DRAFT PICKS: Let’s talk lagers
This past week, I was ‘accused’ of being biased toward ales, and less than complimentary with regard to lagers. Not true, ladies and gentlemen of the jury. Not true. I will admit that I am personally partial to ales - especially American Brown Ales. That doesn’t mean, however, that I think less of lagers. Keep in mind, there are differing styles of lagers. I especially appreciate some of the dark lagers. Today, class, we are going to discuss the standard brew most American beer drinkers enjoy - American Pale Lager. This style of beer really took over the country as German, Bavarian, Czech, and Bohemian brewers immigrated to the U.S. in the mid 1880s and slowly but surely captured the brewing market. The style of beer these fine people brought with them was more firmly based on “hops forward” recipes and less influenced by malts. The brewmasters made sure the bitterness of the hops was never overwhelming, (like the later IPAs), while at the same time creating a beer the was light in color, and palatable to the largest majority of potential consumers. (Sometimes types of corn were used instead of hops which may not have always been available to early brewers.) These brewers and their pale lager basically conquered the country and, because of their size, their grasp on market share, and their relatively uncomplicated recipes, were able to survive Prohibition. Anheuser-Busch is the classic example. Budweiser is a pale lager and is arguably the most recognizable beer in the world, (certainly in this part of the world.) It might be noted that during the Second World War, brewers in the U.S. purposefully created even more mild tasting beer, (weaker than any European styles), in order to make their brews more acceptable to the thousands of female workers laboring in manufacturing plants - the ranks of Rosie the Riveteer. After a long day on the line, the ladies were often looking for a tall, cool drink, and American brewers stepped up to answer the need. Serious beer geeks, (and trust me there are many who are much more geek-ish than I when it comes to brewed beverages), might also call American Pale Lager “American Style Light Lager” or simply “American Style Lager.” There are some delicious lagers floating around the American market - especially those being carefully produced by craft brewers for an ever more discerning market of drinkers. Following are some of the best - the top Michigan pale lagers as rated by Beer Advocate. Bell’s Lager Of The Lakes Bell’s Brewery, Inc. Kalamazoo Bells is producing a very drinkable, moderately carbonated lager that has hints of citrus and fruit and really is a fine offering on a hot summer’s day. Very enjoyable, and very well recommended. Bell’s Quinannan Falls Lager Bell’s Brewery, Inc. Kalamazoo This is mildly hoppy with just a hint of citrus and some spiciness in the very best of ways. This lager is really very smooth and refreshing at any picnic or just for general sittin’ and sippin’. Leinenkugel’s Limited Golden Lager Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company Wisconsin, United States I know. It’s not from Michigan, but Wisconsin isn’t that far away. The Leinenkugel family have created a smoky gold brew with the hops being a little to the front. It is, nevertheless, well balanced and very pleasing - especially when chilled to the colder end of the scale. Detroit Lager Detroit Beer Co. Detroit This is one that is certainly locally available. In many ways, this is pretty standard stuff to people who grew up with the good ol’ fashioned Detroit brands - and there’s nothing wrong with that! There’s a certain sweetness to this brew and hints of spices tucked away. Mostly though, there seems to be a nice bready taste that pops out. Not too fizzy. A decent brew. Premium Lager Wolverine State Brewing Company Ann Arbor A little hard to find up here. This lager is a little sweeter than some, but you can certainly feel the grains early on. This is a nice, crisp beer and much more tasty than the old convenience store standards.
THIS WEEK'S DRAFT PICKSShiner Blonde Spoetzl Brewery Shiner, Texas Shiner Blonde is a simple, sturdy brew that really reflects the later traditions of German brewing in the United States. There really is nothing stuffy or pretentious here. Everything is right up front. Shiner Blonde pours a pale yellow, drifting toward a light gold. There isn’t a lot of head, but then this is a beer meant to be sipped, not investigated. There is a slight sweet aroma at first nose but overall the smell is pretty mild and certainly not offering up anything that dominates the senses. There is a little hoppy floral background. This is a perfectly decent pale lager. Unassuming and very easy to drink. It doesn’t taste as sweet as it smells. For many beer drinkers, this will be familiar - more like the commercial standards than what is usually reviewed in this column. There isn’t really anything exotic or out of the ordinary. Nothing really to get too poetic about. But ...as pale lagers go, Shiner’s is just a good ol’ American workhorse. Some might find it a bit weak and watery, (especially those who like myself lean toward the more full-bodied brews), but this Blonde is a perfectly good summer afternoon lager. It is crisp and will quench a thirst in the best way. Totally Naked New Glarus Brewing Company New Glarus, Wisconsin Better than average, I enjoyed this warm, golden colored lager. Poured with authority, there is a relatively thick, fluffy head that forms quickly and holds steady for a decent period of time. Totally Naked smells slightly sweet and certainly leans toward the grains - barley with a touch of hops tucked away to the rear. Decent bubbling. The carbonation helps with the sniffing cycle, but isn’t overwhelming or distracting during tasting. At first wash, there is a distinct floral feel and still this brew managed not to be overly hoppy or too yeasty. There is a tinge of fruitiness without offering up any single flavor that was overwhelming or domineering. Actually, this pale lager was very, very well balanced - and quite a few steps up from the standard fare. I found it very drinkable, very refreshing, and one that could well become a regular in my fridge. It certainly is a warm weather brew, and lends itself well to a circle of good friends sitting around a sputtering fire in the evening. I could well see myself with a bottle of Totally Naked in one hand, and the grill spatula in the other. I found it one of the tastier pale lagers around. Well worth a try.