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Hops and Lagers

Hops-forward lagers may be the last genuinely unexplored area of beer composition and style: let’s enjoy it and help define it.

Josh Weikert Oct 12, 2016 - 15 min read

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When we think about “hoppy lagers,” traditionally, the only one that really comes to mind is the Pilsner. Both the classic Czech and German Pilsners are moderately hoppy compared to other lagers—but can we really, in a beer world that routinely sees beers with almost 100 IBUs and all late or dry hopping, call those beers “hoppy”? Only if we accept that the lager family simply doesn’t do hoppy in that way.

However, for about ten years, brewers have been pushing the limits of what “hoppy” can look like in a lager, and the result is a new crop of high-IBU, heavily hops-flavored lagers that provide a distinct stage on which brewers can showcase hops. The trick, as with nearly all beers, is knowing how to use the ingredients to hit the target at which you’re aiming—and what will reward your palate once the beer hits it. When it comes to hoppy lagers, you need to consider the unique flavor character of lager yeasts, the way in which lager yeast fermentation will change how you use hops in the process, and what it is you hope to get out of that process.

A Clean Slate

Fermenting any beer with lager yeast tends to create a cleaner, less-muddled flavor profile, which allows the other ingredients to shine through. Historically, this has usually referred to malt: whether it’s the “Pils malt showcase” of the Munich Helles, the rich melanoidins of a Bock, or the oily-rich anise of a Baltic Porter, lagers have traditionally been malty beers. Heck, that’s why Pilsners stand out so much within that family! But nothing is stopping brewers from using that clean slate to showcase hops that heretofore have been used only in American ales or only in limited quantities. Yet while there’s nothing stopping them, there are some considerations that need to be brought to bear.

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