The theme for the April meeting of my monthly “let’s try to taste every beer in the world” beer tasting group was lager. For many, the thought of “lager beer” conjures up images of the pale yellow American style lagers that have become the accepted standard for beer the world over. While those beers do occupy a disproportionate amount the worldwide shelf space, they represent only a small corner of the entire lager universe. Lager styles go from the super light American “Lite” beer to the richly caramel and high alcohol Doppelbock, with a stop at every color and flavor along the way.
The main thing separating a lager beer from an ale is yeast. Lager beers are fermented using what is known in the biz as a “bottom fermenting” yeast, so called because the yeast forms colonies on the bottom of the fermentor instead of at the top as ale yeasts do. Lager yeast also likes to ferment at colder temperatures than ale yeast. This limits the production of fermentation by-products that influence beer flavor and aroma, leading to the characteristic “clean” taste of a lager. Prolonged cold storage after fermentation also enhances this by allowing the yeast to slowly clean up after itself. Another defining characteristic of lager yeast is the ability to ferment trisaccharides, longer chain sugars that ale yeast cannot ferment. The ability to ferment additional sugars leads to a dryer beer, the “crispness” that many people associate with lagers.
For our monthly meeting the only assignment was to bring lagers. It didn’t matter where they were from, how much they cost, or what the quality was. They just had to be fermented with a bottom-feeding yeast. In all, sixteen beers were tasted and commented upon ranging from a 2% ABV German light beer to the 10% ABV Human Blockhead from the Shmaltz Brewing Coney Island line. We sampled beers from the US, Germany, Austria, Belgium, and even Wisconsin.
There were a lot of great beers represented here. It’s difficult to pick standouts from the bunch. One of my favorites was Midnight Session Lager from Port Brewing in California. The bottle describes this as a Schwarzbier, but it’s really much too roasty to fit that label. The aroma resemble nothing so much as the burnt old-maids at the bottom of a bowl of popcorn, something I love. The flavor was all roast, with huge chocolate and coffee character, but none of the astringent bitterness that often comes with big roasted beers. The only possible flaw was a startlingly quick finish. Whatever you want to call it, I would seek this beer out again. Another favorite and perhaps the most “interesting” beer of the night was the Beersel Lager from Drei Fonteinen in Belgium. Drei Fonteinen is mostly known for their fine sour beers and lambics. The Beersel Lager is lager as you would expect a lambic brewer to make it. It is a cloudy, light bodied beer that starts out bitter but sweetens mid-palate. Nice flavors of light stone fruit and fibrous plant are rounded out by a funky, brettanomyces tinged, dry finish. Also worth mention was the Hacker-Pschorr Kellerbier, a cloudy golden colored beer with a creamy mouthfeel and bready/fruity flavors. The surprise of the night was the Mahr’s Bräu Leicht. At just 2% ABV this little golden lager packs in a ton of malt and hop flavor. It was tasty and you could drink a lot of it in a session without any serious consequences.
While I really can’t say that there were any bad beers in the mix, there were a couple of disappointments. One of these was the Blond Doppelbock from Capital Brewing in Wisconsin. Many of us had tasted this beer in the past and liked it, so this may have been an old or mishandled bottle. Whatever the case, we found it to be flabby, sugary, and full of banana and sulfur flavors and aromas. Also unfortunate was the Kapsreiter Landbier from Austria. Another Kellerbier, this one could not compare to the Hacker-Pschorr example. We found this to be underattenuated and worty, with honey and raw sugar being the dominant flavors. There was very little bitterness to counter the sweetness. One person described this beer as “under-carbonated Duvel.” A final disappointment was the Sam Adams Imperial Series Doppelbock. While not a bad beer, the consensus was that it was “definitely imperial.” The nice caramel malt and spicy hop were marred by a hot and solventy alcohol. And then there was the Mickey’s Malt Liquor……….
The beers tasted were New Glarus Bohemian Lager, Bell’s Lager of the Lakes, Hacker-Pschorr Kellerbier, Kapsreiter Landbier, Beersel Lager, Schlenkerla Helles, Flying Dog Dog Schwarz, Mahr’s Bräu Jubelfest, Mahr’s Bräu Leicht, Mendocino Brewing Company Bock Beer, Capitol Brewing Blond Doppelbock, Sam Adams Imperial Series Doppelbock, Port Brewing Midnight Sessions Lager, Coney Island Human Blockhead, Sam Adams Winter Lager, and Mickey’s Malt Liquor. Those in attendance were Michael Agnew, Tom Graybael, Gera Exire LaTour, Joel Stitzel, Jonathan Crist, and Paul Dienhart.