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Beer Town: Loving lager in the time of the pandemic

Brewed in the Czech Republic, Pilsner Urquell is known as “the world’s first Pilsner.”
Brewed in the Czech Republic, Pilsner Urquell is known as “the world’s first Pilsner.”

Credit: Bob Townsend

Credit: Bob Townsend

I’ve always loved lager.

It’s the first beer I ever sipped, long before I knew there were any other styles. And it was what my father and grandfather drank on draft at the joint at the end of our road.

For fun, my father and grandfather made beer in the basement, sometimes. But they would be the first to admit, it wasn’t anything like lager. Later, when I started home brewing, I managed to approximate the kind of brown ale they made, and I agreed.

Then, as craft beer came calling, American pale ale and IPA, Russian imperial stout and Belgian saison captured my imagination — while lager took a back seat as the thing I would drink in the summer or with particular foods, such as pizza or Tex-Mex.

More recently, though, I’ve returned to lager in a big way. Like other beer drinkers I know, I find it’s an antidote to current styles that are too big or too murky or too sour or brewed with too many competing ingredients.

Not surprisingly, I suppose, the pandemic has strengthened my lager bond. Besides the beers I sample to write about, lager is what I drink on my porch most of the time. It’s light and refreshing, of course. But it’s comforting, too. And comfort is something people want and need right now.

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Good Word Brewing and Blackberry Farm Brewery collaborated on an Italian Pilsner called Any Day Now.
Courtesy of Bob Townsend
Good Word Brewing and Blackberry Farm Brewery collaborated on an Italian Pilsner called Any Day Now. Courtesy of Bob Townsend

Credit: Bob Townsend

Credit: Bob Townsend

I hear that from chefs, who are offering comfort food on their takeout menus. And brewers, who say their familiar core beers are outselling everything else by a wide margin.

Grocery and package stores confirm that’s what customers want, as well. Adam Tolsma, the beer buyer for Green’s Beverages, told me, “It’s like they’re coming home to Mama.”

One thing I should note, though, before anyone freaks out: I am not drinking Budweiser or Miller Lite. I’m drinking local craft lagers, and classic Czech- and German-style Pilsners.

By grace or coincidence, this spring and early summer has been a really fine time for lagers made by Georgia breweries. And most have been released in generous 16-ounce cans.

Scofflaw’s new Los Malhechores Mexican lager is an easy-drinking 4.2% alcohol beer brewed with Pilsner malt and a bit of corn. Its malty aromas and flavors are balanced by a bit of hop bitterness, with citrus notes and a touch of sweetness.

Halfway Crooks’ ADA is a German 4.8% alcohol Pilsner brewed with German Pilsner malt and German hops. Look for citrus and subtle floral hops complementing the soft house lager yeast character. It’s unfiltered and “lagered for a long period.”

Creature Comforts and Burial Beer collaborated on Culture Keepers.
Creature Comforts and Burial Beer collaborated on Culture Keepers.

Credit: Bob Townsend

Credit: Bob Townsend

Sadly, two of my favorites were limited-edition collaborations that aren’t available now but hopefully will be available in some form in the future.

Good Word’s Any Day Now was an Italian Pilsner made with Blackberry Farm Brewery. The pale gold Pils had a delicate mouthfeel, lovely earthy and herbal notes, and bracing bitterness in the finish. At 5% alcohol, it proved a perfect pandemic porch beer.

Creature Comforts’ Culture Keepers was a bigger 7% alcohol maibock brewed with Burial Beer. It was a near-perfect, naturally carbonated malty lager — clean, balanced and beautiful to behold, with traditional ingredients, including Czech Saaz hops and Munich malt.

But since March, my go-to beer has been Pilsner Urquell, sold in a 4-pack of 16-ounce cans and readily available in package and grocery stores. Brewed since 1842, it is the original, and still one of the best, Pilsner-style lagers in the world.

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