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The Craft Lager Has Arrived

The Upper Lip Lager Symposium
Brewers from Zoiglhaus, pFriem, Heater Allen, and Wayfinder discuss the art of brewing Lagers.

It’s been quite a week … and for me, in an unexpected way, it’s been filled with Lagers. Yes, not a normal week at all.

This is not to say I don’t appreciate a good Lager, Pilsner, or any other bottom-fermented Bavarian or Bohemian beer. It’s just barely spring and the Lagers already have me on alert.

It all started when I went to The Upper Lip’s first Beer Symposium on styles, this one focusing on, you guessed it, Lagers. With 6 different versions of the style on tap, including one each from the four guest speakers partaking in the discussion, there was much to try and discuss.

Hearing the detailed experiences of these advanced Portland area brewers, half of whom studied in Germany and are now making fresh versions of these beers, was a treat. And it was clear that other than having a fresh pint of a German brewed Lager style in front of me, their Lagers will be about as high-end as you’ll find in the area.

Yet this Sunday event only whet my appetite, as upon arriving at work two days later, I found an email from a co-worker, sharing a link to a twitter conversation about Founders new Solid Gold Premium Lager.

Taylor Laabs Tweet 24pk Founders Solid Gold

What really made this intriguing is the idea that Founders isn’t just releasing 24 packs of this 4.4% Lager – a first for a “craft brewer*,” but where consumers will see it in the store…

These will only be available in the Midwestern states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Indiana and will have an SRP of $18.99/24-pack ($19 in our taproom Company Stores)! They will start shipping the week of 3/19. Expect to find these in the same coolers you find the big, domestic brands. That’s right, we’re taking over the world one 24-pack at a time.

Founders Brewing Solid Gold Premium Lager

Yep, you’ll find it in the cooler with those suitcases of traditional Premium Lagers. So this is a completely different realm than soaking in the art of lagering beers with some local, small batch brewers, all while savoring the results of their labor. And in case you missed it last week, I wrote about my disdain for beer snobbery, so feel free to hold me accountable for my own words.

Then I recalled having Firestone Walker’s new Lager recently and was pretty impressed with the quality – no surprise based upon their success with the award-winning Pivo Pils. But they didn’t just release this beer either – it has it’s own website, it’s own instagram, direct link to merch, it’s own Spotify playlist, etc. This has become serious business.

To be completely honest, I tried and liked them both. The Founders is more of a traditional American Adjunct Lager – think Rainier, while the Firestone Walker is similar, it comes off lighter and cleaner finishing. I preferred the latter, but they’re both solid options as a Light Lager.

And about that twitter debate, my co-worker had the following to say:

Isn’t it crazy, Founders and Firestone going after one type of consumer, the traditional macro lager drinker, irks their other customer to the point where they think it damages their brand.

Mercedes sells a $30k sedan and the $300k Maybach
Tesla has the $30k version and the $130k Model S

Do the rich people driving the car that costs more than a house stop wanting the car because the company makes a version that also appeals to the masses?

Is it necessary to acquiesce to the Beer Nerds anymore? Should larger brewers care if the sophisticated drinker is upset they’re selling Lager at “premium beer” prices? Are these light lagers diluting the established brands these breweries have built simply to help them creep further into the mainstream?

All this Lager talk reminded me of a few years ago, when everyone was talking about the next big thing – how classic European styles were supposed to break through to the mainstream. And they finally have, yet it’s all been done somewhat under the radar and all amid the success of those Fruited and Hazy IPAs.

Firestone Walker Brewing Lager

Well, these are just two examples of Lager styles being brewed by established craft brewers.* Curious as to the extent one can find various options for Lager at one of Oregon’s largest bottle shops in Portland (Belmont Station), I came away with this staggering list of options…

Block15 Gloria
Buoy Czech Pils and Pils
Breakside Pilsner
Bridgeport Tiny Horse
Caldera Lawnmower Lager
Crux Pilz
Deschutes Pacific Wonderland
Everybody’s Brewing Local Logger
Ex Novo Mexican Lager
Faction Pils
Full Sail Cascade Pils
Gilgamesh Lager
Good Life / Ale Apothecary Brett Lager (not technically a lager…)
Heater Allen – Helles, Märzen, Mediator (Doppelbock), Pils, Rauch Bock, Schwarz
Hopworks Pilsner
Level Let’s Play Lager
Mazama Deadline Pils, Mazamanator (Doppelbock)
Oakshire Lagerbier
Occidental Lucubrator, Pilsner
Old Town Pilsner
Omission Lager (Gluten Free – CBA)
Pelican Five Fin (Pilsner)
pFriem Pilsner
Royale Pilsner
Session Lager, Sesion Cervesa (Full Sail)
Zoiglhaus – Zoigl-Kolsch, Zoigl-Pils, Zoigl-Schwarz

Out of State
Alesmith Sublime Lager
Chapman Crafted Pils
Crooked Stave Keller Pilsner
Evil Twin Low
Firestone Pivo Pils and Lager
Founders Solid Gold Lager
Georgetown Rogers Pilsner
Heretic Lager
Lagunitas Pils
Left Hand Poles Pils
Matchless Pilsner
Melvin Heyzeus
Montucky Cold Snack
Narragansett Lager, Shandy
Reubens Pilsner
Sierra Nevada Nooner, Hop Pils
Sixpoint Alpenflo (Helles), Crisp (Pilsner)
Sound Dunkel
Stillwater Yacht (Pilsner)
Stone Wussie Pils
Victory Home Grown (Lager)
Wander Vanbier (Fruit Lager)

Yes, you won’t find variety like this everywhere, but I counted 37 Lagers from 26 Oregon brewers. And I didn’t even list the German or “premium” styles available, nor have I touched upon Night Shift’s new Nite Lite Lager 12 pack or Modern Times’ successful Ice Pilsner. At this point, that anyone would challenge the idea that the American Lager has come full circle to craft would be absurd.

night shift nite lite
Courtesy of Night Shift Brewing

The real questions now at hand… are the Founders and Firestone’s of the world trying to keep up with the 10 Barrel Pub Beer that’s now available at your local 7-11? Will their new offerings steal away local Lager fans, or will they more likely cripple the already languishing Premium Lagers from the world’s largest brewers?

Personally, I think they’ve found an opportunity as a business to make money and while it might be irking some craft beer fans, at this point it doesn’t really matter – Craft Lagers are now being catered to everyone.

The Craft Lager is here to stay. And it’s now available in your Premium Lager cooler.


* Founders Brewing is 30% owned by the Mahou-San Miguel Group and not recognized as a craft brewer by the Brewers Association

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