Big beer, move over. Craft lagers are gunning for your core brands. Small batch microbrewers once shunned making lagers in favour of ales, mostly because lagers take more tank time and major brands had lager fans sewn up.
But no more. There’s been an explosion in the number of thirst-quenching craft lager offerings as independent brewers respond to demand from fans for less hoppy options.
Still, don’t expect a craft lager to taste anything like a Budweiser, the North American standard for an easy-to-drink pale ale. Once you start exploring craft lagers and their clever flavour nuances, Bud will come across as watery.
(Fun fact: Bud is brewed to exacting standards of consistency so that, for example, a Bud brewed in London using Great Lakes water will taste the same as one from the original brewery in St. Louis. Craft lagers could vary batch-to-batch.)
Not every lager from craft brewers is a pale lager or a pilsner. Helles, marzen, dunkel and Schwarzbier lager styles are all brewed by various microbreweries and are more flavourful lagers to sip and savour.
Fresh and local, craft lagers are where it’s at from Victoria Day to Labour Day, on decks and docks everywhere. Here are 12 to seek, taste and compare.
Long Pond Lager, Bayside Brewing — I’ll bet the folks at this little brewery on the shore of Lake Erie pictured a day of fishing when they developed the recipe for this honey-aroma lager. Along the way, they hooked those of us who’ve never cast a line. The LCBO suggests pairing it with tacos or burgers. I prefer pairing it with a wood-fired Bayfield Classic pizza and a waterfront view at the brewery in pretty Erieau.
Shindig, Cowbell Brewing — A German-style pilsner brewed in Blyth using all Canadian barley malt and hops imported from Germany, Shindig has become hugely popular. I picture Huron County farmers reaching for it as a twilight, end-of-workday reward. True to style, Shindig is low in bitterness with a character described as bready.
Square One Pilsner, Square Brewing — Can you be a microbrewery in a beach town and not offer a lager? Square Brew in Goderich offers a classic refresher with Square One, which, like Cowbell’s Shindig, is brewed with Canadian malt and German hops. Square also does a Vienna-style lager, which is dark and malty, called Vienna is Waiting.
Daly Pil, Herald Haus Brewing — The year-old Stratford brewery has a new light pilsner which hasn’t yet passed my lips. It’s 4.7 per cent alcohol and described by the brewery as classically crisp. Herald Haus also has Dingman Dark Lager, named in honour of Stratford’s first mayor, brewed with intensely dark (and local) Midnight wheat malt.
Oops, It Fell Out, Stonepicker Brewing Co. — This pilsner from a farm-based brewery in Forest uses barley malted on site. At 5.75 per cent alcohol, it’s more potent than most and at 5 IBU, it’s the malt-forward anti-IPA.
Undertone, Storm Stayed Brewing — The beer board constantly gets revised as recipes come and go at this strip mall microbrewery on Wharncliffe Road in London. Undertone’s cool factor is that it’s a lager brewed with purple corn.
Waterloo Craft Lager — One of Ontario’s oldest continuously operating craft breweries, Waterloo Brewing marks a milestone 35 years of beer-making by introducing a new lager — a yin to the yang of Waterloo Dark. Widely distributed at the Beer Store and LCBO, this new craft lager is sessionable at 4.7 per cent alcohol, and versatile with summertime food pairings.
Waterloo Pilsner — Waterloo Craft Lager’s older and wiser sibling has more bitterness and is highly touted for pairing with seafoods from calamari to fish and chips.
Liquid Schwartz, Forked River Brewing — Some like it dark. Lagers need not be light and sessionable. London’s Forked River brews a Schwarzbier dark lager which, last I checked, was still available at the 45 Pacific Court brewery. As the brewery says, think roasty pilsner. Better suited to cool weather, Liquid Schwartz still resonates as a ratcheting down from ports and stouts.
London Natural Lager, London Brewing — The microbrew co-op on Burbrook Place made beer drinkers throughout Southwestern Ontario stand up and take notice with this flavourful-yet-accessible lager recipe. London Natural Lager is brewed in the Munich helles style. They’ve used North American Sterling hops, which provide a spice and herb aroma. Available in distinctive silver cans at the brewery, Beer Store, and LCBO, remember to pour it in a nonic glass or, in a pinch, a red Solo cup. Pairs best with hot summer nights, campfires, and loons.
Country Pilsner, Ramblin’ Road Brewery Farm — They don’t mind taking it slow down on the farm. Czech-style and richly-flavoured, Country Pilsner starts smooth and ends bitter. It pairs with sausage, chicken, and fish as main courses or light desserts such as fresh berries with whipped cream, according to the brewery’s cheat sheet. Ramblin’ Road is near Delhi.
Astro Pils, Sons of Kent Brewing — Chatham-based Sons of Kent takes a page from both German and Czech pilsner styles to create Astro Pils. They’ve used both Czech Saaz hops and German Select. The result, as expected, is a crisp beer. It’s 5 per cent alcohol and at 32 IPU, bitterness beckons with a whisper and a wink.
If your favourite craft brewery doesn’t have a lager, reach for a cream ale or American pale ale. Great local examples are Anderson Cream Ale and Homecoming APA from Powerhouse.