Diversity of Lagers
Average drinkers usually use the word lager to refer to a pale, blonde, relatively easy drinking beer. Of course, that’s silly. Lager is just a general word for beers of many colours, flavours, bitterness ranges, and alcohol levels that happen to be fermented with a lager yeast. The difference between a lager and an ale yeast, as an old beer friend (and yeast salesman) once told me, is that lager yeast eats more types of sugar, making beer drier.
Now, you beer-nerds know that lagers are generally cold aged for smoothness, and thus end up “cleaner” and lacking fruitiness. Most ale yeasts don’t survive at those near freezing temperatures that lager yeasts can work in, hence the stylistic differences between a basic pale ale and pale lager. However, you could use a lager yeast at warm temperatures and avoid ageing it, going quick to market, and it would be fruity and ale-like. I can’t think of a good reason to do that.
Here are 5 lagers of different origins, colours and styles that are available in Canada, although not all are available country-wide.
Grolsch Premium Pilsner, Holland, 5% ABV, 30 IBU ($4.29/450 ml “swing-top” bottle at ANBL; $13/4-pack at LCBO)
I have a soft spot for this import, as it was what we drank at home on my work term in Holland over 30 years ago. I always use the signature bottle over the can. Grolsch has a fresh grassy hop nose, alongside light biscuity malt. The initial taste is that familiar, almost metallic, bitterness typical of many European lagers. That’s followed by good body, pleasant pale malt flavours in the middle and finish, and refreshing, lingering bitterness.
Pilsner Urquell, Czech Republic, 4.4% ABV, 40 IBU ($3.69/500 ml can at ANBL; $3.10 at LCBO)
The original blonde Pils, brewed in Pilsen. In Czech Republic, Pilsner means Urquell, whereas elsewhere in the world many breweries use Pils, Pilsner or Pilsener to mean a crisp, bitter lager. Quiet on the nose, with light S notes (not uncommon for authentic lagers), and subtle spicy, herbal Saaz hop aromas. It has assertive bitterness on entry, with light-medium body, and is pretty light in the malt department, with pleasant Saaz flavours and a clean, bitter finish.
Steamwhistle Pilsner, Ontario, Canada, 5% ABV, 22 IBU ($3.99/473 ml can at ANBL; $3.35 at ANBL)
One of the larger volume microbrewed lagers in Canada, Steamwhistle is a much less bitter, more approachable version of a Euro-style Pils. It has a lightly malty nose with faint S, and little hop aroma. In the mouth it has pleasant, sweetish cereal/grainy malt notes, low-medium bitterness, and a soft finish, with that same cereal character. Good beach or aprés hockey lager.
Fahr Copper, Alberta, Canada, ABV: 4.8%, 28 IBU ($19.99 for 6 X 355 ml cans at ANBL; ~ $16/6-pack in Alberta)
This celebrated amber lager won Gold at the 2020 World Beer Awards for Best Vienna Style Lager and a Silver in the Canadian Brewing Awards. It has an attractive, toasty, caramel malt aroma, with medium body, and smooth malty flavours balanced out by German noble hops. Crisp finish with lingering toffee-ish malt.
This collaboration between two North Shore Acadian breweries is a dark reddish brown, malty and clean Doppelbock that really captures the style we know from Germany. Yes, it is strong, but the hops balance out the booze and dark malt, molasses-like sweetness, and there is that lager crispness. Perfect for cold evenings under the stars.