When craft beer came to Louisville nearly a quarter century ago — back when it was commonly called “microbrew” — porters and pale ales were the standards. I don’t recall seeing many lagers, with Bluegrass Brewing Co.’s kölsch probably being the closest to one.
A lager beer takes longer to ferment, and for a smaller brewery that simply takes up too much fermenter space for too long. Besides, why brew something that tastes so much like Budweiser or Pacifico, right? Forget that the ingredients tend to be cheaper.
Well, there are well-done lagers and pilsners, and then there are modern, mass-produced ones, the ones we all grew up on — the so-called lawn mower beers that were, as the TV ads liked to remind us, less filling. Not to mention less flavorful.
But well-crafted lagers in Louisville have been making a comeback, coming full circle since the dawn of Prohibition. Goodwood Brewing was on the fore of this slowly-moving trend when it brought Louisville Lager to the market a couple of years ago. It was a more flavorful version of the stuff you would normally buy from a vendor at a ballgame.
Recently, in casual conversation, I mentioned the growing lager prevalence in craft beer, to which a friend said, “It’s the year of the lager.”
This finally resonated with me recently when Lexington’s West Sixth Brewing announced it would release a new Mexican lager in cans called Cerveza. Other than Louisville Lager, which initially was released in bottles, it was the first local lager/pilsner package release I could recall, at least in a while.
Cerveza really is much like what you’d expect from the aforementioned Pacifico or perhaps a Modelo. The brewery describes it as “crisp and pleasant with a cracker-like malt character, notes of corn and a low amount of hops to create a quenching and sessionable lager.”
They even suggest garnishing this 4.6-percent-ABV beer with a lime wedge.
“It’s so easy drinking that it’s one of our staff favorites,” West Sixth cofounder Ben Self said. “It’s one of those beers that will be perfect no matter what food you’re eating or activity it’s accompanying”.
It’s happening all over.
Brewers, perhaps in part due to consumer demand, are turning to these crisp, light styles that German brewers have been perfecting for hundreds of years. Hey, if people like them, why not? Sure, the barrel-aged, sour, quadruple IPAs have to be fun to experiment with and certainly are interesting to taste, but who doesn’t want an ice-cold, quaffable beer once in a while?
The New York Times in February featured the Boston-area NightShift Brewery, which recently began releasing lager beers. Part of the motivation on the part of brewer Michael Oxton was to have a beer his father-in-law, a Miller High Life devotee, would drink.
“There’s something very un-snobby about it,” Oxton told The Times.
Other local breweries are on board. Against the Grain Brewery has brewed several lagers, while New Albanian Brewing Co. has a dunkel (a dark lager) and released an imperial pilsner. Holsopple Brewing opened last year with an amber lager and now has Paula’s Pilsner as a regular. Apocalypse has its Cyanide Pils, Monnik Beer Co. has Hauck’s Pilsner and Akasha Brewing sells the revived Fehr’s lager.
Pretty much from the get-go, Gravely Brewing had its Sprockets, a German pilsner, and La Bamba, a Mexican lager that, yes, is served with a lime wedge like a Corona. Last week, La Bamba Negra, a toasty and refreshing version of La Bamba, was on tap along with a couple other lager-style beers. To brewer Cory Buenning, a lager enthusiast to the core, it’s a no-brainer to serve something like La Bamba or Sprockets.
“When you’re a brewery that only sells your own beer, you’re going to get people in who want a Bud Light,” Buenning said. “It’s better if you can make one yourself.”
Buenning said he still associates beer with being thirst-quenching and refreshing and that describes a light, lager-style beer all the way. A German pilsner like Sprockets offers flavor to go with drinkability. But don’t call it a trend.
“There’s a reason these types of beers have been around as long as they have,” he said. “I always thought they were going to come back.”
Besides, he added, “There are a lot of brewers who drink lager.”
Generations of German, lager-loving brewers can’t be wrong.