Foodie: Lagers, pilsners swell in popularity

2015

By Alexa Epitropoulos | aepitropoulos@alextimes.com 

As summer reaches its midway point, craft beer fans are seeking out lighter, more refreshing beer options.

It should come as no surprise that session IPAs, which still pack a hop-heavy punch at a lower alcohol percentage, are popular this time of year. American pale ales, which are also frequently on tap at breweries and craft beer bars, are a go-to for those looking for a drinkable beer that still has a complex flavor profile.

Lagers and pilsners – lighter styles that were long considered outcasts or, at best, the wallflowers of the craft beer world – are making a comeback in a big way this summer.
For proof, look no further than Alexandria’s Port City Brewing Co., which launched its own lager series earlier this year. This lighter offering is produced in smaller batches than Port City’s staples, allowing it to experiment with seasonal flavors.

“We can do these fun projects that we’re not used to brewing on the very large scale,” said Chris Van Orden, Port City’s manager of marketing and beer strategy. “It’s a fun thing for us and our brewers are excited.” So far, Port City has released Athree varieties of the lager: Helles, a classic German-style blonde lager, Oscura, a Mexican-style dark lager, and, for the summer, a German pilsner.

The newfound popularity of lagers and pilsners represents a shift from the last few years, when IPAs ruled summer beer lists. IPAs, Van Orden says, aren’t necessarily going anywhere, but people are seeking more variety.

“I think people are appreciating more styles of beer, which is a good thing,” Van Orden said. “We make lots of beers – there will always be IPAs. IPAs will always be a popular style, but there will be different types.”

So, what are lagers and pilsners? Lagers, which originally hail from Germany, are
beers that mature in cold storage. That’s because lagers, in order to be classified as such, must use lager yeast, which works through the beer from bottom to top and thrives in cold temperatures.

Pilsners are a subset of the lager family and were named after Pilsen, a city in Bohemia, which is now the Czech Republic. Although pilsners and lagers offer different flavors, both have a similar end result: a clean and crisp-tasting beer.

Port City isn’t the only Northern Virginia brewery to participate in the lager revival.
Portner Brewhouse has its flagship Hofbrau Pilsner and a Vienna Cabinet Lager, both based on original recipes from the Robert Portner Brewing Co. Caboose Brewing Co. in
Vienna has a Wasser Bohemian Pilsner on tap, while regional brewery Devil’s Backbone Brewing Co. distributes its Vienna Lager widely across the commonwealth and has a number of other lager varities, including pilsner Call me Pilsmael and lager Evergreen Rye, available at its taproom in Roseland, Virginia.

Fans of hoppy beer will still be able to find plenty of IPAs on tap, however. Citrusy IPAs are retaining their popularity this summer, taking a cue from the ever-popular Citradelic Tangerine IPA from New Belgium Brewing Co. and Grapefruit Sculpin from Ballast Point Brewing Co.

Port City is also releasing its Integral IPA, a lighter, more aromatic IPA, on Friday. That beer will be available on tap throughout the summer and will also reemerge from time to time, Van Orden said.

What should craft beer fans expect as the summer goes on? Lagers won’t be the only German beer style widely available.

Kolsches, a light-colored ale (ales are fermented with yeast that works from the top down and stored in warmer conditions), are showing up on regional tap lists as Oktoberfest approaches.

Curious beer drinkers can taste test these distinctly German beers at a number of nearby institutions. Mad Fox Brewing Co. in Falls Church offers a Kellerbier Kolsch, a past winner at Great American Beer Fest, while Bad Wolf Brewing Co. in Manassas, Virginia offers the Liger Kolsch.

Heritage Brewing Co., which has locations at Market Common in Arlington and Manassas, also offers a kolsch in its taproom.