With all the hops bombs, imperials, and sours out there garnering the majority of beer-lovers’ attention, a lot of people might ask why somebody would order a lager—a “simple” beer—when you can have fruit and flavor and tartness and hops and imperial ABV and all the visceral reactions that result (you know what I’m talking about) in the 9,000 other styles out there? What many may not realize is how many styles of lagers there actually are, how versatile they are when it comes to food pairings (and cooking with them), and how much fun they can be to brew.
So what makes a lager a lager? While most ales are fermented at room temperature-ish (or even warm), lagers are fermented and conditioned cold (a.k.a. lagered). Traditionally, they were lagered for several months in cellars or caves, but recently, technology has allowed for a month-long production cycle for breweries (and the point goes to science for this round). However, within the lager style are several types of recipes and processes, and once you dig deeper into the nitty gritty of it, you’ll hopefully come to appreciate lager as not just a “simple” beer, but as a beer whose end product is by no means super fancy even though it conversely has a more complex production process.
Styles of Lager
For a moment now, I’m going to get all Forrest Gump on everyone because there just are so many styles of lager to appreciate. There’s the Pilsner, which has “sub” styles: European, German, Czech, and some American variations. There’s Kölsch, which is cloudy, a bit fruity but a lot hoppy and starts out with a warm fermentation (as opposed to a cool one, which is typical of the style) before it’s lagered at cold temperatures. There’s also the international pale lager, which you’ll typically find in a clear or green bottle. There’s American pale lager, which many lovingly refer to as “old man beer.” (Fun fact: at my last family reunion, which had some “old men” in attendance, we had our first annual Old Man Beer Tasting so we “young folk” could become acquainted with the classics—and we loved them! Mostly.) Hoppy lagers, also known as IPL, are, as the name suggests, very hoppy versions of the lager. And then there are the darker versions of the style, which include dark and amber lagers, altbier, Schwarzbier, Munich Dunkel, Oktoberfest/Marzen, Baltic porter, Bock, and Doppelbock. And within all those styles are even more variations!
If you want to geek out further on the topic, we have an excellent in-depth style guide to check out here.
Some Lagers to Start With
There are so many lagers out in the wild, and without some guidance, you might not know what you’re getting into when you’re staring at a wall of them at your beer store. Never fear. We have a pretty amazing secret weapon at our disposal: our blind tasting panel.
I’ll get you started with ten of our top-rated lagers, but because there are so many styles of lagers out there, I encourage you to check out our lager reviews. Read through the various styles and see what reviewers said about each one to see if it fits what you personally like about beers. You might be surprised!
Cooking with Lager
Say you have a few bottles of lager in your fridge, and you want to experiment with some cooking. Great! Lagers add a really delicious bitterness to a dish, and depending on the type you select, you can play with some flavors a bit, too. Lager can add some unique textures to your dishes, especially when you’re using it for a batter for fish, chicken, or veggies. I’m personally a huge fan of using lagers when I’m frying up some fish and chips or when I’m making a kickass cheese dip or soup.
Lucky for us, we have some excellent recipes created just for Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine® that use lager for either flavor or texture. Each recipe has some suggested beer pairings. Bon appetite! And Prost!
Lager Citrus Cured Shrimp & Crab Ceviche is a delicious dip you can serve as an appetizer.
Drunken Steak Tacos and Alamosa Stripe Bass Tostadas with Lager Tomatillo Salsa are two Southwest-inspired dishes that use Mexican lager and Vienna lager (which are really the same thing, but that’s a story for another day), respectively.
And for a hearty side dish, you’ll absolutely want to try the Grilled Potato Salad!
Get 84 new recipes made with beer as well as successful cooking and pairing tips from Tired Hands Brewing and learn to brew with seasonal ingredients with beer recipes from Scratch Brewing in Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine®’s 2016 issue of Cooking With Beer. Order your copy today!
Brewing a Lager
For our homebrewers (and those who are brew-curious), we have great lager recipes for you to try. For those who haven’t tried to brew a lager yet and are intimated, don’t be. Yes, there are a few things you’ll do differently than when brewing an ale, and and yes, you’ll need a few extra pieces of equipment (one of the beauties of homebrewing is that you can do a lot on a dime, or drop some serious cash if you really want to). None of this is so intimidating, however, that you should rule out brewing this style completely. We have a more detailed explanation of some of these differences, so read up before you get started.
When it’s go time, here are some lager and Pilsner recipes that pro brewers have generously shared with us.
Enjoy National Lager Day!
A Czech, a German, and an American Walk into a Bar: Pilsners in Context
Thanks to a few drain-poured barrels of bad ale, Pilsners were born and became the most popular beer style in the world, showcasing the flavor potential of hops long before the first IPAs came on the scene, but giving brewers no place to hide faults.