Monday, June 11, 2007

For the love of lagers

So my dog took me out for a little hike on Saturday, and it didn’t take me long to feel the heat. Summer has yet to ‘officially’ begin, and it’s already in the mid to upper eighties. It’s times like these that I reach for a cold lager. Nothing quenches your thirst after a couple of hours in the hot June sun.

Unfortunately, when most people hear the word lager, they immediately think of Budweiser or Miller, pale comparisons to their more flavorful cousins. These beers have caused many a craft brew lover to cringe whenever they hear the word lager. Thankfully, there are several German, Czech and American craft brewers that are dedicated to making great all-malt lagers.

Lagers lend themselves to outdoor drinking. Whether drinking a pilsner in the hot sun or warming yourself with a sip of dopplebock in the dead of winter, the crisp finish of a well-brewed lager satisfies like no other style of beer. Generally not as hoppy as ales, they tend to be subtle, with hints of malt sweetness combined with the spicy finish of a noble hop. Too bad these beers are often ignored by beer nerds who are always searching for the latest big brash Imperial Stout or Double IPA (both styles that I love, mind you). Brewing a great lager is actually more difficult because you can’t hide behind loads of hops or roasted malts, so it’s all the more special when you find a good one.

Speaking of big and brash, several American brewers have decided that a regular pilsner is just not enough, and they have invented the new style of ‘Imperial Pilsner’, which is a regular Pilsner jacked up with more malt and hops reaching the 8 or 9 percent range at times. This is one time where I think bigger is not necessarily better, but to each their own. You lose the subtle complexity when you use that much malt and hops.

Asheville brewers have ignored lagers for the most part, with the exception of French Broad Brewery, which has a Pilsner, a Marzen, and a Bock in their rotation. Asheville Brewing recently released their Bulldog Bock, a Maibock which is a german spring lager that packs plenty of punch. But other than that, locally brewed lagers are hard to come by, and I hope one day to see a few more offerings.

I have made it a point this year to explore lagers and reconnect with this great style. A cautionary note on light lagers: you want to drink them fresh, and that makes it hard with certain imports and other beers that don’t have any kind of dating system. Be sure to look at the bottle to see if it has a freshness date. Here’s a list of some of the beers that I have been able to get locally that are worthy of purchase:

Victory Prima Pils: My favorite American craft brewed Pilsner. Slightly more hops than its German counterpart, the lovely spicy finish will make you reach for another one.

Brooklyn Lager: The sweet malt shines in this pre-Prohibition style lager.

Mahr’s Pilsner: A quintessential example of a German Pilsner. Crisp and refreshing. (Mahr’s other offerings are great as well.)

Kulmbacher Pils: Another fine example of a German Pils. Drink it cold after mowing the lawn or some other sweat inducing activity.

Klaster Premium Lager: A great Czech alternative to the now mass produced Pilsner Urquell.

Aecht Schlenkerla Helles Lagerbier: I haven’t seen this in awhile, but this is one fantastic beer. A smoked lager, but the smoke doesn’t dominate like a Rauchbier.

Celebrator Dopplebock: This beer is my wintertime favorite. A classic of the style, with sweet caramel and hints of molasses and chocolate. Will definitely warm you up.


  1. While at Barley's earlier this evening I enjoyed the excellent Maibock from Foothills Brewing in Winston-Salem. Highly recommended.

  2. Tom from Raleigh8:18 PM

    Lagers can be wonderful or bland. The key is freshness. I seek out Victory Lager, which is a Helles, I believe. I only buy it if it's been brewed within the last few months. I sure wish every brewery put born on dates on their beer...

    Victory Lager is an amazingly good beer and among the top beers I've had when it's fresh.

  3. Hi Tom,

    Totally agree with everything you said. I think I'll seek out some Victory Lager on my next jaunt to the store.