Brewer’s notes: Lagers
Breweries in Germany – especially in the beer-drinking heartland of Bavaria – make incredible beer, and there are countless places and occasions where drinking vast quanitities of beer is either an important ingredient or the primary focus of the time or place. This can be tremendous fun; enormous mugs are filled and drained, songs are sung, arms find their friendly way around shoulders, and friendships are made or renewed.
Bavarian beers are mostly lagers: Pilsner, Helles, Dunkle, Bock and others. There are exceptions, but more than 90% of German beer is some sort of lager, and this makes sense to me. Lagers are kind of an engineer’s beer; superior lagers are made to exacting standards, using the best ingredients and scrupulous processes. Making a world-class pilsner doesn’t involve deciding on a lark to add cherries, or lavender, or fermenting with a spontaneous yeast culture. It’s an art that requires precision.
Germans recognize that precision. Because the brewers there focus on a relatively small number of styles, and most Germans are beer drinkers, everyone knows exactly what those styles are supposed to taste like, and they will mince no words if there are defects in the flavor. The flavor must be clean, the beer have the right appearance, the foam needs to be sufficient and lasting, or the brewery will suffer lost sales.
I find lager brewing grounding. I’m an engineer by training, and lager beers appeal to that part of my being. In a lager, if I use great ingredients they will show. If I make no mistakes in the process, and add give the yeast the right conditions to work it’s magic, the beer will be exactly what it’s supposed to be: a delicious showpiece for the flavors embued by quality hops and malts. There are shortcuts one can take, but only at the expense of the beer’s quality.
In the brewery, we spend a lot of time filling barrels and foeders, wrangling different yeast strains that can infuse the beer with funky, fruity, clovey flavors. These are beers where the interactions of wood, and time, and various microbes can create magic that can be hard to repeat. And we love these kinds of beers, but there is something nice about a brewing a nice clean lager and aging it to perfection. We intend to always keep a lager or two on tap.