Lager is one of the most popular styles of beer on Earth. It’s drank everywhere from Japan to Australia, from Africa to North America. Most lagers drank today are mainstream beers. Unfortunately, these beers are a pale imitation of the lagers available today. So, I’d like to introduce you to the different lager styles available to you.

The word lager comes from the German word lagern, meaning ‘to store.’ This is what the Bavarians did in the middle ages. They stored beer in cool, dark caves during the summer. Beer stored and fermented this way developed a better ability to keep during the summer. The beer also became clearer than ale, thanks to the yeast’s ability to drop out of suspension. Today, thanks to the Germans and the Czech Republic we have a wide variety of lagers to enjoy.
Today’s lagers stem from the Pilsner brought to us from the Czech Republic. Czech pilsners tend to be a light golden color with a rounded, sweet flavor. The aroma is of floral Czech hops. Czech pilsner is one of the tastiest, most refreshing lagers I’ve had the pleasure to enjoy. German lagers are a variation on the Czech pilsner. They tend to be a pale straw color by comparison. They also have a thinner body and drier finish that tends to accentuate their hop bitterness.

Next stop on our tour brings us a style called helles, which comes from the German word for pale. A shade lighter than pilsner, helles takes a step away from other lagers and focuses more on malt than hops. As a result, helles has less bitterness and hop aroma than other lagers. Instead, it has a distinct bready flavor and a faintly caramel maltiness in the background. Trust me, those flavors and aromas come together brilliantly.

The city of Dortmund brings us another lager known as dortmunder export. Dortmunder export is a bit darker than pilsner, tending towards a golden honey color. Again, this beer doesn’t focus on hop bitterness and aroma. It goes instead for an assertive maltiness. It’s a little more alcoholic than other lagers, clocking in at 5.5%. dortmunder is full bodied with a sweet palate and a crisp, dry finish. Search your beer store for a brand called DAB original.

Before the advent of modern malting technology, most beers were pretty dark. When pale malts and lager became available, the Germans didn’t rush to combine the two. Today, these dark lagers, known as dunkel or dunkles are a deep reddish color with a tan colored head. Some of the malts used are lightly roasted or stewed. This produces caramel, toffee, coffee and chocolate flavors. Add surprising depth and a hint of something sweet and nutty and you have a complex beer without being heavy or cloying. Dunkel has just enough bitterness to balance against the malt and very little hop aroma.

Before the days of refrigeration stronger beers like marzen were brewed in March and laid down until harvest. They emerge form storage bronze in color, smooth and with a rounded, slightly sweet palate. Marzen also enjoys flavors of toffee and spice with enough bitterness to balance the malt. clocking in at 5.5 percent alcohol, it’s stronger than other pale lagers but not so strong as bock. Overall, Marzen is one of the more complex and enjoyable lagers on the market.

Where most lagers are pale, well rounded and refreshing, bock is full bodied and malty. they’re almost the exact opposite of traditional lagers. Bock is usually balanced towards a strong maltiness with 6-7 percent alcohol. Bock comes with a complex flavor full of caramel, toasted bread and a dry finish. In the glass it pours out anywhere from copper to a rich, chocolate brown. Bock is definitely bold and assertive, a great beer to have in the winter next to a roaring fire.

Finally, we come to the last stop in our tour through the world of lager: schwarzbier. Schwarzbier is German for black beer and this should give you some hint of its color. Held up against the light, stout is just dark but schwarzbier is downright pitchy in its blackness. Enjoy schwarzbier for its roasted coffee flavor, smoothness and bitter finish.

And with this, we finish our tour. I could go on all day about lager, but that would take an encyclopedia of a book and quite frankly, I don’t have that kind of time.


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