Craft Lager – The Crisp Differentiator

The door to great lagers at Jack’s in Framingham

As the Craft Beer community continues to mull the “are we oversaturated?” conundrum (with another couple of thousand or so still in planning) craft beer consumers are thinking – how and why choose one over the other?

Craft beer drinkers that align their consumption with their local brewery are well chronicled – but what if there are three or more breweries within a 15 minute drive? What I am talking about is the “differentiator” of course.

The differentiator can be a “vibe”, a look, a specific beer, tap room theme or even a historical association. But what about a style? Sure there are breweries known for IPA’s (3 Floyds, Russian River and Lagunitas come to mind immediately) dark ales (Duck Rabbit) and super strong beers (Dogfish). But today, the hottest theme is craft beer is “crisp”. And in the world of beer crisp usually means “Lager”.

Embrace the crisp! Good to the last drop.

Not all lagers are created equal, and not all are crisp – (Yuengling’s popular brew as an example) – but most are lighter in color, body and have less malty sweetness than ales. (We will not get into the thick and sweet Bock lager style – as from a lager point of view it’s an outlier brew).

Which brings us to the lager style as being the differentiator specialty for some craft breweries. I have been fortunate to have visited three of these, and they were all fine breweries with tasty crisp lagers of various types – traditional and not.

Crisp is the way at Jack’s Abbey

Pretty well known in the east cost is “Jack’s Abbey” in Framingham Massachusetts – for their “all lager” line up which includes IPL’s (“India Pale Lagers”) like the hop bomb ”Hoponius Union” and the delectable session beer “Calyptra”. Their beers really are great and taproom superb, and they are also pretty large, not really a neighborhood place at this point.

There are two others that are smaller and not distributed outside of their area (that I am aware of) but also are “Lager focused”. “Little Harpeth” in Nashville (named after the local Harpeth River) sports the signature horizontal lagering tanks to maximize the yeast contact to squeeze out as much as possible from the lighter malts.

I enjoyed the wide array of their crisp lager styles – including the “not really a lager” Mosaic IPK. (“Indian Pale Kolsh”)and the more traditional “Chicken Scratch Pilsner”. In a great and diverse beer town like Nashville has become, it makes sense to have a wide selection of lighter hot weather beer options like at Little Harpeth.

Little Harpeth’s inventive IPK (Horizontal tank in the background)

Halfway across the country I happened upon another local craft brewery that focuses on “traditional styles” including some killer lagers in Chicago called “Dovetail Brewing”. On the fringes on the largely residential “North Center” neighborhood, Dovetail’s motto is “We brew like Monks (minus the vows)” – though I don’t think too many monks use bright yellow horizontal fermenting tanks!

Their house “Lager” at 4.8 abv is complex and refreshing, and their Vienna Lager was really tasty (a bit malty, but still crisp!).With 11 taps there’s room for the Hefeweizens, awesomely bright Helles, along with some somewhat unusual smoky Rauchbier. Even though it was closing time when I wandered in the staff was still energized and happily showed off their brewhouse and spoke proudly of their “traditional” beer ethos. If you are in “the second city” it’s well worth a visit.

If you are looking for an alternative to the “next IPA”, something that is more crisp and light but still craft and delicious – go the less hazy route and grab yourself and inventive craft lager, embrace the crisp.

Welcome to Chicago’s home for traditional beer styles – Dovetail