Saturday, November 24, 2007

A Pint of Lager

Recently on John’s Blog I took part in a discussion on his attempts to brew a lager. I have never had the desire to brew lager, and I have little in the way of desire to drink them. When the boys and myself go away on road trips, the beers are always counted and categorised into either ales or lagers and at the end he who has drunk the most lager is proclaimed lager boy and presented with some derogatory trophy, the rights and rituals of the modern man eh?

Now don’t get me wrong I’m not one of these chaps who only thinks of lager as a pint of (insert what’s relevant to you Fosters-Export Gold-Budweiser-VB).

While I haven’t been to Franconia or the Czech Republic I have tried a wide range of styles, I have judged lagers at two international beer competitions and I have been to many tastings dedicated to bottom fermentors.

So why don’t I like Lager? My biggest issue with lager fermentation is that is sets out to avoid the rounding fruity esters that ale fermentation ideally produces. For the same reason I am often less than wild over the use of American ale yeasts which also strive to be neutral and clean of esters allowing the assertive American hops to reign. I like fruity esters, I like the complexity that ale fermentations create.

The other night while thinking of this post I decided to taste 2 lagers and one rather odd English beer that I suppose would fall into something of hybrid class.

Wanaka Beer Works Brewski 4.8% ABV New World Pilsner

Brewski is my lager, it’s the one bottom fermented beer that I would regularly part with cash for. I bought a bottle for this tasting and while it was good it wasn’t great or nearly as fantastic as it usually is. Instead of using the medioca tasting notes I have decided to use the ones I wrote when I tasted it at the brewery.

Tasted at the Brewery feb 06 - Pours a bright golden with a healthy white head. Definite but also subtle spicy fruity hop aromas that beguile the nose, hinting at berry fruit and grass but never giving it all away. Fresh malt also makes an aromatic flash. On the palate there is an outstanding balance between fresh sweet malt, fruity hop notes and a satisfying moderate bitterness. Top stuff. To leave such an impression on a non lager drinker it must be good.

Daleside Blond Lagered Ale 4.3%ABV Blond Hybrid

This beer took my interest in large part due to the curious things that were mentioned on its label. The beer was advertised as a lagered ale which seemed to explain pretty well how it had been produced. However then the blurb went on to say “Both beer and lager drinkers will enjoy the complexity of a traditional beer with the mellowness of a premium lager.” As much as I dislike lager even I have to admit that it is in fact beer, oh well on with tasting.

Pours a light brilliant gold with a fluffy white head. The aroma features a tangy light struck note, sweet candi esters, and a touch of resiny slightly oxidised hop. On the palate there is sweet grainy malt, a slight touch of corn, confected fruit, fading to a gentile bitterness. Not the greatest English blond I have ever had but perhaps it would be better fresh and not bottled clear.

Emerson’s Organic Pilsner 4.9% ABV New World Pilsner

This beer could probably be considered the star of NZ craft brewing scene. Its Richard Emerson’s biggest selling beer and a good entry level beer to those who are used to more mainstream lagers. I have never been fond of this one but I must admit it was tasting pretty good the other night.

Pours a light gold with a fluffy white head. Aroma features grainy pale malt, a touch of sweet fruit, but is dominated by a bready character. On the palate there is sweet malt, a grassy character similar to sauvignon Blanc or my granddads garden shed. Ends on a lingering grassy bitterness. Certainly not Richards best beer, but his biggest seller and I can see why that is so.

Right now for a pint of bitter…


beerprobe said...

very nice, thx. i would love to check out the euro-brewskies one of these days

Matt said...

Nice post. It sums up my feelings on why I prefer ale to lagers as well.

John said...

Another top post there Kieran.

Aside from the odd pint of cask Harviestoun Schiehallion (a mountain that I've climbed) I have never had a proper lager so I'm not really qualified to decide which I prefer. However I am planning a trip to Prague where I hope to be able to rectify this situation. I'm going there with an open mind and will no doubt have a cracking time, but if I had to choose between ale and lager I'm probably going to side with my "real ale roots". I'm still going though!

I'm hoping my mobile blogging will work there and whilst my tasting notes may not be as comprehensive as your own I do hope I'll be able to convey my overall impressions.

Barry Hannah said...

Hear hear. I too can't bring myself to brew a lager, though the challenge of attempting to get close to Emersons Pilsner intrigues me. The short turn-around of a session bitter, the best-when-fresh-nature, the fruity fermentation characteristics, the drink by the pint goodness of them. The whole package is too intoxicating (in more ways than one). I tried for the first time last week some imported Pilsner Urquell. I really don't know what I expected, and I suppose I could _almost_ see what the fuss was about, but it wasn't really so different from every other green bottled euro-lager. I'd like to try it fresh from the brewery tap, but I won't be buying another liqour store 6 pack here in NZ.

Kieran Haslett-Moore said...

I have enjoyed Pilsner Urquell before , it has had a lovely chunky malt character from the decoction mash process, however it is much less interesting these days I suspect due to its multinational ownership.
Budvar is the one I really cant understand why people get excited about, its awfull stuff. I gave away most of the 6 pack I bought of it the first time I tried it(it was a struggle to find takers!). Then more recently I was at a terrible bar where it seemed like the best beer on offer, but no it was still awfull, I moved onto the wife beater.

Kieran Haslett-Moore said...

Incidentally I was at a restaurant on sunday where the menu had a list of Imported Lagers with Stellar, Steinlager and Steinlager Pure under the heading. I guess they were imported from Auckland.

Anonymous said...

Mmmm steinlager pure with that lovely fresh cowpat fragrance on the nose....

yalnikim said...

I do love a good lager - especially darker ones - but I probably drink 10-20 ales to every lager. I do, however, find the majority of kiwi 'ales' are pretty lager-like as well - and that includes the craft ones!

Certainly agree with Barry about the beauty of brewing session ales. You can't really buy many decent fresh ones here, and nothing quite beats a fresh, complex beer that's around 3.5%. I'm a thiirsty boy, so one pint is never enough.