On My Obsession With Great Lagers

I love lagers. I truly believe they are the next big thing in craft beer. While I will always love a bold, hoppy Double IPA, I think the public taste has already begun to bend back towards that clean lager yeast profile. American brewers are reaching outside style parameters and are making unique beers that showcase the lager yeast while still appealing to your average hop-heads. Victory's Pivo Pils, Fresh Cut from Peak Organic, Ballast Point's India Pale Lager, and Sierra Nevada's Beer Camp 2015 are empirical evidence that the lager is positioning itself for a comeback, a second act, if you will. After having spent decades spreading the gospel of beer mostly by brewing hop-forward, tasty ales craft brewers are now set to reclaim the lager mantle and prove to the general public that lagers don't have to be fizzy yellow water.

I judged a competition with a professional brewer who tells me that he is setting out to make a Classic American Pilsner. It might seem an odd choice, a craft brewer making something similar to offerings by the big guys (AB InBev, SABMillerCoors), but brewers are managing to brew their own spin on styles super familiar to the general public which can provide a gateway to Joe Six Pack evolving into "Joe Snifter". As brewers, we need to remind ourselves that craft beer enthusiasts aren't born, they're developed. I'm looking forward to many of these craft lager options as more brewers reach into macro beer's familiar territory.

On a homebrew level, several of my friends exclusively brew ales. In NYC, it's easy to understand why, a lack of space is the chief constraint, but they also require less attention, less space, and they can be fermented at room temperature. Equipment expense is also a barrier to entry for many Brewers. I'm lucky in that I have a very understanding spouse who bought me a 7 cubic foot freezer with a Johnson temperature regulator for my birthday last year. It allows me to dial in to particular temperatures in order to hit the precise temperatures needed to brew lagers. It's not possible for many of my friends locally but I've noticed an increase in the quality of my beers since I've acquired the proper tools.

Recently, I've been almost entirely lager focused and am entering competitions with lagers in roughly 3/4 of my entries on average. I've developed a number of recipes and have learned how to brew classically according to style and have only recently begun branching out and attempting beers that eschew style. It's an approach that I recommend to all brewers. When you're new to writing recipes, I think it's important to focus on well-made examples of the classic style; a base from which to experiment. It's also important to keep in mind that when you enter a BJCP event that your beer will be judged against style parameters set forth in the guidelines. I've judged beer that I loved, I mean really loved and would gladly down a pint of but had to score low because it didn't adhere to the  category entered. I always make it known why I've scored an otherwise fantastic beer poorly and praise a beer if it's deserving but as judges, we are instructed to assess a beer's merits against a set definition of characteristics.

One of my homebrew clubs held their annual competition last month, Homebrew Alley, which is the largest AHA/BJCP sanctioned competition in New York City. I entered 4 beers, 2 of which I brewed with my frequent collaborator Xavi. I enter competitions like these to get feedback in order to improve my beers in subsequent batches. It's one thing to have your friends pat you on the back and tell you how good your beer is, it's quite another to have an anonymous, objective, trained palate assessing the merits of your beer based on the intended style. I never enter thinking I'm going to win, but at the last competition, my Munich Helles took 1st in the light lager category. The recipe, which I'm sharing below, is a very simple SMaSH (single malt and single hop) beer. It is a double decoction beer which means that during the mash, I removed some grist and boiled it before adding it back to the mash. Twice. While there are some who think that decoction mashes are a waste of time and that our malts are now so well-modified that it's no longer necessary to do them, but I enjoy doing them (in spite of the time it adds to my brew day). Sure, you could substitute some melanoidin malt and achieve similar results but I've never done that. I brew old school. With such a simple grain bill, all German Pilsner malt, I find a decoction adds complexity to my malt profile, and the temperatures at which I mash converts my grains into 2 different sugar chains. This gives the yeast a wider variety of sugars to convert into alcohol thereby providing for a healthier fermentation. I also used a traditional hop schedule aiming for about 17 IBUs at 70/20/Flame Out schedule with the noble hop tettnanger, which provides a subtle and clean bitterness. In the future, I plan to alter the water profile in an effort to get a crisper, drier finish.

When doing some research, I ran across this German word that can't be translated to a single English word. The word "Gemütlichkeit", which describes a space or state of warmth and friendliness, I thought was just about perfect for this beer. Give the recipe a try if you have the patience for decoction and the ability to control your fermentation temperatures. The recipe can be found in the recipes tab above or by clicking here. Cheers!