Craft brewers have largely gravitated toward heavier varieties like stouts and IPAs, drawn by their richness and complexity. The humble, easier-drinking lager, on the other hand, was largely overlooked.
But that's beginning to change. "People associate lagers with cheaper beer," says brewmaster Jack Hendler, of Framingham, Massachusetts–based Jack's Abby Brewing. "But almost anything an ale can do, a lager can do better." Founded three years ago, Jack's Abby has won awards for every style from smoked beer to porter. But it's also gained a reputation within the industry for its craft lagers.
It's true that lagers — which include brew styles like pilsners and bocks — don't have the same depth of flavor as ales. But because they are brewed for longer periods at colder temperatures, lagers emerge crisper and cleaner. The process can also be more precise, allowing brewers to highlight specific attributes, everything from a subtle citrus flavor to sheer bitterness, without overpowering them.
Hendler's Hoponius Union, for example, will give any of the famous West Coast ales a run for bitterness, without the heaviness. "With an IPA you have a mix of hops taste and fermentation taste; it can get a little muddled," says Hendler. "With the lager yeast, the hops really shine through."
Brewmaster Mike Gerhart, of Otter Creek Brewing Company in Middlebury, Vermont, which this year added the insanely popular Citra Mantra IPL to its lineup, likens it to the difference between red and white wines. "The red — the ale — has more fruity, rounded flavors," he says. "The white is crisp, clean."
And now they're both being made with the same obsessive attention to truly great flavor.
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