Lager Lager Lager: The Beer Stripped Bare

The Terminus Hotel held its Lager-Off competition at the weekend where breweries from all over the state threw down their gloves in an epic battle as to Whose Lager Will Win.

Everything you wanted to know about lagers but were too afraid to ask

The Terminus Hotel held its Lager-Off competition at the weekend where breweries from all over the state threw down their gloves in an epic battle as to Whose Lager Will Win.

Contestants included Bridge Road BrewersBrewCultHawkers Beer3 Ravens BreweryFury And Son Brewing CompanyBoatrocker Brewing Co.2 Brothers BreweryMoon Dog Craft BreweryMornington Peninsula Brewery,Dainton Family Brewery and Temple Brewing Company.

Craig Eulenstein and Andrew Georgiou winning the Lager-Off at the Terminus.
Craig Eulenstein and Andrew Georgiou winning the Lager-Off at the Terminus.

Newcomers Fury & Son smashed it like a bunch of pros with their Pilsner, which is an excellent drop. In the spirit of enquiry, we spoke to some of our favourite brewers about traditional recipes, new-world styles and what gets their pilsner pulses runnning.

Fury & Son launched earlier this year with a New World Pilsner, which puts a new spin on the traditional style. Fury’s head brewer Craig Eulenstein says that the knowhow and experience of the Australian craft beer industry has dramatically improved over the past decade or so. “The idea of brewing a light delicate beer, such as a pilsner, is no longer daunting, nor deemed boring or mainstream any more,” he says. “I would not say that pilsners are evolving, in fact anyone with half a knowledge of the brewing process knows how much more finesse a pilsner requires and therefore can appreciate when a good one is put in their hands. I do think though that adding a new-world hop character to a pilsner, as we have done, adds another dimension to it, which can create an even more refreshing and enjoyable beer.”

Established players Mornington Peninsula Brewery have been producing ace beers for yonks, and James Renwick from the brewery says their Mornington Lager is a traditional, German-style lager, using the noble German hop Tettnang. He says that the perception of lager amongst drinkers these days is “definitely changing”.

“In the past, the term ‘lager’ seemed to envelop a vast majority of indistinguishable, flavourless and mass-produced beer – lager, draught and bitter were all essentially the same. Now many craft breweries are creating their own spin on the once-vague lager style, and the style is redefining itself into its appropriate position as an approachable, flavoursome and refreshing beer. Our Mornington Lager is the go-to when introducing somebody to the world of craft beer due to its non-invasive, low-hop profile.”

For matching food, James says that “due to its subtle flavours and crisp finish that doesn’t linger on the palate, any light summer food goes well: salads, light Asian cuisine or seafood would generally bode well when washed down with a Mornington Lager. At the bar, we use Mornington Lager to make the dough for our pizzas and I can tell you that on a warm Saturday afternoon, our prosciutto and pear pizza goes down a treat with it!”

Another lager frequently seen around the traps is by Sample Brew. This classy bottle contains a beverage which is “refreshing and easy to drink”, says Sample’s brand manager Arron Ollington. “Our new-age lager uses the Enigma hop that morphs flavours and aromas from raspberries to Pinot Gris, delivering a truly palatable taste and finish. Outside of the ‘craft beer’ sector, the overwhelming majority of beer consumed nationally and globally is some form of lager. Sample Brew has created something to fit that need while fulfilling the commitments to quality to attract gateway consumers. While the beer is technically a pilsner, Sample has used the overall term ‘lager’ to avoid confusion or having to explain a subcategory to consumers.’

Up in Rezza, Hawkers CEO Mazen Hajjar talks about the brewery’s extremely popular pilsner. “We wanted to brew a full-flavoured pilsner which was a good example of what is great about these beers.” He agrees that more and more breweries are creating excellent pilsners. “There seems to be more interest in lagers these days amongst craft brewers and some of them make damn good pilsners.” However he is not convinced that staying true to traditional styles in overly important. “I am not sure I respect styles, never mind history. The issue for me is simple: taste the beer and judge it. Who cares what box people might try to fit it in.”

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Bad Shepherd Brewery in Melbourne’s south-east has concocted a California Lager. We chat to brewer Dereck Hales about it.

What is a California lager? How did you come up with the recipe?

A California Lager is our description for the California Common or Steam Beer style. It’s a bottom-fermenting lager fermented at ale temperatures. As I understand it, the origins trace back to the gold rush in California when the Germans came to try their luck at panning fortune. They couldn’t leave their beloved pilsners behind though so they tried to brew with a lager yeast in California where temperature and thus fermentations were inherently warmer than the motherland. The higher ferment temperature resulted in a fruitier beer that became very popular in the San Francisco area and was affectionately called Steam Beer for reasons unknown. I always loved the Anchor Steam Beer and felt there was an opportunity to celebrate our interpretation of the style with a lighter and hoppier Australian version.

How important do you think it is to honour tradition when making such a well-known style?

Very much so. At the risk of pissing off brewers who proudly don’t brew to style, I actually think people naturally make purchase decisions based upon their ability to understand what they’re buying. Imagine buying soups that just are just a silly name with no clear descriptor – I prefer to know whether it’s tomato, minestrone etc, and this requires some sort of categorisation. In our case we brew all our beers within a style boundary so our patrons can appreciate what they’re buying. With the California Lager  this includes things like actually using a lager yeast (duh!), to use of woody hops such as Northern Brewer and Cluster that reflect the origins of the style.

We still apply our own take on each style though. In this case we use less dark/big flavour malts scrystal and amber and instead focus on a lighter malt character that celebrates the hops. Then we add Cascade and Ella hops to give a fruitier spin to it!

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Edge Brewing Project is always keen to push the envelope when it comes to beer styles. We chat to brewer Adam Betts about Edge’s Cool Hops Australian Lager.

Are lagers hard to make?

In short: Yep!

Particularly ours, being unfiltered and unpasteurised. Something like a big, hoppy, dark ale that is pasteurised would be at the other end of the scale, in terms of they can be somewhat forgiving and hide minor faults in the brewing process and finished beer.

The delicate, crisp profile of most lagers ensures even the most minor of flaws would be noticeable, so precise brewing practices, temperature control, yeast viability, fermentation time and sanitisation are of the utmost importance. Our core range is all unfiltered and unpasteurised craft lagers, no margin for error on these bad boys!

This style presents an even bigger problem as a gypsy brewer. We carefully select breweries to use, namely Hawkers for our core range, that have the appropriate equipment and brewing practices for our lagers. Many craft breweries are simply not set up to properly brew lagers, although those breweries are often great for other styles instead and we utilise them for our limited release/seasonal range of ales.

We brew naturally with a focus on local ingredients and bypass the filtration and/or pasteurisation systems in host breweries for all our beers, and in return cold warehouse at 2°C, delivering fresh, full-flavoured, new world lagers! All the extra work is worth it in the end 🙂

What was the thinking behind the Australian Cool Hops Lager?

This was the first beer released under the Edge name, and was designed to put us on the map and hopefully a bit of an innovator and the go-to beer when people think of Australian lagers.

I created it to showcase Australian hops, in a balanced, refreshing Keller-style beer.

Australia’s best known hop, Galaxy, is a favourite of ours at Edge, however I’m not a big fan of beers that use it as the sole hop, the passionfruit and tropical aroma/flavours are powerful and enticing but can be one-dimensional and over-the-top sweet for my personal palate, with the beer becoming fruit juice!

In Cool Hops we use 60% Ella and 40% Galaxy – the idea being Ella has slightly more floral and spice tones, which cut through the full fruitiness of galaxy, adding more depth and drinkability.

It has become our flagship beer, receiving many accolades including highest-ranked pale lager in the world on Ratebeer.com, gold at the International Beer Cup, and best lager at the International Beer Challenge.

Why did you make an Imperial Pale Lager? What does that mean?

Our core range, Cool Hops Australian Lager and Cereal Killer Red Lager, had been exported for the first time and both won gold at the International Beer Challenge, so to celebrate we thought it was best to create a third lager and add it into our core range! Hence, Hopped Up On Goofballs – Imperial Pale Lager, was born (trying to fit the full name onto the labels was fun!). It is basically a big, hoppy lager. Quite similar to an IPA, except the lager yeast and fermentation profile creates a slightly drier finish and crisp body. It’s a combo of Australian and NZ hops, with a pale malt base and 7.1%. Probably the hoppiest lager in Australia, we physically maxed out the equipment brewing this one!

Why did you make a Rye Pilsner?

This was a collaboration with Evil Twin. Jeppe [Jarnit-Bjergsᴓ] was coming out to Australia and we hooked up to do a collab. He was quite excited that we focus on lagers, as there were a few styles in the family he hadn’t done yet with Evil Twin. Likewise, as I always focus on local ingredients, the collab was a good excuse to use American and German hops I usually don’t play with. I had brewed a few rye lagers back in the homebrew days, so dug up the notes and adapted from there using both parties’ input.

Which lagers inspires you?

When we started, there were no decent Australian craft lagers to be found. Yet across the ditch our Kiwi friends were producing great lagers, think Croucher Pilsner, Emerson’s Pilsner, Hallertau Schwarzbier and the like. Subconsciously I was very likely drawing inspiration from the Kiwis for craft lagers, while looking up to Scandinavia for dark beers and USA for hoppy ale benchmarks.

Why do you like to make lagers?

Because they are damn friggin tasty! We ferment our beers right out and cold condition for a crisp, dry profile. This gives a great platform to produce clean, hoppy, new-world, balanced lagers that are flavoursome yet sessionable!

Perennial favourite Moon Dog makes a Love Tap Lager which is not only smashable but is also getting around a lot with the brewery’s recent expansion. Brewer Karl van Buuren explains:

Love Tap holds a soft spot in our hearts. The name Love Tap comes from our ethos of making beer fun, and making our beer with a lot of love. A ‘love tap’ is a gentle touch to the car in front or behind when you’re parking, just to know when you’re in the right spot. It’s also a tap that dispenses some delicious beer, and seeing it in a bar lets you know that you’re in the right spot.

We wanted to make a delicious, hoppy craft lager. When it was first released, it was one of the only craft lagers available, and the only Australian hop-driven lager. Lagers had been getting a bad rap back then, but since Love Tap was released, they’ve come back in force.

Being a lager, Love Tap is a bit more sensitive to outside factors when brewing, which makes it a bit more difficult than your average ale. Lagers have such a clean palate, that they need to be made using the best ingredients, the most precise brewing methods, and of course lots of love and attention. We cold condition Love Tap for up to four weeks to get the sharpest flavour possible, allowing the lager taste, and the hop flavours and aromas, to pop!

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BrewCult, who recently opened their own bar in Brunswick, has a great lager called Spoiler Alert Pale Lager. Brewer/founder/owner Steve “Hendo” Henderson recently changed the recipe to this flagship beer.

Are you happy with the new version of the Spoiler Alert? What did you change this time round?

I’m very happy with the new Spoiler Alert Pale Lager. Pretty much everything changed with the recipe. The old recipe was Columbus, Helga and Saaz hops – I guess I was going for an old-world Euro-styled lager. Helga is an Australian hop and they don’t grow it anymore. So I thought it would be a great opportunity to change it to a New World Lager. It’s now hopped with Saaz, Chinook, Nelson Sauvin and Galaxy. I also removed the wheat malt that was in the grist as it was imparting a tart note into the beer. Finally, the yeast strain was changed from a German to a Swiss variety. It’s much less estery and cleaner. That gives the beer more drinkability. You can find it at McCoppins in Fitzroy.

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Brewer Josh Kendall from Holgate Brewhouse discusses their yummy Norton Lager.

People say lagers are harder to make, is this true? 

In many ways, yes – for lighter, more delicate beer styles such as lagers, brewers need to take extra care during the brewing and fermentation process to ensure that off-flavours and aromas are not present. These off-flavours can come to the forefront in these lighter styles as there is nowhere for them to hide and brewers need to pay careful attention to their processes.

To produce well-crafted and balanced lagers, breweries utilise testing and sensory analysis procedures to ensure all finished beer is clean and defect-free.

What do you have to keep in mind while brewing a lager?

Brewing great lager really comes down to optimising processes during the brewing, fermenting and maturation stages and using quality ingredients. Brewers have to ensure elimination of off-flavours and aromas such as DMS, acetaldehyde and sulphur which are all compounds that can be more noticeable in lager beer styles due to its subtle and balanced style. The key though is time in tank for maturation and flavour development.

How did you make the Norton Lager so tasty?

We don’t compromise on our ingredients, choosing the best malts and hops and we also ensure there’s plenty of time in tank for the beer to develop its signature flavour.

We use only Australian hop variety Ella in Norton, both in the kettle and also for a light dry hop. We’re left with a clean and sessionable lager with delicate flavour from the Ella hops and soft bready, biscuity malts.

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