Pick Six is The A.V. Club’s monthly recommendations for the beers we’re currently digging.
If you pay heed to a certain group of new brewery owners, you’d be led to believe there’s a massive shortage of light lagers within the craft beer industry. First there was Barrels & Sons Brewery, the brainchild of millennials born into the Mondavi wine and Busch beer families, which Forbes alerted us to in July. These fortunate sons said with three-alarm concern: “No one had focused on classic pilsners” and “every American lager or pilsner beer brand is no longer owned by Americans anymore,” necessitating them to set up a brewery in luxury yurts on 300 acres in Napa. They had to right this wrong.
Then there’s the music industry veterans in L.A. who founded 24HourBeer because they noticed craft beer was really popular, but “overly complex flavor profiles can be a turnoff for beer drinkers who are happiest with light, easy drinking Mexican and Asian lagers.” So they’re hyping Day Beer, “a crushable, crisp, refreshing, CA inspired lager that rules” that’s “coming soon,” but already featured in stylish photoshoots on Instagram.
Launching a brewery to address a perceived shortage of bland lagers seems antithetical to the motivation sparking the craft brewing revolution more than 30 years ago. Back then, “yellow fizzy beer” was all beer drinkers could find. And when breweries like Anchor and Sierra Nevada made beers with discernible hop flavor, a whole new world opened up. As more breweries have opened, more and more extreme flavors have become commonplace. In a way, embracing light lagers as a form of rebellion is just craft beer coming full circle. Much of our culture is regurgitating the 1980s right now, so why not beer?
The problem with marketing bland lagers as a righteous form of rebellion is that, well, they aren’t. There isn’t a shortage of lagers on the market, craft or otherwise. Most of the top breweries in America have launched a “crushable” lager in the past few years, if they didn’t already make one. For skilled brewers, making an interesting yet clean-tasting lager like a pilsner is a challenge that can be a nice change of pace from hoppy IPAs, sours and barrel-aged stouts. It’s an homage to the great beers that came before, not a revolutionary act of protest.
I enjoy a good lager on occasion, just like the majority of beer drinkers in the world. But if you’re starting a brewery from scratch, please bring something more to the table than Hamm’s in a hip-looking can. You don’t need to make lagers great again—because they already are.
As an act of protest against this pseudo lager-love, this month I’m recommending three sours and three IPAs. Take that.
This East Coast brewery once again turned to its corporate owners in Belgium (Duvel Moortgat) to develop an approachable beer steeped in European brewing tradition, yet also at home in the American craft beer scene. Brewed in open vats, the beer picks up interesting naturally occurring yeasts floating in the air that pump out sour and acidic flavors. The beer is aged in normal stainless steel instead of wood barrels, like many sour beers, sending the flavor profile off in a different cleaner direction. Finally, Duvel Moortgat colleagues at Liefmans blend aged batches of beer with young batches and this tasty concoction is ready. Thankfully, it is produced year-round.
One of the biggest public art events in the Midwest is Grand Rapids, Michigan’s annual ArtPrize. For five years, Founders has created a special beer to celebrate and also financially support the event. This year’s beer, Green Zebra, is a gose, the formerly endangered sour beer style traditionally flavored with coriander and salt. The style is easy to find now and commonly brewed with fruit additions. What isn’t common is drinking one that’s a thoroughly enjoyable as this beer. The first impression is grown-up Kool Aid, but that’s quickly complicated by the juicy mouthfeel, like pulpy orange juice. As you savor the sea salt-dry note at the end, you might wonder if it really matters at all that a large Spanish brewer owns 30 percent of this company now.
As the dust settles around recent changes at New Belgium, there’s evidence of a split personality developing. The good is evidenced by this blended mixed fermentation saison, which could be what the company aims for with their recent acquisition of San Francisco’s Magnolia Brewery and collaboration with Oud Beersel blendery. The label very rightly advises to look for flavors of honeydew, which somehow work better in a beer than a fruit. I mean, honestly, who actually eats honeydew? The other side of the personality was in the same shipment from the brewery: a sample bottle of the garish habanero pepper and cinnamon concoction called Atomic Pumpkin Voodoo Ranger, that I admit, I’m in no rush (or maybe just a little afraid) to open. Is this reflective of new CEO Steve Fechheimer, a veteran of the liquor industry? Only time will tell.
Warpigs is a brewpub in Copenhagen that Mikkeller and Three Floyds opened together a few years ago. Now they’re setting their sights on expansion, using a bit of the genius of each company to build a new empire. Warpigs’ dark metal imagery seems to come from Three Floyds, and the elevated contract brewing seems to come from the Mikkeller playbook. This hazy IPA has plenty of juicy flavor, but true haze-hounds will be disappointed to see a bit of light peek through the brew. I suppose that’s the price you pay for a longer shelf life, which allows distribution through a wide swath of the Midwest, not just one brewery taproom. As an introduction to the style that might bring in drinkers who are averse to “whale hunting,” this beer is a welcome addition to the beer aisle.
Even if this IPA weren’t a standout in a crowded field, I might still recommend it for the label art alone. A golden gun-wielding cat astride a fire-breathing unicorn rears up in front of a rainbow. If that doesn’t capture the experience of drinking an amazing IPA, I don’t know what does.
A business trip took me to Orange County, California, in September. As luck would have it, I stumbled across Haven Gastropub as it was celebrating its eighth anniversary with this NEIPA. It hit all the right notes: orange juice aroma and flavor, fluffy texture, and a clean finish with hardly any bitterness. Of the nine Southern California IPAs I tried on that trip, this one was the best.
If you have a brew you’d like considered for Pick Six, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.