Why Lagers Will Never Be a “Best” Beer


There are always a typical set of reactions when discussing anything determined to be “best.” Even if the word isn’t always grounded in subjectivity – certainly there are quantifiable examples of what’s best – it does swing the gates wide open for a rush of discussions and arguments of what the word and its context means.

Which, perhaps expected, is what happened with a pair of posts analyzing RateBeer’s best 100 beers in the world and the best new entries of 2015.

Some people were surprised at specific beer choices, while a common question permeated throughout a series of other comments: where are the lagers?

From readers and fellow beer writers to this thread on Reddit, people wanted to know why their beloved bottom-fermenting beverages weren’t represented. The one bock that showed up – a weizenbock – isn’t even a lager.

Is it an intrinsic desire to find flavors that push boundaries? Is it driven by our own food culture? Or maybe, as beer continues to grow and evolve – sometimes literally – it’s part of an effort to simply move away from subtlety.

Why, when it comes to what’s “best,” might we find ourselves numb to nuance?

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Trend Watching: Are Craft Lagers Destined To Be ‘A Thing’?

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Just like any other industry, beer and its community are influenced.

Whether it’s a flash in a pan fad or an honest to goodness trend, the ideas that impact people who create and consume beer can have lasting impacts. Then there are behemoths like the IPA – now making up roughly a quarter of craft beer sales – a style which just a few years ago seemed like a trend until it starting setting its own sub-trends with double IPAs and session IPAs and whatever India’d style you can dream of.

We’re always looking for that Next Big Thing that’s going to start something new, gazing into metaphorical crystal balls with hope of understanding what will next be poured into our glass. For Bart Watson, chief economist for the Brewers Association, that answer is lager:

Going booth to booth at the recent craft brewer pavilion at the National Grocers Association show, nearly every brewer had a great pilsner. Some were brands that have been around for a while, but there were plenty of new additions. Those new entries are combining with longer-term brands to create new excitement around pilsners.

Even if January sales of pilsners were up 56 percent in 2015 compared to the same month in 2014, the big question to ask isn’t just whether “excitement” equates to groundswell of a trend, but also do American drinkers want this trend in the first place?

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Time to Sit Back and Unwind: Summertime with Sam Adams

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It isn’t summer until you’ve had a summer ale. While CraftBeer.com suggests plenty of options, it’s Sam Adams’ seasonal brew that officially kicks off beach season for me every year.

I typically don’t buy 12-packs of beer any more – my wandering eye at my local bottle shop prevents that – but I do like to indulge in each of Sam Adams’ seasonal variety packs to see what the brewers at Boston Beer Company cook up every few months. Along with my annual bottles of Summer Ale, I was excited to try some of the special releases provided in this year’s summer 12-pack.

So as today marks the unofficial start of summer across the U.S., I thought it would be worthwhile to highlight the special brews of this year’s summer pack.
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Cigar City Hotter than Helles Lager

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Ahh, the lager. The “scourge” of American craft beer.

Except for when it’s done well. And actually tastes good. And is pleasantly refreshing.

If anything, the lager’s profile is simplistic. Subtly is the name of the game. That’s how Cigar City’s Hotter than Helles Lager plays it, with light aromas of Pilsner malt, freshly ground corn and low-bitter hops like Hallertau or Spalt that gave such a touch of cut grass.

The brew’s flavor was light and crisp, but with a fluffy mouthfeel that cascaded across my palate. Sweet grains mix with barely a hint of hops, leaving a refreshing leafy aftertaste that washes away quickly. That’s a big difference between Hotter than Helles and any mass produced American lager, which lingers with its stale flavor. Cigar City hit a home run on this one.

For as basic as this brew was, there’s no denying that tons of attention and detail went into it to get all these aspects just so. Cheers to Cigar City for doing it right … and well.

+Bryan Roth

Out of town – in Costa Rica

Reviewing beer is like reviewing a movie. While it’s helpful to have context of other pieces of work, it’s even better to consider each brew in a vacuum.

Die Hard is an amazing film, but shouldn’t be put head-to-head with artistic fare like There Will Be Blood. The great myriad of American craft beers shouldn’t be compared straight-up against the offerings of other countries, which are rooted in different cultures and history.

Different contexts call for different thought processes.

These are things I tried to keep in mind during a trip to Costa Rica, where my wife and I spent a week celebrating 10 years of being together. Of course I had to work some native beers into the mix.

While I love enjoying new flavors and styles, Costa Rica offers what you’d expect to find in nearly all countries directly south of the American border – pale lager sometimes flavored with a fruit. For a beer style that’s best served and enjoyed cold, it makes enjoying the beer a little harder in the warm climate.

Now, that doesn’t preclude the beer from being horrible, just different in the context of that country. Let’s hit the jump to discuss Costa Rican beer.
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