As seen in the Burlington Free Press and BTV Foodie 5-13-2016 http://btvfoodie.com/story/fizzy-yellow-beers-time-shine
Almost since the inception of the craft beer movement, brewers have been waging a war against “fizzy yellow beer.”
This term has been a stand-in for all the mass produced pale lager that craft brewers saw as flavorless; something to be rejected and rebelled against. Some craft brewers have managed to preserve the tradition of brewing classic European lagers, however. Pilsners, helles lagers and Dortmunder Export lagers are brewed quietly in brewpubs and craft breweries around the country, but have been eclipsed by the popularity first of American amber ale and then, more recently, IPA. The snobbiest of craft beer fans have been known for rating perfect examples of traditional lagers as sub-par, saying that they lack the flavor intensity of other styles, effectively equating “craft beer” with “strongly flavored beer.”
So pale lager sat in the shadows for years while amber ale and then IPA got to dance in the limelight.
With the resurgence in popularity of so-called “heritage brands” (think PBR, Narragansett, Schlitz) craft brewers around the country have been afforded a rare chance to revive a category that has been marginalized: refreshingly light and crisp lagers. What these beers lack in flavor intensity they more than make up with subtle complexity and ability to slake one’s thirst. As Americans started re-familiarizing their palates with these old school lagers, some brewers saw an opportunity. Craft consumers were ready to drink lager again, so why not give them modern craft beer options.
If you’re digging this resurgence and looking from some craft lagers to stock your fridge with this spring, keep an eye open for some of the following brews.
von Trapp “Helles”
We are lucky here in Vermont to have a brewery that is dedicated to lager brewing. Stowe’s von Trapp Brewing has chosen to focus on perfecting versions of classic Austrian- and German-style lagers. Its helles lager is spot on and true to style. At just under 5 percent alcohol, it’s pale yellow, light-bodied with crisp carbonation and super clean on the finish. “Helles” means “bright” in German, and indicates that this lager is filtered. It’s actually the only lager that von Trapp filters, in fact, keeping it stylistically correct. Von Trapp recently released Helles in four-packs of 16 ounce cans.
Zero Gravity Green State Lager
Green State Lager is a perennial favorite from Zero Gravity Craft Brewery (Burlington). Light gold in color and 4.9 alcohol, this spin on pilsner pays homage to the best pale lagers in all of Europe, situating itself right between German pilsner and Czech pilsner. It’s perfectly crisp and snappy without being overly bitter. And although it’s brewed with modern techniques it lands squarely in the zone of tradition. The 12-ounce six-packs of cans position this to be a favorite on the lake or at a barbecue.
Smuttynose (Hampton, NH) has been brewing Vunderbar pilsner for years, but I feel like it’s just starting to catch on here in Vermont now that it is available in six-pack cans. For their version, the brewers also chose to split the difference between a German-style and Czech-style pilsner, using ingredients from both brewing traditions. I was surprised that Vunderbar is only 15 IBUs — for reference, that’s twice the IBUs of Budweiser but one-fifth the IBUs of most Vermont-brewed Double IPAs — as they manage to pack in so much citrusy hop aroma. Pale straw yellow with a nice frothy white head and fruity citrus aromas, Vunderbar is light enough for the golf course, but interesting enough for the dinner table.
Victory “Prima Pils”
The brewers at Victory (Downingtown, PA) wanted to brew an homage to the classic pilsners of Germany. They used “heaps” of whole-flower German and Czech hops (most brew with pelletized hops) and German pilsner malt. Although all the ingredients are European, the beer is a decidedly American take on the style with a “bracing herbal bite” from the hops. Golden yellow and light-bodied, this snappy pilsner is a great warm weather refresher, especially for hop heads looking for something less cloying than an IPA.
21st Amendment “El Sully”
Pilsner is not the only style of pale lager that craft brewers are embracing. To brew El Sully, an American craft beer take on a Mexican-style corn lager, 21st Amendment (San Fransisco, CA) employed certified non-GMO corn, pilsner and Vienna malts and fermented it with a Mexican lager yeast strain. The result is a straw-yellow beer with crackling carbonation offering up just a hint of the flaked maize used in the mash.
As a side-note, I’ve found that El Sully works perfectly in the only beer cocktail of which I approve: the michelada. Rim a pint glass with lime and salt, add ice to the glass, 4 ounces or so of V8 or tomato juice, top with El Sully, a couple dashes of Benito’s (Morrisville, VT) “Old Coy Dog” hot sauce and a squeeze of lime. Give it a quick (but gentle!) stir and sip with tacos. Thanks to Bottles – Fine Wine for the tip!)
Jeff S. Baker II is the Curator of the Curriculum for Farrell Distributing. You can find him on Twitter and Instagram @aPhilosophyOf.