By Roger Mittag
It seems that we are all on the fast track, trying to keep up with the latest trends and fads and ensuring that we are driving new customers into our locations. There is, however, a fine line between being innovative and imitative. It is very difficult to be leading edge enough to be the ultimate trendsetter.
The beer industry has been a fascinating study in the past two or three decades. If we compare the industry to a clock, the beer world has been seriously lacking a second hand. Time stood still for us for almost a hundred years. By that, I am suggesting that the consumer’s and brewer’s passion for easy drinking lagers left us in a position that some would argue was debilitating. “No taste, no choice, no style,” were all the negatives we heard for years.
The pendulum swings
Then the 80s decade came along and with it, the onset of what has come to be known as craft brewing, where we were enticed by new brewers, new beers and a whole new perspective on beer. In the past 10 years, the pendulum has swung completely to one side. Hospitality providers flocked to the newest darling of the beer world – IPA (India Pale Ale). It was no longer enough to have just one IPA on tap; bars were completely revamping their line-up to reflect this new direction.
This may have seemed like a good idea but it came with a minor chink in the armour. First of all, IPAs are intense and bold with a mouthful of bitterness and aromas that don’t stop screaming “hops.” Just how many of these a customer can consume is an excellent debate but I am going to suggest it is substantially less than the previously mentioned lager. Secondly, when you shift your beer portfolio to such an extreme, you are bound to drive away people who just want a lighter tasting refreshing beer.
What’s the next ‘new’ trend?
A few years ago, I noticed that more and more craft brewers were adding a variety of “sessionable” beers into their brand line-up. A session is a colloquial term from England which denotes the time you might spend down at the pub with your mates. It’s pretty easy to understand that lighter flavours and lower alcohol are key contributors to keeping you in the pub for a longer time.
Lagering as a technique was first mentioned in Germanic history as far back as 1420 when beers were stored and rested in cooler caves in order to eliminate the characteristic diacetyl and sulphur that naturally occurred during fermentation. Of course, the world of beer was set on its head when Pilsners arrived courtesy of Josef Groll. I often wonder what these early pioneers would think if they could take a glimpse into modern brewing and see how much lager is actually produced and consumed globally.
These new sessionable beers swept the world. It is, to me and many others, the most important discovery or invention in brewing. We are starting to see this trend make a small return, even though some will say it never left. While completely unsubstantiated, it is believed that approximately 90 per cent of the beer consumed around the world is lager and of that large volume, 60 per cent are lighter lagers like Munich Helles, North American lagers, light beers etc.
The following is a guideline to understanding the world of lagers.
- Lager is a German word, meaning to store. These beers take longer to ferment and longer to age, making them far more expensive to produce but far easier to enjoy. A well-made lager is difficult to do. These beers hide behind nothing and a poorly produced lager will show all of its flaws very quickly and very easily. Lager producers should be revered in their perseverance of quality and consistency.
- Light Beers were created in the United States and while many lack intense flavour profiles, they appeal to a wide audience who prefer lighter, easier drinking beers with less alcohol.
- Standard Lagers are the mainstay of beer production. Many of these beers are considered to be mainstream but serve to satisfy the vast majority of beer drinkers.
- Craft Lagers are the new darling of the beer community. Easy drinking and thirst quenching but with a healthy dose of flavour and aroma. These beers may be unfiltered leaving them with slightly more flavour and mouth feel.
- Helles is a term that started in Munich. These beers are lighter in colour and flavour than traditional Pilsners but they still have some depth. Most of these beers are European in origin.
- Pilsners are relatively complex in some ways but still quite simple. German Pilsners are crisp and clean with moderate bitterness and a refreshing, quick finish. Czech Pilsners are more robust with more bready flavours and a good dose of hop bitterness at the end.
- Amber Lagers (Vienna Lagers) are fantastic bridges to fuller flavours. They are amber to burnt orange in colour and have flavours and aromas that are easily matched to foods. While they have significantly more flavour, they are also very easy on the palate.
- Dark Lagers (Dunkels) are the next step up in complexity. They are ruby red to dark brown in colour and have wonderful aromas of chocolate, coffee and dark breads. The body of these beers is miraculous in that it does not mirror the colour. The finish is quick and refreshing and once again, they work so well with most restaurant foods, it will amaze the average person.
- Black Lagers (Schwarzbier) are the end of the road for most lagers. While still crisp, clean and refreshing, they have aromas of dark chocolate, robust coffee and burnt grain. Bock Beer is the lager answer to higher alcohol content. A decent bock will have darker colours tending toward reddish brown but will also be highly complex, soothing and warming.
It’s time for lagers to be taken seriously again. There’s a lot to choose from and it will take some time to understand which one is right for you.
About the author
Roger Mittag is the owner of Thirst For Knowledge Inc® and the founder of Prud’homme Beer Certification® (www.tfkbeer.com), can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and will gladly consult on helping you to create a great beer portfolio.