When I was at Echo Brewing Co a few weeks ago I overheard a woman say that she does not like any ales, at all. She said she didn’t like a single thing about them, as she sipped on her pint of Irish Red. I interrupted and told her that the beer she was drinking is, in fact, an ale. Which started a long conversation about beer styles. Despite the many beer styles out there, all beers can be classified into two categories, ales or lagers. The temperature at which the yeast is active during fermentation is what separates the two. Ales ferment at warmer temperatures, 60-72 degrees, with the yeast rising to the top of the tank. Lager yeast doesn’t rise to the top and works at cooler temperatures, 46-45 degrees. It is also important to store lagers at a colder temperature, a process known as lagering. This cold conditioning slows down the process of the yeast, and allows for chemicals such as esters that create fruity notes to dissipate. This creates a cleaner, more crisp taste.
When people typically think of a lager, they think of the mass produced light colored commercial brands such as Budweiser or Coors, but lagers have a larger history and greater variety than most realize. Historically, this type of beer originated from the Bavaria region and was often darker in color. While the farmers were working the fields in the summer, they were making beer in the winter. Munich even went as far as to pass a law in 1533 to say that braunbiers (brown beers) can only be brewed between September 29 and April 23. Brewers stored the beer in caves or dugouts, where it was colder. Many believe this practice, cold storage, is what developed the lager yeasts we use today.
The industrial revolution is what really gave lagers their popularity, especially in America. When Germans immigrated here in the mid 1800’s, they brought with them skills and passion for brewing beer. Families including Pabst and Busch created national brands by utilizing the then new technologies of refrigeration, steam engines, and machine bottle making. The brewing style these companies use today was created in the 1870’s when German Americans learned how to use rice and corn as adjuncts to lighten the beer. As a result of their work, now this style of pale, fizzy, crisp beer dominates the American beer market. Craft beer makers are dabbling in the style more and more, allowing for more variety than just the American adjunct lagers. Maibocks, Helles, Schwarzbier, Marzen, Doppelbock and many other styles are popping up more and more at local breweries. When looking for your next lager, remember the word “bock” actually means “lager”.
If you haven’t guessed yet, this week at Beer Betty’s we focused on Lagers, as well as Kolsch. The Kolsch style originates from Cologne, Germany. In the US we can call a beer a kolsch if we would like, but in Europe the beer has to be made in Cologne to take that label. Considering how warm it has been lately, I really enjoyed this flight of crisp and refreshing beers.
Sunner Kolsch (5.4% ABV) – This one is a true Kolsch and brewed in Cologne. This is a beer many think is a lager because of its clear color and crisp taste. However, it does have banana aromas in the nose, where fruity notes shouldn’t be in a lager. Lots of carbonation created a bit of a bite when it hit your tongue.
Oskar Blues Mama Lil Yella Pils (5.3% ABV)- One of my favorite beers to enjoy in the summer, this Pilsner is a local Colorado brew. A true pilsner, it is made to be like those that put Pilsen in the Czech Republic on the map. As “pilsner” can also refer to a type of malt as well as beer style, a pilsner can be an ale or a lager, depending on the yeast used. This light and crisp beer is a lager. I don’t get this canned beer often, as it is very easy drinking and goes down like water.
Hofbrau Original (5.1% ABV)- A Munich Helles Lager that is brewed in Germany at the Staatliches Hofbrauhaus, this one was a favorite of the group. The aroma and taste had some skunkiness to me, so I personally wasn’t a fan. This beer still follows the Reinheitsgebot purity law and is only brewed with four ingredients; water, malt, hops and yeast.
AC Golden India Pale Lager (6.8% ABV)- Not your typical light lager, this has more hops than malt in the balance. Some slight citrus notes are apparent apparent in the nose, but very subtle in the flavor. I wasn’t over the moon for this one either, the bitterness of the hops used was too dry for my palate.