A pilsner beer being poured next to an ale being poured

With the rise of craft beer around the world, more and more people are researching the names of different types of beer so they can find and choose their favorite drinks. Two important types of beer are Pilsner and Ale. So, what is the difference between Pilsner and Ale?

The primary difference between Pilsner and Ale lies in the type of yeast used and the fermentation process. Pilsners use bottom-fermenting lager yeast and are fermented at cooler temperatures, resulting in a crisp, clean taste. Ales, on the other hand, use top-fermenting yeast and ferment at warmer temperatures, leading to a more complex and fruity flavor profile.

In this guide, we’ll detail the key differences between Pilsner and Ale in terms of their history, taste, mouthfeel, and brewing process. We’ll also provide plenty of examples of popular pilsners and ales so you know what to look out for next time you’re at the store. First, let’s take a look at the history and origins of these two beer types.

Pilsner Vs Ale: History

Ale is one of the oldest types of beer, tracing its roots back thousands of years to ancient civilizations. The brewing of ales dates back to antiquity, with evidence suggesting that it was consumed in places like ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, and even prehistoric Europe.

Ale was a staple in medieval Europe, often safer to drink than water due to the alcohol content killing off bacteria. Over the centuries, ale has evolved in complexity and diversity, with various regions developing their unique styles and brewing techniques.

Pilsner, by comparison, is a relatively young style of beer that originated in the 19th century in the city of Plzeň, Czech Republic. In 1842, a Bavarian brewer named Josef Groll brewed the first batch of what would become known as Pilsner.

Unlike the darker, cloudier ales of the time, Pilsner was golden and crystal clear, thanks to the soft water of Plzeň and the Saaz hops used in its brewing. This new style of beer quickly gained popularity, not just in Europe but also around the world, inspiring countless variations and adaptations.

While both Pilsner and Ale have rich histories, their origins are distinct both in time and geography. Ale is an ancient brew that has evolved across different cultures and eras, manifesting in a broad range of styles and flavors. Pilsner, on the other hand, has a more recent and specific origin, born out of the technological and cultural shifts of 19th-century Europe.

Pilsner Vs Ale: Flavor And Mouthfeel

Pilsners are known for their crisp, clean, and refreshing flavor profile. They often feature a light to medium body with high carbonation, which contributes to their effervescent mouthfeel. Subtle notes of hops and malt are typically present, but these flavors are generally not overpowering.

A pilsner being poured from the tap.

Ales, on the other hand, offer a more complex array of flavors and aromas. Depending on the specific style, they can range from fruity and spicy to malty and bitter. The mouthfeel can also vary widely, from the silky smoothness of a stout to the lighter texture of a pale ale. Carbonation levels in ales can differ significantly, but they generally offer a more rounded and fuller mouthfeel compared to pilsners.

The most striking differences between Pilsners and Ales in terms of flavor and mouthfeel lie in their complexity and body. Pilsners are often simpler and crisper, with a lighter body and higher carbonation that makes them easy to drink and versatile with different types of food. Ales, however, present a broader spectrum of flavors and aromas, with a generally fuller body and more varied mouthfeel.

Pilsner Vs Ale: Brewing Process

The brewing process for Pilsners involves using bottom-fermenting lager yeast and fermenting at cooler temperatures, usually between 45 to 55°F (7 to 13°C). This colder fermentation and longer conditioning time result in a beer that is cleaner and crisper in flavor.

Pilsners typically use lighter malts and noble hops, such as Saaz, which contribute to their distinctive characteristics. The beer is often ‘lagered’ (stored at low temperatures) for several weeks or even months to allow it to mature and develop its flavors fully.

Ales, on the other hand, use top-fermenting yeast that operates at warmer fermentation temperatures, generally ranging from 60 to 75°F (15 to 24°C). This leads to a faster fermentation process, usually completed within a week or two, and contributes to the more complex and fruity flavor profile of ales.

An ale being poured from the tap

The types of malt and hops used can vary widely depending on the specific style of ale being brewed, from dark and roasty malts for stouts to bright and citrusy hops for IPAs. The warmer fermentation allows for a broader range of flavors and aromas to develop, making ales diverse in taste and character.

Pilsner Vs Ale: Examples

To further illustrate the differences between Pilsners and Ales, here are some examples of popular pilsners and ales:

Pilsner Examples

  1. Pilsner Urquell: The original Pilsner from Plzeň, Czech Republic, Pilsner Urquell is renowned for its golden color, crisp flavor, and refreshing finish.
  2. Warsteiner Premium Verum: This German pilsner offers a well-balanced profile, combining a mild bitterness with a slightly malty sweetness.
  3. Lagunitas Pils: Hailing from California, this American take on the Czech Pilsner style features a hoppy aroma with a clean, crisp finish.
  4. Bitburger Premium Pils: Known for its carbonation and light body, this German pilsner delivers a classic, refreshing taste with a dry finish.
  5. Victory Prima Pils: Brewed in Pennsylvania, this American pilsner is marked by its robust hop character and balanced malt sweetness, making it a more assertive version of the traditional style.

Ale Examples

  1. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale: One of the most iconic American pale ales, Sierra Nevada features a strong hop flavor with piney and grapefruit notes.
  2. Guinness Draught: A classic Irish stout, Guinness is famous for its creamy texture, roasted malt flavors, and deep, dark color.
  3. Duvel: This Belgian Strong Pale Ale is celebrated for its complexity, showcasing fruity and spicy notes with a high level of carbonation and a dry finish.
  4. Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA: A widely popular American IPA, this ale boasts intense hop bitterness balanced by a malty sweetness.
  5. Newcastle Brown Ale: Originating from England, this brown ale is

Wrapping Up

Pilsners and Ales, though both beers, offer distinctly different drinking experiences shaped by their history, brewing processes, and flavor profiles. While Pilsners are a more recent invention from 19th-century Europe, characterized by their crisp, clean flavors and lighter body, Ales are ancient brews that come in a wide array of styles and complexities. Armed with the knowledge of the difference between pilsners and ales, you should now be able to confidently choose the beer style you like next time you are out a a craft beer joint, or at the store. Remember, of course, to always drink responsibly. Cheers.