Good news for lager lovers: The style is definitely having a moment. After years of bold, powerful and often hop-forward beers dominating 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.
Don’t get me wrong. IPAs are still, and likely will remain, a fan favorite, especially when it comes to craft or independent-owned breweries and you consider the wide range of IPA substyles available today.
Generally crisper, cleaner and more refreshing than ales, lagers shouldn’t be labeled as boring.
But the reality is, more than 75% of U.S. beer sales are lagers. While the majority of that number comes from macro producers, there’s been a noticeable uptick in quality craft offerings of late. And thirsty consumers couldn’t be more thankful.
Generally crisper, cleaner and more refreshing than ales, lagers shouldn’t be mislabeled as 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”).
It’s true that lagers can also range in style and intensity, from crisp Pilsners to robust Vienna or amber lagers or even doppelbocks.
But today, American brewers are working on perfecting the new breed of Amercian lager that appeals to an broad audience. Crispness and refreshment is coupled with some actual character at a moderate alcohol level. Now that’s something any beer lover can get behind.
Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers Post Shift Pilsner (Pilsner; Jack’s Abby Brewing, LLC, MA); $10/16 oz 4 pack, 91 points. Brewed with Bavarian malt and hops, this is an easy to like and well-balanced Pils. A brilliant straw-gold color, it pours with a solid white head that shows good retention. The nose is redolent of stone-ground cracker, freshly dried grass, whole herbal hop and pressed yellow flowers, with just a kick of yeasty spice in the back. Those notes carry through to the smooth and light yet satisfying palate, with additional strength in bitter orange and floral hop characteristics that ride atop the bready malt core. The finish is dry and spicy, with lingering impressions of orange oil and peppery spice on the back. abv: 4.7%
Chapman Crafted Pils (American Pilsner; Chapman Crafted Beer, CA); $14/16 oz 4 pack, 90 points. This is a classically styled Pils, with a clear, straw-colored appearance and a soft white head. The aromas are clean and straightforward, with light notes of cracker malt and freshly dried hay. The palate is light and brisk, with lively carbonation and more flavors of fresh hay and cracker and biscuit malt. It’s well-balanced, refreshing and easy to like, finishing dry and crisp. abv: 5.2%
Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers House Lager Bier (German-style Helles; Jack’s Abby Brewing, LLC, MA); $10/16 oz 4 pack, 89 points. Inspired by traditional landbiers and made with German malts and noble hops, this is an easy-drinking and refreshing year-round offering worth stocking up on for any gathering. It pours a clear, golden-straw color with a frothy white head. The aromas are crisp and clean, with soft hints of cereal grain, fresh-cracked malt, straw and spicy hops. The palate is bright in carbonation and medium in weight, with a surprising soft, sweet roundness that’s conveyed through flavors of honeyed cereal and spiced, dried orange peel, with a delicate dry, spicy yeast tone on the close. abv: 5.2%
Stone Tropic of Thunder Lager (American Lager; Stone Brewing, CA); $12/12 oz 6 pack, 89 points. This new year-round release is brewed with Citra, Mosaic and Cashmere hops, resulting in a fairly pronounced hop profile—it’s likely more accurate to call this an India pale lager (IPL) than a straight lager. It’s forwardly fruity right off the bat, with assertive orangy citrus and tropical-fruit aromas that dominate the nose and carry through with similar intensity to the medium-weight mouth. At the core is a light cracker-malt backbone, though it’s overshadowed by the hoppy, fruity intensity. Moderate carbonation provides a crisp, vibrant feel, while lingering hints of orange and pineapple peels grace the finish. abv: 5.8%
Hopewell Lil Buddy (German-style Helles; The Hopewell Brewing Co., IL); $6/8 oz 4 pack, 88 points. This adorable new selection, sold exclusively in eight-ounce cans, is a crisp and refreshing treat. The bouquet is light and grainy, with fresh-cracked wheat and mineral nuances that carry through to the silky smooth palate. The carbonation is bright and brisk, and the dry, fresh finish with just a kiss of bitterness leaves you poised for the arrival of your next Lil Buddy. abv: 4.7%