Although we haven’t gotten to the truly hot months yet, May is a great time to take a look at some of the beer styles you should get to know ahead of all of the upcoming season’s outdoor entertaining. Although personal preferences vary, the one beer style that’s sure to quench your thirst on those hot days at the park, the barbecue or the poolside bash is lager.
Known for being crisper, cleaner and more refreshing than ales, lagers shouldn’t be misinterpreted as being boring or watery. While they are lighter in body and alcohol than their ale brethren, and are moderate to high in carbonation, they still offer masterfully balanced flavors and subtle complexities that should be appreciated.
What makes lagers such an excellent choice for warm weather as opposed to ales? The main difference is that ales are brewed with top-fermenting yeast while lagers are brewed with bottom-fermenting yeast. Lager yeasts are inherently more fragile than ale yeasts, with a lower alcohol tolerance, and undergo fermentation at lower temperatures. This leads to a slower, longer fermentation and storage period (hence the name lager, from the German lagern, meaning “to store”).
Lagers typically have fewer esters and aromas than ales and greater clarity. They’re full-bodied beers with a mellow palate that’s crisp in character and less fruity.
Lagers can also range in style and intensity, from crisp Pilseners (also known as Pilsner, or Pils for short) to robust Vienna or Amber lagers or even bold doppelbocks. No matter how intense the profile, they are always considered to be clean, well-balanced selections.
Ayinger Celebrator Doppelbock (Doppelbock; Brauerei Aying, Germany); $4/330 ml, 95 points. Celebrator is an iconic doppelbock, regularly earning awards and accolades from competitions and journalists. It pours a dark mahogany color with flecks of rich amber when held up to the light. The bouquet immediately entices with seductive notes of toffee, caramel, toasted cinnamon-raisin bread, dried plum and fig, all laced with threads of molasses and sweet smoke. The mouth is lush and velvety, and many of the aromatic elements become part of the flavor profile without finishing cloyingly sweet. Notes of coffee and cocoa linger through the close, and the alcohol is completely in balance with all of the other elements. Merchant du Vin.
Left Hand Polestar Pilsner (German-style Pilsener; Left Hand Brewing Co., CO); $10/12 oz 6 pack, 95 points. This is a stunning beer, with just about everything you’d look for and expect from a German-style Pilsener. It’s a clear, golden-yellow color with fine bubbles dancing up toward the fluffy white head. The bouquet is appropriately soft and nuanced, with delicate hints of fresh grain, bread, citrusy hops and grass. Those same notes follow through on the palate, but the flavors are a bit more intense, supporting the smooth mouthfeel and spicy hop-infused finish. Medium weight and well-balanced. The dry finish is softly astringent, with a slightly grainy texture.
Full Sail Cascade Pilsner (German-style Pilsener; Full Sail Brewing Company, OR); $8/12 oz 6 pack; 90 points. After the success of Full Sail’s 26th anniversary selection, the brewery added the Cascade Pilsner recipe to their year-round lineup. A Northwest take on a European classic, it pours a beautiful bright-gold color, with a chunky white head that boasts excellent retention and leaves serious lacing behind with each sip. The hop-derived aromas of citrus and pine are forward and intense, with supporting notes of pale malt and cereal grain. The mouthfeel is medium-bodied but full of flavor, with high carbonation and a harmonious balance between the crisp lager core and the sticky hop characteristics. Herbal tones of meadow, yellow flower and soft pepper grace the finish.