Bottom fermented, and with little room for error, lagers are in no way mundane or something to pass up experiencing. With so many different producers creating multiple varieties these days, one can experience a local brewer’s take on a tradition, variation thereof, or a classic benchmark brand that is more widely available.
Plenty of new styles of ale have been showing up on the scene recently. Barrel aged ales, wildly fermented ales and a myriad of hop-bombs to entice the beer hunters out there. Experimental styles seem to generating a lot of intrigue, but for flavor and balance, be sure to stop by and give your old friends, the lagers, a visit once in a while.
Here are a few to revisit or try the next time you’re in the mood for a crisp, clean quaff. As far as pale lagers go, treat yourself to the Imperial Lager (91 points) from Lion Brewery Ceylon in Sri Lanka. An incredible lager to spend some time enjoying, considering its ABV weighs in at 8.8 percent. To amp it up a bit, invite some of your favorite curry dishes to the party. If the occasion is game day, and you need a great session brew to pair nicely with some homemade chili, try the lager from River Horse Brewery Lager in New Jersey (87 points).
Many brands these days are calling themselves pilsners. It is, after all, the most widely replicated style. Buyer beware: many in reality are watered down versions of the classic. Here are a few that will give a taste of true pilsner perfection. Zatec Bright Lager (90 points) from the Czech Republic, the home of pilsner, is highly drinkable and well balanced. Germany’s Paulaner Brauerei (88 points) brews another fine example of the style. Even Scotland has shown us an interesting take from the Atlas Brewery: Latitude Highland Pilsner (90 points) is soft on the palate and highly thirst quenching. Try any of these brews with some encased meats and hard cheeses at your next session with friends.
When fall rolls around, many breweries offer fine examples of malty Oktoberfest beers to grace the autumnal celebrations. From Germany, try Hofbrähaus München Oktoberfest (92 points) or Hacker-Pschorr Original Oktoberfest (90 points) as benchmarks for the style. Upland Brewing’s Oktoberfest Bavarian-Style Lager (84 points) from Indiana is a great example of the influence the classics have had on an American brewer: a big, roasty malt bomb with some warming qualities as well. Wash down some roasted chicken or pork with some spätzle on the side with any of these fest beers.
Dark lagers, or dunkels are personal favorite. Hirter Morchl from Austria (96 points), with its perfect balance, is a must-try for any fan of the style. Hofbrähaus München Dunkel (93 points) is also welcome to the session. If you are in the mood to seek out a domestic example, definitely keep your eyes open for Bastone Brewery’s Munich Dunkel Lager from Michigan (90 points): you will be rewarded with excellence. Try a dunkel with a liverwurst sandwich if you’re feeling adventurous.
Lastly, explore the doppelbocks, the dark and mischievous side of the lager coin. Salvator Doppelbock from Paulaner (93 points) was my introduction to the style many years ago and still a personal favorite. For a fun combo, pairing try it first with some braised pork-belly and then, for dessert, some crème brûlée: you’ll experience just how dynamic and complex this beer style really is.
A handful of classics and a few interpretations of the various styles rounded out this last World Beer Championships. Many thanks to the brewers and judges who participated in such an extraordinary event. Cheers!