Black Flannel Academy

German Pilsner

Clean, crisp, bitter German lager with balance toward hops in both aroma and flavor. Light cracker notes from malt and a complex bouquet of floral, herbal, and spicy notes from noble hops.



noble hops






Dark Amber





Straw to light gold / 2 – 5 SRM

Very Low





Highly Assertive

Perceived Bitterness

Very Low

Highly Assertive

pronounced / 22 – 40 IBU 














ABV 4.4 – 5.2% (OG 1.044 – 1.050 with FG 1.008 – 1.013)


Low (Dry)



Low (Dry)



Sweetness low








hop forward with light malt


In our post on Czech Premium Pale Lager, we went through the story that began the worldwide pale lager boom (you can check that out here). As those beers exploded onto the European market, German brewers were well aware of their popularity, and a confluence of study and technological advancement helped them to make their own version of the style. 


As Michael Jackson points out in his writing on Pilsner, the northern Germans have had a love for hops in beer about as long as anyone. Hops didn’t really take hold as the primary bittering agent in beer throughout Europe until around 1400, and even after that their usage spread slowly. In England, for example, brewers and drinkers distinguished between hopped and unhopped drinks with the terms “beer” and “ale” respectively for several hundred years after that. In northern Germany, however, hops arrived on the scene before 1000 CE, when brewers in the city of Bremen started using them. Southern German cities were still under the control of what was known as the gruitrecht (Gruit Right), which was a highly taxed mixture of herbs that were used to bitter beer. Today, gruit is its own category of beer, but brewers under the gruitrecht were legally bound by it–they had to pay for, and use the local gruit mixture, which was most often owned by the church. In what’s now northern Germany, brewers were outside of the church’s control, and were therefore able to season their beer as they chose to. Clearly brewers began using hops in several northern German cities, because when the royals in Bavaria hired a brewer from Einbeck several centuries later to boost their local beer culture, they brought hops to the south with them.


Although the pale lagers from Plžen were quickly gaining popularity, English brewing was still admired as the model of efficient and industrial practice during the nineteenth century. It’s no surprise, then, that when Anton Dreher and Gabriel Sedlmayr wanted to learn about advances in brewing technology, they traveled to England to learn (and sometimes steal) their secrets. Some folks were welcoming, giving information away as it was requested, while others were a bit harder to get to. These two precocious brewers weren’t deterred, however, inventing a walking cane that doubled as a dip tube they could use to quietly steal beer samples for study. When they arrived back in Germany, these two, and Sedlmayr in particular, made technology a primary focus of their brewing practice. They began using thermometers, then rare in German brewing, were instrumental in introducing commercial refrigeration to the world (not just the brewing industry), and invented several new styles that remain with us to this day.


The pilsners of Germany were a confluence of new technology, a historical thirst for hoppy brews, and one last important factor: local ingredients. German pilsners often use a blend of local hops for bittering and aroma including Mittelfrüh, Hallertau, Tettnanger, Hersbrucker, and Spalt, whereas Czech brewers stick with their own local Saaz hops. This gives German Pilsners a floral, spicy, and herbal bouquet, whereas Czech lagers have a distinct yet pleasant spicy character. Germans also use local water, an ingredient that can often get a passover when we talk about brewing. The water in Plžen is very soft, meaning it has less dissolved mineral content than most water. When German brewers began creating pale lagers, their water therefore lent itself to hoppier, drier beer, a trend that remains to this day when you compare the two.


German pilsner has become one of the most popular styles the world over. It was avoided by the American craft industry for quite a while, perhaps because of communal PTSD from macro-domination during the twentieth century. It’s enjoying a revival on brewery taplists, though, as craft drinkers are recognizing its refined and pleasantly aromatic profile, not to mention its dangerous drinkability. If you’re someone who’s avoided pilsners for the same reason, give one a try sometime…we promise they aren’t the flavorless macro lagers they’re associated with.


Aroma – Crisp, crackery malt. Complex floral and spicy hop bouquet.

Appearance – Pale.

Flavor – Balanced toward hops. Pleasant lingering bitterness.

Mouthfeel – Dry, light body with crisp finish.

Service Notes:

Serve fresh in Fluted Pilsner or Praha Mug at 38º

BJCP DESIGNATION: 5D, german pilsner

Overall Impression:

A light-bodied, highly-attenuated, gold-colored, bottom-fermented bitter German beer showing excellent head retention and an elegant, floral hop aroma. Crisp, clean, and refreshing, a German Pils showcases the finest quality German malt and hops.


Medium-low to low grainy-sweet-rich malt character (often with a light honey and slightly toasted cracker quality) and distinctive flowery, spicy, or herbal hops. Clean fermentation profile. May optionally have a very light sulfury note that comes from water as much as yeast. The hops are moderately-low to moderately-high, but should not totally dominate the malt presence. One-dimensional examples are inferior to the more complex qualities when all ingredients are sensed. May have a very low background note of DMS.


Straw to light gold, brilliant to very clear, with a creamy, long-lasting white head.


Medium to high hop bitterness dominates the palate and lingers into the aftertaste. Moderate to moderately-low grainy-sweet malt character supports the hop bitterness. Low to high floral, spicy, or herbal hop flavor. Clean fermentation profile. Dry to medium-dry, crisp, well-attenuated finish with a bitter aftertaste and light malt flavor. Examples made with water with higher sulfate levels often will have a low sulfury flavor that accentuates the dryness and lengthens the finish; this is acceptable but not mandatory. Some versions have a soft finish with more of a malt flavor, but still with noticeable hop bitterness and flavor, with the balance still towards bitterness.


Medium-light body. Medium to high carbonation.


Modern examples of Pils tend to become paler in color, drier in finish, and more bitter as you move from South to North in Germany, often mirroring the increase in sulfate in the water. The Pils found in Bavaria tend to be a bit softer in bitterness with more malt flavor and late hop character, yet still with sufficient hops and crispness of finish to differentiate itself from a Helles. The use of the term ‘Pils’ is more common in Germany than ‘Pilsner’ to differentiate it from the Czech style, and (some say) to show respect.


Adapted from Czech Pilsner to suit brewing conditions in Germany, particularly water with higher mineral content and domestic hop varieties. First brewed in Germany in the early 1870s. Became more popular after WWII as German brewing schools emphasized modern techniques. Along with its sister beer, Czech Pilsner, is the ancestor of the most widely produced beer styles today. Average IBUs of many well-regarded commercial examples have dropped over time.

Characteristic Ingredients:

Continental Pilsner malt, German hop varieties (especially Saazer-type varieties such as Tettnanger, Hallertauer, and Spalt for taste and aroma; Saaz is less common), German lager yeast.

Style Comparison:

Lighter in body and color, drier, crisper, and more fully attenuated, with more of a lingering bitterness, and with higher carbonation than a Czech Premium Pale Lager. More hop character, malt flavor, and bitterness than International Pale Lagers. More hop character and bitterness with a drier, crisper finish than a Munich Helles; the Helles has more malt flavor, but of the same character as the Pils.

Vital Statistics:

OG: 1.044 – 1.050
FG: 1.008 – 1.013
ABV:  4.4 – 5.2%
IBUs:  22 – 40
SRM:  2 – 5

Commercial Examples:

König Pilsener, Left Hand Polestar Pils, Paulaner Premium Pils, Schönramer Pils, Stoudt Pils, Tröegs Sunshine Pils, Trumer Pils

BA DESIGNATION: german-Style pilsener

  • Color: Straw to pale. 
  • Clarity: Appearance should be clear. Chill haze should not be present
  • Perceived Malt Aroma & Flavor: A malty sweet aroma and flavor should be present at low levels.
  • Perceived Hop Aroma & Flavor: Hop aroma and flavor is moderate and pronounced, derived from late hopping (not dry hopping) with noble-type hops.
  • Perceived Bitterness: Medium to high
  • Fermentation Characteristics: Fruity-ester and DMS should not be present. These are well attenuated beers.
  • Body: Low to medium-low
  • Additional Notes: The head should be dense, pure white and persistent.

Original Gravity (°Plato) 1.044-1.052 (11-12.9 °Plato)

Apparent Extract/Final Gravity (°Plato) 1.006-1.012 (1.5-3.1 °Plato)

Alcohol by Weight (Volume) 3.6%-4.2% (4.6%-5.3%)

Bitterness (IBU) 25-50

Color SRM (EBC) 3-4 (6-8 EBC)


Less malt richness than a Czech Premium Pale Lager, and with a drier body and more bitterness. More hop character than a Munich Helles, both in aroma and bitterness.


  • Traditionally made only with German pilsner malt
  • Blend of German Hops
  • German lager yeast


Decoction brewing is a hallmark of traditional German Pilsners. Instead of mixing hot water with malt and then letting it rest at a single temperature, brewers begin the mash at lower temperatures, then pull a portion of the mash and boil it (see this post on why we decoct for more info on this). The boiled portion is then added back to the main mash, and the whole process is repeated twice before the wort is drained into the kettle and boiled with hops. The finished wort is chilled and fermented cool with a lager yeast, then held at lagering temperature (usually around 32º F) for several weeks to clarify, soften, and round the flavors together.


AT THE BREWPUB: Pretzel and Pub Mustard

ALSO AT THE BREWPUB: Smash Burger with Hand Cut Fries



FROM BF DISTILLING CO: Black Flannel Distilling’s Unaged Genever


NEW: Chris Thile and Edgar Meyer, Bass & Mandolin OLD: Bach, The Brandenburg Concertos


Louisville Boilermaker


  • 12 oz German Pilsner
  • 1.5 oz. of bourbon or rye whiskey
  • Lemon/Lime Soda: 7-up, Sprite, or Sparkling Ice Lemon Lime
  • Lemon (garnish)


Put 1/4 of a habanero pepper in the bottom of an old fashioned glass and top with mango puree. Muddle together for 5-10 seconds, then use a spoon to remove the habanero pepper. Top with Berliner Weisse, then garnish with sliced mango and habanero (if desired).


Brewing Notes:

Hop-focused German-style Pilsner brewed with German malt and hops. We open fermented this beer, which was then naturally carbonated for a smooth, soft mouthfeel. Pilsner is often mistaken as a light, malty beer in America—ours sticks to the historical tradition of a moderately bitter lager with floral and crackery notes that is, most importantly, outrageously drinkable.

Tasting Notes:

Good pilsner is one way to tell the quality of any brewery. It’s a holy grail in the brewing industry, because there’s nothing to hide behind when you brew this beer. Crispy, crackery, and bready malt are the backdrop for pleasant floral, lemony, and herbaceous hops with a light, pleasant bitterness. Brewed with tedious attention to detail, this unfiltered pilsner is a labor of love that we’re happy to share.