The most exciting trend in craft beer isn’t murky hazy IPA or pastry beers that taste like desserts, it’s the resurgence of the once and future king of beers: lager.
Ever since German immigrants brought the first lager yeast to America in the 1840s, lagers have been a permanent fixture of our drinking culture. What makes a lager a lager and not an ale is the specific types of yeast used, which prefer long, slow, and cool ferments resulting in a generally cleaner and clearer flavor and appearance.
But they’ve had a few struggles over the years. The lack of low protein barley in the early 20th century, the advent of Prohibition in 1920, and the continued industrialization of beer caused a perfect storm that resulted in the often disappointing product that larger companies pass off as lager today. While good, even great beer can be made with corn and rice, the mass production and cheapening of the ingredients has left a bad taste in consumers’ mouths from flavorless beer.
But owing in large part to the highly-developed palates of consumers brought up on microbrews, brewers, and beer fans have rediscovered classic European-style lagers--and are sprinkling in a little bit of American craft beer flavor into the style. Craft beer has officially reclaimed lagers from the frosted mugs of macro lite beer delivered by spokesmodels on bullet trains. Beer nerds have lovingly reappropriated the Bud Lite term “Crispy Boys“ for the Instagram generation (#crispyboiz), and brewers have flooded local taps with exceptional craft #crushers. For the first time since pre-Prohibition, craft lagers are sometimes outselling ales and, in some cases, even IPAs.
Pale lager was invented in Pilzen, Czech Republic in 1842, but not all lagers are light and yellow. Germans have been cold-fermenting below ground with lager yeast for hundreds of years, and the styles and flavors have varied wildly. Earlier examples were darker, sometimes smokier and even hoppier than the lagers most of us know today. Craft brewers in America are slowly working to rejuvenate the spectrum of classic German and Czech styles of lager, while putting their own spin on them by dry-hopping and even oak aging.
Here are some of the best lagers you can taste now. Read on to get a clearer idea of all a lager can be.