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Lager(s)

The current issue of Ale Street News focuses on the issue of Lagers. What are they, how they taste and why most micros don't make 'em. It's a topic that's been on my mind lately. I haven't found an American lager that I've liked in many moons.

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  1. What lagers have you liked (moons ago)?

    1. You must not have had Brooklyn Lager or Victory Prima Pils.

      9 Replies
      1. re: Josh

        Josh, You're right. I had forgotten about Brooklyn Lager. I enjoy that a lot, however I don't like their Pilsner at all. I haven't been impressed by any of the Victory beers. I keep on trying them on draft, but they leave me unimpressed. I also loved Sierra Pale Bock. Too bad it's not bottled anymore, a crime againgst consumption.

        1. re: MOREKASHA

          I think that it is important to identify which lagers that you like first and maybe we can then lend a hand in making suggestions as opposed to listing our personal favorites. Do you have a particular lager style that you are fond of? You mentioned a bock. Any others?

          1. re: MOREKASHA

            I think the Victory Prima Pils is a great lager. I've heard that their standard Victory Lager is just average. If you like the Sierra Pale Bock, you might want to look for their Summerfest, which I think is a lager, though all they say on the label is that it's bottom-fermented.

            I wish more American brewers would make lagers, but I understand why they don't. I've had some good lagers from Gordon Biersch, however.

            One of the local breweries here makes an IPL - India Pale Lager. A super-hopped lager. I love it, great stuff.

            1. re: Josh

              As the article states it is less economically feasible to brew lagers. They require more time and are less forgiving beers being more “naked” than ales are. Another reason is a perception by many in the micro world that lagers aren’t “up to snuff” when compared to ales which are generally more significant in flavor (malt and hops) and alcohol. And as I’ve stated many times on this site I don’t see the need to completely hijack the DNA of every beer style like some virus and make it into yet another hop monster (i.e. India Pale Lager)

              1. re: Chinon00

                It depends on whom in the micro world you talk to. Most of the homebrewers I've met enjoy well-crafted lagers, and sometimes even make them when the weather permits.

                And I don't see why IPL is such a crazy notion. If beer brewers weren't willing to experiment and try new things then the world would be absent some truly incredible beers.

                1. re: Josh

                  Right nothing wrong with a little experimentation. hmmm... IPL....

                  Actually, Victory Prima Pils used to be in that "style" before they got the new brewhouse. It really was overhopped for the pils style but was delicious. But since they put in the new brewhouse, the malt side is more pronounced and hop flavor/aroma has been subdued and its actually a better beer overall (closer to style and more balanced) now though.

                  1. re: Josh

                    I agree with experimentation but why does it seem that for us in America experimentation, not always, but so often equates to "bigger" and doesn't as often go in other areas? I don't want to take yet another post off topic with my own personal gripes so I'll stop there.

                    1. re: Chinon00

                      Well, the IPL is really just a lager that's hoppier than usual. Alcohol didn't seem especially high on it. It was like a cleaner-tasting IPA.

            2. In new england Smuttynose Portsmouth Lager is my go to lager. Its usually my first beer whenever I visit the Portsmouth brewery and has never let me down.

              I used to enjoy alot of Otter Creek VT Lager when it first came out, but then they changed the recipe.

              I enjoyed a few cases of Lagunitas Pils when it first appeared in our area and you could rely on its freshness.

              When it comes to unpastuerized lagers, freshness really matters, so look for high selling local/regional breweries that make lager in your area.

              1. Anchor Steam is a pretty good, widely available lager. So is Red Tail. Most lagers I like are made by more regional or local breweries.

                16 Replies
                1. re: mojoeater

                  Actually, Anchor Steam is an ale. It's fermented with lager yeast, but it's not made the same way. Red Tail is also not a lager either, as the name Red Tail Ale would indicate. ;)

                  1. re: Josh

                    Beer Advocate classifies them both as lagers.

                    1. re: mojoeater

                      From a consumer viewpoint, it seems as if it's harder to make a decent (let alone great) lager. Hell, even the uber Lager, Plzen Urquell isn't what it used to be. When a lager is crafted with love and age, I don't know what can be beat it. I still love ale's as well.

                      1. re: MOREKASHA

                        Ok, here are my top nine Pilsner/Lagers right now:
                        Slyfox Pikeland Pils
                        Stiegl
                        Staroprahmen
                        Spaten Lager
                        Jever Pils
                        Penn Pilsner
                        Stoudt's Pils
                        Radeburger Pils
                        Czechvar

                        I love Pils, the Loire Valley Sauvignon Blanc of beers.

                      2. re: mojoeater

                        My bad, I didn't know that Mendocino made a Red Tail Lager in addition to their Red Tail Ale. I will have to see if I can find it somewhere, I like their beers a lot.

                        Despite Beer Advocate's categorization, the technical designation for Anchor Steam's style is California Common Ale, which is considered a hybrid style. You can read more about this style below:
                        http://www.bjcp.org/styles04/Category...

                        1. re: mojoeater

                          Beeradvocate classifies Anchor Steam as a "California Common / Steam" beer.

                            1. re: mojoeater

                              Just to give the dead horse one final blow, you can call it a lager if you want, but you'd be wrong. Lager yeast does not a lager make. The hallmark of lager production (which is evident in the name, because the word "lager" in German means "to store") is that the beer is fermented for a long period of time at cool temperatures. Steam beer, on the other hand, is fermented at warm temperatures for a short period of time. In short, it is an ale.

                              1. re: Josh

                                This dead horse is still kicking in my mind.

                                By your definition of lager, kolsches and altbiers that had been lagered during the fermentation process would be considered lagers and I have never before heard anyone make that claim.

                                So I went back to my BJCP study guide to see if there was any clarity to be found. While the study guide could have been more definitive, here is what it had to say: "LAGERS are produced using bottom-fermenting lager yeasts...This family of yeasts works well at lower temperatures....ALES are produced using top fermenting ale yeast...These strains of yeast works (sic) at warmer temperatures....Ale yeast are (sic) usually temperature sensative and will flocculate and become dormant when lagered at cool temperatures for extended periods of time."

                                Perhaps you can find a source that is more definitive that supports your position and if you do, I would gladly stand corrected. Based on the study guide, if I were taking the BJCP test today and were asked how to categorize the California Common style, I would answer that it is a lager.

                                1. re: brentk

                                  The Light hybrid style was created when the BJCP reorganized their categories a few years back. Prior to that there was a Hybrid style that included Koelsch and Cal.Common because it was recognized that these beers were different. Koelsch is an excellent example, it is a top fermenting strain fermented at the very low end of Ale temps to keep porduction of Ale like esters to a minimum and then Lagered in secondary for clarity and to further eliminate ale flavors. Cal. Common is similar. Anchor ferments in open fermentors with lager yeast temperaturs on the low end for an ale but WAY too high for a true lager. Then they cold store it.

                                  BJCP should bring the hybrid style back. It makes for much neater categorization to say there are only 2 types of beers, ale and lager. Whenever I hear somebody say this I usually reply, "Sort of."

                                  BTW, Alt (old) are the few remaining Ale holdouts of the lager revolution in Germany. They are true ales by most accounts although some of the larger brewers will cold store them to clean them up a bit. The smaller brewers around Franconia don't lager at all. (That's a generalization and not necessarily a rule but it's mostly true.)

                                  1. re: Kevin B

                                    Ok. This lager/steam question had me bugged, so I turned to my friendly neighborhood brewmaster, who is a graduate of the Siebel Institute of Technology and has been brewing professionally for years. Here is his response:

                                    "Lager yeast DOES a lager make. Although "lagering" periods (cold storing) and a colder fermentation are the hallmarks of lager beers and foster the best conditions for them to prosper under to get the desired lager characteristics, a lager or ale is defined by the species of yeast used to ferment the beer. It is a very clear and simple division...there is saccharomyces cerevisiae (ale) and saccharomyces carlsbergensis, now called saccharomyces ovarum (lager). Many different subspecies exist within these (most within the ale family), but beer has two families, ale and lager, and if the power goes out on my chiller for a few days and my German Schwarzbier ferments at a higher temperature I do not magically have an ale--I have a Schwarzbier lager that will have produced a higher number of fruity-tasting esters (and possibly some other flaws).

                                    Anchor Steam is a warm-fermented lager...ask Fritz (or any biochemist).
                                    And for the record, the Alstrom Brothers from BeerAdvocate are generally gonna be right about this kind of stuff."

                                    1. re: mojoeater

                                      Funny you should mention this. I just bought a homebrewing book over the weekend and it says roughly the same thing as your brewmaster did. I find that surprising, given the much more ale-like flavor of steam beer.

                                      1. re: Josh

                                        Either way, it's a great beer. And I like Anchor's Liberty Ale as well.

                                        1. re: mojoeater

                                          Their porter is excellent as well. I also have a bottle of their Old Potrero rye whiskey, and it's great.

                      3. re: mojoeater

                        And..."pretty good?" One of my absolute favorites! Darned fine beer.

                      4. Question (slightly off topic): Is it a gimmick when Rolling Rock refers to itself as an "Extra Pale Lager"? Seems to me that in calling it this they are attempting to give their beer more snob appeal. Is there such a category?

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Chinon00

                          "Is it a gimmick when Rolling Rock refers to itself as an "Extra Pale Lager"?"

                          "Gimmick"? I suppose ALL labeling is somewhat gimmicky- but the use of the term "pale" for US style lagers was once very common (MORE common than "pale ale" was in the US)- a quick look and I see "ABC Extra Pale Dry Beer" "Acme Pale Dry Beer" "Alt Heidelberg Premium Pale" "Balboa Export Beer Premium Pale" "Burgermeister Pale Beer" (and that's just the first two letters of the alphabet). The terms "light" (as in color, not "lite" as in low calorie, less filling), "dry" and "pale" (along with "pilsener", "lager" and "premium", of course) were common descriptive terms for what we have come to call "US industrial light lager".

                          1. re: JessKidden

                            Too bas we don't have an "AOC" system in the US. I'd love to see the likes of Bud labelled "Industrial Light Lager". That would make me a happy camper...

                        2. Lagers are better the fresher they are. I am now back in NYC so i have been drinking alot of Brooklyn Lager, which is nice.

                          1. Samichlaus
                            Optimator
                            Elyssian Mai Bock
                            Moretti La Rossa

                            All excellent lagers in my opinion. Just not light lagers. Session is pretty good. Clean and crisp.

                            6 Replies
                            1. re: Kevin B

                              I just saw that Brooklyn Lager is now available in a can. Great for beach trips or anywhere else where glass might be a problem. And yes, Staropramen is a great lager, so is Czechvar/Budovice. The extra good thing about Czechvar is the expiry date on the bottle in English! This helps reduce the possibility of skunky brew. Too bad most brews don't have this.

                              1. re: MOREKASHA

                                At this point, don't *most* brewers put a date code of one sort or another on their labels (or other packaging)? Certainly, the beers I buy the most do- one of the reasons why I buy them the most, too. (Sadly, one of my current "house" beers, Sly Fox Pikeland Pils, is now being stocked with those plastic rings around the cans instead of the nice dated cardboard boxed 12 packs. Sure, that was overkill packaging, not very ecological but I re-used the boxes, anyway- my garage and study is packed full of stuff in Pikeland Pils boxes.)

                                All beer is dated/coded somehow (after all, the brewers/wholesales/retailers also have to know how old the beer is- even if they seldom do anything about it), I've been reading and decyphering codes for 30 years but will admit the dates are easier to find and figure these days. As for "in English", since most are numerical, even that's not too difficult, save for the Euro beers bottled on a the first 12 days of the month- "Hmmm...'Best by 01-11-07' ... but is that January 11 or November 1st?"

                                And then there's the date without explanation- is it a "Best by" or a "Brewed on"- was this beer bottled last month or did it pass it prime then?

                                As for a date "reducing the possibility of skunky" Czechvar- I don't see it. Beer in green bottles will become light strunk in less than an hour, so no matter how "fresh" the beer is, the unknown length of time that it's been exposed to the sunlight or florescent light is the critical factor.

                                It's not time or green bottles to blame for light struck beer, it's the retailers who take in out of the dark case AND the brewers who still don't realize that beer is stocked in retail setting behind clear doors and open shelves today, not in dark coolers a la the 1940's.

                                All that said, I was looking for "something different" the other day (it's been unseasonably warm in NJ these last few days, so I thought I'd get some pilsners or even some macros lagers). Found some 500 ml. brown bottles of Czechvar- turned it to the back label "Best by 02 2006". Whoa. Checked some of the Pabst/Miller "local brand" cheapies (Schaefer, Pabst) and they were ALL past the "best by" date (Miller gives their beers 17 weeks). This is a well-known, well-stocked liquor store chain in NJ- Shop-Rite Liquors. I always wonder if the dairy or meat department is so careless with their dates on the milk, eggs and hamburger...

                                Settled on a case of Ballantine Ale cans ("best by Aug 13"- that won't be a problem...) as my "lawn mower beer"- altho' my lawn mower's home made "cup holder" works best for long necked bottles, so while mowing I'll pick the dust-in-your-throat-clearing HopDevil (yeah, straight out of the bottle, too, "beer geek common wisdom" be damned. Ever try to balance a nonic pint glass on a 20+ year old John Deere?)

                                1. re: JessKidden

                                  if you're drinking victory, prima pils would be my choice for the mowing duties. not their lager, i didn't like it.

                                  1. re: kenito799

                                    Yeah, I would have picked up a case of Prima Pils, too, but the "best by" date was passed already, so, like the undated Pikeland Pils, I passed on it. Freshness really counts with hoppy pils.

                                    I haven't had the Lager since Victory first hit NJ a number of years ago- don't remember much about it but the fact that I haven't had it since makes me think I agree with you. Unfortunately that early experience had me avoid the Prima for a time, too- big mistake there. Now it's been my on my regular pils rotation (along with Jever & Urquell &, for the last year, Pikeland).

                                    1. re: JessKidden

                                      Jess- unless you've had a genuinely bad experience with the Sly Fox sixers you really shouldn't write them off quite yet. My local shop does the same thing- the shop itself has been breaking up those twelve pack boxes, not the supplier- and I have been buying them religiously without incident. And I'm a staunch date checker as well. Perhaps you can even determine the date if you have a friendly enough rapport with the manager.

                                      The thing about the Victory lager, in my mind, is that I can always find an imported Helles lager that is superior, packaging and shipping issues notwithstanding, and cheaper- so why would I go back to it? With the exception of the trace amounts of DMS it is a fairly bland beer- and I mean that in relation to other similar pale lagers, not monster IPAs and Impy Stouts, etc.- so I can't recommend it either, although I do occasionally wonder how it is on draught at the source.

                                      I have had great success with Hacker-Pschorr's Edelhell, particularly when it is around 3 months from the bottling date (in fact, I'd name that one my #1 'sleeper' beer, in that nobody seems to talk about it). For a beer that is all about balance it really sems to shine in the hop department, and is definitely meant to be consumed by the liter. It actually gets better with each successive one. Hoffbrau, Augustiner and Mahr's are also quite good but the last two are priced beyond what I'm willing to pay for a Helles.

                                      Just a few weeks ago I was discussing doing a blind tasting of many of the Helles lagers available with some friends. If we can overcome the difficulty of getting simultaneously fresh samples of all of the major ones I think we'll be doing it soon. In this particular case I'm genuinely curious about how my favorites stand up.

                                      1. re: TongoRad

                                        TongoRad- Yeah, you're probably right about Sly Fox. Earlier in the week, I was doing some work at my parents' house and since Dad doesn't drink much beer any more (ex-Ballantine Ale drinker, switched to Miller Lite a few years back...ugh...), I had to search the back of the 'frig where there's usually a beer or two leftover from Thanksgiving or Christmas from my BYOB stash. Found two cans of Pikeland Pils and they tasted fine. One of the benefits of canning in the first place is protection from light and oxygen, so it's not that surprising, I suppose.

                                        Still, I'd like to see a date code on the can itself since I tend to figure that *some* of the retailers breaking up the 12 can cases are doing so *because* they're out of date (I still see "best by Dec. '06" cases around in "good beer" stores) and, if a beer's gonna get old, I'd rather it be in my (or my parents') refrigerator rather than at the retailers'.

                            2. maybe you just don't like lagers in general....i know that i don't.

                              then again, i haven't tried any US microbrew lagers other than yuengling and sam adams, but that said - i definitely like those two much better than the imported lagers i've tried. (i don't consider the crappy macro lagers to even be in any remote ball park of any of the other lagers, import or domestic)

                              i guess if you forced me to drink a lager, it'd better be a dark one.

                              1. i think north coast's scrimshaw pilsner is the best of this category for american micros.
                                also, the full sail limited edition beers (they're on no. 2) that have been coming out recently have both been great lagers.

                                1. And for me the best Pils have a way of almost creating thirst (for another). I'm not sure if it's the hops, the level of hops, dryness, or just what but I'm an addict for it as soon as the weather breaks.

                                  1. i just had some alaskan summer ale (says kolsch style on the bottle) last night.
                                    i thought it was very good - like a clean pilsener with a little more creaminess and very tiny plum flavors
                                    how's that style supposed to relate to a lager?