One thing that has been partially missing from the craft beer revolution in this country is a serious treatment of lagers.
This is understandable to a degree. Lagers became ubiquitous in the 1970s and '80s, while ales had previously fallen out of favor. Almost as a backlash, craft brewers embraced the many styles of beer that were no longer available commercially — porters, stouts, barley wines, India pale ales and others. Many American craft brewers are now producing Saisons, Biere de Gardes, lambic-like wild ales, Flemish sours and other obscure styles that were virtually unknown in the North America only a decade ago.
It is true that these are beer styles defined by flavor intensity and complexity, something craft brewers have always pursued, but there is no reason lagers cannot also be complex and bursting with flavor. Excellent lager offerings include Samuel Adams Boston Lager and Brooklyn Lager.
But while lager never had its Sideways-like merlot moment, experiment-happy craft brewers have still ignored it. Certainly, it can be more expensive to brew lagers and sometimes the definition between lager and ale can get a bit murky.
But craft beer has never been about hard and fast definitions, and craft beer drinkers have continually proven they are willing to pay more for good beer — sometimes a lot more, in the case of some limited release beers that can end up on eBay for hundreds of dollars. The latest reports from the Brewer's Association, the trade association that represents the majority of U.S. brewing companies, confirms this. Despite a slowing economy, increased shipping and energy costs and of soaring prices for glass, hops, and malt, craft beer dollar sales are up 11 percent for the first half of 2008. If you brew it well, discerning beer drinkers will buy.
There simply is no reason for craft brewers not to bring their indefatigable creativity and sense of fun to the lager world.
One brewing company that has wholeheartedly embraced lagers is Schmaltz Brewing Company, which recently launched an all-lager line of brews with circus themes, drawing on inspiration from Coney Island's history as a pre-WWII era amusement park destination. The beers, bearing names like Sword Swallower, Human Blockhead, Freaktoberfest and Albino Python, all come in bombers (slang for a 22-ounce bottle). Check them out at coneyislandlager.com.
— Joey Redner is a Tampa resident and world beer traveler.