Lagers are mostly known as pale and crisp, lightly hopped and subtle, with a clean finish. But they can also be amber or dark, rich and toasty, and packed with character. Why not start the new year with a taste of lager?
Author: Malin Norman
Let’s begin on the pale side. The original pilsner, Pilsner Urquell from the Czech Republic, is considered one of the best lagers in the world. The crisp, refreshing golden-coloured lager was first brewed in 1842 from local ingredients, and still is to this day. It is best served fresh on draft and there are three ways to pour it, each with a different flavour depending on the amount of foam.
I had the pleasure of trying unfiltered and unpasteurized Pilsner Urquell at the Beer Bloggers & Writers Conference some years ago, delivered in a massive tank straight from the brewery. ”While most lagers give away most of their taste profile in the front of the mouth, Pilsner Urquell only hints at its flavour there,” said the brewery then. “Instead, it develops in the middle, followed by a refreshing, clean finish and balanced aftertaste, practically inviting you to have another.” And we certainly did have another, or two, of this lovely pilsner.
Dark, smoky and boozy
But lagers can also be deeper and richer in both colour and flavour. American Amber Lager is a sessionable beer that showcases more toasty and caramel malt. Brooklyn Lager is a great example with toffee notes and floral hop aroma enhanced by dry-hopping. You can take it a step further with Rauchbier, a German amber lager brewed with smoked malt. Sometimes described as smelling like campfires, bacon or sausages, it goes well with hearty food. Cervejaria Bamberghas from Brazil has won the World Beer Awards several times for its Rauchbier, give it a go if you happen to see it.
And you can go darker with Schwarzbier, or black beer, a dark German lager that balances smooth roasted malt with hop bitterness. An example is Litovel’s Schwarzbier Premium Dark, another award-winning beer, from the Czech Republic. Or you can go all in with a Doppelbock such as Ayinger Celebrator, ranked one of the best beers in the world, deliciously strong and malty. These are just a few, there are many more lager styles waiting to be explored.
It’s about the experience
The craft beer industry is creative and so also with lager, sometimes adding unexpected flavour and aroma. Guinness released the Hop House 13 Lager a few years ago, a double hopped lager with Australian and American hops. Another recent style is India Pale Lager, fermented like a lager but with heaps of hops like an India Pale Ale, resulting in a bright and refreshing beer. Or how about Mikkeller’s experimental Hop Burn Low, a Double IPA/pilsner hybrid with a whopping 10% ABV?
One of my favourite beer experiences so far was at Klosterbrauerei Andechs, a monastery brewery in Andechs, Germany. After a rainy hike through beautiful woods, guided by a local friend, we arrived at the monastery and made our way to its brewery. With an Andechs Export Dunkel in hand, poured to perfection, we headed for the terrace and devoured the smooth deep-copper beer together with a massive pretzel, watching the rainbow over the beautiful landscape. What a treat!
Some classic lagers to try:
Pilsner Urquell (4.4% ABV): not called the world’s best lager for nothing. Refreshing crispness, well-balanced sweet caramel from the malt and pleasing bitterness from the Saaz hops. Served on draft and poured to your preferred style of foam.
Samuel Adams Boston Lager (5.0%): the beer that helped lead the American beer revolution. A Vienna Lager, full-flavoured, rich and satisfying. Whilst in Sam Adams mode, also try their new Wicked Easy (4.7%), a light and hazy lager that according to the brewery “tastes like a day off.”
Andechs Export Dunkel (4.9%): a great example of a Munich Dunkel. This dark lager with soft aromas of malt, nutty caramel, coffee and cocoa beans is highly drinkable. After a hike to the monastery brewery, it’s a fabulous and well-deserved treat.
Ayinger Celebrator (6.7%): a well-balanced doppelbock with a dominant malty taste and pronounced coffee notes. Celebrator has been named World’s Best Lager Strong at the World Beer Awards and scores 100 out of 100 on RateBeer.
Pictures: Pilsner Urquell, Kloster Andechs