14 Essential Craft Pilsners
Light. Refreshing. Crisp. Clear. These descriptors are almost synonymous with many of the mass-produced “adjunct” beers that dominated the American beer scene for most of the 20th century—beers like Budweiser, Miller, and Coors. And so, in the world of craft brewing, these adjectives and the beer styles they described were for a long time all but verboten.
That’s changing. Independent craft breweries now account for more than 12 percent (and climbing) of all beer sales in the U.S., according to the Brewers Association. And since craft now has a solid grip on a sizeable share of the American beer market, its brewers seem more willing to pursue and perfect some of the lighter, toned-down styles they’d once shunned. Pilsner is one of those styles.
Arguably the most popular type of beer in the world, pilsner (sometimes spelled “pilsener”) is a style of lager popularized in Germany and the Czech Republic that features a spicy, often-bitter hop kick. While craft pilsners tend to be light-to-medium-bodied and crisp, that hoppy shot of aroma and flavor elevates them above the Buds and Coors Lights of the world.
In a lot of ways, craft pilsners are a kind of microbrew-macrobrew hybrid—combining the easy-drinking qualities of light lagers with the nuance and hoppy charm of craft brews. If you’ve ever found yourself hesitating at the bar—unsure if you’re in the mood for another ultra-bitter pale ale or super-dense porter—the new wave of craft pilsners is for you. (They’re also great with bar food.)
Here are 14 excellent brews to try:
Mary by Hill Farmstead Brewery
This unfiltered beer from Vermont’s Hill Farmstead is like an unpolished precious stone; all the beauty is there, but so are the rough edges and imperfections. Those imperfections are what give this brew so much character and appeal. All the traditional pilsner malt and hop characteristics are there, but all seem to have an added layer of depth. There’s a lot going on in this superb beer.
Victory Prima Pils
One of the first (and still among the best-known) craft pilsners to hit the scene, Prima Pils is a bit heavier and hoppier than traditional European pilsners. This beer features notes of earth, malt, bread, and plenty of citrus and pepper hops. It’s ideal for hop heads looking for a lighter, more sessionable version of their go-to pale ales.
5 O’clock Pils by Saint Arnold Brewing Company
More smooth than crisp, this tasty brew from Texas-based Saint Arnold is made with just one type of hops—Saaz, the noble Czech strain used in that country’s traditional pilsners. These hops lend 5 O’clock an alluring green, lemony aroma, while its taste is toasty and full-bodied. This is an all-around pleaser—the kind you of beer you always want hanging out in your fridge.
Brooklyn Pilsner by Brooklyn Brewing
Easily the least bitter, least hoppy beer on this list, Brooklyn’s pilsner is in all ways subtle and soft spoken. While you could knock down several of these beers with dinner and not pay them much attention, that would be a shame because there’s great, nuanced beer-making going on here if you stop to pay attention. Slightly sweet and slightly biting, this is a refreshing, clean take similar to many of Germany’s most popular pilsners.
Hometown Blonde by New Glarus Brewing Company
If you ever visit New Glarus, Wisconsin—a town rich in Swiss heritage and all its cuckoo-clock charm—this brewery is a must-visit, and this beer is a must-try. Light and bright, grassy and crisp, Hometown Blonde is among the gentler craft pilsners, and arguably the closest thing to a true German pilsner you’ll find made in the U.S today.
Pils by Stoudts Brewing Company
Featuring a nice balance of lemony hops and bready malt, this pilsner from Pennsylvania’s Stoudt’s is dry and biting—in a good way. The harmony of this beer’s elements sets it apart from most other craft pilsners.
Fresh Cut by Peak Organic Brewing Co.
The brewers at Maine’s Peak eschew traditional European hop varieties in favor of some of America’s signature strains, which impart this pilsner with some of the grassy, spicy notes drinkers are used to from pale ales. But Fresh Cut’s makers have a light touch, and this beer is exceedingly gulp-able.
Prince of Pilsen by Three Taverns Craft Beers
Georgia’s Three Taverns is still flying under the radar for many craft fans. But this is one of several excellent beers they’re currently producing. Prince of Pilsen is lemony and floral, with a refreshing rinse of carbonation. It finishes with a bracing hop bite.
Pivo Pils by Firestone Walker Brewing Co.
Mildly sweet and heavily carbonated, this thirst-quencher from Paso Robles-based Firestone Walker features heavy hop aromas. That could be a good or a bad thing depending on whether you’re looking for an escape from pale ales or a toned-down version of them. If you’re not hopped out, Pivo is a delicious and refreshing beer.
Pils by Heater Allen Brewing
While the hop aromas and flavors are there, this beer from Oregon’s Heater Allen boasts more malt sweetness than most craft pilsners. Pils is not a sweet beer—it just keeps the floral, citrusy hop bitterness in check. It also has a heavier mouthfeel than most, making it a satisfying and hearty take on pilsner.
Reality Czech-Style Pilsner by Moonlight Brewing
The brewers at Northern California’s Moonlight call this beer soft and delicate, which it is. But while Reality Czech speaks in a low voice, you’ll love what it has to say. Grassy, bready, and faintly floral, it’s an enchanting brew that starts with a subtle sweetness but quickly dries out, begging you to take another sip.
Keller Pils by Summit Brewing Co.
Recently converted to a year-round offering, this unfiltered pils from Minnesota’s Summit has a spicy, lemony aroma that settles into toasty and creamy flavors featuring notes of apple, grass, and flowers. Keller Pils is an exceedingly clean-tasting beer, like its makers collected it straight from a natural spring.
Pfaffenheck by Night Shift
While many craft pilsners taste a bit like pale ales masquerading as lighter lagers, this smooth offering from Massachusetts’s Night Shift is a crackery malt-forward brew. Named after the German hometown of the head brewer’s family, Pfaffenheck is a thirst-slaker—the kind of beer you can’t help drinking a little too quickly during happy hour.
Pikeland Pils by Sly Fox Brewing Company
The third Pennsylvania-based brewery to make this list, Sly Fox’s Pikeland features aromas of bready malt and grassy hops. A little sweet and a little fruity, this medium-bodied pilsner finishes with a nice bitter kick. It’s a balanced crowd-pleaser.