Why Lagers Will Never Be a “Best” Beer

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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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A Labored Effort: September 2015 Beertography

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Labor Day has passed, the white clothing is tucked away and the last vestiges of summer are gone. Good a time as any for a new collection of beertography.

Below you’ll find some of my recent photos, which you may also come across on my Instagram page, Twitter account or even Untappd. If you like these, you can find more beertography on Instagram or in my running archive.

Let’s see what this month had to offer…

Harpoon Take 5 – Lazy Labor Day

harpoon-take 5-session ipa-ipa-india pale ale-beer-craft beer-beertography-web

AC Golden Colorado Native – Natural Habitat

ac golden-miller coors-coors-colorado native-lager-beer-craft beer-beertography

Troegs Java Head – Celebrating National Coffee Day

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Duck-Rabbit Milk Stout – No Crying Over Spilled Milk (When There’s Beer)

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Good People Bearded Lady – Ready for a Trim

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Here’s hoping October will continue to offer inspiration. As always, you can go back to see previous beertography posts:

Bryan Roth
“Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” — Jack Kerouac

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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Craft Brew Alliance Wants You to Say ‘Aloha.’ A Look Inside the Company: Kona Brewing

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As we enter the final turn of our look into Craft Brew Alliance, the big financial success of 2013, it’s time to add yet another layer to how this not-quite-craft but kind of crafty company tries to fill up your fridge.

With Widmer, they hope to appeal to the hop heads out there. With Redhook, finding niche markets has proven successful. With Kona, it may be about country-wide domination.

kona brewing-logoWhereas Widmer and Redhook can currently be found across all of the United States, Hawaii-based Kona is in the midst of expanding into the Mainland thanks to brewing partnerships with Craft Brew’s production facilities in Washington State and New Hampshire. Kona beers are currently available in 36 states and saw 18.9 percent growth in their flagship Longboard Island Lager from 2012 to 2013. With that beer leading the charge, you can bet Craft Brew Alliance has big things planned.

In fact, even though Kona is the only one of Craft Brew’s “Big Three” brands not available in all 50 states, it had the biggest volume growth last year. Between Jan. 1 and Sept. 30, 2013, Kona shipments increased by 31,400 barrels, 12,500 more than second-place Redhook. Overall, sales of Kona grew 26 percent from 2012 to 2013.

You can bet that deserves a big “Mahalo” from Kona to its customers.
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How (and Where) We Search for Beer – A Visual Guide

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Note: You can read a follow-up post to this discussion here, where I look into the semantics of “microbrew” vs “craft beer.”

Hidden within this recent story about states that drink the most beer is a great nugget about how people are searching for beer online.

Since it’s a Yahoo production, they offer up the top-10 searched beers through their search engine:

  1. Pabst Blue Ribbon
  2. Fosters
  3. Budweiser
  4. Corona
  5. Heiniekn
  6. Bud Light
  7. Dos Equis
  8. Miller
  9. Sam Adams
  10. Yuengling

This got me to thinking, if these are well-established, easily-known brands, what is it people are looking for? Even more head-scratching – searches for “Pabst Blue Ribbon” were 10-times higher on Yahoo than any other beer brand.

That’s a lot of curious hipsters performing online searches. But what are they searching for? Here are the most common search queries when it comes to the blue ribbon-winning brew via Yahoo:

pabst search results yahoo

OK, so nothing fancy except something to do with a coffin. But what about WHERE people are searching for Pabst? And what about other beer? That’s much more interesting.
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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

Southern Tier – Eurotrash Pilz

Since I’ve been drinking my homebrew almost exclusively lately, I thought it was time to switch things up a bit and give a new beer a try. That just happened to be Southern Tier’s Eurotrash Pilz, which sits at 80 on Beer Advocate.

Oddly enough, the name made sense right away. The beer smells like a pilsner, but … dirty? I’m not sure if its the name or the actual smell that makes me think that. Maybe it’s just well named.There’s a very straight wheat kind of smell, almost grassy. There are no signs of hops anywhere on the nose, at least for me.

As with any pilsner, the taste was very simple. The beer was very smooth with very little carbonation and should be served nice and cold (as was mine). This beer meant to go down easy. Not much flavor going on, maybe some grape? I will, however, give Eurotrash points for being wonderfully clear, as you might expect.

The crispness of the beer certainly comes from the use of lager yeast (pilsner coming from the lager “family”) and as far as refreshing beers go, this certainly works. I was curious if I’d be possible to do this at home without the cooling process of a lager. From a homebrew perspective, I imagine some variation of a California ale yeast would be good, but the lager yeast, from what I read, is what probably offered the grape flavor I tasted and different fruit flavors others may find.

I’m not much of a pilsner fan in general so I probably won’t go out of my way to have this again. However, it’s probably among the better commercial pilsners I’ve had.