When it comes to craft beer enthusiasts I know far too many who see a lager and shy away. I admit I had this problem for a while myself but I’ve slowly come around.
After discovering my own love of lagers, I’ve tried to proselytize others and found surprising resistance. This reluctance from folks who I have converted to enjoying things such as wild as sours got me pondering where all the hate comes from.
I couldn’t come across many hard numbers on this but did find some data on sales dating back to 2011. Beyond the hard numbers, the lack of popularity of craft lagers is obvious with a trip to any better beer store.
Just look around the store and see all the IPAs, wheats, stouts, and sours versus the small selection of lagers. Another way of looking at this is that out of all the breweries in Cincinnati only three regularly make lagers and I’m including Sam Adams in that number.
Why the hate?
I think the prime reason is that we’ve been conditioned to love lagers, then over-conditioned to love them resulting in our hate. Budweiser, Miller, Coors and others have shoved flavorless light (or, worse yet, lite) lagers down our throats for 30 years in an effort to convince us that this is what “beer” is supposed to taste like.
I think this long-term advertising, or more bluntly put brain washing, has resulted in a Clockwork Orange effect among those who have broken from its grasp. Now many beer enthusiasts are left with an intense dislike of anything that resembles a lager, mass-produced or not.
My second conclusion is that no matter what I’d like to believe, or convince people of, lagers just aren’t that exciting. A malty, floral, maybe slightly spicy lager can’t compete on the level of tongue tingling excitement with something like a stout with vanilla beans, cinnamon, cocoa nibs, and habaneros.
Lastly, lagers are a less financially sound decision for the often cash strapped craft brewer. They are harder to brew because a lager will show off any flaws in the brewing process far more easily than an IPA will. Lagers are more time-consuming because they have to be lagered -- fermented and stored at cool temperatures before packaging -- for weeks to months where an IPA can be completed in 11 days.
And as I’ve said, craft beer drinkers are less likely to drink them. So why should a craft brewery spend so much more time making a more difficult product that their customers won’t get excited for?
All around tasty beverage
Plain and simple lagers are tasty and refreshing beverages. The shear market share they occupy is plenty enough proof of this.
If they were bad or disgusting no one would drink them, no matter the advertising powers at play. Budweiser and Miller Lite are not bad beers, they’re just not exciting. A real craft lager though can be an exciting and delicious adventure when all you want is a clean refreshing beer.
Your tongue can get tired of having the same thing time and time again -- this is called palate fatigue. Palate fatigue is more relevant when you’re having a flight of 5 or 6 beers but I think it still applies here.
Drinking super-hopped IPAs or bodacious oatmeal Russian imperial stouts day in and day out you can lose perception on how different they are from each other. A nice clean lager can refresh your palate and your mind.
The Original Session Beer
Session IPAs are all the rage these days and are becoming the top-selling beers at many breweries. But if you want to knock back a 12-pack whiling away a sunny afternoon there’s no need to succumb to the latest fad.
Succumb to a centuries old staple and grab a crisp refreshing lager. Lagers are highly quaffable, often under 6 percent ABV, and go with just about any food at your family BBQ. The chart below shows the ABV distribution of 150 of the most popular lagers on BeerAdvocate.
Distribution of ABV in top 150 lagers – BeerAdvocate.com
Those are all great reasons but here’s the real kicker that makes me think more craft breweries, and craft beer enthusiasts, need to love the lager. America is a country that loves its lagers and if we want to beat AB-Inbev or SABMiller we need to beat them at their own game.
It’s easier to sell a macro beer drinker on a “really high quality Budweiser” then it is on a “bitter, citrus, pine flavored IPA.” Once that macro beer drinker has had a craft lager they’ll be more interested to try other beers by that brewery and blossom into a craft beer enthusiast.
What to drink?
Don’t misunderstand me on any of this, this is no cry to go enjoy a Miller Lite. This is a rallying call to find the closest craft brewer to you and try their lager if they have one or ask them to make one if they don’t.
I realize relatively few craft breweries are making lagers, compared to the total number of craft breweries, so some good examples with wide-ranging distribution are: Victory Prima Pils, Brooklyn Lager, Sierra Nevada Summerfest, Sam Adams Boston Lager, or my personal favorite craft lager -- New Belgium Shift
My fellow Cincinnatians and I are extremely lucky in that we have not two breweries making multiple lagers.
For a local lager find the Helles, Dunkel, or Blueberry Lager from Rivertown or Moerlein Exposition or Barbarossa. Both of these breweries and a few more locals also make seasonal Dunkels and Marzens. Rhinegeist also currently has the Puma Pils though I’m not sure how long that will be around.