I recently wrote an article in the Star Advertiser about how lagers really don’t get the respect they deserve in the craft beer world. The limited word count and general audience of that publication kept me from really diving into the subject in more depth.
Sure there are a number of craft breweries that are now producing a few lagers. Sam Adams has built their entire company on a lager. It seems like every day a brewery is releasing a lager. Maybe they are the next hip style like IPAs, sours and barrel aged anything, but I highly doubt it.
But for the most part, the craft beer revolution in America has ignored classic lager styles. I get why most breweries never really focused on making lagers. They’re expensive to make and really hard to make well. Most craft breweries were started by homebrewers and lagers typically are not high on the list of beers a lot of homebrewers make. So when you start a production brewery you stick with what you’ve always been doing, ales. I get it. It makes complete sense and there’s nothing wrong with it.
What’s a bit more troubling for me is how craft beer drinkers have basically written off most lagers. Walk into any craft beer bar in the country and you’re more than likely to see people order a mediocre double IPA over an excellent Pilsner. Lagers are not cool. There is no hype around them. No one talks about how many IBUs and what hops are in this lager. There are a lot of craft beer drinkers that know very little about lager styles in general and even less who have tried the various styles.
Part of the lager apathy can be attributed to craft breweries and their marketing messages. For years breweries have pumped out the message that craft beer is about experimentation, big, bold flavors and a screw the big guy attitude. Lagers were plain, boring and generalized as products from mega conglomerate breweries. The term “yellow fizzy beer” became a slogan for craft beer drinkers and breweries as a way to express distaste in mass produced lagers. The problem is that many of the newly converted craft beer drinkers just absorbed it as beers that are pale, yellow and not 100 IBUs are not worth drinking.
I’ve been there as a craft beer drinker. At one point in my life I only cared about hops and crazy ingredient (gimmick) beers. While living in LA, I was lucky enough to be apart of an amazing homebrew club that was filled with brewers and drinkers far my senior. Many of the members had been drinking craft beer before the term craft was even created. These guys were true beer fans. Their vacations consisted of trips to Germany, Czech, England and Belgium and they knew a hell of a lot about the classic styles. Sure they enjoyed the latest IPA as much as anyone else, but they also had a deep appreciation for a well made Dortmunder Export or Bohemian Pils. They were not easily swayed by trends. As a member of the club, I learned a lot about various styles and grew to appreciate some of the more simpler and nuanced flavors of lager beers.
I’m happy to see more brands start to produce some well made lagers. They are desperately need in the market and I think at some point people will get a little fatigued with every beer being overly hopped. Maybe it’s my age (I’m middle aged now, WTF!) and the fact that I have 2 kids that makes me appreciate a clean, crisp and refreshing Pils more than any other beer. I don’t think I’m alone either.
Famous New York chef David Chang recently wrote about how much he loves cheap, shitty beer. There were a lot of fun jabs in the piece, but I think the main point was that you don’t want to always drink big, heavy and overly flavored beers. A majority of the time, something that is light and refreshing is perfect. There are a ton of great craft options that David could choose from that would quench his thirst, yet provide a bit more flavor than the Bud Light he so loves. But it’s his choice to drink what he wants.
I think a lot of newer craft beer drinkers think it is uncool to order/buy a pils or helles. They may never actually admit it, but I suspect it’s in the back of their mind somewhere. There may also just be an issue with not appreciating the style(s) or even knowing much about them. I for one, would love to see the local supermarkets stocked up with a few more options (insert my repeated call for Firestone to come to Hawaii so I can enjoy some Pivo.) I’d also really like to see our local breweries package a few more well made lagers (Maui Bikini Blond is the only packaged option available). It’s Hawaii, it’s hot and there is no better beach beer than a snappy German Pils.
***sidenote – yes, I generalized lagers throughout this whole article. For the most part I’m speaking of the lighter more popular styles that dominate Germany and Czech.