Lager Trends and Breweries to Look Out for in 2019
For the past couple of years, many people have been saying “this is the year for lager”. I’m not sure if it happened, if it didn’t happen, or if it came and went. Craft lager has slowly grown, and I suspect it will continue to do so in 2019.
For the most part, the lagers we have seen have fallen into two categories. There are old-school style brews made in a traditional manner, and new school ones have embraced modern American hop trends. There has been little variation from those two, so maybe we will start to see a little more experimentation in 2019 (for better or worse).
Industrial Arts made two of my favorite brews in 2018 that were both interesting lagers. The first was Summer Landscape, a lager brewed with spelt. The second was Ommekase, a Japanese rice lager brewed in collaboration with Brewery Ommegang. Both were fantastic. More experimentation with grains could be interesting. While hazy lagers exist in the form of kellerbier, perhaps New England India Pale Lagers could blow up this year? Brut Pils have already popped up. Maybe we’ll see more of those. What about pastry pils (again, for better or worse)?
There are many lists out there for the best lagers to drink. The following is a list great breweries to look out for this year that focus largely, some entirely, on lager. Kudos to them for committing themselves to brewing something that is harder to nail, takes more time to produce, and is not as sexy as DDH DIPA’s and pastry stouts. Go out and show them some love this year.
Jack's Abby Craft Lagers – Jack’s Abby started making their new school lagers in 2011 in Framingham, Massachusetts. Their crisp, hoppy lagers helped introduce a new generation of craft brew drinkers to lager. Since opening, they have expanded, and now make more traditional lagers as well. The brewery is 100% committed to lagers, but did create an offshoot called Springdale in 2016, which is making, ales, barrel-aged and other experimental brews. But the barrel aging isn’t limited to Springdale, as Jack’s Abby is also barrel aging lagers. Not missing the rise in popularity of kellerbier, there’s also a whole line of releases dedicated to this style. Jack’s Abby continues to grow, and is expanding their footprint in Massachusetts, with a new taproom coming in 2019 to downtown Boston.
Notch Brewing –In Salem, Massachusetts, Notch focuses on sessionable beers, with lager, pale ale, wheat ale, bitter all under 5.0% abv. Within Notch’s lager portfolio, there are several Czech-style brews, and to show their commitment to doing this properly, they have installed a proper Czech-style side-pull tap system in their taproom. Dabbling in stronger, voll bier, they have created the Voll Projekt, a side-project creating beers with some higher abv. It’s worthwhile to mention that they have a mobile beer garden which appeared at several public events in 2018, and can be hired for private events in Massachusetts. I’m trying to see if I can get them to come to New York.
Von Trapp Brewing – I kind of dismissed von Trapp before trying their beers, and that was a big mistake on my part. Von Trapp, neighbors to the Alchemist and Lawson’s, is an all-lager operation making some fantastic brews. For the most part, they are on the traditional side, but they have a few beers that are more in line with modern American hop trends. They opened a new facility in 2015, making 36,000 barrels per year, so they have been able to expand their footprint in the Northeast. They also just announced a redesign for their packing of canned beers, and it appears will be canning more of their core brands, currently available by bottle only. I suspect there will be a lot of these being crushed with brats at backyard barbeques this year.
Dovetail Brewery – According to the Brewer’s Association, Chicago now has more breweries than any other US city, and Dovetail has been making some of the city’s best lagers since 2016. I was fortunate enough to visit last year. They primarily make German lagers, but dabble in other “continental” styles (gueuze, grodziskie, spelt bruin among others). Dovetail began canning late in 2018, and hopefully those cans will help spread the lager love in 2019.
Urban Chestnut Brewing Company – An old-school brewery that has embraced the pounder can. The brewery’s co-owner and brewmaster, Florian Kuplent, is from Germany, got his start professionally brewing in Germany, and then went on to brew at several other locales around the globe, including several years for Anheuser-Busch. He stuck around in St. Louis to open Urban Chestnut in 2011, and returned to his homeland to open Urban Chestnut Hallertau in 2015. All their brews are fantastic, but the zwickel really stands out.
Austin Beer Garden Brewery - The Austin Beer Garden Brewing Co. (or, if it’s easier, the ABGB) started making beer in 2013. In addition to the brewery, ABGB’s facility also includes a music venue and dining. Their community-minded “Hell Yes Project” donates 5% of their profits to their partners that help improve their community, and the people in it. For three years in a row, they have brought home the brewpub of the year award from the Great American Beer Festival.
Occidental Brewing Co. – Portland, Oregon is becoming a hotbed for lager beer, and Occidental has been cranking out delicious ones since 2011. In 2018, they expanded their footprint, opening a new facility in Nevada. Portland once held the title for most breweries in America. While that title may now have gone to Chicago, breweries like Occidental are helping to create diversity in the Beervana brewing scene that helps keep it one of the best beer cities in the country.
Zoiglhaus Brewing Company – Portland, a community-minded city, has a brewery that has embraced the nearly extinct, community-minded brewing tradition of the Zoiglhaus from northeast Bavaria. While they do have a couple of ales, the lagers are where it’s at.
Wayfinder Beer – While not shying away from the NEIPA haze craze, Wayfinder’s real passion is for lager (and they also have the Czech-style side pull taps). The Portland brewery’s three-way collaboration with Heater Allen and Modern Times called “Terrifico”, made Bloomberg’s 2018 11 best beers of the year list. Not bad for a brewery that just opened in 2017.
Heater Allen Brewing – Located southwest of Portland, Heater Allen is making highly-regarded lagers. While the focus is German and Czech style lagers, they do make a couple ales. But these are not the “we made an IPA for your hophead friend for when you visit the brewery” kind of ales. They stick with the German tradition, making an altbier, kolsch, and a hefeweizen.
In addition to these American breweries, I’m excited to get more of the German brews being canned in Connecticut by B. United International. While primarily an importer, B. United also has an affiliated brewery, and now cans beer for several overseas breweries through its Tank Container Project. These include Schlenkerla’s helles, and St. Georgenbraeu’s kellerbier. When you get your hands on these brews, which include a canned on date, you know you are getting a quality product.
Finally, Bamberg, Germany’s Mahr’s Brau gave their packaging a redesign last year, and it looks great. They are also canning now, with dates on the packaging, which is also fantastic. They have evolved their brand to meet modern tastes, but the liquid inside remains fantastic, traditional beer, which they have been brewing since 1670.