I’m A Lagered Ale Lout #BrewedAwakening
It is interesting to watch the trends in the beer world these days, with beer styles going in all directions, including the mainstream’s obsession with simple radler-style light beers, while fans of more flavourful beers get increasingly out there with sours and brettanomyces fermented beer.
Meanwhile, there is a steady trend towards well made, flavourful lagers. A good hoppy pilsner is the perfect gateway beer (way better than milkshake IPA, because…it tastes like beer), in that it is a pale, golden beer that seems basic at first glance, but can actually be quite bitter and complex, depending on the grain bill.
What happens is that some old fashioned mainstream beer drinkers who only ever drank Blue, Canadian, Bud, Coors Light, Keith’s or Moosehead, will try a crisp lager like, for example, Steamwhistle Pilsner from Ontario, Spindrift Session Lager from Nova Scotia, or Steamworks Pilsner from BC, and actually really enjoy it.
You might argue that those are pretty easy drinking beers, hardly on the edge, but they are what we call the thin edge of the wedge. Once you’ve converted someone to drinking more flavourful beer, it is a short step to darker lagers like Oktoberfest and Märzen (Pump House in New Brunswick makes a fine version), to more bitter Pilsners, and particularly to pale ales with lots of flavour. The next thing you know the guys in your hockey dressing room are talking about how much they love the new microbrewery that just opened up in your town. I’ve seen this first hand here in New Brunswick.
Another really good, but lesser known gateway beer style is Kölsch, the famous pale, lagered ale from Köln, Germany. Technically, breweries outside that region shouldn’t call their beer Kölsch, even if they use the same special yeast strain, so what you often see on a label is “lagered ale.” Kölsch uses an ale yeast that is tolerant of cold temperatures, and then the beer is cold aged (lagered) for smoothness. They are very lager-like, but the classics still retain some wine-like fruitiness, which is a no no in lager.
Some “lagered ale” producers do use actual Kölsch yeast from Germany, but not all. Other cold fermenting ale yeasts include the California Common strain, as well as what we as homebrewers in Ontario (I used to brew a lot) always called “the Molson yeast.” I assume it was the actual Molson ale yeast.
The bitterness varies, but Kölsch tends to be quite balanced, and refreshing. I tried three lagered ales last week, two from Ontario and a new one from New Brunswick. Beau’s Lug Tread from Ottawa is a popular example, a 5.2% pale ale using organic barley and hops. It’s a really nice summer beer, fairly low in hops but clean and fresh. It is very lightly fruity.
Similarly, Lost Craft, from Toronto, makes a lagered ale called Revivale. It is 4.8% alcohol, and very light and clean. If there is any fruitiness, it’s very subtle.
Amplified, however, the new lagered ale from Long Bay brewery in Rothesay, NB, definitely uses Kölsch yeast. It’s 5% alcohol and only 20 IBU, and, although it has a nose similar to European lager, with that appealing, slightly sulfury twang, and Vienna malt notes, you can really taste the fruity esters. It also has a fantastic, T-Shirt worthy label, designed by The Quarrelsome Yeti. I’m buying one.
This beer might just turn me into a lagered ale lout.