2009 Lager Review
All the World’s a Stage
Posted: December 4, 2009
By Jerald O’Kennard
It never ceases to amaze me how pervasive lager style beers are. And as I was enjoying a spicy sushi roll last night that paired brilliantly with a Korean pale lager that I hadn’t had in a long time, I could see why. While often criticized or mocked as either boring, insipid, industrial, etc., the ubiquitous pale lager and pilsner styles are clearly the world’s choices if you are looking at sheer sales volumes and numbers of brands. But beyond these cold facts, that I would argue that these beers often times are the best beers to pair with cuisine, especially spicy Latin and Asian ones that seem perpetually in vogue. Form follows function in the evolution of beer, and in lager’s case, food affinity goes a long way towards explaining lager’s planetary hegemony.
Despite the attention and faddism of the craft community toward a dizzying array and variegation of new and old ale styles, lagers easily hold their own with their top-fermented cousins from both quality and curiosity standpoints. Lager styles are a more limited in number (we have twenty-four categories in our BTI taxonomy vs. fifty-seven ales), but perhaps more focused set of clearly delineated styles that are revered for their elegant simplicity and drinkability by beer drinkers, as well as the challenges of brewing them by brewers (lingering legacies of the Reinheitsgebot perhaps.) This respect for lagers by lager brewers is clearly commensurate with the investment in their success and despite some crafty cries of “macrobeer” or worse, lagers, especially pale lagers and pilsners, are some of the most precisely brewed, scientifically controlled and in a way “perfect” beers made.
In this year’s lager tasting for the World Beer Championships, we tasted examples of fourteen lager styles from nineteen countries. As a point of comparison, in our British and North American ales tasting earlier this year we sampled nineteen ale styles from six countries. While most of the brands were from mid-size to large domestic and international breweries, it was refreshing to see some craft breweries in the mix and scoring highly.
Standouts showcasing the depth and international breadth of our tasting include the return of the Czech Republic’s Primator Maibock (95), Dark Lager (93) and Pale Lager (92) to US shores, “The Master” (92) a pilsner from Asahi, Poland’s Grupa Zywiec’s Tatra Malt Liquor (91), Tibet’s Lhasa Dortmunder (88), Austria’s Stiegl Columbus Original Bock (90), and Spain’s Damm Brewery’s Voll-Damm Marzen (90). A from the US crafty scene: Del Norte Brewing Co.’s Manana Mexican Style Amber Lager (93), Capital Brewery’s Autumnal Fire (93) and Pilsner (92), Sam Adams Light (90) and Winter Lager (93), Oskar Blues Brewery’s Mama’s Little Yella Pils (92), and even some interesting private label contract brews like Cable Car Lager (90). All in all, a world of lager choices and a stage set for enjoyment. Cheers!