out in public.

The citizens of Pilsen loved their beer, so in 1839 they decided to build a brewery of their own, and called it Burger Brauerei (which meant Citizen’s Brewery).

They wanted to brew beer according to the Bavarian style of brewing which had a fine reputation at that time.

The Bavarian brewers had been experimenting with storage of their beer in cool mountain caves and with a new bottom-fermenting yeast.

The combination of cool lagering and the new yeast improved the beer’s clarity, flavor, and stability. First they hired a Bavarian brewer named Josef Groll. Josef began by using the newest techniques available at the time which included the paler malts developed in Britan.

There were several things working together which influenced the final outcome of the new style, these were:

  • Pilzen’s water was extremely soft
  • Instead of using dark malts, he kilned his malt to a very pale color, like they were doing in Britan at the time
  • He used prodigious amounts of the local hop called Saaz (some say the finest aroma hop available)
  • He used a good bottom-fermenting “Bavarian lager” yeast
  • Groll lagered the beer in cold caves

A new beer style was born. It’s hard for us to imagine how big of a sensation this new beer was.

It wasn’t long before it was being copied in the nearby towns with the same water and access to Saaz hops.

This was the beginning of the new style called Bohemian or Czech Pilsner.

At the same time, a new railway network made exporting beer to just about any major city in Europe possible.

It wasn’t long until Groll’s new beer was the talk of the continent. Soon the new style was being copied across the border in Germany.

For the most part, the beer remained in the area due to the need for lagering in the cold caves, but with the advent of refrigeration, the beer was made in breweries around the world.

An empty beer glass

Pilsners were so popular that there is even a beer glass named after the style.  A Pilsner glass is tall, slender and tapered.  A true Pilsner Glass tapers but does not have any curvature.  Weizen glasses are often mistakenly called Pilsner glasses.  

Modern Pilsners

There were three sub-categories in the Pilsener style category in the 2008 BJCP Style Guidelines. These are:

All modern pilseners are very clear, very light beers that are pale to golden yellow.  All have a distinct hop aroma and flavor.

The Czech pils tend to have a lighter flavor where the German style of pilsners can be more bitter and earthy in flavor, especially toward the northern part of Germany.

Although not a separate style, Dutch and Belgian pilsners may gave a slightly sweet flavor.

In America, the German immigrants brewed the new style with the ingredients that were available. That meant either maize (corn) or rice was used for up to 30% of the grist and the base grain was American as well. Native cluster hops were mostly used as well as noble hops when available.

Information for this page was taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pilsener and the German Beer Institute.com/pils.html.  Interested in Pre-prohibition pilsners in the US?  Learn about “The Bushwick Pilsners: A Look at Hoppier Daysby Ben Jankowski  Republished from BrewingTechniques’ January/February 1994.

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