Monday, April 4, 2011

LOL - Love Our Lager

Recently I have been on a lager jag. Generally speaking I am not much of one for writing posts describing the aromas, flavours and lacing of a beer - though I do have a liking for beers that leave a trail of lace somewhat akin to a white fishnet stocking. I will from time to time put tasting notes into Ratebeer, but I am far from religious with that. Anyway back to my theme for today, lager, which, as I said, I have been drinking a fair bit of lately.

I like lager, nay, I love the stuff. I wasn't much of a fan when I was spotty youth back in the west of Scotland, but when you live in central Europe for a decade, it gets into your system. Czech lager got so well into my system that if someone makes a pilsner and it doesn't match up to the beers I drank back in Prague then I am afraid I am not interested. Yes, I am a lager snob.

A good pilsner is one of the beer world's great contradictions. Utterly simple ingredients, generally speaking just pilsner malt, Saaz hops, water and yeast, yet it is exceedingly difficult to make a great pilsner. Brewing a proper pilsner takes confidence. Confidence to do a decoction mash (yes I know the argument that malts are more modified these days, thus rendering decoction redundant - personally I think that is tosh), confidence to use just Saaz hops, confidence to let "product" tie up your lagering tanks for at least 30 days, 90 if you are trying to recreate Budvar.

And yet, when you look at lists of the top 50 beers in the world, there is not a single lager. Seriously, go and have a look, not a single lager makes that list. No Pilsner, no Dortmunder, no Dunkel, no Schwarzbier, no Baltic Porter, no Vienna, nothing, not one. Reading through the comments of various lagers makes me wonder if people actually understand lager at all. Seeing someone describing a beer as a "good pils" and then give it a score of 2.8/5 makes me wonder what this person wants from an exceptional pilsner (probably 8% abv and a trillion IBUs says my cynical side). Of course, the Baltic Porter gets more love than many a lager style, but that's likely because it is a strong beer.

I have heard in many a watering hole a comment along the lines of "I used to drink lager, but now I like only craft beer". Lager has become shorthand for the pale lagers churned out by the likes of AB InBev and the other multinationals, beers that have very little in the way of character. It really bugs my head when I hear that kind of comment from people who really should know better, after all are they not claiming to have a greater understanding of beer than the average Joe?

The world of lager is huge and full of interesting ingredients and flavours, and is, I fear, painfully overlooked by many in the craft beer world, in favour of the extreme beer that will rape your tongue and render you senseless to the pleasures of classic beers. That is one of the underlying reasons behind a website project I am working on at the moment focussing purely on the history, styles and tastes of lager beer around the world.

Making good lager is a labour of love, perhaps we should requite that love and celebrate lager more often.


  1. Agreed. Love some good lager when I can get it like Herold Dark.

  2. I tend to get a bit irritated when someone equals "lager" with "crap beer", but you can't blame them too much.

    Anyway, good write.

  3. "A good pilsner is one of the beer world's great contradictions. Utterly simple ingredients, generally speaking just pilsner malt, Saaz hops, water and yeast, yet it is exceedingly difficult to make a great pilsner."

    The simple things are always the hardest. It's fairly easy to make a great 10% Russian stout, say, but a simple beer like a pils leave you nowhere to hide. The same could be said of a 3.8% cask bitter. There are many, many examples of boring pils/cask bitter out there, and some crap ones too. There is a smaller number of good ones and just a few truly great ones.

    Oh, and on decoction mashes. The trouble in the UK is getting hold of malt that will benefit from being mashed in this way. Most, if not all, UK malt is made for simple infusion mashing. And imported European malt tends to be the same, aimed at out simple mash tuns. A decoction mashed beer will not be sucessful for these malts.

  4. I would tend to agree, but I don't even know if I can say that I've ever had a great Pilsner. They're all but completely missing from the "craft brewers" in the US which is odd because I would have to think that there would be quite a market for a real Pilsner. Curious if you know of any US versions worth trying. Victory's is the only that comes to mind, and it didn't seem great the few times I've tried it.

  5. Have you ever found a pils in Germany (particularly Bavaria) that matches up to the Czech ones? I'm still searching.

  6. FoA,

    While it would seem logical that there would be a big market for real pilsner, I am not convinced that it really exists, mainly due to a lack of knowledge about a real pilsner both on the part of beer geeks and drinkers of mainstream beers. I get the feeling that both are convinced that the likes of Miller are genuine pilsners and so you have a situation where both groups wouldn't know one if it smacked them in the face. A sweeping generalisation I know, but in the majority of cases it holds true.

    Of the US versions worth trying, Victory's Braumeister series is excellent, especially the Saaz iteration. North Coast's Scrimshaw is decent as well. I am entirely biased, but when Devils Backbone brew the Trukker Ur-Pils again that is definitely worth drinking.


    When you say "matches up to the Czech ones", which Czech ones do you have in mind? Sure many a beer will struggle to match up to Kout na Sumave, but are most German Pilsners better than Gambrinus or Staropramen? I would say so.

  7. I've only been to Prague once in the mid 90s so I don't remember any names, but I remember all the Pils I tried had quite a hop presence. The Bavarian ones I get here all seem dull in comparison, it's like German brewers are scared of their own hops when they make Pils.
    I'll keep my eyes peeled for the Kout na Sumave.

  8. I imagine that alot of the beers you drank then are very different beasts these days. Even in the 10 years I lived in Prague, Pilsner Urquell became a pale shadow of itself, and Velkopopovicky Kozel was utterly decimated.

  9. That's a fair point that the market for Pilsner would probably suffer from the misuse of the name by Miller and co. but I have to think some of those mainstream drinkers would happily drink something slightly better. There is a decent amount of Yuengling lager/Sam Adams lager etc sold in this country. I'd like to think a good Pilsner could be as popular.

    I hope to try some Devil's Backbone stuff soon, too. Craft lager is rare, but brewpub lager is even more rare, in my experience.

  10. FoA,

    Especially brewpub lager that uses a decoction mash! Thank goodness for good lager from Devils Backbone!

  11. I hear ya; I've championed great lager since day one on TGS. You can't beat a great, authentic or not, well-brewed, clean Lager. What's more, I think the fact that I don't get that much of it in the UK makes it all the more special.


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