Our most recent lager tasting of the World Beer Championships brought forth a host of fine lagers from around the world. As expected, European lagers showed strongly, but what was remarkable this year was how many of the top lagers were domestic craft brews. The explosion of the craft beer market has been largely driven by ales, but more recently craft brewers have been trying their hand at precise and demanding lager styles to the delight of beer drinkers and critics like.
Lager style beers are—and probably will always be—the world’s most popular beers. Easy drinking refreshment and let’s say a certain “non-cerebral” appeal are big contributing factors to their mainstream hegemony, but I think that another quality is driving their rise in the craft world. Now that craft brewers are whole-heartedly embracing, expounding, and expanding the culinary role of beer at the table, lagers’ superior food affinity is making them logical choices for the food-conscious brewer’s arsenal.
An analogy to wine is appropriate. Much the same way that big, explosively flavorful, overly alcoholic domestic white and red wines are most often a poor choice to pair with food, big, explosively hoppy, highly alcoholic ales are an equally poor choice at the table. European wines and beers share a similar tradition and function as compliments to food at mealtime and their very structures have been fine-tuned and revered for this purpose for centuries. The quotidian drinking of wine and beer with meals is a relatively new and evolving tradition in most parts of our society and as it develops and becomes engrained in our culture, the inherent food-matching strengths of high-quality lager style beers will shine and their popularity as a food partner will likewise grow.
This is great news for beer lovers, because beyond merely aping the classic lager styles, craft brewers are learning the lager house rules so that they can break them and create unique bottom-fermented constructions of their own design, and even cross-pollinated collaborations with European brewers. So beer fans, rejoice in your ales, but don’t forget to give your lagers some love.