Where Have All The Lagers Gone?

Posted on 01.02.08 5:30PM under Lager

There was a time, not too long ago in the big scheme of things, when lagers were all over the place in this country. I suppose that technically, lager is still 90% of the beer being consumed out there, but I’m talking about high-flavor, authentic-style lager. Not “Premium American Lager” (e.g. BudMillerCoors). I mean Pilsner, Bock, Vienna – the good stuff.

The microbrew revolution in America is focused on Ales in a big way. I guess this probably stems from a few things. First, many of the microbrew pioneers in this country were originally homebrewers. Making ales requires less equipment and time than making lagers. Generally, ales are easier to execute – that is, the process is easier – that is not to say that it is easier to formulate a good ale recipe. Fermentation and aging time requirements may also be a factor. You can get an ale from grain to glass in a few weeks. A lager will take a bit longer to be fully realized. Time in the tanks takes costs money, and could be a deterrent in a way to some that might otherwise want to make lager. The third suspect could be simple rebellion. With pale fizzy lagers dominating the scene in the 70s, it is no surprise that the new wave would want to distance themselves from that image as completely as possible.

Now of course, there are exceptions to every trend. Sam Adams is the most notable exception. As the craft beer with one of the biggest, if not the biggest, market share of all craft beers, Sam Adams’ flagship beer is a Vienna lager. Many of their beers are lagers. And obviously, they do very well, and make great beer, no matter the classification. Brooklyn’s flagship is also their lager, which is an excellent beer. You can find many American microbreweries that make great Pilsner beers. You might see some Bocks here and there.

Lagers are also not unheard of in the American craft market, but they are just uncommon. I had heard these sorts of rumblings in the past, but never really took note. However, this lager-free zone really became obvious when I went to buy some Doppelbocks for this week’s session, and couldn’t find a lot of domestic options.

In this landscape of IPA and Imperial IPA and Stout and Imperial Stout and Dubbels and Tripels, perhaps there’s a way to see more lagers poking their heads out here and there. Bock and Doppelbock are the perfect styles – a beer that’s big and a beer that’s even bigger. But all the other lager styles, though at times subdued and subtle, are still worthy of our palettes and gracing the shelves of our liquor stores and taps at our bars. Perhaps lagers will be the next big thing?

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