Saturday, 21 September 2019

Proper lager in America

Somewhere up there is where Capt Chesney Sullenberger
safely ditched his stricken Airbus in the river 
It was at the pre-conference welcome party on a Manhattan roof terrace overlooking the Hudson river that I realised how much the New York beer scene had changed since I was last there more than half a decade ago. The canned beers on offer were all ones I did not recognise, they mostly came from New England breweries, and they were all good – in some cases very good.

What really impressed me were not the me-too IPAs but the lagers: a couple of Pilsners (Happy Hour from Peak Organic, and Mermaid from Coney Island Brewery), either of which could have come from one of the better breweries in Central Europe. In other words, they were not only well crafted, they were also impressively authentic.

Peak just calls it a Pilsner, but it's
bang-on for a Czech Světlý ležák 11°
They also sparked an interesting discussion with a couple of fellow conference-goers on craft beer’s return to lager. I’d already seen it in the UK and Germany, where it seems to fulfil two roles. One is to have something on tap for those used to lager but who want something better, and the other – especially in Germany – is as a demonstration of the brewer’s skills.

Satisfying the first need by making something lagery is relatively simple. Heck, you even brew a pale ale with lager malt, then cold-condition it for a few weeks and claim it’s Kölsch. But meeting the second need, by doing lager properly, is hard.

Anyway, the same trend’s happening in the US, where for all the hype over craft beer, the vast bulk of what’s actually consumed is still the beery liquid known as Lite Lager. And as one barperson I chatted with told me, it’s a trend worth following: you get a lager drinker in, they try the craft version, and they’re like, “Damn, this stuff is good! Is this what lager is really meant to taste like?!” – and all of a sudden they’re regulars. And they're now open to other beers. Bingo.

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