Past Pilsners: Other Lager Styles

Posted on August 13th, 2009


Lagers don’t get much attention in the craft beer world, mostly because of the higher level of difficulty in making them compared to ales. As a result many beer drinkers, even craft beer drinkers, often associate lagers with the thin, watery beers made by the big macro breweries like Miller and Coors. In reality, there is a wide variety of different styles of lagers ranging from the hoppy, to the sweet and everything in between. (Not sure what makes a lager different from a ale? Take a look at our article on the subject) Today we’re going to take a look at some lager styles you may not know from Germany, the land of lagers:

Bock/Dopplebock – These nutty, sweet beers were originally brewed by German monks to be consumed as a source of sustenance during fasts.  Their malty flavors are balanced by the smoothness that is a hallmark of lagers. Sam Adams Winter Lager is a great example of the style by an American craft brewer.

As you might expect, dopplebocks (dopple meaning double) are a much stronger version of the style, sometimes ranging to the 7, 8, or 9% alcohol by volume range.  One of the first widely available dopplebocks was Paulaner’s Salavator and as a result many other brewers have taken to naming their dopplebocks with a name ending in “–ator.” Examples include Ayinger’s Celebrator and Spaten’s Optimator. Both bocks and dopplebocks also happen to be associated with goats, which appear frequently on their labels, owing to the fact ‘bock’ can refer to male goats in German.

Rauchbier This style’s name means “smoked beer” in German and I really could think of no better name. The taste is almost like barbecue. Although there are many different styles of smoked beer, this is the original, tracing its roots back to the 1500’s when smoked beer was pretty much all that was available as cleaner techniques for preparing grains had yet to be invented. Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Urbock is the undisputed signature version of this style.

Eisbock German for “ice beer,” this is lager which is frozen after brewing and some of the ice is removed,  leaving a more concentrated beer, both in terms of flavor and alcoholic strength, which can range from 9 to 15%. The end result is a rich, sweet and smooth beer akin to brandy, or cognac, great for warming you up on cold nights. Please don’t confuse this style with the ridiculous “Ice” brands of the major macro breweries, such as Bud Ice. While some of them are indeed frozen like an eisbock to increase strength, they don’t resemble the style in any other way. Kulmbacher Reichelbrau Eisbock is one of the better known versions of this style, but it’s still quite rare, as a result of the difficult in producing it.

Dunkel/Dark LagerThis is lager brewed with dark, sweet and rich grains, but balanced nicely by the smoothness of the lager process. It’s not nearly as nutty as a bock, but makes up for it with a creaminess unique to the style. Negra Modelo, while often mistaken for a Vienna lager, is actually an example of the style, and probably the most well known version of it. Try a Blackened  Voodoo Lager from Dixie brewing for an American craft take on the style.  Schwarzbier (black beer) is a very similar style, of which Sam Adams Black Lager is a great example.

Dortmunder ExportA style originally from the town of Dortmund, it’s a light, crisp beer similar to a pilsner but more intense, with a stronger maltiness and hints of honey in it. Like many “export” styles it was made more robust in order to better survive shipment to other countries and faraway lands, however the 5-6% alcohol range may seem light to modern drinkers. This style was once one of the most popular in Germany and much of Europe. The heavy damage Dortmund endured during World War II resulted in this style becoming fairly uncommon today. Try a Great Lakes Dortmunder Gold for an American craft take on this style.

Have any other favorite craft lagers that look past pilsners? Let us know on Twitter! Next time you try one of these, or any other beer tweet what it is and add the #mybeer hashtag to it to let us know what you’re drinking and what you think about it.