Beer has been a staple of the American diet for centuries, but has accelerated to a major part of the economy in the last several decades. It may surprise many of the millions of Americans that enjoy beer as part of their weekly routine that to call something ‘beer’, is about as specific as calling something ‘food’.
There are dozens upon dozens of styles of beer in existence, running the the ABV range from negligible (0.5% or even lower), to approaching the strength of spirits (well in excess of 30.0%, in extreme cases). There are as many flavor profiles as there are styles, and if you know where to look, you can find incredible craft beer innovations from the last decade on the shelf next to styles that have existed since the Renaissance and before.
Truly, there has never been a better time to be a fan of fermented brews.
However, it is tough to beat the tried and true classic of the Lager family of beers. This is a bottom-fermenting beer, brewed at colder temperatures. While most people will picture an American Light Lager such as Bud Light and the like, lagers go far deeper. They are not all ‘clean, crisp, and highly carbonated’ as your average convenience six-pack; there is a huge variety to choose from.
The following list is a selection of some of the best lagers easily accessible on the US market, but it only showcases the very tip of the iceberg in terms of Lager variety.
As with many west-coast style brews, this one is a bit hoppier than usual, and certainly more than your typical pilsner. However, like all Firestone Walker products, Pivo has has a very neatly balanced mouthfeel and an incredible crisp finish. The atypically strong flavor is actually a great feature; Pivo is dry-hopped, which means it has all the flavor, but none of the heaviness or high ABV of wet-hopped beers.
Style: Vienna Lager
Devil’s Backbone Brewery went national in 2016 when it was purchased by Anheuser-Busch InBev, and when you have tried this delicious drink you will understand why they were bought out; all of their beers are high quality. Notes of toasted caramel and a delightful crispness, with just the right amount of carbonation. This is a genuinely great beer, and should be sought out and enjoyed at first opportunity.
A celebration of the bicentennial for the style, Paulaner’s take on the Munich-based Oktoberfest has a rich balance between hop and malt flavors, with strong toffee notes overlying a refreshing fruity backbone.
Style: Baltic Porter (Sometimes called Black Lager)
Derived largely from espresso beans, this is a big, bold black lager. Note, a porter is a sturdy beer, and both heavier and more bitter than a lot of other lager types (observe the ABV and IBUs). Chocolate notes and strong coffee flavors, there is a beautiful balance of strong, roasted flavors, and a creamy smoothness that ensures this will be a game-changer.
Style: American Pale Lager
With a great hop aroma, and a ‘old-school’ crispness, the Session Lager is a great middle of the road lager, equally at home at a backyard picnic or with a sit-down meal. Very pleasantly malted, with a surprise combo of wheat and barley notes that round off this APL.
Style: Munich Helles
While some of the beers on this list are to be enjoyed individually, or paired with a delicious meal, Ballast Point’s rare foray into lager styles is ideal to enjoy with a good friend on a Saturday afternoon. Lightly hopped, crisp, and utterly drinkable, this is a very palatable but quality offering that is sure to be enjoyed by any gathering of beer drinkers.
Style: Munich Dunkel Lager
It would be disrespectful to neglect the city of Munich, Germany on any list of excellent beers, and the Kloster Kreuzberg Monastery does not disappoint. If you ever find yourself at a long layover at the Munich airport, stop in at the monastery for one of the highest rated Dunkels in Europe or the U.S, and enjoy some phenomenal traditional German food while you are at it. Many beer enthusiasts have noted that the beer alone was worth the trip.
Sometimes, there are grounds for doing something the same way for centuries, and Kloster Kreuzberg makes a very strong case with their beer.
For those who have not yet braved a beer that has been aged in bourbon barrels, these delicious but heady brews are exactly as strong as they sound. Despite the mule’s kick that all beers of this nature pack, it is the same process that lends its high ABV that also engenders much deeper, richer flavors than many other beers. In the case of this award-winning offering from Troegs, vanilla and toasted coconut are on strong display, with warm, oaky notes in the backbone supplied by the bourbon barrels used in the fermentation process.
This is one sturdy brew, so enjoy it slowly after a long day.
Style: IPL (A bit of a newer style)
Note the ABV vs. IBUs here. The XEO is a great example of a traditionally crisp lager finish on top of the hoppy bite typical of the incredibly popular IPA style. This is a one of the better variations that this lager fan has had the pleasure to taste, and the hybridization of crisp and bitter is a very interesting treat to be sought out.
Dark, malty, and exhibiting the excellence that has come to define west-coast brews, Rip Current’s take on a Dark European Lager has won multiple awards several years running. If you find yourself in California, put this on your brew tour circuit, and check out one of the best American Bocks on the market.