For a few years now, I’ve been projecting that craft lagers would be the “next big thing” in the beer world, something to dethrone hazy IPAs from their dominant place on brewery taplists everywhere.
It took a global pandemic to make it happen, but lagers seem to have moved into a more prominent spot, at least for the moment.
Of course, the reasons for this are unfortunate for the industry: Lagers take several weeks to condition in the brewery tanks, and during busier times many small breweries couldn’t afford to have a tank occupied and standing in the way of other beers waiting to be brewed. However, with the drop in sales volume brought about by public health restrictions on brewery taprooms – particularly those without kitchens – breweries are not selling their beers as quickly and thus have time for lagering. So support your local breweries that are taking the time to craft lagers for Oktoberfest season and beyond.
One of my favorite perennial beer topics is beer/food pairings, especially with Thanksgiving dinner. I tend to steer clear of IPAs and dark beers when choosing beverages to go with my feast, but there are two categories of beer I think work very well with hearty Thanksgiving fare.
The first category includes beers that have rich malty, caramelly or toasted characteristics that complement oven-roasted items such as turkey, stuffing and yams, as well as rich fare like mashed potatoes and gravy.
The other category encompasses light, crisp beers that cut through the richness and the fat content of classic fall dishes and provide a palate refresher before heading back for seconds.
Luckily, many of this season’s craft lagers fall into these two categories and will provide excellent accompaniments to your Thanksgiving meal.
Vienna Lagers, Marzens and Bocks (listed from lowest to highest typical alcohol by volume) share many characteristics, including colors from amber to copper. Although some bocks can actually be lighter, their maltiness still puts them in this category for me. These beers usually feature a medium body and distinctive malty flavors including toasted bread, sometimes caramel, and varying degrees of sweetness, as well as different levels of hop bitterness.
Munich malts gave Festivus Oktoberfest Lager (5.7% ABV) from New Bohemia Brewing Co. in Santa Cruz a bright amber orange color that placed it right on the middle of the continuum between a traditional Festbier and a Marzen. Bread-doughy malts dominated the aroma and the initial impression on the palate, giving way to spicy Hallertau Hersbrucker hops that shone through the finish.
Santa Cruz’s Humble Sea Brewing Co. made a delightful Marzen called Taste Güd Oktoberfest Lager (5.6% ABV), which featured a light copper color, a rich, complex blend of biscuity and caramelly malt character from the very traditional double decoction brewing process, and just enough herbal Noble hops to keep it in balance.
Pilsners, Helles, Dortmunders and Festbier lagers (again in order by strength) tend to be pale colored and medium-bodied, with clean, crisp, well-attenuated finishes, though they vary in strength and in the balance of hop bitterness and maltiness.
Clandestine Brewing in San Jose went all out for Oktoberfest this year with 10 different German beer styles, including the U-Tower Dortmunder Lager. At 6.6% ABV, it was a bit strong for the style, but I’m not complaining. With a pale gold color, gentle honey-like malt sweetness, and spicy Noble hops well balanced in the aroma and flavor, the beer had a bright, crisp finish with a pleasant, lingering hop bitterness.
Freewheel Brewing Co. in Redwood City is best known for its British-style ales, but its brewers know their way around German beers as well. Freewheel’s Sip In Place Pils (5.3% ABV), brewed in collaboration with Alameda’s Admiral Maltings, featured an aroma of lightly bready pilsner malt and bright, spicy Saaz hops. The fresh, inviting hop flavor and firm bitterness joined with smooth, clean maltiness to last all the way through the dry, crisp finish.
Sprechen Sie Fest? (6% ABV) is a Festbier brewed by Floodcraft Brewing Co., located inside the Whole Foods Market near the Shark Tank in San Jose. With a deep golden color and a subtle maltiness in the aroma, courtesy of the Pils malt and Pacific Victor Vienna-style malt from Admiral Maltings, the beer landed on the palate with an initial emphasis on delicate bready malt, then moved into a lightly bitter Noble hop finish with a hint of cereal sweetness.
Derek Wolfgram is a Certified Beer Judge through the Beer Judge Certification Program and an officer of the Silicon Valley Sudzers homebrew club. For more information, visit sudzers.org.