62 of the Best Pilsners, Blind-Tasted and Ranked

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firestone pivo (Custom).jpg 15. Firestone Walker Pivo
City: Paso Robles, CA
ABV: 5.3%
The verdict: Last year’s GABF gold medal winner, Pivo, is a beer that reflects both its German ancestry and West Coast brewery in equal measure. German Saphir hops (a newer varietal) contribute some of the floral character one would get out of Hallertauer, but also some of the more orangey, citric character one might find in an American hop such as Amarillo or Centennial. It’s very clean, but also a little bit restrained—at least compared to some of the other pilsners on the table, including the hoppiest examples, Firestone’s isn’t one that beats down your taste buds. Pivo is instead a perfectly sessionable take on hoppy pils.

breakside liquid sunshine (Custom).jpg 14. Breakside Liquid Sunshine
City: Portland, OR
ABV: 5.2%
The verdict: The pilsners in this tasting can be enjoyable for just about any reason, but one thing we can’t help but worry about is that at some point, a really subtle beer could simply slip through the cracks. Breakside’s pilsner is one of those kinds of beers, a very tactful and delicious beer that could theoretically get lost in the noise alongside more aggressive pils. Its grainy malt flavors build a solid, biscuity (but subtle) foundation, on which is perfectly balanced a classically floral German hop profile. It’s not trying to do anything fancy—it’s just a very well-balanced German-style pilsner. It’s not a hop bomb, or a malt showcase. It’s just clean, thirst-quenching lager.

summit pilsner (Custom).jpg 13. Summit Pilsner
City: Saint Paul, MN
ABV: 4.5%
The verdict: Before starting this particular tasting, I had a feeling that pilsner might be a style where relatively unheralded breweries might shine brightly, given that pilsner is not a style that receives much attention or beer geek acclaim. There are essentially no “whales” in the world of pilsner, which means that there’s probably great beers hiding right under our noses. Summit’s year-round pilsner is one of those great lagers, although it’s not necessarily the MOST accurate example one would cite of a Czech pils. Indeed, it doesn’t quite have the hops, but instead it features wonderful malt complexity—bready, doughy malt that reminds one of a great helles or zwickelbier or otherwise unfiltered lager. It’s a wonderfully complex, thoughtful little lager at only 4.5% ABV, and undoubtedly one that’s not getting the credit it deserves. But surprisingly, it was only the first of two pilsners we received from Summit…

rev pils (Custom).jpg 12. Revolution Brewing Co. Rev Pils
City: Chicago, IL
ABV: 5%
The verdict: Revolution is another brewery that has rarely sent in a beer that didn’t perform well, and the “Rev Pils” is no exception. This is a very hop-forward German-style pilsner, albeit with the same sort of modernized touches we’ve seen in some of the others. Hops derive big, assertive floral aromatics and flavors that fall somewhere between flowery and lemon/grapefruit citrus. Quite dry, and on the bitter side—a pale ale-like level of hop-derived bitterness would probably make this a versatile food beer. This is essentially the blueprint for a lot of the German-inspired pilsners that performed well in the tasting. If it’s not available at Wrigley Field, it damn well should be.

sixpoint the crisp (Custom).jpg 11. Sixpoint The Crisp
City: Brooklyn, NY
ABV: 5.4%
The verdict: Sixpoint has a solid portfolio, but The Crisp might be the brewery’s best overall year-round beer. They call it a German-style pilsner, but this lager is packing a little bit different hop character than most of the other hop-forward German pils we sampled. Rather than the big floral notes, this one leans more toward a perfumey, resinous sort of hoppiness—one of the few on the table that actually had multiple tasters noting “pine,” in a decidedly pleasant way. The hops are balanced by some modest, bready maltiness; just enough to offset the brunt of its hops. You almost might think it was a West Coast version of pilsner, with the pine impression. One wouldn’t call it the most classical German pils, but it’s very tasty stuff.

lakefront klitsch (Custom).jpg 10. Lakefront Klisch
City: Milwaukee, WI
ABV: 5.6%
The verdict: Milwaukee’s Lakefront is a brewery that doesn’t get as much beer geek attention as it should for its balanced, lager-heavy portfolio, mostly because they don’t brew as many styles that appeal to traders—they would have been a fine alternate pick on our Underrated Breweries list for Wisconsin. They make several year-round lagers that are excellent, such as their Riverwest Stein Beer, but Klisch is the one truly flying under the radar. It’s a very clean, crisp, lighter-bodied take on Czech pils, or “half way between Euro and American,” as one taster wrote. Extremely drinkable, with lightly spicy, grassy hops on crisp German malt, it’s just an exceedingly quaffable pilsner with no off-flavors or hitches. And when playing on subtlety, that’s definitely worth points.

three taverns prince of pils (Custom).jpg 9. Three Taverns Prince of Pilsen
City: Decatur, GA
ABV: 5%
The verdict: This beer from Atlanta’s Three Taverns is a perfect example of how differently one can perceive a style, depending on the setting. It’s one we’ve had plenty of times before, as the brewery is only a few miles from the Paste office, but in the past our perception was usually “This is a tasty, hoppy, unusually citrusy pilsner.” That’s how you’re likely to perceive it on its own. But put that same beer into a blind tasting alongside a lineup of classical pilsners, and suddenly it becomes this bizarre, exotic outlier. Compared to the rest of the field, the American hop aromatics explode out of the glass in Prince of Pilsen—not just citrus but pungent tropical fruitiness as well. It truly challenges what one could get away with labeling as “pilsner” rather than “India pale lager,” but it’s not like that’s a bad thing. What you’re left with is the American hophead’s dream pilsner; a very unique lager indeed.

coronado seacoast (Custom).jpg 8. Coronado Brewing Co. Seacoast Pilsner
City: Coronado, CA
ABV: 4.9%
The verdict: This isn’t the first time that Coronado has scored a top spot in one of our hop-forward blind tastings—their 19th Anniversary DIPA was a hugely impressive #8 of 115 in our tasting last year, and here they are at #8 once again in a different style. Seacoast, however, ultimately earned more points from us because of malt influences rather than hops—there’s a wonderfully complex, very bready, doughy malt body in this little pilsner, a slightly yeast-forward expression that plays nicely with lightly floral and herbal hops. Looking at the pilsners that made it to the very tip-top of this tasting, “malt complexity” becomes one of the most common x-factors they all tend to share, and Coronado does quite well in that regard.

arrogant wussie pils (1) (Custom).jpg 7. Arrogant Bastard Brewing Co. Who You Callin’ Wussie?
City: Escondido, CA
ABV: 5.8%
The verdict: I really still don’t understand the point of Stone spinning off Arrogant Bastard into its own separate company, but the forthcoming “Arrogant” lineup of beers now includes this excellent take on American-influenced pilsner. I also can’t exactly speak toward the hop bill, but Who You Callin Wussie? is big on American-style hop aromatics, with pleasant citrus and a hint of tropical fruitiness. It’s hard to say whether that’s derived from an actual West Coast hop bill (which you’d almost expect, given the source) or some of those newer continental styles like Mandarina Bavaria, etc., but they make for a fruity pilsner one wouldn’t ever mistake as hailing from Europe. At the same time, though, in comparison to a similar beer such as Three Taverns Prince of Pilsen, “Wussie” is a bit more balanced, lightly malty and less likely to draw “this is an India pale lager” comments. That line is an ephemeral thing, but these two beers helped us nail down its location.

brooklyn pilsner (Custom).jpg 6. Brooklyn Brewery Pilsner
City: Brooklyn, NY
ABV: 5.1%
The verdict: An old reliable pils that one could easily take for granted, Brooklyn Pilsner is all the more likely to be overlooked when their classic, better-known flagship is already a Vienna lager. Crackery, grainy malt is the foundation for balanced, moderate hops. The varietals are both German and Czech in origin but come through a little differently than most—floral, yes, but also with some nice citrus on both the nose and palate, an impression like lemon and even a bit of orange. It is, all in all, a milder pilsner than some of the other bruisers, but impeccably put together and reflective of its American heritage. It’s kind of crazy to think this is a beer that Brooklyn has been making for more than 15 years at this point. If it’s been a long time since you last sampled one, this might be a good time for another evaluation.

von trapp pils (Custom).jpg 5. Von Trapp Bohemian Pilsner
City: Stowe, VT
ABV: 5.4%
The verdict: This is a beer that has gotten Vermont’s Von Trapp Brewing a good amount of attention recently, especially after it took home a GABF silver medal in 2015, and after tasting it we’re glad that a somewhat subtle take on Czech pilsner has been garnering awards. This one doesn’t really bombard the drinker with hop aromatics, although it does feature some mild, pleasantly spicy, slightly peppery notes. Malt is crisp and complex, with biscuity overtones and a wheat-breadiness that made tasters use words like “rustic.” This feels like a pilsner that one could pass off to beer fans as continental while visiting Germany; a very authentic, flavorful but balanced pils that nails the style guidelines to a tee.

rogue good chit (Custom).jpg 4. Rogue Farms Good Chit Pilsner
City: Newport, OR
ABV: 6%
The verdict: There was literally a moment after this beer was revealed when I said “Wait, this can’t be Rogue, it doesn’t taste like Pacman yeast.” That’s how used to the brewery’s proprietary yeast strain I’d gotten; enough to forget entirely that they probably wouldn’t be using it for proper Czech pils. And lo and behold, that’s what Good Chit is—a really excellent, surprising Czech pilsner. It’s a beer that really showcases their whole Rogue Farms program and the subtleties and unique nature of making your own floor-malted German-style barley and small-batch Liberty hops. There’s a lightly toasted but not distracting quality to the maltiness that is wonderful, chased by floral, earthy and even slightly funky hops that had tasters going back to the glass repeatedly to ponder their source. Really a pilsner with excellent complexity and layers to it from Rogue.

czechvar (Custom).jpg 3. Budejovický Budvar Czechvar, aka Budweiser Budvar
City: Ceske Budejovice, Czech Republic
ABV: 5%
The verdict: There’s a flavor note that classic European-made lagers tend to have that I can’t adequately put into words. It may be a function of Old World yeast strains, or water chemistry, or proprietary malts, but it’s there, and it’s something you immediately pick up in Czechvar, otherwise known as Budweiser Budvar. Yes, this is the beer that Anheuser ripped off for their own Budweiser way back 1876, and have been ever since. Unsurprisingly, the original is far superior, balancing sweeter, malt breadiness with a charge of classically spicy Czech hops. There’s just no missing where this beer is from—every single tasting sheet confirms as much. Of all the beers we tasted, there wasn’t another that was so obviously a continental pilsner, and a classic one.

summit keller pils (Custom).jpg 2. Summit 30th Anniversary Keller Pils
City: Saint Paul, MN
ABV: 5.1%
The verdict: Summit easily wins the award for biggest surprise of this particular tasting. They were the only brewery to enter more than one pils, because apparently they knew something we didn’t—that they’re cranking out some seriously underrated lagers. This just feels like one that a lot of thought went into, which would make sense for a nontraditional anniversary brew. It’s complex in every area that we want to see complexity—clean maltiness with bready and toasted notes, coupled with floral and distinctly lemony citrus hops, in excellent balance. There’s even an odd note that is almost like a touch of salinity, of the sort that one might see in a lot of current American goses, and a fruity yeast note that has a bit of banana-like ripeness. It doesn’t really taste like a “new” beer; it tastes like a beloved beer that some German-influenced brewery has been making and honing for decades.

urban chestnut stammtisch (Custom).jpg 1. Urban Chestnut Stammtisch
City: St. Louis, MO
ABV: 5.4%
The verdict: I’d say we’re surprised, but honestly, we’re not. Urban Chestnut, who we just wrote about as Missouri’s most underrated brewery, simply makes superlative German beer styles, and there’s no denying it. Whether it’s a hefeweizen or zwickelbier or pilsner, they are experts at handling the subtleties of German styles, especially those that are dependent upon malt complexity.

What this brewery manages to do on the regular is wring unique flavor out of ingredients that literally everyone uses. What are they doing to get this kind of perfectly balanced bready, grainy flavor profile out of simple pilsner malt? I have no idea, but there’s a degree of malt complexity in most of their German beer styles that makes those beers pop. In Stammtisch, that maltiness is balanced by wonderfully floral, perfumey, evocative hops that dominate the nose before slowly ceding to malt on the palate. It’s an extremely clean, crisp German pilsner that strikes the ideal balance between drinkability and character—a hoppy beer that would never overwhelm the palate of a hop-averse drinker, and provides a little bit of something for everyone. It’s just a delicious pilsner.

Jim Vorel is Paste’s resident beer guru, and he’s deep in the pilsner-soaked dog days of Georgian summer. You can follow him on Twitter.

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