More people around the world drink lagers than any other type of beer, but, for whatever reason, they have often failed to command the attention of craft beer drinkers.
In some ways, it’s understandable: After years of monotony from drinking pale lagers like Molson Canadian or Bud, newcomers to craft often skip over lagers as they discover IPAs, sour styles, barrel-aged beers and all kinds of other things they never knew existed.
There’s a feeling among many industry watchers that craft lagers may finally get some respect in 2020. It’s about time, I say.
As spring turns to summer and the weather gets warmer, I want beers for socializing and refreshment — and lagers deliver on both counts. The sensory adventure of tasting something big, boozy and out there is a genuinely enjoyable aspect of craft beer, but it’s often a one-and-done experience. A bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout may be well-crafted, but it’s not refreshing. And having a few usually isn’t advisable, either.
If you’ve ever wondered about the difference between lagers and ales, this is an oversimplified — but accurate enough — explanation: Yeast strains used to make ales ferment at higher temperatures, and the process creates compounds that can result in a range of flavours and aromas: Fruity, peppery, candy-like. Lagers, on the other hand, get their characteristic balance and clean finish from yeast that works at cooler temperatures and a longer maturation process. (Lager comes from the German verb lagern, which means “to store.”)
There’s a range of styles under the lager umbrella — from light and crisp helles (golden) lagers, to spicy and moderately bitter pilsners, to bold and strong doppelbocks. Keeping the focus on refreshment and socializing, here are a few Alberta-brewed recommendations on the lighter side of the lager family.
Campio All Malt Lager: This brilliantly clear helles lager strikes a great balance between bready malt and a mildly spicy hop bite. “All malt” in the name means it’s made entirely with malted barley. A key difference between craft lagers and mass-produced ones is that the brewing conglomerates cut costs by reducing the amount of malted grain and adding rice or corn instead. This gives the megabrands a characteristic sweetness that people are accustomed to, but not much else.
Foxtail Brewing Rookie Season Lager: This beer pours a slightly darker gold than a helles lager, but is no less easy drinking — remember, darker doesn’t mean heavier! Expect some bready malt up front, with a touch of honey-like sweetness and some mildly spicy hops.
Brewsters Mexcellent Cerveza: This beer uses Munich and Vienna malts, which make it a bit darker than a straw-coloured lager and give it some biscuit flavour and caramel sweetness. It finishes light and smooth with a touch of floral and citric hops. (Lime wedge optional.)
Fahr Copper: Brauerei Fahr in Turner Valley specializes in traditional German beers, with a focus on lagers. This copper-hued beer resembles an Oktoberfest-style lager, with a pleasant toasted bread-crust quality and caramel malt. The darker profile and toasty trait make it a good pairing with grilled meats, but it has a crisp finish that makes it refreshing and enjoyable on its own.