Although craft brewers once maligned mass-produced American lagers as “fizzy, yellow beer,” many have started to embrace the traditional German styles as consumers seek out sessionable options.
Let’s face it: Sometimes you just want a flavorful, crushable beer. When it’s 90 degrees and humid, a barrel-aged imperial stout may not be your best option. Lagers are the so-called lawnmower beers, but that doesn’t mean they have to forego nuance and flavor, as this sampling proved.
Lagers are not all one homogenous style, either. American Pale Lagers like Bell’s Quinannan Falls Special Lager are yellow and carbonated and will have a mix of malty flavors and the typical bitterness, in this case from dry hopping with Simcoe hops.
Meanwhile, a Czech Pilsner such as Purple Gang from Atwater is more straw colored with a traditional spicy herbal hop characteristic. (Note: Some of the traditional lagers have slight corn or vegetable flavors from the use of Pilsner malts. Dimethyl sulfides, or DMS, would be a fault in some beers, but is acceptable in low levels in this style.)
From there, the style breaks down even further into more traditional German and Czech styles, and whatever Americanized craft concoction brewers are coming up with these days. That was the case with Q-Stew, a fruity light lager from Perrin Brewing Co. that’s dry-hopped with Citra, Mosaic and experimental hops.
Interestingly, Revue’s blind tasting of eight Michigan-made lagers found a strong set of beers, with the top five examples separated by just 1.8 points. Here are the results.
Quinannan Falls Special Lager Beer
Bell’s Brewing Co., Galesburg, Mich., 6.5% ABV
The piney hops were more than apparent in this beer’s aroma and flavor, which was balanced nicely with malty notes. Clearly a well-refined, drinkable beer that’s sure to have cross-over appeal to hopheads. A refreshing, crisp lager. Score: 80.2
Purple Gang Pilsner
Atwater Brewery, Detroit, 5.5% ABV
This beer looks, smells and tastes traditional, clearly a nod to some old-style hops that have a minerally or herbal flavors and the bready malts. It pours slightly hazy. The sweet malts at the front eventually give way to the earthy hops. Nice creamy body for a lager. Score: 79.8
Q-Stew Light Lager
Perrin Brewing Co., Comstock Park, Mich., 3.6% ABV
Clearly, the brewers focused on the aroma (and flavor) with this beer. It looks like champagne and smells tropical, with heavy notes of mango and fruit loops that carry over to the taste. While it’s a bit thin, this would be perfectly crushable in summer. However, one reviewer thought the flavor profile to be too weird for a lager. Score: 78.8
Atwater Brewery, Detroit, 5% ABV
Here’s another beer that seems very tied to the traditional German style. The flavors are rather muted, but lean on caramel sweetness and a grassy or herbal finish. It’s nothing too crazy, but is perfectly drinkable. Score: 78.4
Lager of the Lakes
Bell’s Brewing Co., Galesburg, Mich., 5% ABV
This beer seems rather unremarkable at first, but opens up to reveal an inherent complexity. It starts with grainy, bready and herbal aromas. The flavor is all about a balance of the sweet malts and herbal hop notes. A truly refreshing beer that would pair well with foods. Score: 77.8
Lake Brothers Lager
Lake Brothers Beer Co., Detroit, 5% ABV
Accessible for fans of mass-produced lagers, yet rather basic among the beers tasted here. Some reviewers called it out for being too bitter. Score: 67.6
Arbor Brewing Co., Ypsilanti, 5.5% ABV
This beer leans heavily on the malty side, but the flavor is less-than-assertive — which could be good, depending on what you’re seeking in a beer. Score: 66.8
Petoskey Brewing Co., Petoskey, 4.5% ABV
After the tasting, we found out the beer was packaged more than five months beforehand and decided it wouldn’t be fair to rate an old beer. Watch your dates when buying beers since certain styles like lagers do not age well. (Note to store owners: Purge your old inventory! Selling old products to consumers can taint their perception of craft beer.) Score: N/A