Pop a pils

The 20 Best Pilsner Beers You Can Drink, According to Brewers


March 10, 2020 Drinks By

Brewers have a deep appreciation for Pilsners. Many will agree: A good pilsner, with its brisk, subtle flavors and crisp, snappy bitterness, is a difficult to make exercise in technique and precision. The style’s simplicity and lack of fuss leaves little room for even the slightest flaw.

“It’s hard to brew a subtle beer that comes across as tasty, complex and ripe with texture,” Dan Suarez, the owner and brewer of Suarez Family Brewery, told PUNCH in 2016. Suarez is known for producing excellent pilsners, like Palatine and Qualify. “It’s true what some people say: there aren’t any strong flavors to hide behind [with a pilsner], and your process has to be on point. The margin for error is razor-thin.”

No doubt, part of the pilsner’s admiration among beer makers around the world is the challenge in creating a memorable one; it’s a true measure of brewing greatness. It’s also because pilsners are delicious and refreshing, and low in alcohol, making it an ideal beverage of choice in many situations. Ask a brewer what they’re drinking after a shift, or what they’re sipping on while working an event, and you’ll likely get this response (and proudly): crisp, clean pils.

We asked 20 beer makers to share the one pilsner that holds a special place in their heart, and their glass. Did your favorite make the list?

Editor’s Note: Some responses have been edited for clarity and length.

Live Oak Pilz

ABV: 4.7%
From: Austin, Texas
“A classic from the oldest brewery in Austin. Great malt character from single-decoction mashing and beautiful hoppiness from Saaz hops. I love the firm bitterness. Squeaky-clean. My go-to beer in Austin. Eminently crushable. This being put in cans a few years back made my life better.” — Jeffrey Stuffings, co-founder of Jester King Brewery

Rothaus Pils Tannenzäpfle

ABV: 5.1%
From: Grafenhausen, Germany
“We’re spoiled with pilsners here. Thanks to Berlin’s drinking culture you will find a decent selection of German and Czech pilsners, and even Franconian lagers, in every corner shop. My favorite is quite simple, though: Rothaus Pils Tannenzäpfle. It’s fresh, consistent, available pretty much everywhere, and it has the perfect balance of sweet, crisp and bitter. Plus a cool label.” — Lukasz Wiacek, founder of FUERST WIACEK

Notch Brewing At the Swans

ABV: 4.2%
From: Salem, Massachusetts
“Some of the most enjoyable pilsner moments I’ve experienced over the last few years have been sitting along the water in Salem, Massachusetts. On the west side of Salem Harbor, near the back of South River, lies Notch’s brewery and taproom. This is holy ground for me in regards to lager, as a showcase of intent and passion. A brewhouse specifically designed for arduous decoction mashing, open fermentation vessels, and a taproom that not only serves a most proper mug of lager but also creates a welcoming and enjoyable atmosphere. Lagered in horizontal tanks until maturation is complete, At the Swans is hopped solely with Žatec-grown Saaz and showcases a beautifully round, soft intermingling of bright and snappy noble hop character and a complex yet subtle malt flavor brought out by double decoction.” — Sean Towers, owner and brewer at The Seed

Seedstock Czech Pilsner

ABV: 5.8%
From: Denver, Colorado
“Run by brothers Ron and Jason Abbott, Seedstock is a small brewery in Denver that refuses to give into the hype of hazy IPAs, instead paying homage to their European ancestors — farmers who settled in Nebraska and began making the beers from home in their barns by focusing on traditional German and Czech styles. The pair produce an array of outstanding old-world lagers, like this Czech-style pilsner, a brilliant example with the perfect amount of bitterness. I feel like Seedstock’s great work is often overlooked, which is a shame. Don’t sleep. — Paul Mahoney, head brewer at Launch Pad Brewery

Redlight Redlight Side-Pull Pils

Photo: Untappd

ABV: 4.0%
From: Orlando, Florida
“This is brewed and served to perfection in the Czech style, and each mug beautifully topped with a sweet, creamy head of foam transports me back to my honeymoon in Prague and all the crispy bois [sic] we drank on that unforgettable trip. It pours bright gold and has a medium-light body, with notes of water cracker and a floral hop bitterness. Now, that’s if you decided to go for the crisp version. The brewery serves it two ways, and if you go for the smooth option you’ll get a beer with a rounder, maltier taste and silkier finish. Even better, both ways go for only $4 a pour during the brewery’s happy hour.” — Haidar Hachem, head brewer at Strange Beast

Suarez Family Brewery Cabana Pils

Photo: Untappd

ABV: 5.0%
From: Livingston, New York
“A pilsner with wheat? Yup, it works. Cabana checks all the boxes of those familiar pilsner catch terms of being ‘crisp’ and ‘clean,’ but also adds a really cool citrus and grassy hop presence that’s presented through a softer and creamier mouthfeel than most pilsners you’ll encounter. I really wish it weren’t a limited seasonal offering, but Dan Suarez and his team easily fill the void by offering several top-notch lagers.”
Dave Martin, owner and brewer at Mindful Ales

Hill Farmstead Mary

ABV: 4.75%
From: Greensboro Bend, Vermont
“Five years ago, I graduated from brewing school and my future wife drove up to meet me in Middlebury, Vermont. We drove the next day across the state, ultimately to Portland, Maine, and stopped at Hill Farmstead along the way. It was there I first encountered Mary, the perfect intersection between the balance you can bet your life on from a Hill Farmstead beer, and the archetype of a craft pilsner. You almost have to talk about pilsner in the abstract, because, even when done unspectacularly, they exhibit similar characteristics. There are only so many ways to combine continental Pils malt, noble hops and one of a handful of yeast strains. But what separates the best from the rest is process and water chemistry. Mary is an exquisite little offering: delicately balancing floral and subtly spicy hops with crisp, vaguely doughy malt, and with the soft mouthfeel you expect from his works despite being dry and smooth.” — Brett Taylor, partner and head brewer at Wild East Brewing Company

Pivovar Kout na Sumave Koutska 12

Photo: Untappd

ABV: 5.0%
From: Kout na Sumave, Czech Republic
“This is among the 200-year-old recipes of Pivovar Kout na Sumave, named for the small town in the Bohemian forest the brewery is in. Shuttered for over 40 years and then reopened, its lagers are open fermented, unpasteurized and utilize all local ingredients, including well water. The balance of rich maltiness and hops paired with process is ever inspirational.” — Chris Deapo, head brewer and blender at Schilling Beer Company

O/O Ekta Pils

ABV: 5.2%
From: Göteborg, Sweden
“It’s insanely refreshing and crispy AF, just as I like it. Just a real, real, real good pilsner, you know? It’s one of those pilsners that remind me of the second day at beer festivals, when you’re desperately looking for the crispiest crispy boi to kill that hangover. If I could find something like Ekta every time, I’d be so much less hungover.” — Nanna Birk Ackermann, sales and distribution manager at Broaden & Build

La Trappe Puur

ABV: 4.5%
From: Berkel-Enschot, Netherlands
“As a brewer, you need to twist the rules every now and then. My moving out of the Netherlands made me rethink all my recipes and go-to beers, of course, because of availability or resources. In the United Kingdom, I have plenty of pilsners to turn to but I miss having the availability of La Trappe Puur. Two years ago I went to the brewery and during the tour they said this was their take on a Pilsner, but they couldn’t call it one because it doesn’t use classic Pilsner yeast. Again, sometimes you need to twist the rules. So, La Puur is a Belgian Pilsner, fermented with Trappist yeast. It uses only organic malts and organic noble hops, which leave a dry, bitter finish. When I go back to Nijmegen it’s the first beer I’ll order in the pub, with a big cheese platter to feel truly at home.” — Do Bongers, head brewer at Fierce Beer

Threes Vliet

ABV: 5.2%
From: Brooklyn, New York
“I first visited Threes in the fall of 2016, while visiting some family and friends in Brooklyn. At this point we were building our space and I was obsessively observing what other brewers were up to. To say I was impressed with everything Threes was doing would be an understatement. I recall thinking everything felt thoughtful and true. But my biggest takeaway was its beer, in particular its Pilsner Vliet. Much like the experience Threes offers, Vliet feels deliberate and authentic. One of the cleanest, most drinkable American pilsners I’ve had the opportunity to enjoy, it has classic cracker-like malt flavor and a truly balanced and subtle hop profile, which I feel a lot of breweries putting out great IPAs struggle to achieve with their pilsners.” — Ryan Lavery, co-owner and head brewer at Widowmaker Brewing

Pilsner Urquell

ABV: 4.4%
From: Plzen, Czech Republic
”Great beer often reminds you of a time and place, and having been to Prague, I can say Pilsner Urquell is a perfect reminder of the beauty and delicateness of that wonderful city.” — Adam Robbings, co-founder and brewmaster at Reuben’s Brews

Upland Brewing Company Champagne Velvet

ABV: 5.5%
From: Bloomington, Indiana
“This is delicious and crisp, with a perfect hop balance. Matt [Mitchell, director of sales operations] from Upland visited us earlier last year with some delicious beers, and Champagne Velvet was my favorite. The story behind ‘The Beer with the Million Dollar Flavor’ intrigued me, and to think the recipe was over 100 years old and it was once one of Indiana’s most popular beers, and Upland brought it back to life, it’s such a neat thing. And the packaging echoes its roots in a grand way. Big fan of both this beer and Upland.” — Todd DiMatteo, co-owner and brewer at Good Word Brewing & Public House

Jever Pilsener

ABV: 4.9%
From: Jever, Germany
“My favorite pils? Many, luckily. There’s one, though, that influenced my life. The one that, approximately 30 years ago, first made me experience the hop punch! I still remember that feeling of dry, sharp bitterness, suspended into a mellow flow of caressing malt sweetness and texture. That pils was Jever. At the time I was traveling to Germany and I would always try to spot a place that had Jever on tap or in bottles. It was hard, but every time I found it, it was simultaneously a joy and a shock. I felt like I was being tested, like if that bitterness would trial me for the admittance to a new world, the one of ‘real beer.’ Beer with plenty of character, bold and tasty. It was so good! Years later, while trying to brew a Jever of my own, I found my way to that sort of a pils, that ‘something’ I called Tipopils. In the end, Tipo had nothing to do with the ‘German bomb,’ but it was in searching for the idea of Jever that I found the hidden doors and hop treasures that led me to Tipo.”
Agostino Arioli, founder and brewer at Birrificio Italiano

Birrificio Italiano Tipopils

ABV: 5.2%
From: Lurago Marinone, Italy
“I took a road trip with my family to Italy this past summer and called my good friend Agostino Arioli at Birrificio Italiano to let him know that I was going to stop by for dinner and a beer or two. He sent me on my way with a case of his Tipopils and the vacation was elevated to an entire new level. Drinking fresh Tipo is as close to pilsner perfection as I know. It’s in no way a typical or traditional German pilsner. Ago, in his magical way, created a new beer and in my mind a new style of lager. Tipo was the beer that inspired me to create Pivo Pils and will forever be one of my most influential lagers.” — Matt Brynildson, brewmaster at Firestone Walker Brewing Company

Bellwoods Bellweiser

ABV: 4.8%
From: Toronto, Ontario
“This is one of the nicest pilsners out there, and it’s made by some of the finest folks in the industry. It has everything I want in a pilsner: a nose full of hops that aren’t trying to be cool, which makes them so very cool; a soft malt character that my dad would appreciate; and a clean yeast character that doesn’t care if you pay attention to it. When I plan my trip to a deserted island, my suitcase will be full of this beer.”
Daniel Endicott, co-founder and brewer at Forest & Main Brewing Company

pFriem Family Brewers Pilsner

ABV: 4.9%
From: Hood River, Oregon
“We were stationed next to pFriem at Rhinegeist’s Rare Beer Fest last year and I was quickly reminded of how good the pilsner is. It has a wonderfully soft mouthfeel with a creamy head, and the pFriem team really nailed the carbonation. We seek it out every time we head out to the West Coast for hop selection, making the stop at pFriem’s brewery on the drive from Portland to Yakima Valley.” — Collin Castore, co-founder of Seventh Son Brewing and Antiques on High

Heater Allen Pils

ABV: 5.2%
From: Portland, Oregon
“This is my go-to pilsner that’s not ours. It’s Czech style, so expect a good punch of hops and a sturdy amount of Bohemian malt. I love that I can get cans and draft of a beer that’s lagered for eight weeks pretty much anywhere worth going to in Portland. Although I adore other Heater Allen beers, I can’t seem to get enough of the Pils. Also, I have a pretty big crush on head brewer Lisa Allen.” — Kevin Davey, brewmaster at Wayfinder Beer

Victory Prima Pils

ABV: 5.3%
From: Downington, Pennsylvania
“Picking one pilsner isn’t easy because I really enjoy the style and feel many breweries create consistent, well-balanced versions. However, one that stands out to me is Prima Pils. This is a classic pilsner and a go-to beer for me, thanks to its wonderful hop character that I think contributes nicely to the crisp, dry finish.” — Ryan McVeigh, brewery operations manager at Kona Brewing Company

Station 26 Saaz Pilsner

Photo: Untappd

ABV: 5.3%
From: Denver, Colorado
“In Denver, we’re home to so may great pilsners, with some really obvious top choices. I was recently able to experience a beautifully crafted example from a brewery I wouldn’t have expected that deserves some love: Station 26 and its Saaz-hopped pils. It’s so damn crisp and clean. It pours a beautiful, pristinely clear straw color (I’m a sucker for clear beer) with a great floral aroma, followed by an ever-so-sweet, honey-like taste. It finishes with a slightly earthy hop bitterness. Really everything you could want from a good ol’ pils.” — Bess Dougherty, head barrel troll at The Grateful Gnome Sandwich Shoppe & Brewery

15 Delicious IPAs You Can Buy Almost Anywhere

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Sometimes you just want tasty, reliable and easy to find. Here are 15 IPAs that don’t cost an arm and leg to track down. Read the Story

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Niko Krommydas

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