Photo by Beth Demmon
Coronado brewer Wade Hurley takes a break from brewing to enjoy a Bienvenido lager
Lagers are to craft beer like jam bands are to rock and roll: enthusiastic but not hip, rarely good but weirdly mainstream and often ridiculed by industry elitists. It's admirable then that lager producers are so wholeheartedly unconcerned with the haters.
Lagers tend to inspire intense hatred or complete devotion among craft beer drinkers. However, more and more independent brewers are experimenting with lagers and attempting to shatter the long-standing reputation of banality.
San Diego is no exception. Although only a handful of our 115-plus breweries are actively brewing lagers, there are a few who've taken up the challenge and more than a few who have opinions about them.
"If more craft drinkers knew what it takes to make some of these beers, they might change their mind [about lagers]," says Coronado Brewing Company brewmaster Ryan Brooks. "You can easily take some of these boring macro recipes and up the flavor by not cutting them down with water and get a full-bodied, full-flavor, higher-alcohol lager."
Coronado's Bienvenido International Pale Lager (3.7 percent ABV) certainly doesn't resemble the watery macro lagers we all know so well. With just the tiniest hint of hops and light-as-a-feather body, this subtle lager is hazardously crushable. In a time when most breweries' approaches to beer is "bigger means better," having a session-able option that's balanced without being boring is a strangely refreshing change of pace.
"Any brewer can make a clean ale and smash a buttload of hops in it and make it taste good," says Brooks. "It takes skill, precision and knowing yeast to make a great lager. Lagers are not all just the light straw and gold beers—they come in all colors, flavors and strengths."
Other local lagers worth checking out include Culture Brewing's Lager-ita (American Pale Lager, 4.7 percent ABV), Fall Brewing's Jinx Remover (Imperial Black Lager, 8.2 percent ABV), Acoustic Ales' seasonal Rock Out With Your Vienna Out (German-style Vienna Lager, 6 percent ABV), Bagby Beer's Killer Keller (Unfiltered Lager, 4.9 percent ABV), Modern Times' Mount Remarkable (Pale Lager, 5.5 percent ABV), Thorn Street Brewing Company's Golden Hill Pils (Czech/Bohemian Pilsener, 5.6 percent ABV), and of course Pizza Port Solana Beach's seasonal Hot Rocks Lager (European Dark Lager, 6.5 percent ABV).
The variety in ABV in this list alone demonstrates the often-overlooked variety lagers offer to craft beer drinkers. Märzens are no more similar to rauchbiers than any other style, yet their cold-tolerant yeast and longer fermentations inextricably link them under the lager banner.
December 10 is National Lager Day, and while there's no shortage of macro lagers on store shelves, it's time for craft beer drinkers to embrace local, independent lagers and give them their due by separating them from the crap and bestowing the well-earned title of craft.