On Tap in Hawaii: Craft brewers warm to lighter lager style
There was a time in the not-too-distant past when lager beers were shunned by the craft brewing world. A lot has changed over the last few years, and we are in the middle of a craft lager explosion.
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There was a time in the not-too-distant past when lager beers were shunned by the craft brewing world. The light, easy-drinking and refreshing style of beer was associated with “big beer,” with very few smaller craft breweries venturing to make them. A lot has changed over the last few years, and we are in the middle of a craft lager explosion.
But there are other reasons why craft breweries took a while to really start cranking out lighter lagers. In years past, everyone was in a race to produce more IPAs, the better to satisfy consumers’ thirst for bigger, bolder beers. Lagers also require more space and time to produce, and that means higher costs. But now that breweries have started to embrace the can format that has become synonymous with lager, the production of lighter lagers is a full-blown trend among not only the larger craft breweries, but smaller ones as well.
Two early craft lager pioneers are actually in Hawaii: Kona Brewing Co., with its Longboard Lager, and Maui Brewing Co.’s Bikini Blonde.
Both breweries have built their businesses around these crisp beers, which fit perfectly in Hawaii’s climate. Almost out of necessity, these lagers were produced to satisfy both local tastes and the desire of visitors to cool off in the island heat. Both beers have garnered awards, and Maui Brewing was an early embracer of using cans.
SO WHY the sudden surge in lagers? As the industry evolves and grows, drinkers are looking for new offerings, and the race to brew the hoppiest IPA or biggest Bourbon barrel-aged stout has slowed. And since Americans drink pale lagers more than any other style of beer, it was inevitable that smaller craft brewers would start making them. But it’s not all about trying to draw the everyday Coors Light or Bud drinker. Many craft breweries are creating lagers to satisfy the craft beer drinker looking for something lighter, yet still well-crafted and flavorful.
IN JUST the last few weeks, a number of new craft lagers have been released:
Maui Brewing’s Hop Kine, a hopped-up lager with bright citrus aromas and a more distinct hop bitterness, offers the lightness of a lager with the flavor of an IPA.
Along the same line, Stone Brewing Co.’s Tropic of Thunder Lager is heavily aromatic, with notes of pineapple, orange zest and mango. Though it resembles an IPA in aroma, the body of this beer is light and clean with very little bitterness. It truly bridges the IPA and lager styles.
Stone has also released Enter Night, a bolder pilsner-style beer with light malt notes followed by an assertive, clean bitterness that keeps the finish dry and refreshing. Enter Night, sold in jet-black cans, is a collaboration with the heavy metal band Metallica.
On the lighter side, Deschutes Brewing’s Da Shootz is a 4 percent alcohol-by-volume lager with a moniker that gives a nod to the islands. There’s not much going on with this beer — aroma is almost nonexistent and flavor very light. While it may be easy to drink, it possesses no unique characteristics to set it apart from a Coors Light or Miller Lite.
Capitalizing on the huge popularity of Mexican import lagers, Sierra Nevada’s Sierraveza is a new release (in cans). If you’re a Modelo or Pacifico drinker, there’s not much reason to make the switch here. Sierraveza is well made, with a touch of malty sweetness and a perfectly crisp finish, but there is little to distinguish it from larger brand imports.
Ola Brew’s Ma‘a lager is the second can release from the young Kona brewery (the first was Ola IPA). Ma‘a is a fuller, more malt-forward European lager similar to a German helles. At first, it may seem reminiscent of Maui’s Bikini Blonde, but it ends without the snappy finish. Instead, a slight white-bready flavor lingers, with very little bitterness.
Tim Golden, a certified cicerone, shares his obsession with all things craft beer on the third week of each month. He is part owner of Village Bottle Shop in Kakaako.