Sunday, 18 May 2014

Beers You Can Actually Buy: Lagers and Such

Every once in a while I drink something obscure with someone who, whether or not they enjoy it, says, "but it doesn't really taste like a beer!"

By this, they mean that it doesn't taste like that which has come to monopolize the market of what the general public knows of as beer: pale lagers, light lagers, and American pilsners.  This is like saying "White wine is good, but it doesn't really taste like wine," if the drinker has only ever imbibed fermented red grapes.

Beer, of course, is a fermented grain beverage in contrast to other alcoholic beverages (spirits that are distilled) and others that are comprised of fermented fruits.  And there are over 100 styles of beer, many vastly different from others, yet many people have limited their understanding to simply a few of these diverse profiles.

Typically beer is made of fermented malted barley (or occasionally wheat, though all too often corn or corn syrup in macro adjunct lagers), hops, water, and the yeast, who - in eating fermentable sugars and emitting by-products - give the beer much of its flavour, alcohol, and carbonation.

When that carbonation expresses a crispness, coupled with a light body and grainy and grassy notes in a beer best served at a cooler temperature, many are inspired to dream of summer and patios.*  Thus, as the weather warms and in the continuation of my Beers You Can Actually Buy Series, I turn to the world's top-consumed style of brew.  (With one final aside, to note that Saisons are also well-suited to - and meant for - summer consumption, as are IPAs, so I encourage you to check out my other Beers You Can Actually Buy notes on the widely available marvels of these styles here and here, respectively.)


Insofar as macro inroads into the craft sphere often result from takeovers of existing breweries and, insofar as macros dominate in the widely popular styles of adjunct lagers, pale lagers, amber lagers, and pilsners of all stripes (Czech, German, American), the macro path to craft entry seems to be this very route of procuring solid pre-existing craft lager options.  Thus, many are probably familiar with the highly drinkable, never flawed, Creemore Springs Premium Lager (5% ABV, 24 IBU).  Many of you, however, may be less familiar with Creemore's experimental line under the Mad & Noisy branding, such as their delightful and brazen Hops & Bolts "India Pale Lager" (5.3% ABV, 60 IBU).  This brew blends the best of the Czech pils tradition with the herbal tea-like hops qualities of an English IPA.  Not for strict IPA lovers or mild lager drinkers, but for a crossover segment of those who can appreciate nuance and hybridity in this unique fusion.

Another macro-owned, but craft produced product of note, and with less familiarity to most is Hop City's Barking Squirrel Lager (5% ABV, 24 IBU).  This amber/red lager is malt-forward with a nose of biscuits and caramel.  Though the taste is similar, it dries up nicely for a quenching and refreshing finish.

In the more traditional 'craft' vein, two staples of popular note are worth mentioning, even if your familiarity with them makes their mention less than crucial.  However, the strengths of Steamwhistle (5% ABV, Czech Pils) and Beau's Lug Tread (5.2% ABV Kölsch - technically a hybrid lagered ale) are praiseworthy, and their popularity is most deserved.  The delicacy of the Kölsch is exemplified by Beau's, while Steamwhistle offers a nice grainy dryness exemplary of the style, but necessitates freshness in the green bottles that encourage skunkyness rapidly.

However, I will reserve my highest prompting for you to grab some cans of the following for your next barbecue, not simply because they are likewise stellar representatives of this North American standard idea of beer, but because they also exemplify smaller scale and less well-known delights of brewing prowess.

I am speaking here of Nickel Brook Premium Organic Lager (5% ABV, 25 IBU) and Neustadt Lager (5% ABV).  Whereas the former offers some classic German grassy hops alongside some sweet honey, the latter hybridizes with some New Zealand hops and offers a delectable crispness as best advertised by macros and best delivered by the micros.


Unlike Ontario, Quebec tends to lag in the readily-available lager delights.  Don't get me wrong, its harder-to-procure examples are phenomenal, but staple offerings (outside of adjunct-laden, macro junk) are sparse at best.

Topping my list would be two delights from Brasserie Dunham.  The first, a collaboration with Anders Kissmeyer, Snowy Spring Royal Pilsner (6.7% ABV), screams INDIA PALE PILSNER as it offers some mineral notes coupled with a noble-hops/American hops hybrid assault.  The other is their standard Dunham Pils (5.4% ABV) which is closer to the norms of the style, while still assertively hopped alongside some pleasant cereal graininess.  The drawback here, however, is that Dunham's small scale business cannot even meet the demand of its small retailer list, and has no plans to expand distribution in the near future, while which product hits shelves at any given time seems to be determined by the gods of chance.  However, their product is so consistently solid that whatever Dunham you see should be picked up as it is always fresh and always delightful!

Though Hopfenstark's Ostalgia Blonde (5% ABV) is another gem in the Kölsch tradition, its relative bottled scarcity (with even less frequent availability and fewer retailers than Dunham) complicates its spot on this list, but I nonetheless figured it deserved mention before the true winner of the category in Quebec for myself personally.

The Quebec winner: Le Trou du Diable's La Pitoune (5.5% ABV).  This fine Kölsch is now regularly available in countless stores, at a solid price, in both 341 ml and 600ml formats.  It pulls off the subtle complexity of a finely fragile, yet complexly delightful brew offering a fair grassy hops bitterness that dries off the cereal grain presence of the beginning.  It's ready availability offers it few true challengers as the majority with such widespread reach lag far, far behind, but La Pitoune deserves this position not only for lack of competition, but for exemplifying the tastes of terrace season!

I hope you find yourself enjoying the warming invitations of the great outdoors, and that you responsibly enjoy new-found beer tastes regardless of what you imbibe this summer.  Hopefully this guide helps you move beyond the tasteless representatives of a delicate subset of beer styles!

* Note that even these beers need not be served ice cold AND, moreover, should show better as they warm in contrast to the imperfections seen in poorer examples of the style. Imperfections come out as a beer warms, such that your disgust at a warmer brew indicates disgust more with the beers you may be drinking as the cold simply numbs us to these off-flavours.

1 comment:

  1. I keep hearing that I need to re-try the Nickelbrook. I guess I will get to it eventually.