In a beer world flooded with overly bitter, piney West Coast IPAs; bold, rich barrel-aged stouts; and tart, fruited sours, the classic, crisp, refreshing pilsner is a welcome respite. Each of the other aforementioned styles seems to have a distinct time and place where it fits well. But there’s no wrong time for a pilsner. They always hit the spot. But finding the best pilsners to crack open isn’t always as foolproof.
This timeless pale lager is well-known for its easy-to-drink, malty flavor profile. It gets its name from the Bohemian city in which it was invented back in the early 1800s: Pilsen. And, while it has its origins in what is now the modern-day Czech Republic, this beer style is popular throughout the world.
Pilsners are among the most difficult beers to brew. Their golden hue, brilliant clarity, subtle flavor, and crisp finish shine a spotlight on even the slightest flaws in the brewing process. The style also requires extensive and expensive lagering, or cold aging, before packaging. Most young craft breweries avoid lager styles entirely to focus on faster-fermenting ales. Over the years though, craft breweries began rising to the challenge and today make examples that go toe to toe with the most venerated old-world brands.
Pilsner is one of the most narrowly defined beer styles, so great versions are typically a showcase of technique rather than creativity. There is still some room for brewers to express themselves, though, and regional variations have emerged over time. The Czech or Bohemian style is the original, and offers the most pronounced grainy and crackery malt flavor with a soft, floral bitterness. German and Bavarian styles tend to emphasize bitterness and spicy hop flavor. American craft brewers borrow freely from both approaches and put a more personal flare (typically more hops) on the style.
Below, you’ll find the best pilsners in the world worth seeking out. Whether German, Czech, or American craft-style, all are crisp and refreshing—and a welcome break from other heavier-handed beer styles.
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