While we haven’t yet gotten to the scorching hot summer months, June is a great time to prepare for all of the upcoming season’s outdoor entertaining, and the most appropriate accompanying drinks. Though personal preferences vary, the beer category that’s sure to quench your thirst best is lager.
Known for being crisper, cleaner and more refreshing than ales, lagers shouldn’t be misinterpreted as being boring. While they are lighter in body and alcohol than their ale brethren, they are moderate to high in carbonation and offer balanced profiles and subtle characteristics that should be appreciated, not overlooked.
The main difference between lagers and ales 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 they 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”).
And good news for lager lovers: The style is definitely having a moment. After years of bold, powerful and often hop-forward beers being the darling of the craft beer scene, lagers are finally seeing their time to shine, as thirsty consumers look for more nuanced, sessionable beers of moderation and restraint.
It’s true that lagers can also range in style and intensity, from crisp Pilseners (also known as Pilsner or Pils) to robust Vienna or amber lagers or even doppelbocks. But today, American brewers are working on perfecting the new breed of Amercian pale lager, one that appeals to an immensely broad audience. We could only fit a few reviews here, so be sure to check out the other Wine Enthusiast’s other ratings to get the full scoop on this month’s lager tastings.
Bottles to Try
Firestone Lager (American Pale Lager; Firestone Walker Brewing Co., CA); $11/12 oz 6 pack, 91 points. This canned beer is clear, pale-light gold in color, with a finger’s worth of white head that falls somewhat fast though it leaves decent lacing behind. It boasts subtle aromas and flavors, like lightly toasted grains, cereal, lemon peel and white florals. The palate shows a touch more sweetness, with faint hints of lemon drop candy and honey-drizzled bread dough. It is light in body but smooth and remarkably clean, with medium carbonation and a crisp, dry finish that offers a light cracker flavor and just a touch of bitterness. All in all, this is the very idea of what a lager should be to many people. abv: 4.5%
Founders Solid Gold (American Adjunct Lager; Founders Brewing Company, MI); $15/12 oz 15 pack, 90 points. This pours a rich medium-yellow color, with a serious head that lingers. It leads with clean hop notes of orange blossom and lemon zest that are set against a spine of fresh cracker malt and cracked corn, with faint hints of cilantro and sweet grass in the background. The light-plus-bodied mouthfeel boasts an extremely subtle creaminess, though bright carbonation keeps the palate crisp, with a pithy citrus-peel twang and a note of fresh hay that marks the close. Available in 6- and 15-can packs. abv: 4.4%
Victory Home Grown New American Lager (American Pale Lager; Victory Brewing Company, VT); $11/12 oz 6 pack, 89 points. There’s the slightest haze to this yellow gold-colored beer. The bouquet opens with upfront fresh-hop characteristics, expressed in waves of juicy orange and lemon supremes, grounded by a sweet grain, Honeycomb cereal-like core. The medium-bodied mouth offers full flavors of cereal grain and a touch of caramel malt, which are balanced by ample carbonation to keep the palate lifted. The finish is bitter and pithy, reminiscent of dried orange peel. An well-balanced choice for those looking for a sessionable hop-forward lager. abv: 4.8%
Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co., Danish Red Lager (Vienna Lager; Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co., CA); $11/12 oz 6 pack, 88 points. Inspired by the red lagers of Denmark and the Danish-style village of Solvang in California’s Santa Ynez Valley, this pours a clear russet-red color with a small head that fades fast. Scents of caramel malt, toasted biscuit and a touch of dried red fruits unfold on the nose and carry through to the medium-weight mouth. The mouthfeel is smooth and somewhat slick, though it’s countered by pronounced carbonation. A slightly cloying sweet-malt flavor lingers on the close. abv: 5.5%
South Norte Sea Señor! Mex Lager (American Pale Lager; SouthNorte Beer Co., CA); $11/12 oz 6 pack, 88 points. While not overly deep or complex, this is a well-made and well-balanced beer that will certainly please fans of crisp, clean, easy-drinking lagers. It’s bright pale yellow and super clear in the glass, with faint notes of dried grass, fresh grains, bread and a touch of lemon pith on the nose and mouth. Light to medium in body, with brisk carbonation and a lightly drying finish, it’s an incredibly sessionable beer that’s ideal for warm-weather enjoyment. Available in 12 oz bottles and cans. abv: 4.5%