Danny Fullpint blogs about his feelings on the underdog of the craft beer movement, the craft lager. Buried underneath the barrel aged beers, sours, and monster IPA’s are some carefully crafted, bottom fermenting beers. Cheers! Note: if you wish to read more of Dan’s beer rants, please visit thefullpint.com
Written by Dan Fullpint for thefullpint.com
If you started your beer drinking journey roughly the same period of your life as I did, you probably sucked back many cans or bottles of lager during your late high school years and into college. In this instance, I’m referring to the cheap, fizzy, yellow piss you buy in a 30 pack, most likely made by Bud, Miller or Coors. Hovering between 4-5 percent, you could play and drink all night with your friends, while making a pyramid of empty cans, and most likely leaving that smelly 1/2 inch of warm beer at the bottom.
When you finally realized that stuff was junk and moved onto Samuel Adams or Newcastle, because you are now smarter and more sophisticated, you realized the stuff in those cans was crap. Fast forward to the beer drinking times of today, and you’ll notice the craft beer market is flooded with ales. There is almost a stigma that ales are good and lagers are crap. In a sea of IPAs, Black IPAs, strong ales, and wheat ales, there is a perceived contrast of good and bad between ales and lagers. I would bet if you asked someone to name a lager, they probably wouldn’t even name Samuel Adams Boston Lager, but rather Budweiser or Heineken. From where I’m sitting, Samuel Adams Boston Lager is a decent lager (when fresh and maintained), green bottle import lager and American macro canned lager is a horrible representation of lager. The problem is, the marketing and market domination of the latter have bored a hole in everyone’s mind that lager = fizzy yellow cheap beer. I’m here to help shed some light on the lost art of the long, cold, bottom fermented beer known as lager. In this case, craft lager. As a disclaimer, I think the cheap fizzy stuff has it’s place, I’ve been known to suck down some PBR in the warm weather, I just want people to know lager is not a bad word.
In my opinion, Ales dominate the craft beer market for a few reasons. They are quicker to make (lager translates into a long aging), ales can be brewed to a higher gravity without tasting like alcohol in some instances, where higher gravity lagers start to taste nasty, and as I ramble on, there is a stigma that lager = fizzy yellow crap. This very discussion was born from me trying to get my PBR lovin, craft ale hating father to try a well crafted beer.
There are many styles of lager that can be brewed, that are nothing like Heineken. There are pilsners (a dry, pale hoppy lager), there are Marzen/Oktoberfest lagers/Amber Lagers(sweet, nutty, lightly fruity), there are black lagers (slightly roasty, smooth), and all types of bocks (maibock, doppel bocks, bock bock I’m a chicken ). There are many very tasty craft lagers on the market that you should try, before closing the book on lagers.
Craft Lager Cliffs Notes
If you like a beer pale in color and on the dry side, you should try these:
Victory Brewing Prima Pils: Made in Downington, PA, this is one of Victory’s flagship beers. It pours a clear gold, has lively bubbles, it’s spicy, dry and hoppy. I mention this beer first because it has very wide distribution in the US. Make sure you check the enjoy by date, and preferably pluck it from a cold case rather than a hot shelf.
Troegs Sunshine Pils: Another lager from PA, this is as lively and enjoyable as Prima Pils, however it’s a seasonal with North East availability only. It’s crisp, it’s clean, and a tad more fruity than Prima.
Trumer Pils: When this beer is fresh, it’s one of the hoppiest pilsners there is. I’ve never been to Germany, but I’d like to think this beer is true to the style. It’s just a gut instinct. Brewed in Berkley, CA, it’s one of California’s standout lagers.
If you like a beer that’s pale, but has a little bit of honey sweetness and not so bitter, you should try these:
Great Lakes Dortmunder Gold: Besides being gold in color, this beer is called “Gold” because of the dozens upon dozens of gold medals this beer has received in various widely regarded beer judging competitions. This beer is a few shades darker than a pilsner, but is definitely not amber. It’s a touch sweet, with a full creamy body and a modest level of bitterness. There is a story behind the Dortmunder/Export style that I will save for another day.
Full Sail LTD 02 – Full Sail is one of the craft lager leaders of the industry. They have over a half a dozen bottled lagers on the market, sent to their growing distribution channel. The LTD series is up to 5 different lager recipes, but this one stands out for me. It pours a vibrant clear gold with a creamy head. Like Dortmunder Gold, it has a sweet beginning and middle, but finishes with a touch more hops and a little bit of alcohol. Typically lagers stay within the 5%’s, but this beer is 6.4% abv, and a lager fan can tell this immediately.
New Glarus Cabin Fever – While you are only going to be able to get New Glarus beer officially in Wisconsin, if you can get a hold of them by any reasonable means, do so. Their Cabin Fever bock is a perfect balance between malt and hops, and finishes super clean. New Glarus makes all styles of lager, and they do so very well.
If you like a sweet, darker lager or you like amber ales, you should try these:
Karl Strauss Amber Lager – Karl Strauss has a flagship lineup of very approachable, highly drinkable beers. One of their classics is Karl Strauss Amber Lager. This beer has a amber body, a smallish head, but has an aroma of sweet bread and nuttiness. It’s not quite an Oktoberfest, but it’s more malty than it is hoppy.
Great Lakes Elliot Ness Amber Lager – Great Lakes has it down with lager. This is much sweeter than Dortmunder gold, but still has a nice hoppy backbone. Great Lakes has broadened their distribution footprint, so this would be one you should be able to pick up east of the Mississippi.
Port Brewing Hot Rocks Lager – Port Brewing has made their name making explosive IPA style beers. About two years ago, they ramped up their production to the point where they have a few lagers bottled and shipped. Hot Rock’s is a very malty amber lager. I find it tasty, however be careful, this is 6.5% so it will hit you harder than most lagers.
Most Oktoberfest/Marzens: Around September many breweries release a seasonal in the spirit of Oktoberfest. These lagers are very close to what you would consider an amber lager, but might come off a little sweeter and fuller in body. Get them while they are in season, otherwise you will be drinking an old lager. Yuck.
If you are looking for a strong lager, you might enjoy one of these big beers, which fall under a few different styles:
Troegs Troegenator: Troegs makes many German styles very well, and Troegenator is their answer to the Doppelbock. A doppelbock is tyipcally a very malty, estery dark beer that packs an alcohol punch. Troegenator fits that description well. If you are into dark Belgian’s or Scotch Ale, this would please you.
Avery The Kaiser – Once a year, Avery Brewing releases an Imperial Oktoberfest called the Kaiser. This beer is big, malty and packs an alcohol punch.
Port Brewing Panzer Pilsner – This beer was formulated by the rockstar brewer Julian Shrago, who is heading up Beachwood BBQ and Brewery this summer. If you have had an Imperial Pilsner before, you know that sometimes they are good, and sometimes they taste like rubbing alcohol. I think this is typically why brewers keep lagers around 4-6%. Panzer however comes off like a cross between a german pilsner and a California Double IPA. If you can get this beer fresh, do it. It’s very tasty.
There are still plenty of lagers I’d like to point you to, but this list will get you headed on the right track. Feel free to hit us up on Facebook and Twitter if you need a suggestion based on your preference and location. Give craft lager a chance. Cheers!
This piece is by no means the gospel or reference on the history of beer. Please follow these links if you want to further educate yourself on the history of the lager.