A comprehensive guide to lager
Here’s our guide to five classic lager styles and some great examples for you to try, perfect for summer or any time of year…
With this year’s summer having reached giddily high temperatures, and the hot days extending beyond what we’re used to for the season, we predict that lager sales have rocketed. But it isn’t just hot days that makes lager the world’s most popular beer, and there’s much more to it than the mass produced fizzy booze that saturates the market.
Although the term pilsner (or simply pils) is now used to describe a whole range of blond lagers, its history stretches back to 1842 and one specific brew. The Czech city of Pilsen was the scene for one of the most important acts of brewing, with various factors combining to result in a new product that would change the beer world.
Eager to create a beer with enhanced flavour and clarity, the city’s brewery recruited a Bavarian brewer who set to work with paler malts, local Saaz hops, the region’s soft water and new technology, eventually producing its pilsner lager. With the recent affordability of glass, drinkers were now not only able to taste this light new beer but they could also appreciate its clear good looks. The beer was a success and became the benchmark for lagers around the world.
Try this: Pilsner Urquell
Pilsen’s original brewery was renamed Pilsner Urquell and the company still produces lager along the same lines as the original. It’s clean and refreshing with a light sprinkling of peppery hops at the finish.
Helles is Munich’s response to the popular Czech Pilsners that were stealing all the acclaim shortly after they first hit the scene. Brewed in a similar way, with bottom fermenting yeast and undergoing a low-temperature maturation known as ‘lagering’ (which is where the term ‘lager’ comes from), Helles lagers tend to have slightly more prominent sweet, bready malt flavours. The hops, most commonly the German Hallertau, are less pronounced and it’s an approximation of this style that was produced by German immigrants in America that went onto become the mass produced lagers we know today.
A classic Munich Helles that is hugely popular among Bavarian beer aficionados who will take advantage of its clean and light character, fill a stein, and drink it all day long.
Braybrooke Keller Lager
This excellent modern Leicestershire beer is based on a Franconian variation of the Helles style – Kellerbier – a lager that is neither filtered or pasteurised and is afforded a bit more flavouring from the hops.
Some people may be surprised to learn that lagers come in colours other than golden but, as with English style beers, the full range of browns and blacks is possible. Historically there are two main templates for dark lagers: Dunkels (hailing from Munich) and Schwartzbiers (from Northern Bavaria). They have the same clean, refreshing and slightly spicy lager characteristics but have the toasty flavours (and dark hues) as a result of the addition of heavily roasted malts.
Pivovar Herold Czech Black Lager
This Bohemian brew is produced in a 500 year old castle brewery and matured for 70 days in its cellars. It’s clean and smooth with a delicious gentle toasty bitter finish.
Zerodegrees Black Lager
For a modern black brew check in at a Zerodegrees brewpub and enjoy their dark chocolatey lager straight from the tap. It may not have the history of an ancient castle behind it, but in contemporary terms it’s already a classic.
Most lagers are notable for their lightness – not just in terms of colour but also flavour and strength. Bocks provide a much more intense drinking experience. They’re strong, dark German lagers that are loaded with malt, making them sweeter, richer and giving them a higher alcohol content than other lagers. For even more malty goodness, seek out a variant originating from Italian monks who settled in Munich in the early 17th century, the doppelbock.
Try this: Ayinger Celebrator
There are some folk who will claim this doppelbock to be the greatest beer in the world, and we certainly think it has a strong case. Smooth and fruity, rich and creamy, it is a heady melange of malt flavours.
If you have the good fortune to attend a proper German beer festival then the star of the show will likely be a marzenbier. Often known as Oktoberfestbiers, these lagers were traditionally brewed in March (German: Marz) – the end of the brewing season – and stored in caves through summer until the autumn harvest, when beery celebrations would be the norm. They’re amber coloured and, although maltier than pilsners and helles, still have the easy-drinking nature of those lagers. Brewers today still produce one-off Marzens especially for beer festivals.
Try this: Hacker-Pschorr Oktoberfest Marzen
A highly gluggable beer with slightly caramel-sweet malt flavours and a subtle bitterness. If you’re creating your own Oktoberfest at home, a few of these swing-topped bottles are a must.
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