When American Light Lager is discussed in beer circles these days, the macro beer companies are front and center in our minds. Who can blame us? Mass marketing, low prices, and our own perceived dogmas of what beer was years ago play into our consciousness.
Jeff Alworth from the popular beer blog, Beervana, posed an interesting poll question on social media a few weeks ago. “It’s much harder to make a pilsner than an IPA. Pilsners are so simple you can’t hide anything, but you can always just add more hops to an IPA. So let’s put ‘em to a poll.”
Personally, I agree with the statement that Pilsners/Lagers are harder to make than IPAs. Out of 220 participants, 194 people agreed with this statement as well. I don’t need to know the P- value of this to know this is significant. With a grain bill and hop schedule usually fairly simple, there is really nothing to hide behind.
How the Germans Assisted American Beer
Until the mid-1800s, Americans enjoyed many of the same beers that were popular In Europe. These were usually higher strength and dark in color. The early colonies did not provide Americans to grow barley. As a result, barley needed to be imported from England. This made the beer very expensive to brew.
Due to political and religious freedoms being sought, America saw a rather large influx of German migrants. One of these brewers was David G. Yuengling. Like many immigrants who are looking to recreate the tastes of their motherland, these German brewers, like Yuengling, were interested in recreating the Bavarian lagers of their homeland.
With barley slowly becoming available in the states, it was not of the same quality the Germans knew back home. The addition of adjuncts, such as rice and corn, were added to their recipes.
Like many times throughout Europe, these beers were brewed with the working class in mind. It was common for many to have a beer or two with a meal. The low alcohol provided in this beer allowed men to not be overly intoxicated when they went back to work.
That Dirty Word…Prohibition
In the 1800s the Temperance movement shifted from hard liquor to beer. Hard liquor consumption had dropped 80% and now the beer production naturally increased. In 1920 with the passing of the 18th Amendment, the start of Prohibition caused 1,500 breweries to close their doors.
By 1933 Prohibition had ended. Americans were left with a vague recollection of what this American Light Lager should taste like. Breweries were left with the task of trying to brew what their customers remembered. Bottom line here is breweries would do anything to brew what their customers wanted. This notion still lives on with New England IPAs.
My good friend, Ed, decided to brew an American Light Lager a few weeks ago. While brewing, he snapped a few pictures and sent them my way, along with his recipe.
Style Profile for an American Light Lager as are set by the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) Style Committee are as follows:
• Color Range: 2-4 SRM
• Original Gravity: 1.040-1.050 OG
• Final Gravity: 1.004-1.010 FG
• IBU Range: 8-18
• ABV Range: 4.2 – 5.3%
• Aroma: Grainy malt aroma with slight sweetness or even corn-like qualities. Hops are lightly floral or spicy. Clean fermentations leave little yeast characteristics. Noticeable DMS detection is common.
• Flavor: Neutral in flavor. Low to medium-low hop bitterness. Malt has a sweet corn-like presence. Finish is very dry and crisp. This beer is extremely thirst quenching.
• Appearance: Extremely clear with straw to pale golden yellow color. Head will be white and foamy, but without good retention.
• Mouthfeel: Very light with a highly carbonated mouthfeel.
When constructing a recipe for an American Light Lager, consider the following:
• Pilsner malt even
• Flaked Rice
• Flaked Corn
• Spicy or floral
• Low IBUs; not using much at all
• Aim for hop character as opposed to region
• Lots to choose from these days
• 34/70; incredibly popular
• White Labs 840
• Wyeast 2035 or 2105
• Imperial Organic Cable Car & Global
• Lower mash temperature
• 148°F (64°C)
• Mash pH around 5.4 or less (as said by Martin Brungard)
• Bru’n Water Water Profile: Ca: 13 | Mg: 6 | Na: 8 | SO4: 37 | Cl: 13
• 65°F (18°C)
Pool Honeys American Light Lager Recipe
Batch Size: 5 gallons
Boil Size: 7 gallons
Color: 2-3 SRM
Bitterness: 11 IBUs
• Cargill German Pilsner Malt – 7lbs.
• Flaked Rice – 2lbs.
• Castle Malting Chateau Cara Gold – 4oz.
• Sterling (pellets) – 0.25 oz. – @30min. – 12AA%
• Saphir (pellets) – 1.00 oz. – @5min. – 4AA%
• Saflager W34/70 dry lager yeast (Weihenstephaner strain) – (2) 11g sachets rehydrated in 220ml of sterilized 70°F (21°C) water. Allowed to rest for 30min. before pitching into chilled wort.
Popular American Lagers
• Budweiser from Anheuser-Busch
• Pabst Blue Ribbon from Pabst Brewing Company
• Yuengling Premium from Yuengling Brewing Company
• #Merica! from Surly Brewing Company
• Schlitz Gusto from Schlitz Brewing Company (owned by Papst Blue Ribbon)
• Narragansett Lager from Narragansett Brewing Company
• Lager from Guns & Oil Brewing Company
• 1811 Lager from Fort George Brewing Company
*List obtained from Nick Carr of Kegerator.com
I choose this beauty from the fine folks and friends at Werk Force Brewing Company out of Plainfield, IL. This beer is damn near perfect and a great example of the style. If you get out to this brewery, give it a try.