Thursday, 16 July 2009

The lager challenge

Just a bit of fun; four lagers out of the cellar, different countries, different approaches, old school, new school, no school. Despite spending a lot of writing about cask beer, I love lager and am fascinated by it. Not talking wife-beater or the beer that reaches parts that no decent folk ever dare go, but the lagered beers that have the elegance and grace of a white Burgundy or Gerwurtztraminer. So here we go

Bel Pils is light gold, straw gold even, and 5%. It lies beneath a steady foam, almost like whipped-up egg white; the nose is shy, sweetish, gently toasted grain and, coming in a bit later, a fine trace of lemon-flavoured boiled sweets. Lemony and bittersweet on the palate, a quick finish, before a slight bitterness makes a return. Find this a bit reminiscent of the half decent all-malt lagers you enjoy on holiday but never drink once back home; but when you try Augustiner or St Georgen then it falls by the wayside. I remember being wowed by this at the old Bier Circus in 1996, but many different pilsners on it’s now ok but it does need a bit of rethinking.

BrewDog’s 77 (4.9%) is a lager with taste according to the brewery, but I always thought the whole point of a lagered beer was finesse and subtlety rather than a bash on the nose. This is a darker beast than the Bel, almost orange gold. The head vanished quickly, leaving a thin layer of foam that then takes a hike; as you would expect from BrewDog, it is a bit of a belter on the nose and the palate; caramel and tropical fruit aromatics, as if afraid to leave behind its US craft beer antecedents. It almost reminds me of a golden ale on the palate, fruit, caramel and a hint of diacytel, not necessarily a bad thing in a lager. There’s also a not so pleasant leatheriness at times, which I don’t particularly care for — it’s the only BrewDog beer in which I have found a micro-brewing style rusticity. There is a grainy dryness on the finish, with a high note of bitterness ringing away at the back of the throat. It’s certainly an assertive beer, but I’m not sure about it.

Victory Prima Pils (5.3%) is straw and golden yellow, with a collar of frisky white foam that hangs about like a delinquent on a street corner. Very clean nose with a hint of sherbert; but on the palate there is a spritzy hop playfulness plus a generous bitterness that you don’t find on lagered beers, unless it’s Jever. Bitter finish as well, which dries the palate in time for another swig. Wondering if this is at its best as a quick look at the label shows that it is a couple of weeks past its best by date. Sherbert becomes a bit of a Herbert after a while.

Rothaus Tannen Zäpfle (5.1%) is star-bright clear gold in the glass beneath a clingy and still white foam. The nose is gently toasted grain with a hint of lemon boiled sweets in the background. Good malty body on the palate, hints of lemon and caramel, but clean enough on the palate without vanishing up its own posterior of no taste. A good dry and bittersweet finish. Good body, rounded mouthfeel; appetising. My favourite of the lot.

There you go, I enjoyed that, as my current project — editing the upcoming 1001 Beers You Must Try Before You Die — seems to have taken over my life; this was a pleasant diversion. Back to wrestling with Rodenbach’s origins.

The picture shows the lagering cellars at the Cieszyn Brewery, where both the peerless Zyweic Porter and the rather delicious Brackie Pilsner are made and matured — no doubt Heineken will see it in their wisdom to close it down.


  1. After two weeks of lager drinking I'm turned on by the idea of their little differences. Sure the continental stuff I had was nothing special, but trying 10 or so different lagers really showed how it's the little things that make a big difference in a lager.

    Some kind of lager-off may be on the cards.

  2. Hi Mark
    sometimes with lager I feel like Bono before he became a post-modernist St Teresa: I still haven’t found what I’m looking for, apart from Jever, St Georgen, Augustiner, Rothaus and Meantime’s Union, fresh from the tap, at the Greenwich Union; on form it moves the gravity of your whole beer-drinking perspective.