First of all, what is Blonde Ale, and what is Pilsner? They are two different beers style; one comes from the same family as cream ale and Kölsch, and the other from the pale lager family. Both are created by selecting and brewing only the finest hops and malts. So, what is the difference, and how do they compare?
Blonde ale is a pale ale that tends to be low to moderate original gravity, fermented at low temperatures for a crisp and dry finish with moderate bitterness and light malty sweetness. In contrast, Pilsner is a pale lager with higher bitterness and a cleaner and crispier taste than pale ales.
In this article, we will delve into the histories and origins of Blonde Ales and Pilsners, how they became popular, their unique characteristics, how to identify them by their flavor, appearance, and alcohol volume, and finally, how they compare to one another. All these will provide the ability to make an informed decision when choosing between blonde ales and pilsners.
Origin Of Both Beers
Blonde Ale and Pilsner are two of the most iconic and approachable beer styles with an old and rich history. Especially pilsner-style beers, which captured the attention of beer drinkers across the globe and inspired a myriad of regional styles.
The blonde ale is a style of very pale beer that originated in North America as a moderate introduction for consumers used to traditional American beers such as American Pilsner, and the catchphrase ”blonde” is common in Europe and South America—particularly in France, Italy, Belgium, the United Kingdom, and Brazil—though they have little in common, other than color.
Golden or summer ales were developed during the late twentieth Century by breweries in the United Kingdom to compete with the pale lager market like the American blonde ale. John Gilbert, the owner of Hop Back Brewery, is credited with the UK style of blonde ale “Summer Lightning” in 1989, which won several awards and inspired numerous imitators.
Pilsner began with a citizen’s ‘beer protest’ in the Czech city of Pilsen.
They brought in A Bavarian brewer Josef Groll and, with the help of builder/architect Martin Stelzer, commissioned the building of a Burger Brauerei- a citizen’s brewery- and brew a new beer. Groll made the use of new malting techniques-British maltsters had been perfecting paler malts- and with the development of yeast technology and a specific Lager recipe made with soft water, malty barley, and access to local Saaz hops, he was in an ideal position to develop a great new beer style.
The result emerged in 1842, a clear ‘golden’ colored beer that proved to be an instant hit, aptly named after the town it was born.
From Pilsen, the beer made its way to neighboring areas that were soon brewing their own Pilsen beers. The beer style soon proved popular throughout Bavaria as well. In the 19th Century, the lager became well-liked by German immigrants who took their recipes (and yeasts) to continue brewing their Pilsners, and then it began to spread in popularity through Germany, Europe, and the rest of the world.
Taste, flavor, aroma, and mouthfeel are other criteria when determining which beer comes out on top. So, what’s the difference between a blonde ale and a pilsner? The difference between the two beer styles is that blonde ales tend to be more bitter, malty, and hoppy than their pilsner counterpart. Pilsners tend to have a cleaner and crisper taste than pale ales.
Blonde ales are a clear, crisp, and dry ale that features a low-to-medium hop bitterness, with a light malty sweetness like bread or toast rather than caramel, and minimal aroma from hops.
Whether an ale, general lager, or pilsner suits beer drinkers’ tastes depends more on their preferences. As such, various countries and cultures around the world have put different spins on the beer producing four types of pilsners:
- American pilsners have toned-down flavors featuring sweet, bready, and malty notes, with a higher spice and bitterness.
- Belgian-style pilsners are generally very light and smooth.
- Czech-style pilsners recall sweetened bread with a balance of soft malts, floral Saaz hops, and sometimes grassiness. It has low bitterness with a clean finish.
- German-style pilsners taste bitter and earthy and are a bit hop-forward with some malty sweetness and a clean, delicate citrusy flavor that refreshes the palate.
These blonde ales are generally very smooth, and the perfumy fruitiness from ester qualities is low. Its lighter body got from higher carbonation, and its low-moderate hop bitterness (15–25 IBU); is achieved without using high alpha American hop varieties due to its delicate flavor structure.
They are supposed to be easy-drinking and very approachable, this sounds simple, but it isn’t. Brewing them requires skill because any flaws will be noticeable. Blonde ale can have honey, spices, and fruit and fermented with lager or ale yeast. All malt, dry, crisp beer in overall character is enjoying a resurgence at many microbreweries as an alternative to American-style lagers.
In contrast to blonde ales, pilsners are much crisper, smoother, and malty, with a pilsner “what you see is what you get” They also have a specific ingredient profile and fermentation approach not shared by every other lager or beer.
Smell is an important criteria you can use to determine the quality of beer. Many people say that blonde ales have a honey aroma mixed with some amounts of citrus. Also, its smell may be more pronounced in hoppier variants.
On the other hand, the aroma of pilsners are floral, light, malty, and slightly fruity. Ultimately, the choice based on smell is subjective.
Brewing Process And Ingredients
As you may already know, ales go through the top-fermentation process. This means that ales often go through a vigorous yeast fermentation at temperatures that range from 14 to 30°C.
To compare, lagers go through the bottom yeast fermentation process at temperatures between 32-36°C. Blonde ale ingredients include malts, hops, and yeast.
Similarly to lagers, pilsners go through a bottom yeast fermentation process, using ingredients like pilsner malt, Saaz and Hallertau noble hops, and yeast. This fermentation process occurs between 32-36°C.
Blonde ales and pilsners are similar and have not changed much throughout history ranging from very pale to light yellow and golden yellow. Blonde ales are very pale and brewed with pale malt. A typical golden ale has a color range of 3.0-6.0 SRM–a light yellow to a bright golden color with no chill haze and a profile similar to that of a pale lager.
The paler colors of blonde ales resulted from beers made with malts dried with high-carbon coke that was not popular with other beers and depending on the brewing practices, hop quantities may result in a different range of colors seen in blonde ales.
On the other hand, modern pilsners may also have light colors from pale to golden yellow, which is, not surprisingly, one of the reasons for being one of the most popular bottled beers in the country and internationally.
Various manufacturers, countries, and cultures put different spins on the beer. Here are five types of pilsners with different colors:
- Czech-style lager is golden in color, brewed with malt and Saaz hops.
- German-style lager is light straw to golden in color.
- American-style lager is closer in color to the German style, but the grist contains up to 25% corn and rice.
Blonde ales have alcohol strengths that range by volume from 3.8 %-5.5 % ABV and are best enjoyed fresh, easy to drink, and very approachable without cellaring. Though there is an emerging new style that ages blonde ale in neutral wine barrels along with Brettanomyces or lactic acid bacteria, and these products age gracefully, though this sounds simple, it isn’t. Brewing them requires skill because any flaws will be noticeable.
In contrast, the alcohol strength of pilsners varies but is typically around 4.5%–5% ABV because they undergo a process called “lagering”—a bottom-fermenting type of beer made with a carbonation and brewing process characterized by cooler temperatures. To ferment at the bottom means the lager yeast has to spend a longer period at the bottom of a container.
Several pilsners are obtainable in 330 ml, 355 ml, 500 ml aluminum cans, and green or brown bottles.
Popular Examples Of Both Beer Styles
Blonde ales are quite commonly produced in several breweries worldwide. As such, dozens of blonde ale variants have been produced. Some of these include Summertime Citra Ale, Double Bean Blonde, Big Wave Golden Ale, and so on.
On the other hand, Pilsners are available in numerous variants:
- American pilsner examples include Sam Adams Haller au, Imperial Pilsner, Dogfish Head My Antonia, Heavy Seas Small Craft Warning Uber Pils.
- Czech pilsner examples include Pilsner Urquell, Oskar Blues Mama’s Little Yella Pils, Lagunita Pils, Budweiser Budvar, Gambrinus, Kozel, Radegast, Staropramen, Starobrno, and Krušovice.
- German pilsner: German-style pilsner examples include Bitburger, Jever Pilsener, Victory Prima Pils, Krombacher, St. Pauli Girl, Veltins, Flensburger, Holsten, Einbecker, Warsteiner, Radeberger, Fürstenber, König, and Wernesgrüner.
Without oversimplifying it, blonde ales are a juicy pale ale, and pilsner is a clean, crisp lager. With a pilsner, “what you see is what you get.” Although both beers’ quality varies between brands, brewers will pride themselves on brewing a great beer.