They just never seem that special. They always kinda seem the same. And it often seems too hard to see the difference between “craft” versions and mass-market versions. Lagers. Yellow beers. Apparently they’re more respected in Europe.
I figured I must be missing something if that was my whole impression of Lagers.
So I decided to gather some lagers together and hold a blind tasting. The line-up included Full Sail Pilsner, Lagunitas Pils, Lhasa (from Tibet), and Carlsberg’s regular lager and their Elephant lager (similar, but Elephant is 7.2% abv). All were purchased at the Davis Food Co-Op. I wanted to throw a Coors Light in there as a distraction, but I didn’t have enough glasses to pour it into.
Before we “unblinded” ourselves and revealed which beer was which, one of my friends decided to guess, and even though she hadn’t had most of them before, she guessed all 5 correctly. She pretty much based the guesses on knowing which beers were possible (she knew which we had bought) and which beer tasted like it would be from which brewery. And I thought that gave some insight into things.
That is, the Lagunitas Pilsner tasted, to me, like a craft ale maker (Lagunitas) trying to make a session lager more interesting–it was heavier than the rest and had a strange smell I couldn’t identify (my notes read “weird smell”). It wasn’t necessarily offensive, but I got the feeling that they were trying to pack a little more into this beer than the beer could handle.
The Full Sail Pilsner was much lighter and fruitier. I think I’d choose it as my favorite, although it’s almost in a different category entirely from the Carlsberg’s lagers. One friend pointed out that the Full Sail had White Zinfandel flavors, and I couldn’t agree more–it really had a lot of the light, fruitiness of white wine, which was really nice to sip on.
The Lhasa lager from Tibet was pretty flat and uninteresting. To be honest, I was surprised to see that they brewed beer in Tibet…I kind of associated the place with, well, the same things that Lhasa decided to put on their beer bottle: serene nature and a wise old man holding a lotus blossom in his hand. They didn’t even put a glass of beer in his hand. In fact, the back of the bottle even says, “Lhasa Beer captures the elemental essence of Tibet and the high Himalayas,” which seems to sum up this beer’s marketing schtick: This beer will make you feel like you’re in peaceful, serene Tibet. That buzz you’re feeling is nirvana, not alcohol.
The two Carlsberg beers had that skunky smell that I associate with session lagers. It takes me back to frat parties and Beach Hut Deli Dollar Pint Night. The Elephant, to all of us tasting, was a nice upgrade from the standard Carlsberg: it had less skunkiness, and had more bite in the flavor, likely there to accommodate the higher alcohol content.
Carlsberg interested me most of all after reading this story about the workers going on strike when the management decided they couldn’t drink beer during work anymore.
WHAT’D WE LEARN?
Well, Lagers definitely are more distinct from each other than I had thought. And they certainly have their place in beer drinking. We went to dinner afterwards and decided to order one lager and one Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, and after a tasting of lagers, it was definitely jarring to switch to ales. I took that to mean that I liked the lagers and would have more happily ordered another lager.
My overall impression was that lagers were almost a nostalgia drink. Or maybe not nostalgia exactly, but a drink that evokes location and atmosphere almost as much as it does flavor. Instead of considering the flavors of the lagers on their own, I couldn’t help but picture what setting would be ideal to drink the lager in. I felt like they were beers more about the experience of drinking beer with good company, than about seriously appreciating the nuances and complexities of the drink.
I’ll continue “research” into this style and see where I get. And speaking of style research, I tried 21st Amendment’s black IPA, Back in Black, and as I suspected in this post, it was less hoppy than malty, although, unfortunately, it was even less hoppy than I feared. It was a good beer, but I would seriously hesitate to put the label IPA anywhere on the can. But on another note, 21st Amendment makes the best Saison I’ve ever had so far. If you find yourself in San Francisco, definitely order it!
Bye for now.