Tag Archives: Sam Adams

Let Us Now Praise Famous Lagers: Your Saturday Six-Pack (Vol.3)

2015 is barely four weeks old, and already we’ve seen the craft beer scene light up with plenty of fireworks. Perplexingly, Tony Magee of Lagunitas filed a trademark lawsuit against Sierra Nevada, only to back down after being “seriously schooled” by the good folks on Twitter. About a week before that hue and cry, a blogger in the New York State capitol region ignited a firestorm of his own, claiming that “[f]lights are dumb, and you’re dumb if you like them.IMG_9985 Needless to say, not everyone agreed. Just last week, news broke that Anheuser-Busch InBev has continued its craft beer shopping spree, scooping up Seattle’s Elysian a mere three months after the ink had dried on its deal to acquire 10 Barrel Brewing of Bend, Oregon. I suppose Elysian will have to quietly discontinue its Loser Pale Ale, or at least erase the “Corporate Beer Still Sucks” tagline from the packaging.

Less dramatic but no less significant, Andy Crouch’s article on Sam Adams registers Jim Koch’s amazement and displeasure that hipster millenials, concerned as they apparently are with “authenticity,” have abandoned the old-school pioneers of the craft beer scene, especially those erstwhile pioneers who head some of the largest American-owned breweries in the land. Crouch notes that Koch’s iconic beer brands have become so run-of-the-mill among thrill seekers that an increasing number of bars have opted not to sell the Boston Lager that was instrumental in floating the rising tide of craft beer.100-4032_IMG

Now, even if I’m not the biggest fan of many of the seventy-five-odd beers that Sam Adams has rolled out over the years –– Cherry Wheat cough syrup, anyone? –– I’d be the last person to suggest that we shouldn’t expand our gustatory horizons. But what concerns me, defender of lagers that I am, is the alacrity with which many a commenter discussing Crouch’s article dismisses Sam Adams on the basis of its ostensibly staid flagship lager. (To be sure, Sam Adams was not without its many defenders on the long list of comments to Crouch’s Boston Magazine article and on the even longer comment threads on BeerAdvocate.) One commenter expressed frustration with Boston Beer Company, the maker of Sam Adams, for putting so much marketing weight behind Boston Lager at the expense of the other beers in its vast portfolio. Another person who commented directly on Crouch’s article was more pointed: “To call Sam Adams Lager ‘exceptional’ is an impossible stretch of the imagination. Sure it’s better than Bud, but that’s like saying river water is better than ocean water.”

I have a suggestion.

Fellow imbibers-in-arms, let us stop this fruitless denigration of lager. Let us not be shy in asserting that subtlety and nuance can also be a mark of quality. Let us distinguish between quality and an indiscriminate taste for attributes such as bitterness, sourness, and hoppiness. And let us now praise lagers in all their yellow, amber, copper, black, dry, hoppy, sweet, and smoky glory.100-4036_IMGFor this edition of the Saturday Six-Pack, I’ll include six different lager styles and mix things up between the U.S. and Central Europe, but I’ll refrain from including some of the more compelling versions of Munich light lagers I’ve found in North America in today’s six-pack. You just won’t find them far beyond the precincts where they’re brewed. Two such beers, should you find yourself in Kansas City or Austin, are these: KC Bier Co.’s Munich Helles, and the Austin Beer Garden Brewing Company’s Hell Yes Munich light lager. Simplicity as sublimity.

On to it.

Pilsener: Hans’ Pils, Real Ale (Texas)

When people think of the long tradition of lager brewing in the U.S., chances are their first thoughts are of Milwaukee. There, German immigrants with names like Schlitz and Müller (Miller) unleashed a tide of then-fashionable lagers from the shores of Lake Michigan. Not to be forgotten, Texas, too, welcomed a large contingent of German immigrants in the nineteenth century.Real Ale - Hans Pils It should come as no surprise, then, that Texas is also home to innumerable lagers that aren’t called Shiner.

Hans’ Pils from Real Ale is but one fine example of the lagers that keep Texans cool during the humid summer months. As with any well-crafted Pilsener, this crisply spicy beer with its subterranean bready sweetness is not the kind of beer that calls forth a stream of descriptors. Marked by herbal hops and a mineral austerity, Hans’ Pils is less like the softly floral Pilsners of southern Germany, paying tribute instead to the bracingly dry Pilsners of northern Germany. Bonus points: Hans’ Pils took home a silver medal at the 2012 Great American Beer Festival.

Czech Dark Lager: Czechvar Dark Lager, Czechvar (Bohemia)

If you can appreciate the malty richness of a Munich Dunkel and the subtle smoky roast coffee character of a Schwarzbier, chances are you’ll enjoy Czechvar’s dry and hop-inflected interpretation of a style we don’t see that often on North American bottle shop shelves.Czechvar - DarkLager 6er Czechvar began exporting their dark lager across the Atlantic in 2012, so with any luck we’ll start seeing more Czech dark lager. Czechvar’s garnet-limned black beer glistens like onyx in the glass, and a whiff of smoke wreaths complex malt aromas of chocolate and walnut-like nuttiness. Taut and ascetic, the woody and earthy tones anchor dark fruit notes of prune, lending the typically floral-spicy Saaz hops a more brooding cast en route to a softly medicinal herbal licorice finish.

Vienna Lager: LTD Lager Series Vienna-Style Lager, Full Sail (Oregon)

The label of this, the fifth recipe in Full Sail’s LTD Lager Series, throws down the gauntlet for those who love amber ales, proclaiming that what’s in the bottle is “a Vienna-style Lager so crazy good, you might convert to Lagerism.” Full Sail’s on to something here with this emphatically malty beer.

One of the classic world beer styles, Vienna Lager was once at the forefront of a new breed of lighter-coloured beers when it was first introduced by brewing legend, Anton Dreher, in 1841. Vienna Lager gets its distinctive dark golden to amber-orange hue from the kilned malt bearing the same city name. Darker than British pale ale malt yet not quite as dark as Munich malt, the light kilning process brings out a toasty, slightly fruity sweetness that dries out in the finish.

These days, Vienna Lager is a rare bird indeed in any craft beer taxonomy. As Michael Jackson once quipped, “Like Vienna’s role as an imperial capital, its style of beer seems to have faded as abruptly as the last waltz” (Jackson, 1988, 192). An unfortunate state of affairs, this lack of popularity. Full Sail - LTD Vienna

Full Sail to the rescue. And full steam ahead at that, with a beverage rich in toasted bread and toffee, malted milk, malt ball candies, nougat, and subtle dried cherry notes, all undergirded by faintly perceptible earthy, musky noble hops. Despite its silky sweetness, Full Sail’s Vienna Lager still manages a relatively dry finish reminiscent of marmalade toast and dried apricot, thanks in part to the unobtrusive herbal-spicy hop component.

Schwarzbier: Black Bavarian-Style Lager, Sprecher (Wisconsin)

Sprecher has more than ably carried the torch of Milwaukee’s storied German lager past, and at a price so reasonable as to make many other craft beers look embarrassingly expensive. If you have friends who swear they don’t like dark beers because dark beers are “too heavy,” this ruby-tinted deep brown-black beverage is the perfect remedy to such intractable conditions.Sprecher - Black Lager Smoky dark-roasted malts with just a touch of coffee and dark chocolate meet earthy licorice and dark caramel in this crisply playful glass of good cheer. With its long, mildly smoky cherry-plum finish, you might find yourself in the mood to fire up your grill in the dead of winter.

Rauchbier: Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Märzen, Brauerei Heller (Bavaria)

If that tantalizing undercurrent of smokiness in Sprecher’s Schwarzbier has piqued your interest, you’ll be happy (or perhaps slightly disturbed) to learn that Aecht Schlenkerla’s Märzen ramps up the beechwood-smoked malt intensity to campfire levels. Smoked meat, bacon, and even aromas of smoked oysters appear front and center alongside a steely minerality. Who said lagers were boring? Inhale more deeply and the rich, toasty dark cherry calling card of Munich malt will leave no doubt that this is a well-crafted Märzen through and through.Aecht Schlenkerla - Maerzen II You’d be forgiven for thinking that a beer of such quixotic aromatic density would have the deftness of lead on the palate, but nothing could be further from the truth. Aecht Schlenkerla’s Märzen is clean and smooth, and a dash of minty eucalyptus hop flavours near the finish adds crispness to this already deep and complex beer. A true classic that every beer drinker should try at least once in his or her life.

Doppelbock: Korbinian, Weihenstephan (Bavaria)

Weihenstephan - KorbinianAll I’m going to say is that Doppelbocks are among my favourite beers, and Korbinian is one of my favourite Doppelbocks. Don’t drink this one cold, or it won’t be among your favourite beers.

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So what ever became of that Sam Adams Boston Lager that touched off these musings? Grab one off the shelf and drink it alongside the other Vienna Lager in your six-pack. Sam Adams’ Hallertauer Mittelfrüh hop showcase really isn’t half bad at all, and its dry-hopped brightness relative to the Full Sail might even appeal to the hopheads in the crowd.

Related Tempest Articles

Every Day Is Craft Lager Day at Kansas City Bier Company

A Bavarian in Texas: Franconia Brewing Company

Drinking Lager in an Age of Extreme Taste

The MaltHead Manifesto

Images

With the exception of label images, photos by F.D. Hofer.

© 2015 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.

Every Day Is Craft Lager Day at Kansas City Bier Company

It’s that time of year again –– time to dust off your steins and head to your nearest purveyor of fine lagers to celebrate Craft Lager Day.

But where to go to find a decent lager outside of a well-stocked bottle shop? After all, not too many craft breweries outside of regions with historically high rates of German immigration feature lagers in their lineups. For starters, lagers suffer from an undeserved image problem on this continent. On top of that, lagers are notoriously difficult to brew. The clean fermentation profile of lager yeast leaves nowhere for faults to hide.KansasCity BierCo (Logo) And from a purely monetary perspective, lagers tie up fermenters for much longer than ales –– weeks if not months longer.

If you’re lucky enough to live in or near Kansas City, you may already have heard of Kansas City Bier Company. If you haven’t, make your way posthaste to the leafy southern precincts of the city for an afternoon or evening in this chic oasis of German-style food and beer. Don’t live in KC? Mark Kansas City Bier Company on your itinerary if you’ll be passing anywhere near Kansas over the holiday season and beyond. It’s that good.

Before we step into KCBC’s airy taproom, though, let’s pause to consider what distinguishes a lager from an ale. No worries if you don’t know – you’re not alone. According a the Samuel Adams infographic compiled for last year’s National Craft Lager Day (see below), sixty-three percent of Americans over the age of twenty-one do not know the difference between lager and ale.

Cold storage temperatures constitute part of the difference between lagers and ales. (The German verb “lagern” means to store.) Historically, this meant tucking barrels of beer away in frigid alpine caves to let the beer mature.IMG_1874 The other difference has to do with yeast, which, in turn, is related to fermentation and lagering temperatures. Isolated in the nineteenth century, Saccharomyces pastorianus (formerly carlsbergensis) is the yeast that yields lager. These strains prefer cooler fermentation temperatures (5-13º C; 40-55º F), and the resulting beer requires a period of cold-conditioning. In comparison with their ale cousins, subtlety is a typical hallmark of good lagers. Notably, though, subtle does not mean “fizzy, yellow, and bland,” the majority of mass-produced lagers notwithstanding.

In the days before the tide of fizzy yellow liquid swept the globe, Bavaria was the center of lager production. As Horst Dornbusch asserts in his Prost! The Story of German Beer, “Bavarians are the world’s lager pioneers.” And indeed, when we think of the lagers ranging from Munich Helles, Dunkel, and Märzen to Bock, Doppelbock, Schwarzbier, and Rauchbier, all of these styles were perfected in Bavaria, even if some of them originated elsewhere. What unites these kinds of lagers is an emphasis on rich, bready, and sometimes sweet maltiness that sets them apart from crisper and hoppier lager siblings, the northern German Pils, Westhphalian Dortmunder Export, and Bohemian Pilsner.

Fortunately for the thirsty malt devotee who also happens to be fond of lagers, KCBC excels at virtually all of the Bavarian-inflected styles of lagers, with some well-crafted Weissbiers thrown in for good measure.IMG_1557 Not an IPA in sight here.

On that balmy Sunday afternoon in September when I stopped in for a meal of Bratwurst and German-style potato salad to accompany my beer, I met Jürgen Hager. Hager, a gregarious Bavarian, is one of the two principals behind Kansas City Bier Company. The delicious potato salad recipe is his mother’s. But Hager doesn’t brew the beers. That task falls to Steve Holle, Hager’s long-time friend and Kansas City native who studied German in college, fell in love with German beer, and eventually went on to learn the art of brewing in Germany. All the better for Kansas City that he decided to stake his reputation on these oft-neglected German styles of beer.

After a few more drinks and a tour of KCBC’s cavernous production facility, Hager confesses that American-style IPA is one of his favourite beers (delectable irony there). But he quickly adds that the beer of his hometown, Munich, holds a special place in his heart. So we’ll start our tasting with KCBC’s Munich Helles. Pale straw-yellow in colour, this richly bready beer evinces a graham cracker-like sweetness buttressed by a clean, crisp minerality. The delicately spicy-herbal hop presence is suggestive, by turns, of cedar and of muscat grapes. Exquisitely balanced.

As for their southern German-style Pils, the first line of my notes sums things up perfectly: “Crazy good!” What makes this beer so? Its lively spicy-floral hop character with but the slightest trace of rose, for one. Its slightest hint of malt sweetness, for another. Smoothly bitter, this effervescent Pils finishes with a harmonious interplay of fresh almonds, spice, and white raisins. Round yet crisp.

For those who like their lagers heavier, Kansas City Bier Company brews a heady Doppelbock that exudes enough complexity to switch any adjective addict into overdrive.IMG_1558 Rich, toasted bread crust, cocoa, caramelized sugar, creamy malted milk, and dark cherry and raisin-plum weave a colourful tapestry of aromas. The slightest trace of herbal tea-accented hops makes its presence felt from time to time, lending a hand to the toasty dark bread and brandy-like alcohol in their efforts to ensure that this otherwise tolerably sweet beer finishes relatively dry.

KCBC also brews a Festbier that took me right back to the leafy beer gardens of the Augustiner Bräustuben in Salzburg. Their divine Weizenbock is in the tradition of light-coloured, honey-accented Weizenbocks. KCBC uses Andechs yeast to brew a Hefeweizen of which they’re justifiably proud. And their mildly bitter Dunkel is redolent of fresh dark bread with a dusting of cocoa powder. All in all, Kansas City Bier Company is quite the ideal brewery for this lager advocate and writer of MaltHead Manifestos. Two Tankards.

Related Articles

Drinking Lager in an Age of Extreme Taste

The MaltHead Manifesto

Celebrating Craft Lager Day with a Landbier from Kapsreiter

Odds and Ends

Yet another in a long line of “feast days” exalting this or that style of beer, National Craft Lager Day appears to have links with Sam Adams. No matter. Lager deserves more recognition. And besides, the folks at Sam Adams have rewarded us with this useful infographic.

Sam Adams CraftLagerDay Info 1

Images

With the exception of the Kansas City Bier Company logo and the Sam Adams infographic, all photos by F.D. Hofer.

© 2014 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.

Celebrating Craft Lager Day with a Landbier from Kapsreiter

Grab your tankards and beer steins, folks, it’s National Craft Lager Day! Judging by what I could glean from the chatter circulating on the interwebs, this latest in the line of XYZ beer days appears to have been dreamt up by the marketing department of Sam Adams.

No matter. Lager deserves more respect than it gets on this continent where craft beer enthusiasts sometimes confuse IBU levels and high-octane ABV with quality. In the rush to embrace the newest discovery, or the boldest, most extreme rendition of a style, novice and veteran craft beer drinkers alike have a tendency to overlook the subtleties of lager. If you need convincing on this point, BeerAdvocate’s ongoing “Top 250” is a particularly instructive read, as are many of the “Best of” beer lists that appear with soporific regularity. It doesn’t help matters much either that lager suffers from an image problem of continental proportions owing to its association with Bud, Miller, and Coors.

The result? Lager gets left out in the cold.Ice Cold Beer

Bad puns aside, raise your hand if you know what distinguishes a lager from an ale. No worries if you don’t – you’re not alone. Yours truly used to consume all beers with equally gleeful abandon until relatively recently. And according to the Samuel Adams infographic compiled for National Craft Lager Day (see below), sixty-three percent of Americans over the age of twenty-one do not know the difference between lager and ale. (Thirty-seven percent apparently do. Not bad at all.)

Cold “lagering” temperatures constitute part of the difference between lagers and ales. “Lagern” in German means to store. Historically, this meant stowing beer away for a stretch in frigid alpine caves. The other difference has to do with yeast, which, in turn, is related to fermentation and lagering temperatures. Isolated in the nineteenth century, Saccharomyces pastorianus (formerly carlsbergensis) is the yeast that yields lager; Saccharomyces cervesiae is lager’s opposite number in the ale world. Lager yeast prefers cooler fermentation temperatures (5-13º C; 40-55º F), and requires a period of cold-conditioning. Thanks to the yeast and the longer process, lager is sometimes smooth, sometimes crisp, and nearly always clean-tasting if done well. Ale yeast prefers warmer temperatures (18-22º C; 64-72º F), and the resulting beer is ready to drink within a shorter period of time. Those fruity aromas reminiscent of dark cherry, plum, apple, pear, apricot, or dried fruit? That’s likely the particular strain of S. cerevisae yeast showing its character.

The takeaway: lagers are (usually) more subtle than their ale cousins. And subtle does not necessarily mean “fizzy, yellow, and bland,” the majority of mass-produced lagers notwithstanding.

To celebrate the “canonization” of lager with its very own feast day, I’m going to deliberately ignore the “national” modifier of Craft Lager Day to introduce you to a style of beer that doesn’t often wash up on these North American shores: Landbier (“country beer”). Landbier is an easy-drinking, everyday table beer that is hopped with a light hand. It comes in filtered or unfiltered versions, is often golden-yellow, and steps over to the dark side from time to time. ABV is in the modest 4.8%-5.3% range, making the beer a quaffable reward for a hard day’s work.

Kapsreiter Landbier hails from the Upper Austrian baroque frontier town of Schärding overlooking the Inn River. Kapsreiter Landbier CoasterThis country beer’s crystal-clear honey-golden colour hints at the toasty malt and nuanced honey sweetness within. Aromas of country bread, Swiss milk caramel, and fresh cream give way to earthy herbal-fennel accents suggestive of hops. Creamy and of medium body, the toasted malt and caramel interweave with nuts and mild earthy licorice, and a touch of apple carries through to the pleasant almond-apple finish. Balanced and harmonious, mildly hopped yet deceptively rich and satisfying, this is not a beverage that will hit you over the head. But at a manageable 5.3% ABV, it would make an agreeable picnic companion underneath the canopy of a chestnut tree on a breezy spring day. Drink this one cool but not cold, and think wistfully of April.

Sam Adams CraftLagerDay Info 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

© 2013 F. D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.