Lagers and Ales... can't we all just get along?!

Discussion in 'Beer Talk' started by BigBarley, Feb 24, 2013.

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  1. steveh

    steveh Poo-Bah (1,800) Oct 8, 2003 Illinois

    Doesn't mean he has to like it! :D
  2. Hefewiseman

    Hefewiseman Disciple (393) Sep 6, 2011 Florida
    Beer Trader

    For me personally, I'd take an ale over a lager MOST of the time... unless of course we're talking about Kostritzer. Best black lager on the market IMO.
  3. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Poo-Bah (2,568) Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania

    So, in your opinion (perhaps not a humble one): “I like Sly Fox Helles a lot but its not the equal to Weihenstephaner Original …”

    We all have opinions. Someday I will tell you a saying that my buddy Sal has about opinions and how he compares them to a body part.

  4. Chinon01

    Chinon01 Initiate (0) Jan 23, 2007 Pennsylvania

    Yeah I hear ya. Only point I was trying to make is that there's overlap between lager and ale. They aren't opposite poles. There's a spectrum of flavors w/in ale and lager.
  5. Crusader

    Crusader Initiate (179) Feb 4, 2011 Sweden

    Right, you could make a 10% bottom fermented lager beer, use tons of dark malt, not ferment out too much of the sugars and get a rich thick body, then hop it to 100+ IBUs and dry hop it as much as the hoppiest of ales. You might want to skimp on the lagering period I suppose to preserve the hop aroma (since the hop taste will be all but gone within weeks I hear ;)). There would obviously be some differences in what sort of fruity esters and such are created during the fermentation, but you could make a beer similar to a RIS with a lager yeast if one so desired, or scale back the dark malts, use vienna malts instead and end up with something close to an IPA or imperial IPA.

    The fact that there are comparatively few such examples I'd say is down to the ale-centric nature of the current craft beer movement, though imperial pilsners certainly exist and probably imperial baltic porters as well (perhaps soon there will be or already exists an imperial dry hopped vienna lager that could rival the IPAs out there). And you also have the big bocks that have been brewed by Samuel Adams etc.

    But to me I think something is amiss when lager beer has to be defended on those terms, of offering up doppelbocks and eisbocks as evidence of the worthiness of lager beers, rather than the lower abv styles. I think lager beers of the styles I mentioned in my previous post offer a spectrum of flavors which by themselves offer alot to the beer drinker. Far from everyone will agree on this of course, and that's just fine by me. I for one think the Germans and Bohemians and Austrians created a great number of superb styles of beer which still, if made with care, have alot to offer in terms of good flavor despite a relatively modest abv and without having the mouthfeel of an oatmeal stout. A chowder isn't necessarily better than a consommé.
  6. Domingo

    Domingo Poo-Bah (2,142) Apr 23, 2005 Colorado
    Subscriber Beer Trader

    While Weihenstephaner Original is a fine beer, I actually prefer their pils, which isn't nearly as common or as "appropriate" considering Freising is part of the greater Munich area. Still, it's a damn fine pilsner and probably my second or 3rd favorite one in the region.
  7. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Poo-Bah (2,568) Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania

    “But to me I think something is amiss when lager beer has to be defended on those terms, of offering up doppelbocks and eisbocks as evidence of the worthiness of lager beers, rather than the lower abv styles.”

    Patrik, FWIW I am in 100% agreement with you!

    In a prior post I stated: “IMHO, it is the fact that the vast majority of lagers are not BIG beers. In other words, the majority of lager styles are not BIG in a hoppy and/or alcohol sense. Needless to say there are exceptions here which have been detailed by many posters (e.g., Doppelbocks, Baltic Porters, Imperial Pilsners, etc.) but from a barrelage perspective most lagers are lower in alcohol and they are not as hoppy or bold as many of the popular ale styles.”

    Now, I feel compelled to state that I am a fan of BIG lagers like Doppelbocks and Baltic Porters. I have a 500 ml bottle of Zywiec Baltic Porter in my refrigerator right now to be consumed and enjoyed soon. I also have some Doppelbocks left from a recently purchased six-pack of St. Victorious Doppelbock that I am enjoying at the moment. My wife took a sip of the St. Victorious Doppelbock I was drinking last evening and made a big “Yum” sound and proclaimed “That is the best beer I drank this year!”. As a homebrewer I was not too sure how to take the statement.

    I should mention upfront to mitigate debate that I am not of the opinion that St. Victorious Doppelbock if the ‘equal’ of Celebrator but it is a damn tasty beer none the less with a hint of smoke that adds an interesting dimension to the beer. Below is a description from the Victory website:

    “St. Victorious
    From the tradition started by the monks of St. Francis of Paula in 1634 comes this warming beer of rich heritage. A dark, rich lager of sublime complexity and character, St. Victorious is created from multiple German malts. Laborious decoction mashing yields the choicest elements of the malt. Long, cold aging mellows the strong temperament of this subtle beer. Celebrate the end of winter with a warming draft of St. Victorious Doppelbock!


    Malts: 2 row German malt, including Beech smoked malt

    Hops: German whole flowers”


    Crusader likes this.
  8. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Poo-Bah (2,568) Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania

    A beer bar local to me (TJs Everyday) frequently has Weihenstephaner Original and Weihenstephaner Pils on tap and every time I see it I order one (or two) of those beers. They are truly tasty beers!

    I am of the opinion that many of the German beer styles (e.g., Helles, Pils, Kolsch, Alt, etc.) are ‘delicate’ beer styles and consequently prone to be ‘abused’ by transport and age issues. I have a homebrewed Alt (Sticke version) that I bottled on 11/18/12; my wife and I spilt the last bottle last evening. It was still an enjoyable beer but with 3 months of age it was noticeably ‘tired’ as compared to how the beer tasted a month or so ago. I have a real appreciation on why Zum Uerige provides a best by timeframe of 2 months for their Alt beers.

  9. Crusader

    Crusader Initiate (179) Feb 4, 2011 Sweden

    I was encouraged when I saw that Bitburger has started to print what I assume is a born-on date on their bottles that they sell here, printed directly beneath the best before date (which is set one year after the born on date). I bought a bottle last wednesday so the 27th of february and the born on date was 02.01 which I take to mean january second. It might be because it was a fresh batch for the new year though, and if it doesn't move quickly enough it starts to get to be 5-6 months old. If only the German beers would sell better, the Czech beers are big sellers in the monopoly (and will thus likely have much better freshness than the German beers) but from what I've read and going by the sales numbers the German beers aren't doing nearly as well which is a real shame. Thankfully Bitburger and Jever are still on the shelves, knock on wood.
  10. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Poo-Bah (2,568) Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania

    “best before date (which is set one year after the born on date).”

    So, let me get on my soapbox and whine again: a one year best by timeframe is just too damn long! Whew, I got that out of my system.

    You made mention of Jever. Jever is one of my favorite German Pilsners. They list a best by date on the bottles that they export to the US (with that damn one year timeframe). Well since I know how to ‘decipher’ the born on date I am educated to make a wise purchase except that the vast majority of the time I find Jever beers with many months of age on them. I consider myself lucky if I find Jever with 4-5 months of age. When I see those beers I sometimes reach out to buy them but then I think: why buy a Jever which is 5 months old (plus beat up in the transport over the Atlantic?) when I can get a Sly Fox Pikeland Pils which is only 1-2 months old and has traveled a whole 20 miles to get to my beer store. I have not purchased Jever in over a year but I still look at it in a loving (but conflicted) manner when I see it on the beer store shelves.



    P.S. And don’t get me started on “Why does Jever use those stupid green bottles?” topic.
    Crusader likes this.
  11. Crusader

    Crusader Initiate (179) Feb 4, 2011 Sweden

    Right. And from what I understand, craft beer (of the non-imperial, non-whale, shelf variety) is pretty affordable in the US, which makes it perfectly understandable that you would opt for a local alternative that can provide a good quality tasty beer. Here the taxes makes for rather high prices. The higher taxes means that the Swedish breweries charge what would be premium prices in another country for their cheap lagers (without very high profit margins for themselves), and then have even higher prices for their "premium" products. Then the big name imports such as Budweiser and Corona have even higher prices than the domestic premiums to signal their "super premiumness". So what are the imported craft beer brands supposed to do? Price themselves alongside domestic premiums or imported super premiums? Certainly not, they get priced at above-super premium prices to signal their even higher premiumness, and the consumer is the one paying for it.

    In this environment, the comparatively cheap prices of German imports is a blessing. I suppose it's a mixed blessing that the German beers are unable to become branded in the same way as Miller Genuine Draft (which is more successful here than Budweiser) or Corona due to huge sales, I'd be paying through the nose to buy them if they weren't.

    So price is one consideration, at least for me. I'd be very much interested in trying American craft beer iterations of pilsners and pale lagers but I don't think we'll be seeing any of those beers on the shelves here anytime soon. It's the pale ales, IPAs and Imperial stouts that sell among the American craft beers and thus get the release slots. We get Samuel Adams Boston Lager (and a bunch of their other lagers) and Brooklyn Lager, but no noble pils or Brooklyn Pilsner, or Victory prima pils. Sadly.
  12. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Poo-Bah (2,568) Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania

    “So price is one consideration, at least for me. I'd be very much interested in trying American craft beer iterations of pilsners and pale lagers but I don't think we'll be seeing any of those beers on the shelves here anytime soon. It's the pale ales, IPAs and Imperial stouts that sell among the American craft beers and thus get the release slots. We get Samuel Adams Boston Lager (and a bunch of their other lagers) and Brooklyn Lager, but no noble pils or Brooklyn Pilsner, or Victory prima pils. Sadly.”

    A few comments:

    So, even in the US it is the pale ales, IPAs and Imperial Stouts that get the majority of shelf space and tap space. There was a thread by Providence a few weeks ago where he ‘complained’ that at beer bar local to him that out of the twenty or so taps they had something like 5-6 IPAs and not a single Pilsner on tap. His basic comment was: why do you need so many IPAs and not a single Pilsner on tap? The short answer: US craft beer drinkers have a HUGE taste for BIG beers like IPAs but the folks who like Pilsners are indeed in the minority. Ergo, this thread!

    Ironically Jever is a fairly cheap beer considering that it is imported. I can purchase a case of Jever (with many months of age) at my local retail beer distributor for about $38 and I can get a case of Sly Fox Pikeland Pils for around $33. In the big scheme of things that is not a big disparity. I would willingly pay the extra 5 bucks if I could obtain a fresh case of Jever.

    Crusader likes this.
  13. Chinon01

    Chinon01 Initiate (0) Jan 23, 2007 Pennsylvania

    I wasn't offering up doppelbock as an example of the "worthiness" of lager. I was offering it to show that lager doesn't equal just pils, Helles, adjunct light lager, and other pale lighter styles (MANY of which are my favorites btw) as other were suggesting on this thread. Great lager (like great ale) can range from pale and dry to dark and gooey.
  14. Crusader

    Crusader Initiate (179) Feb 4, 2011 Sweden

    Yeah, which gets to the apparent division between people who aren't interested in beer and drink lager beers, and those that are interested and drink craft ales.

    One would think that there exists a market out there for craft pilsners (and well made macro pilsners for that matter). But how do you reach them? If an interest in beer is associated with a preference for craft ales, then the market for craft pilsners would seem to be rather small. On the other hand, Samuel Adam's Boston Lager is one of the largest, if not the largest craft brand. The problem for craft pilsners to break through might be their color, since people who are interested in beers tend to view the color of pilsner malts unfavorably, and associate it with an AAL made from the big brewers. SABL offers an effective color que that tells the consumer that this is something different from what you're used to drinking (similar to the discussion we've had on amber lagers such as Yuengling, Shiner and Black Crown).

    With pilsners the color will not give the same clue as to what's different about it, and you either have to go by information, or by actually tasting the beer (and coughing up the money to do so). So no wonder that pilsners have become part of craft breweries year round offerings at a later stage, once the brewery has built up enough sales and cache to be able to venture off into more risky styles of beer with their brand name backing it up. There might be newer breweries who focus on lager beers from the get go and who include a pilsner in their regular line up from the get go, simply as a means of differentiating themselves and providing something "unique" inbetween the ale-centric craft breweries and their products. But the question remains on how to sell it and how to reach those who enjoy lagers and might enjoy a good pilsner. Perhaps the answer is as simple as time. With time more people will try craft beers, and more people will try the pilsner iterations that are being brewed, the higher demand will mean increased production and distribution, and then other breweries will pick up the style and make it their own. So the answer might be time and increasing the number of people in the category of beer drinkers who at least try craft beer (I would imagine that these people make up a larger share than what the volume share of craft beer would suggest).

    So the equivalent of 11 crowns (1,58 USD) per bottle of Jever, that's one crown less than they sell for here, so close to identical price. Slightly less than 10 crowns (1,37 USD) for a a bottle of domestic craft pilsner would be dirt cheap however compared to here.
  15. Crusader

    Crusader Initiate (179) Feb 4, 2011 Sweden

    I see, gotcha. I certainly would agree on that, although I feel as though the dark and high abv spectrum of lager is often the part which is promoted and approved of when discussions on lagers vs ales take place, and the pale and lower abv styles are styles which are either ignored or go unmentioned because they have such a poor reputation. Undeservingly so in my opinion. So I guess I advocate a bit extra for those styles of ill-repute ;).
  16. Zhiguli

    Zhiguli Aspirant (241) Jul 12, 2012 California

    Seems to be a bigger issue here in the states among beergeeks and and their macro drinking friends. You go to Spain or Italy and it's not even a debate. Everyone just drinks regional lagers and enjoys themselves, VEEEERY few seek out craft ale alternatives. I couldnt even find any at all my last 2 weeks in Spain. Saw a belgian at one of the 50 places i stopped in at, i think it was a Leffe. Didn't even care to look. Do as the locals do was plenty good.
  17. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Poo-Bah (2,568) Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania


    You have a number of interesting discussion topics:

    Beer Color

    Yup, there does seem to be a marketing ‘push’ to use a darker, amber color to differentiate lagers. I term these beers American Amber Adjunct Lagers for the case of Yuengling Lager, Budweiser Black Crown, Third Shift Lager, and Batch 19. I found it sort of ‘weird’ that Keith Villa decided to add crystal malt to his alleged Pre-Prohibition Style Lager since this was not the norm for American Lagers prior to Prohibition. My guess is that he added crystal malt to add some amber color as a marketing differentiator.

    US Craft Beer Drinkers vs. ‘Mainstream’ Beer Drinkers

    I think it is safe to say that Pilsners are not the ‘favorites’ of US craft beer drinkers. For every US craft brewed Pilsners there are many. many, many Pale Ales, IPAs etc beong brewed. So, is there economic incentive for US craft breweries to make Pilsners? It would seem not? I am in a unique situation that in SEPA there seems to be some German immigrant heritage which is somewhat encouraging to the making of craft Pilsner beers. When Ron and Bill started Victory Brewing in the mid-90s their vision was to brew beers they liked (they both had training in Germany). They thought that Victory Prima Pils would be their largest seller. Well, when they started their biggest seller was Hop Devil (an IPA). So, while Prima Pils is a good selling beer it was a surprise to Bill & Ron that a non-German beer of Hop Devil was the biggest seller. Given that IPAs are the biggest selling craft beer today it seem that Hop Devil met the market demand.

    But lagers (albeit non-craft lagers) are the biggest selling beers in the US: Bud/Bud Light, Miller Lite, Coors Light, etc. For those folks looking for an alternative to a BMC beer there is Yuengling Lager which is selling very well.

    So, what is the ‘right’ market for a Pilsner? Is it the US craft beer drinkers who seem to have an overwhelming preference for BIG ales? Is it the ‘mainstream’ drinkers who already have a desire for lagers (albeit lighter tasting lagers). I really don’t know the answer to that. From a US craft beer drinker’s perspective a Pilsner has an association to a beer like Miller Lite; how do you get past that? For the mainstream drinkers a properly made Pilsner has waaaay more taste that they are accustomed to.

    Hmmm, the marketing of Pilsners seems to be a vexing question.

    I personally am not losing any sleep over it. I homebrew my own Pilsners (CAP & Bohemian Pilsners) and I am lucky to live in the land of milk and honey: SEPA with lots of quality brewed Pilsners available to me.

  18. LambicPentameter

    LambicPentameter Meyvn (1,438) Aug 29, 2012 Michigan
    Beer Trader

    What you're saying is partly true. When I visited Spain and France, two countries that have a reputation for winemaking, this was largely what I found to be the case. There were a few beers, like Estrella Damm and Kronenbourg 1664, but hardly the variety that you'd find even at a moderate bar here in the States. I think this is because the culture is so engrained in the winemaking tradition that beer is seen mostly as somewhat of a changeup to the standard glass of wine. I've never been to Italy, but I'd imagine the idea is the same--wine is the dominant beverage of choice, let alone alcoholic beverage of choice.

    When I was in Belgium, England and the Netherlands, the situation was much different. Being countries without the same connection between wine and the culture, I found a great deal more variety of beers without even really seeking it out. The beer menus of the brasseries in Belgium would rival any craft beer pub here in the states, with multiple pages of beers and special glasses for each. England was similar, although I will say that in both cases, the vast beer menus were dominated by native brews. The Netherlands was better than Spain or France, but had a fair share of Belgian styles.

    Really, I think the distinction comes down, in part to context in which the beer is consumed. When it's just a carbonated, more refreshing changeup from the wine staple that is used with so many meals and occasions, a wide variety would go wasted. And the style that rises to the top is something that's light, easy drinking and about as far from wine in character as you can imagine.
  19. Zhiguli

    Zhiguli Aspirant (241) Jul 12, 2012 California

    It's the heat i guess. Spain and Italy are hot so they just drink the cold lagers. Honestly in my 2 weeks of jumping around spain i saw more people drinking beer than wine at tapas places or bars. And Estrella, while it owns Catalunya area, I didn't even have to drink as I was in central, southern spain. There were always regional lagers that i never heard of before that were popular. Cruzcampo and Mahou are the two i remember. I agree with you on UK, Netherlands, Belgium of course. Although I found England interesting. 95% of the beers i found casked at pubs were in the same general range of session ales. Which of course made total sense while there but doesn't translet when i'm here.
  20. steveh

    steveh Poo-Bah (1,800) Oct 8, 2003 Illinois

    Dark and gooey... I can't seem to find that descriptor in my copy of Eckhardt's Essentials of Beer Style. :D
  21. LambicPentameter

    LambicPentameter Meyvn (1,438) Aug 29, 2012 Michigan
    Beer Trader

    When I was there, I was in Barcelona (so Catalunya, basically) and then the Rioja wine region. In Barcelona, there was very little to drink besides wine and Estrella. In Rioja, the primary lager was Kronenbourg, perhaps because of the proximity to France (although Barcelona is close to France as well), but the dominant drink was wine. I'd guess that it makes a difference being IN one of the wine regions vs. in a metro area outside the actual wine region.

    I agree with your comment about England. We went to a few pubs while there and I remember thinking all of the beers were very similar--house ales with low ABV meant for drinking a few per sitting. I was a little surprised not to see more Sammy Smith, which is probably my favorite English beer producer. Of course, in hindsight that was probably a little bit silly, given how far to the North Tadcaster is in relation to London.
  22. Zhiguli

    Zhiguli Aspirant (241) Jul 12, 2012 California

    yea man, local is everything in europe. i kind of love that. makes travel so much more interesting.
    dar482 likes this.
  23. dar482

    dar482 Poo-Bah (3,446) Mar 9, 2007 New York
    Beer Trader

    Europe's lack of adjuncts is great. So many good options and you're always drinking something different in a different city.
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