Living the Lager Life in an Ale World
The majority of American craft beer can be placed into two categories: ales and lagers. Lagers are beers made with bottom-fermenting yeast that prefer lower temperatures. Synonymous with a crisp and clean taste, lagers can be deliciously paired with food or enjoyed individually as a refreshing beer that is full of flavor.
“Lager” comes from the German language and translates loosely to the word “storage.” Lager beers are typically stored (conditioned) at cooler temperatures for far longer than ales, which means lager brewers don’t always have the ability or space to turn out a new beer every few weeks.
Lager beers are as multi-dimensional as ales, and the brewers who focus on them are creating flavor profiles that are breaking stereotypes and exciting craft beer fanatics all over the country.
Check out this handful of small and independent American craft brewers who are devoted to lagers:
Heater Allen Brewery | McMinnville, OR
With the goal of creating the best Bohemian-style pilsener possible, head brewer Rick Allen started his niche brewery with his wife to fill what he thought was a part of the market that had been left void. Starting on a small 20-gallon system in 2007, Heater Allen recently upgraded to a 15-barrel brew house in 2014, and continues to expand their distribution outside of Oregon.
Jack’s Abby | Framingham, MA
Jack’s Abby was put together by three brothers: Jack, Eric and Sam Hendler. Their lager brewery is a true nod to the traditional brewing practices of the past, with an emphasis on American brewing innovation. Just celebrating their third anniversary, Jack’s Abby has seen tremendous growth and won many awards, including gold for their double India ale lager, Mass Rising, at the Great American Beer Festival in 2013 and gold for their Baltic-style porter, Framinghammer, at the 2014 World Beer Cup.
Little Harpeth Brewing | Nashville, TN
This brewery focuses on crafting traditional German lagers with their local community and the environment in mind. Their mission is to preserve the past, enjoy the present and sustain the future of brewing in Nashville. That should be pretty easy to do with their line up of beers including Chicken Scratch American Pilsener, Stax Black Lager and Double Paddle, their 10 percent ABV doppelbock.
Orlison Brewing Company | Airway Heights, WA
Orlison Brewing Company was founded in 2009 with intent to convert ale fans into true craft lager believers. Variety and quality are at the forefront of the Orlison line up. From the sessionable Havanüther light pilsener, to the India Pale Lager brewed with nine different hop varieties, all the way to the roasty and unique Ünderground stout lager, any beer lover is bound to find something they will enjoy.
The Trapp Family Lodge Brewery | Stowe, VT
A little farther north, in Stowe, Vt., a lager brewery operates with a deep connection to European brewing techniques. The Trapp Family Lodge Brewery creates American lagers with German-grown malt and hop varieties. Brewmaster JP Williams sources their water from an artesian well on the property, which has a very similar character to Austrian spring water—deemed ideal for brewing European-style lagers.
These are just a few examples of breweries who are taking the road less traveled and committing their businesses to making quality lagers. With the amount of breweries set to open in the near future (about 2,000 according to the Brewers Association) , it’s a safe bet we’ll see other lager-focused breweries popping up in the near future.
What’s your favorite American craft lager?
Grant Puza is the current Craft Beer Program Intern at the Brewers Association. A Certified Beer Server and homebrewer, Grant spends most of his time educating himself further in the world of craft beer while working at The Post Brewing Company. If not visiting a local brewery, you might also catch him somewhere in the woods backpacking, rock climbing or snowboarding.