What San Francisco Giants Brewfest taught me about the future of lagers

Last time I wrote about running in Bay to Breakers. In that post, I mentioned that the day before, my friend Jon and I had played roadies for our mutual friend Nick, and his band Nova Albion. I did agree to be sober driver for the band, but that was only before I found out they would be performing at the San Francisco Giants Brewfest. I did get to enjoy some tastes and remain sober (didn’t need to drive until much later, after the game). For me, the highlight was Anchor Brewing’s California Lager. It got me to thinking about the future of lagers in the craft beer world and beyond.

Photograph of my friend Jon and I at the San Francisco Giants Brewfest, May 17, 2014.

My friend Jon and I at the San Francisco Giants Brewfest, May 17, 2014.

At the brewfest, I navigated toward Anchor Brewing and chatted with them a bit. They’re fairly local to my place of residence (just one coastal bay away), and a friend recently told me that during a tour of Anchor Brewing, they said the last employee hired was 5 years prior. Everybody just stays there because it’s such a great company to work for. So perhaps I’m becoming a fan.

4 lagers I like, and more on the way

Anchor Brewing might be known best for their Anchor Steam® Beer. Many do not realize this beer is actually brewed with lager yeasts, but fermented at warmer, ale temperatures. It was one of the first beers I liked. At the brewfest I also tried Anchor California Lager®. I hate to admit that I buy a beer by the label, but this one has the grizzly bear that inspired our state flag, so hey.

Now let me say this: I haven’t tasted many lagers that I’ve liked. It took me many years to even approach beer seriously because I thought all beers were bland and watery, like the warm, pissy beer that I had tasted only sips of in my younger years. When I finally discovered a whole new world of beer crafted with care, I associated the “American lager” with the mass-produced beers, which my mouth had previously shunned. I liked Anchor California Lager®. It’s not so watery. It has some interesting hop thing going on that I expect from ales.

So it got me to thinking: I have recently tasted some lagers that I like a lot, and it seems like I’m seeing interesting lagers more often.

Last summer my friends Manuel, Tim, and I toured Golden Road Brewing in Los Angeles. The tour was fun, the company was good, and we learned about a throwing game called Aunt Sally. Look into it. We also tasted some of their Cabrillo Kölsch. On the day we visited, we dressed light, and we lingered in the cool, refrigerated storage. Typical L.A. weather. Golden Road contends that the Kölsch style is well suited for warm-weather consumption, and I agree.

Photograph of my friends Manuel, Tim, and I touring Golden Road Brewing in Los Angeles, California, September 14, 2013.

My friends Manuel, Tim, and I touring Golden Road Brewing in Los Angeles, California, September 14, 2013.

Of course, I see North Coast Brewing Co.’s Scrimshaw in most bars I go to, so they must be doing something right with that Pilsner. I always forget Kölsch and Pilsner are actually pale lagers. The light color makes me expect a (mass-produced) “American lager.” Yet my expectations are usually contrasted with acceptable flavor.

I’m a fan of Ninkasi Brewing Company, so I watch a lot of what they do. They started 8 years ago with a humble 15-BBL system and they’ve grown to be the 30th largest craft brewery in the US. In their blog, they’ve written lots about lagers, and in the latest expansion of their brewery, they’re saving space to make lots and lots more lagers!

Renaissance of Lager

The current state of craft beer is often referred to as a renaissance of beer. Popularity of modern craft beer has a lot to do with the local and handcraft movements. So with the rise of craft beer, lagers have been getting a bad rap.

“Lagers have been associated with mass produced beer that lack the passion that a lot of beer fans are looking for,” says my friend Jon, homebrewer in Santa Cruz, California.

Lagers dominated the beer market for so long. To set themselves apart, craft brewers made anything other than lagers. Now beer makers are realizing it’s not the style itself that lacks heart. They’re finding new ways to make lagers with heart and flavor. Within the beer renaissance, there could be a renaissance of lagers.

Lagers will make converts

Brewers Association has changed their mission statement, and made their ultimate goal for craft beer to have 20% market share by the year 2020. To increase sales, craft brewers and marketers focus on converting beer drinkers from the mass-produced lagers, to craft beer. If they already are drinking lagers, they’ll probably prefer one that tastes better. Craft lagers would be a great way to gain conversion and further the 20-20 goal.

In conclusion, craft beer is helping people discover exciting new beers. There is an ever-growing appreciation for the vast variety of beer styles. In the future, beer drinkers will increasingly rediscover the American lager.

In the next post, I’ll write about how to choose partners when starting a brewery.

 

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Nathan Pierce

    Drinks beer, quit his job, planning to start a brewery. I try to write every week about something in my life relating to my pursuit to start a brewery. Topics include: entrepreneurship, beer, leadership, and productivity.