TODAY, BEER IS THE THIRD MOST POPULAR BEVERAGE BEHIND WATER AND TEA. PILSENER AND LAGER ARE THE BEERS THAT ARE ENJOYED THE MOST. BUT WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A PILSENER, A LAGER OR AN ALE?
Text: Kim Daniel Bergesen
Today, pilsner and lager are enjoyed the most. This has pretty much been the case ever since pilsner was first introduced in 1842 in the city of Plzen in the Czech Republic. The style of brewing dates to the old Bavaria where brewers, at the end of the 18th and start of the 19th centuries, understood that there was a connection between temperatures during the brewing processes and the resulting flavor. The research Louis Pasteur did on fermentation made one understand why yeast behaved as it did.
This led to further research. In the forefront was Carlsberg´s scientist, Emil Hansen. In the 1880´s he managed to isolate a yeast strain which may have become the most important within the world of beers. It was called Saccharomyces Carsbergensis, more easily recognized as pilsner or lager yeast. And for anyone not in the know when it comes beers and brewing: yeast is important. Extremely so. With this new understanding of yeast a new era started. Thru their research breweries developed their own unique yeast strains. This has resulted in all the unique pilsner and lager beers around the world.
Two main categories
In the world of beers there are two main categories: ale (top fermented) and lager (fermented from below). Within these two categories there are all kinds of beers to choose from. What differentiates the two categories?
Yeast! Ales are usually fermented at higher temperatures, 17 – 24 degrees, and from the top. This makes the beer tastier and fruitier. Fermenting from below is usually a colder process, at temperatures of 7 – 9 degrees. And the yeast is working from the bottom. At lower temperatures, the fermenting is slower and takes a longer time. This gives the beer a crisper taste and a purer and less yeast-like taste.
What is the difference between lager and Pilsner?
Not much, a pilsner is a lager, but a lager is not necessarily a pilsner. A pilsner is brewed the same way it was done before the 19th century. A lager on the other hand, can contain anything as long as it is fermented from below. Therefore, there are Mexican lagers made from corn (Maize) or American and Asian lagers made from rice, corn or fructose syrup. In other words, if you buy something labeled pilsner, you are supposed to know exactly what you get. But when you buy a lager you may be in for a surprise.
What essentially is important for a good pilsner? The answer is simple: Good ingredients. A pilsner is a product that is very elegant and easily influenced by flavors. The quality of the water, good hops, good malt and the right kind of yeast and fermentation conditions are all a must when brewing pilsner. The most unique pilsners tend to use water from wells, from glaciers or from private springs.
Even though we are seeing changes in people´s drinking habits, we believe the pilsner is here to stay. But one change we notice is that consumers are getting more demanding when choosing pilsner. Small craft breweries producing unfiltered and unpasteurized pilsner will hopefully experience a positive increase both in sales and recognition of their products for what they are; tastier, more full-bodied and more exciting.
An unfiltered pilsner will have more taste, more fullness and will be more of a drink of enjoyment than just a thirst-quencher. If everyone is ready for it, is perhaps another question. In Norway, there is still some skepticism to unfiltered beers, but never-the-less we see more and more breweries launch unfiltered versions of their lager beers.