Leah’s Beer School: Lesson 33

Italian Pilsners 

Pilsen & The Birth of Pilsners 

The Pilsner style was born in Pilsen, a city in what is now Czech Republic, in 1848. Pilsner Urquell is credited as being the first pilsner ever produced, pilsner meaning “from Pilsen” in Czech. The Czech pilsner is pale gold in colour with low-to-medium noble hop presence. It is characterized by slightly sweet, toasted biscuit and bready aromas and flavors, with low-to-moderate carbonation.

In the 1870s, the German pils style was adapted from the Czech style to showcase their natural mineral water and domestically-produced hops. German pilsners tend to be lighter in body and color, drier and crisper than its Czech predecessor. The German pilsner is also characterized by a more pronounced European hop aroma, high-level carbonation and a lingering bitterness. Germans will more often use the word ‘pils’ to distinguish their version from Czech-style pilsners. 

What is an Italian Pilsner? 

Italian pilsners are German-style pilsners that have been dry-hopped with European hops to achieve a high level of hop aroma. Unlike many other lager styles that are all about the malt, Italian-style pilsners are primarily defined by their hop profile, most often using noble hops from Germany or Czech Republic. The hop nose on Italian pilsners is slightly spicy, minty, grassy – a profile that can’t be achieved using citrusy or fruity American hops. 

But, it’s not all about the hops. Italian pilsners tend to be fermented at a slightly higher temperature than traditional pilsners to extract more flavor from the grains and yeast.

Beer writer Jeff Alworth describes Italian pilsners as “softer, more saturated, and more lush than the German pils they otherwise resemble . . . the “Italian” part of the equation means more complexity, depth, and character.”  

Tipopils: The First Italian Pilsner 

It’s pretty rare in craft beer history to find a universally-agreed upon origin story, but here it is…

The very first Italian Pilsner was born 25 years ago in a small Italian town southwest of Lake Como at Birrifico Italiano. Brewer Agostino Arioli had attempted to brew a beer close to Jever Pils and inadvertently ended up with something quite different. Troubled by the fact that he had failed to brew a “real Pils”, he called it Tipopils, from ‘tipo pils’ meaning ‘a kind of Pils.’ Tipopils has risen to a near mythical stature and actually has its own Tipopils Day, where it is poured in select bars and restaurants across Italy. 

According to Arioli, the Italian style Pils must be light in color, between 4 and 5.4% ABV, dry-hopped using traditional German or Czech hops, or those that resemble noble hops, for a traditional European hop character. 

An Italian pilsner should be a highly palatable, well-balanced everyday kind of beer. It’s a great crossover beer for IPA drinkers looking for a hopped-up version of a lager and for lager drinkers looking to explore some more hoppy beer styles.

(Leah is a Toronto based freelance writer as well as Head Beer Weenie and a server at C’est What)