Christian Moerlein is getting ready to debut cans of their new Third Wave IPA and Purity Pils. These cans feature new branding designs for Moerlein in new package formats. But this is more than just a new IPA and a new look for Moerlein. I recently sat down with Marketing & Events Director Jesse Folk and Vice-President of Brewing Operations Eric Baumann to discuss these changes.
Just got the following press release about Christian Moerlein’s upcoming Super Firkin Saturday that I wanted to share with you. It also prompted the idea that some folks may not know what a firkin is so we’ll be diving into that after the awesome beer list for this event!
With Bockfest happening this weekend, a celebration of amber and dark lagers, it’s time for me to finish this post that I’ve stewed on for a few months now. Last June I wrote a plea for fellow craft beer enthusiasts to embrace the Love of Lagers. I realized then that far too many folks think lager = pilsner = Budweiser and nothing else.
Lager just means that the wort ferments into beer with a yeast that prefers cooler temperatures around 35° – 40° Fahrenheit over weeks or months. To contrast that, ale yeast likes to ferment around 64 – 70 degrees for a week or two. On top of that, there seems to be a pervasive idea that lagers have to be a pale yellow color. Today we’re going to dispel the notion that all lager style beers are flavorless yellow fizz by highlighting a few different darker lager styles.
I always ask for a deluge of books for Christmas. I love giving and receiving books for birthdays or the holidays. They’re little bundles of knowledge that enrich the life of the giftee. Which is to say get ready for a couple book reviews over the next few weeks. Farmhouse Ales and Wild Brews have both been on my must read homebrewing list for a few years so I was stoked to receive them both as gifts. Farmhouse Ales ended up on the top of the pile of books so we’re tackling that first, look forward to Wild Brews soon!
To start us off here’s the publisher’s description:
Farmhouse Ales defines the results of years of evolution, refinement, of simple rustic ales in modern and historical terms, while guiding today’s brewers toward credible—and enjoyable—reproductions of these old world classics.
The following represents what my research was able to obtain from the internet on any medals or awards won by any brewery in Ohio. Please do not consider this list to be the end all be all of Ohio brewery awards as there are very likely mistakes or missing information. Please shoot me an email at Tom@QueenCityDrinks.com with any corrections and I’ll make it as soon as possible.
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!
One of the Christian Moerlein sales reps offered me samples of a few of their beers that have gone under recent recipe changes. I then decided to take these reviews as an opportunity to try to tell the story of Moerlein and help everyone know the company a little better. To tell the whole story I’ve split it up over three posts, 1 for each beer and each period of Moerlein’s history.
Northern Liberties and the reformulation of Moerlein
After Hudepohl brought Christian Moerlein back as a brand in the 80s the situation stayed much the same for Moerlein. That was until 2004 when Greg Hardman stepped in and began buying up as many of the Cincinnati brands he could get his hands on and brought Christian Moerlein back in full effect. The soul of newest rendition of Christian Moerlein was very much a Cincinnati soul. They sponsored events around town, named their beers and focused their artwork on Cincinnati, and of course their main sales market was Cincinnati.
Despite all that Cincinnati soul the liquid in the bottle was not from Cincinnati, or even Ohio. It was being contract brewed out of a brewery in Pennsylvania. Contract brewing is not a dirty word like some think. It’s how Sam Adams got started and how Quaff Bros continues to exist! It was, at the time, the only option available to Moerlein and they always had the goal of bringing everything back to Cincinnati.
That goal was partly achieved in 2011 when Moerlein began making an extremely limited amount of beer in Over-The-Rhine, in fact it was just 1 beer., Arnold’s 1861 Porter (only available at Arnold’s). More steps were taken with the opening of the Moerlein Lager House on the banks (if you go get the pretzels!) but any beer bought in a bottle at Kroger was still from out-of-state.
Finally Greg Hardman’s dream was realized in the spring of 2013 with the opening of a full-scale 15,000 barrel plant in the historic Kauffman Brewery in Over-The-Rhine. As of today all Moerlein beer, bottle or draft, is brewed in Cincinnati. But there was still 1 big change, a head brewer. Richard Dubé was the head brewer at The Lager House from the day it opened and began to tweak the Moerlein recipes that were served there. With the opening of the production brewery in OTR he became the Vice President of Brewing Operations and those recipe changes got put into bottles of Christian Moerlein all across the tri-state area. That’s the Moerlein story up until now, where it goes from here time will tell but until then let’s drink beer!
Now I’ll openly admit that I disliked Moerlein beers, they didn’t taste good and weren’t “Cincinnati beers” to me since they were made out of state. I specifically did not like Northern Liberties. It just wasn’t that good, especially compared to the amazing work being done with IPAs across the country. Luckily Richard’s recipe changes have made a world of difference and when we did the King of the Cincinnati IPA competition Northern Liberties came in at the top spot of the 3 packaged IPAs we sampled (Mt. Carmel IPA and MadTree Psychopathy being the other two). Here’s what Moerlein says about this brew:
You’ve made a discovery–a well-hopped IPA inspired by the revolutionaries of Cincinnati’s Northern Liberties. North of Liberty St. and beyond the reach of municipal law, the area was known for tolerance of beliefs and behaviors, which were shunned in Cincinnati proper prior to 1849. Moerlein Northern Liberties draws inspiration from these free-spirits with this hoppy, well-balanced, copper IPA in pursuit of Life, Liberty, and Hoppiness.