Call it fizzy yellow beer, pale lager has been considered inferior for as long as craft beer has been a thing.
And, of course, pioneering craft breweries such as Boston Beer Co. and Stone Brewing built marketing campaigns around defining the difference in quality.
But over the past few years, more and more craft versions of lager beers have been showing up on store shelves, including some new ones from Georgia breweries.
Earlier this month, Athens’ Creature Comforts Brewing debuted its Classic City Lager in Atlanta, with six- and 12-pack cans, as well as draft now available year-round.
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Classic City has been a draft offering in Athens since 2017, and quickly gained a following there. Described on the can as a “clean, crisp, and easy-drinking lager,” at 4.2 percent alcohol, it’s also promoted with the slogan “good cold beer.”
“I think there are a lot of craft beer drinkers that are maturing,” says Creature Comforts co-founder and head brewer David Stein. “And they are getting a little fatigued by intense, aggressive craft beers. So we’re getting back to where it all began with European lagers.
“It’s also something that appeals to non-craft beer drinkers, because the majority of what they drink are pale lager beers that are lighter and lower in alcohol. For them, it’s less that Classic City is craft lager, and it’s more that it’s an opportunity for them to support a local company with the kind of beer they like to drink.”
Mostly, though, Stein wants it known that Classic City is made with malted barley and German Saphir and Hallertau Blanc hops. And other than a touch of flaked wheat, it contains no adjuncts such as rice or corn.
“Classic City is delicious,” he declares. “A big part of this beer is keeping it simple, and it is just good cold beer for all the people who like to drink that. That’s on the can, and that’s what it comes down to. And because it’s lower in alcohol, it costs less to produce, and it allows us to sell it at a lower price point.”
Hitting the shelves in late November, Standard Deluxe Lager from Wild Heaven Beer in Atlanta is a somewhat darker and more robust beer with a bit more alcohol at 5 percent. It will be available year-round on draft and in six-pack cans.
It was named for the Waverly, Ala., screen print shop and live music venue. And Wild Heaven co-founder Nick Purdy calls it “an easygoing, easy-drinking German-style lager designed to be your go-to for all seasons. A beer that tastes like beer in all the right ways.
“If you come from a craft perspective, and you’ve been drinking craft beer for a long time, but you do want a lager, the idea of one that has a bit more going on, and has a little more flavor, that feels satisfying. And that’s where we landed.”
Not surprisingly, perhaps, Atlanta’s SweetWater Brewing has been working on a pale lager for a while now. But it comes with a compelling twist.
It’s called Guide Beer: SweetWater “talking head” Tucker Berta Sarkisian says the company wanted to design a beer “for the great outdoors.”
“We reached out to some of the most well-known and revered guides from around the nation — fishing, hiking, paddling, skiing, you name it — and did our version of focus groups,” she says. “We asked what kind of beer they drink at home or after a long day out on an excursion, what do their customers like to drink on their boat or pack in their backpacks.
“Overwhelmingly, they said light, crisp, low alcohol. And they stressed cans over bottles, because bottles break, and rattle around and scare fish away. Also, all of that guide focus-grouping aligned with industry stats showing a shift toward a lighter profile among craft consumers.”
Look for Guide Beers to hit shelves in mid-February, packaged in 16-ounce cans with a series of topography maps on the labels. But in the meantime, Berta Sarkisian says you may see images of the cans popping up on the Instagram accounts of guides. Or you may even get a sip of the beer at special events, like fly-fishing tournaments and conservation fundraisers.
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