Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Lager Lager Lager

     Now that we have covered the ales, we must now turn our focus to lagers. Remember that I mentioned earlier that the main distinction of lagers is that they use bottom fermenting yeast that ferment optimally at colder temperatures. Until the invention of refrigeration (mid 1800's), lagers were brewed during the winter in caves. Large chunks of ice were cut from the local water supply and then taken down to the caves and used to keep the cold temperatures in there for very long periods of time. Needless to say this was time consuming and not too efficient. Refrigeration allowed brewers to brew lagers year round in their lagering cellars and allowed consumers to consume these beer in mass quantities.

     Before I look at traditional European styles I want to talk about the popular American styles. The most popular by far is the North American Pale Lager which is lighter in color and also in flavor. There are moderate hops added in general but they do not over power the malty flavor. It is very common that rice or corn is used as an adjunct grain in these beers. Something to note is that in general macro breweries produce these beers whereas micro breweries rarely produce pale lagers. I have mentioned macro, micro and craft breweries in my posts and for those of you who do not know what that means, I think a definition is in order. It has to do with how many barrels the company produces per year. A barrel is a term of measurement in the brewing industry to indicate volume of product produced; one barrel is equal to thirty one gallons, or you can think of one barrel as equal to two kegs (each keg is 15.5 gallon, this is where we get the term 1/2 barrel keg). Macro breweries produce the most barrels per year, followed by craft breweries, and finally micro breweries produce the least.
     Though there are many styles of European lagers, I have chosen three to discuss today; bock, dunkel, and pilsner. Starting with bock beers, they are traditionally focused on the malty sweetness but can be balanced with a subtle hop note. They tend to be higher in alcohol and most brewers make them to be enjoyed in the spring when they have been traditionally consumed. Most bock beers tend to have a goat on their labels because the word bock actually means male goat in German. Then we have the dunkel style which is a dark beer with a full body. The malt used for these generally gives off a licorice or dry chocolate note when the beer is done.This style of beer is actually the forerunner of the pale lagers that we know today. Finally we come to the pilsner which originate from the Czech Republic. These beers tend to be higher in carbonation and sit around five percent alcohol by volume. They typically have hop varieties that give a tangy and floral taste to the beer as well as a crisp finish. To produce a good pilsner is not simple, it can also be relatively expensive.
     Just like the ales we could go on for hours talking about lagers but I think that this is a good overview of the most popular varieties. Through these three posts I hope that you have learned a little bit more about the differentiation in beer styles that there are, as well spark an interest to go out and learn more. Until my next post, keep your glasses full!

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