Thursday, November 05, 2009

Let's Talk Lager

I'm not going to bore you with the history of Lager (pilsner, whathaveyou) or debate the pros and cons of mass-marketing and mass-consumerism. Everyone knows of Lager, for better and for worse, and so I am here right now to ask you this:

Where has all the Lager love gone?

I find it sadly ironic that the preservation of traditional Lager history and the exploration of its future should be so rabidly hampered and diminished by its greatest potential asset: the beer aficionado. Macro lagers are here to stay whether we like it or not and in whatever fashion the future of necessity and demand shall dictate. But should this one variant come at the price of the culturally rich Lager as a whole?

Beer and the people who drink them, myself included, are on the cusp of the next beer evolution, one that revisits beer's roots, reinforcing quality, taste, and honesty while looking to the future with diversity, innovation, and invention. Lager is as much a vital part of this new evolution now as it was back when it spurred its own beery evolution. Cask ales, wild ales, barrel-aged, sour, and everything else beer is being celebrated, resurrected, and created as far as the brewer's genius and imagination can carry them. And yet, the great Lager sits neglected on the sidelines, far from ever being considered a worthy player in this emerging beer field. The same advocates of beer quality and diversity who could be saving the traditional Lager from eternal mediocrity are contributing to its slow demise.

It is not that beer aficionados don't have just cause for scorn and derision. The overabundance of inferior lagers brewed with questionable ingredients, non-existent lagering times, and spotty bottling techniques would drive the most patient beer imbiber to exhausted disgust. But instead of turning a negative into a positive, many beer aficionados latch onto the tired yet seemingly timeless bandwagon of derision, scorn, bickering, finger pointing, and dismissive disrespect for all Lagers. Over 30 years of burgeoning beer awareness that focuses on flavor and quality, not flash and marketing, has unfortunately left Lager behind in its zeal to reclaim all that the bastardized macro lagers almost deprived them of.

Forget for a moment the vacuous cycle of commercialism, marketing, and economics and consider what Lager was, still could be, and is. Whether decked to the nines in rich malty browns, brilliant copper hues, or rays of fresh golden sunshine, Lager is a quality beer who is proud of her own distinct appearances, aromas, and flavors. Desperate we may have been for quality and diversity in our beer when Lager first emerged from caves newly reborn, people will naturally gravitate to drinking what they like and liking what they drink (when given the choice, of course). And so they did. Contrary to todays similarly produced unoffensive macro lagers of corporate brewing, the traditional Lager had not just good looks, quality, and consistency (which was a blessing during a time where "godisgoode" reigned), it also had a solid palate of aroma and flavor. In short, Lager tasted good not just as wet liquid refreshment for which water fills that part wonderfully, but because it was appealing. Whether brownish-black, copper, or golden, people were soon drinking Lager in copious quantities because, ultimately, they liked the taste and the looks of it.

I can hear the groans of cynicism as well as I can see the communal rolling of eyes in pretentious disbelief at my bold statement, and to a certain degree, I can't blame them. Macro lagers do nothing to stimulate my senses either, but a real Lager, she is a veritable treasure trove of polished looks, tantalizing aromas, and lustrous flavors all culminating in quaffing satisfaction. Is it no wonder then that the Lager captured the hearts of beer lovers everywhere looking for a refreshing tasteful beer they could enjoy whenever, wherever, and however much as they would like?

And so I ask you again, where has all the Lager love gone?

Lager or pilsner, whichever you may call her, is a beautiful beer I would be pleased to savor any day of the week. Therein lies the problem. A good Lager is growing even harder to find today than ever before. I am all for beer innovation, exploration, preservation, diversity, and especially quality, an all encompassing beertopia within which Lager fits beautifully.

But I fear that the venerable Lager has been written off as passe, blase, and below the esteemed glory of our new beer evolution. A growing dissatisfaction with the proportionately large overabundance of bland, watery, tasteless, and often skunked lagers is blinding the beer drinker to the very real joys of drinking traditionally crafted and inspired Lagers.

Europe still enjoys a decent number of breweries who brew Lagers worthy of her heritage and the discerning palate, amateur and professional. Even better, the majority of it is drank fresh just days, maybe a few weeks, from bottling and, even more spectacular, sometimes at the very source where it is brewed. Therefore, it pains me to acknowledge that in the USofA there are far fewer breweries and brewers who are willing to face the challenge of brewing a traditional Lager. Our craft beer sector is poised and more than ready to meet the challenge despite or maybe even in spite of the Big Brewers, but I feel as though we have given up without even trying.

If we can resurrect centuries old beer recipes and breathe new life into their once sleeping souls, truly we can act now to preserve and restore the Lager to her original glory. I know I am more than eager and delighted to do my part to keep the Lager love alive: pour, smell, sip, and savor.

(an original written work by Kristyn Lier. plagiarism is not tolerated)

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