A Beer That Earns the Description “Premium”
I’ve run through a spate of craft lagers recently, approaching a dozen. I mean here the standard craft lager of the house, not aspiring to pilsner-style rigour of the type discussed in this post.
Some identify as Helles, the Bavarian style of blonde lager that is nominally maltier and less hopped than pilsener, but again end as craft lager staples.
Craft lager is a mainstay of the craft brewing business, but increasingly in recent years has resembled mass market lager. The earliest craft lagers such as Sam Adams Boston Lager, or Brooklyn Lager, are almost a different animal compared to these.*
In a blind tasting, it would be hard to differentiate many from Molson Canadian Lager, say, or Stella Artois.
No doubt that is the intention of the brewers, who would argue they are responding to market demand. The fact that these beers are made in most cases of all-barley malt, save an addition sometimes of wheat to assist head formation, doesn’t affect the basic profile.
The reason is the thorough fermentation, bringing the typical example I’d think to circa 1008 final gravity. It results typically in a thin, dry palate.
These are not the beers for me, but I found one recently that gets the balance just right between craft flavour and general market appeal:
Crew Premium Lager is made by Railway City Brewing in St. Thomas, Ontario. The beer has good residual malt sweetness, “bready” in the words of the website – nothing approaching, say Pilsner Urquell, but detectably malty nonetheless.
A flowery hop note informs the taste, possibly French Strisselspalt, with German-type bittering underneath. Not “in your face” as the most assertive craft examples of pilsner beer, but pleasingly tasty.
One glass invites another, whereas for the rest of the group mentioned, it was hard to finish the glass.
There is an analogy here to established European brewing in that many names, reputed as they may be, are today rather light on the palate. German and Austrian beers generally fare better but even there, seem to get lighter with every generation.**
One I liked a lot recently is Konig Pilsener, brewed in Duisburg in western Germany, part of the family-owned Bitburger Group. Like the Crew Premium Lager it has a good malty quality; the Crew is its craft counterpart, imo.
There is no point mentioning the craft lagers I didn’t favour: as I’ve said before, they please their market, which is validation enough.
I’d rather speak up for what I do like. And Crew makes the grade, in a metaphor apt for the circumstance, I’d say.
*This is not entirely so, as some early craft lagers were mass market-styled. But most in Ontario, say, had assertive taste such as Upper Canada Lager, Brick Lager, Steam Whistle, and Creemore Lager. Today the craft norm is rather lighter, imo.
** Dr. Al Haunold, the famous American hop scientist, observed some years ago that on a visit to Austria, his birth-land, the beers seemed similar to the American norm of 30 years ago. See my discussion in 2018.