When it comes to craft beer enthusiasts, I know far too many who don’t love lagers, heck any people don’t even mildly appreciate them. I admit I had this problem for a while myself, but I’ve slowly come around. After discovering my love of lagers, I’ve tried to proselytize others to love lagers but have found surprising reluctance. This reluctance from folks who’ve I’ve converted to enjoying things as wild as sours got me pondering. The result of that pondering is three ideas to try to understand why the hate?
I couldn’t come across many hard numbers on this but did find the below chart from back in 2011. Beyond the hard numbers, the lack of popularity of craft lagers is evident with a trip to any better beer store. Just look around the shop and see all the IPAs, wheats, stouts, and sours vs. the small selection of lagers. Another way of looking at this is that out of all the breweries in Cincinnati only three regularly make lagers, and I include Sam Adams in that number.
Why the hate?
1) Clockwork Lager
I think the prime reason is that we’ve been conditioned to love lagers, then over conditioned to lust for them, resulting in our hate. Budweiser, Miller, Coors, and others have shoved flavorless light (or, worse yet, lite) lagers down our throats for decades. Trying to convince us that this is what “beer” is supposed to taste like. I think this long-term advertising, or more bluntly put brainwashing, has resulted in a Clockwork Orange effect among those who have broken from its grasp. Now many beer enthusiast harbor an intense dislike of anything that resembles a lager, mass-produced or not.
2) Unexciting compared to a tropical fruit Gose
My second conclusion is that no matter what I’d like to believe, or convince people of, lagers just aren’t that exciting. A malty, floral, maybe slightly spicy lager can’t compete on the level of tongue tingling excitement with something like a stout with vanilla beans, cinnamon, cocoa nibs, and habaneros.
3) Harder & Less Profitable
Lastly, lagers are a less financially sound decision for breweries. They are harder to brew because a lager will show off any flaws in the brewing process. Lagers are more time-consuming than IPAs because they have to be lagered—fermented and stored at cold temperatures before packaging—for weeks to months where an IPA finishes out in a week or two. And, as I’ve said and has prompted this article, craft beer drinkers are less likely to drink them. So why should a craft brewery spend so much more time making a more delicate product that won’t excite customers?
If you have another reason I missed, join in on the conversation in the comments below. Now then let’s move on to the elevator pitch about…
4 Reasons to Love Lagers!
1) All around tasty beverage
Plain and simple lagers are delicious and refreshing drinks. The total market share they occupy is plenty enough proof of this. If they were bad or disgusting, no one would drink them, no matter the advertising powers at play. Budweiser and Miller Lite are not bad beers; they’re just not exciting. A real craft lager though can be an exciting and delicious adventure when all you want is a clean refreshing beer.
2) Palate Fatigue
“Variety’s the very spice of life,
That gives it all its flavour.”
Your tongue can get tired of having the same thing time and time again; this is called palate fatigue. Palate fatigue is more relevant when you’re having a flight of five or six beers, but I think it still applies here. Drinking super hoped IPAs or bodacious oatmeal Russian imperial stouts day in and day out you can lose perception of how different they are from each other. A nice clean lager can refresh your palate and your mind.
3) The Original Session Beer
Session IPAs are all the rage these days and are becoming the top-selling beers at many breweries. But if you want to knock back a 12-pack whiling away a sunny afternoon there’s no need to succumb to the latest fad. Succumb to the 200-year-old staple and grab a crisp, refreshing lager. Lagers are highly quaffable, often under 6%, and go with just about any food at your family BBQ. The chart below shows the ABV distribution of 150 of the most popular lagers on BeerAdvocate.
4) Sheer Market Share
Those are all great reasons but here’s the real kicker that makes me think more craft breweries, and craft beer enthusiasts, need to love the lager. America is a country that loves its lagers and if we want to beat AB-InBev or SABMiller we need to beat them at their own game! It’s easier to sell a macro beer drinker on a “really high-quality Budweiser” then it is on a “bitter, citrus, pine flavored IPA.” Once that macro beer drinker has had a craft lager, they’ll be more interested to try other beers by that brewery and blossom into a craft beer enthusiast.
What to drink?
Don’t misunderstand me on any of this, this is no cry to go enjoy a Miller Lite. This is a rallying call to find the closest craft brewer to you and try their lager if they have one or ask them to make one if they don’t. I realize relatively few craft breweries are making lagers, compared to the total number of craft breweries, so some good examples with wide-ranging distribution are Victory Prima Pils, Brooklyn Lager, Sierra Nevada Summerfest, or Sam Adams Boston Lager.
My fellow Cincinnatians and I are extremely lucky in that we have not one, but two breweries making multiple lagers. Moerlein bottles Purity Pils, Barbarossa, and Helles lagers year-round while Rhinegeist cans Puma Pils over the summer. Many other locals also make periodic small batch releases of pilsners, dunkels, and marzens.
Anyone have other reasons that we should embrace lagers? Or a different craft lager folks should be embracing? If so, drop a comment below!
14 thoughts on “3 Reasons to Hate Lagers and 4 Reasons to Love Lagers”
Your data is OLD, there has been a trend in Belgians and lagers (mostly in Bocks) lately
The chart at the top? Yeah, I said that data was from 2011. There has been an increasing trend in Belgians but there aren’t any Belgian lagers that I’m aware of. As far as Bocks go there is a small uptick in them but only in February and March. Even with all that uptick they don’t come close to the popularity of most ale styles.
From the brewers perspective: its expensive to make lagers in the summer time. more cooling required, a cost that wouldn’t affect big breweries, but craft brewers would be sensitive to that seasonality. Its also more difficult to make a lager, which might explain part of it too.
From the Drinkers perspective, Lagers are a boring…many craft beer drinkers are tired of the same old american lager. Which may explain the surge in belgians ales, known for being on the extreme ends of the flavor spectrums.
But as craft drinkers explore, they eventually discover just about every style out there, and by the time they are in their late 30’s, they have their regular, go-to beers…which tend to be middle-of-the-road ales and lagers.
So, I think the degree of preference for a Lager or Ale is a function of the drinkers age, the limited availability of interesting lagers, and the fact that the craft industry is still in its rebellious, adolescent stage. But by no means do i think craft ales are a fad, the beer industry will never be like the 70’s and 80’s again, thank god!
Lagers have a reputation for being boring, but I like to think of them as subtle. IPAs are popular because they’re easy, while it takes a little bit more to properly taste a good lager. I think people’s tastes are coming around and they’re starting to appreciate the more subtle.
Session is a fantastic lager from Hood River, Oregon. Enjoying one now!
Jack’s Abbey in Massachusetts is bridging the gap nicely, producing some incredible hop-forward lagers, although I feel that’s part of the problem you suggest. I’d argue that when Average Joe or Jane Drinker are searching for a beer, their (American) palate is probably more conditioned for straight-forward flavor and not the subtlety that a traditional lager might bring … and then I just think I started a blog post in my head.
That aside, Boston Lager is really, really good and I think doesn’t get enough attention due to its “legacy” status.
I’d never heard of Jack’s Abbey before this post but lots of people have mentioned it so I’ll have to seek it out. Others have mentioned that their lagers aren’t anything close to typical or stylistic so they may not be a great example of great lagers.
I highly recommend you try Mikkeller Keeper. Great hoppy lager in a can. Brewed with Sly Fox in MA.
Nice post, I think you’ve captured the basic reasons why lagers are not more popular quite accurately. Personally a crisp hoppy pilsner is one of my favorite styles. You mention Prima Pils, which is a fantastic beer (one I should drink more often). Anyone who has not tried that beer should do so. Troegs makes a similar beer, Sunshine Pils, and out in Oregon both Heater Allen and Base Camp make great hoppy pilsners. These beers can be great canvases for the spicy European noble hops.
Great Lakes makes some very solid lagers that you didn’t mention, if you are out with a BMC beer drinker and want to nudge him or her toward craft beer suggest the Dortmunder Gold. I’ve never had that fail.
Don’t forget bocks are also lagers. Although I don’t drink it often, Dead Guy Ale a well known Maibock by Rogue never disappoints me. Then there are Doppelbocks that can have all kinds of bold flavors.
On the other hand my palate has a hard time distinguishing an IPL from an IPA. Once the fruity American (or New Zealand) hops dominate the taste I wonder if it is really worth the extra time and effort to make a lager. Does anyone else feel that way?
I’m more of a traditionalist when it comes to lagers and haven’t been a fan of any IPLs yet. As far as bocks go I like to try a few around Bockfest but don’t get too into them.
I decided not to get to into all the different styles of lagers here. I view this post as a softening of resistance to lagers. In a month or two I’ll follow this up with a more in depth guide to the various styles of lagers out there.
I figured that your post was on a more narrow interpretation of a lager. I’ll look forward to the later posts on lagers.
If I put you on the spot what would you say are your six best Ohio brewed lagers (excluding the bock family and IPLs?
Let’s see if I can name 6 at all lol.
Great Lakes Dortmunder Gold
Great Lakes Elliot Ness
Moerlein … crap, forget the brand name, but their vienna lager
Moerlein Kiskepils (beer of the month for the Lager House, hopefully expanding to production side)
Rivertown Blueberry Lager
I’m not gonna call that the six best Ohio lagers, just the first six that came to mind. I guess Sam Adam’s Boston Lager should be in there too eh?
No that you mention it outside of Great Lakes its not that easy to reel off that many decent Ohio brewed lagers. Columbus Brewing Company makes a Kellerbier called Summer Teeth that is pretty decent as a hot weather thirst quencher. Portsmouth Brewing makes a Pilsner that if I recall is quite respectable. The Brew Kettle make a Schwartzbier, and Thirsty Dog has Labrador Lager but I’ve never tried either one.
For the smaller breweries I think it doesn’t make economic sense to brew lagers. I was on a tour this past weekend at Zauber Brewing in Columbus, a brewery that specializes in German and Belgian style beers and the head brewer said as much.