Prima Lagers Encountered in 2018

The following are the best lagers I encountered in Toronto this year, to date of course.

Amsterdam 2018 Traditional Pilsner

This beer was a seasonal lager release of Toronto’s Amsterdam Brewery at the start of this year. It featured clean, rich malt with lots of flavour from Czech Saaz hops and the German Mandarina Bavaria variety. There was no obvious New World “citrus” from the partial Cascade heritage of the latter hop.

The total effect was traditional European in a very full, crafted interpretation.

Side Launch Mountain Lager

Side Launch in Collingwood, ON is known for its authentic, German-style wheat beer but our pick of the range is Mountain Lager. It’s a familiar sight in the blue can in Toronto beer stores and is available on draft in many bars.

It has a unique profile, as I guess all excellent beers do. It reminds me of some “super-premium” lager of the 70s-80s, especially Michelob of that era, but with a fuller, more natural flavour. Despite lots of taste it is fermented out thoroughly and ends fairly dry on the palate.

Some Munich-style lager has an “eggy” note, a sulphide of some kind in action; this beer generally does not, a plus in our view. (None of the beers in this post exhibit that trait, or not that we can detect, which adds to their quality in our view again).

Ace Hill Pilsener

Contract-brewed at Brunswick Bierworks in Toronto, and the lightest of the beers canvassed here. Its palate and branding seem designed for the urban aspirational class but the quality is there, especially on draft, which seems deeper in taste than the canned version.

To have a quality product, a “big” taste is not always needed; a good taste is the thing. Conversely, a big taste can be coarse and unappealing…

German pils, a favourite style in the north half of Germany, is often dry and light on the palate, too. Ace Hill is in that tradition but without a pronounced German character vs., say, a Jever pils.

Muddy York Gaslight Helles Lager

The Cranfield Road, Toronto craft brewer Muddy York excels in a broad range of styles. Gaslight Helles has a rich but clean taste powered by Bohemian malts, fine hops, and a distinctive yeast strain. This beer drinks great iced, cellar temp, or tepid. One of the best of the style I’ve had anywhere.

Bellwoods Brewery Bellweiser

Not five years old, the Bellwoods outfit has always impressed by its quality and innovative spirit. I tend to associate ales and other top-fermentation styles with Bellwoods but this blonde lager, Bellweiser, wowed by its good taste and rich floral quality.

If anything the website description undersells the beer.

We encountered it on draft in Guelph recently but intend to drop by the Ossington Street location to pick up some in bottles.

Pilsner Urquell

The Czech classic comes into Toronto warehouses super-fast from its homeland and the quality shows. This beer has always set the standard for blonde lager with its deep floral quality from generous Saaz hopping, and honeyed Bohemian malts.

I had the iteration in London, England this year sold at the Draft House in the City which is the “tank” version, unpasteurized but filtered. This is the best version in my view and avoids the somewhat yeasty top note of unfiltered Urquell you can taste in Pilsen.

But in any form it’s a classic and the draft version we get in Toronto is fine too, although not necessarily better than a very fresh can.

Summing Up

Obviously there are many more blonde lagers available in Ontario than those above. I don’t taste them all, or regularly, few of us can, so there may be a great one I missed. For those I have tried the ones above were my pick for 2018.

A new beer I had high hopes for and just tasted, Creemore Springs Whole Hopped Lager, disappointed by lacking a “middle”. The expected quality from the whole flower hops is there, and I liked the more restrained yeast background (seemingly) than Creemore in any iteration usually presents, but the malt seemed lacking.

Perhaps it’s meant for a demographic that feels the standard Creemore Lager is too rich-tasting. If so, fair enough but to me it’s neither fish nor fowl.

Also, there are dozens of good solid beers one can drink day in day out that are perfectly satisfying while not, IMO, at the level of those above. Czechvar lager from the Czech Republic, say, or the excellent Slovakian Golden Pheasant, Ontario’s Muskoka Lager, or Purity Pilsener from Walkerville, ON, and many others.

The year is not out, if I encounter a new sensation before December 31 I’ll post an update.