Curiosity Corner: Pilsner vs Lager

What’s the difference?

Curiosity Corner
Dr. Jerry D. Wilson
Emeritus Professor of Physics
Lander University

Question: What is the difference between pilsner and lager beers? Also, please tell me the difference between a college and a university.

Reply: Beer, a beverage from fermented grain, has been around from early civilizations. Unlike crushed grapes, which are easily fermented for wine, grains are more stubborn. The grain has to be soaked in water and allowed to germinate. When the kernels reach the stage where their sugars are developed enough to support a sprout, the process is stopped by drying. The grain is now “malt” and has the sugar for fermentation. Barley, wheat, oats and rye can all be malted. The malted grain is ground and mixed with water to start the fermentation process. Additives such as herbs, spices and hops may be added. Hops give the bitter taste that can be found in some German beers.
But there is another essential ingredient, yeast, which causes the sugar to turn to alcohol. In the old days, the vats of malt and water were exposed to the atmosphere by opening roof panels. This allowed wild yeast cells in the air to go into the vats and start the fermentation. However, the wild yeasts varied and so did the beer. With the development of refrigeration in the 1800s, yeasts were isolated, or cultured, and could be stored. Brewers could then make consistent-tasting beers.
Also, before refrigeration, beer would go bad after a while in a warm environment. In the 1400s, brewers in Bavaria stored their beers in cool caves in the Alps during the summer. It remained good, but they didn’t know why. One reason was that it was not exposed to any more wild yeast, which could cause problems in a warm environment. This storage was called “Lagerung” in German. In German, “lager” means storehouse. A lager is a beer that is fermented with yeast at cool temperatures and then put into cold storage.
Prior to 1842, all beers were dark and cloudy. Then a brewery in Pilsen, Bohemia, using a lager method, introduced a beer that was golden and clear. Within the family of lagers, the pilsner (or “pils”) is now the most widely produced.
Now for colleges and universities. The definition depends a lot on the person you ask. I personally prefer the classical dictionary definitions. College has two applicable definitions:
college – an institution of higher learning, especially one providing liberal arts education rather than technical or professional training.
– a constituent unit of a university furnishing courses in vocational, technical or professional instruction, such as medicine (e.g., college of medicine), pharmacy, agriculture or fine arts.
university – an institution of learning of the highest level, having a college of liberal arts and a program of graduate studies together with several professional schools, such as those of theology, law, medicine and engineering, and authorized to confer both undergraduate and graduate degrees.
As I say, these are the “classical” definitions. In some states, all the institutions of higher learning are called universities, irrespective of offerings. And in some cases, it gets to be legislative semantics, as in South Carolina, where the Technical Schools became Technical Colleges and Colleges became Universities. I’m not sure what that makes Clemson and USC.

C.P.S. (Curious Postscript): The sign of a bad cook – the family prays after they eat. – Anonymous

Curious about something? Send your questions to Dr. Jerry D. Wilson, College of Science and Mathematics, Lander University, Greenwood, SC 29649, or e-mail Selected questions will appear in the Curiosity Corner. For Curiosity Corner background, go to

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