Of course, we also know that ales come in different forms – pale ale, IPA, etc.
Similarly, lagers come in different forms.
To start, there are three main lager groups: pale, dark and Vienna.
Pale lagers are…wait for it…golden in color (you thought I would say pale, didn’t you?).
Dark lagers are dark in color. Typically, a dark brown, these lagers can also be a dark red color, and they tend to be a little bit heavier in ABV than their counterparts.
Vienna lagers, as you might imagine, originated in Vienna. Interestingly, most famous Vienna lagers that you’ve probably heard about are Mexican beers.
Here are some styles of lagers, their defining qualities and classic examples:
The Pale Lagers
My personal favorite lager style, pilsners originate from Plzen, current day Czech Republic. Pilsners are pale lagers, and they made quite a splash when they first came around. While there are different styles of pilsners out there, expect all of them to be light and slightly malty/sweet.
Helles lagers are named after hell, which in German means “bright” or “pale.” These are similar to pilsners in color and flavor, but they tend to be a little less sweet.
The bock style of lager is sort of like the IPA of lagers…that being that they come in all sorts of styles. Maibocks, arguably the most popular version, is paler and hoppier than other versions. Then there’s doppelbock, which is basically like a double IPA – it’s just stronger all around. There’s also eisbock, a super strong lager, but those are far less common than the other two.
Marzen lagers are full bodied and malty, designed to be clean on the finish. They come a little darker in shade than pilsners and helles lagers, and, like basically any other beer, can vary depending on the style of marzen being brewed.
The Dark Lagers
My personal favorite dark lager, dunkels are a classic German beer. Incredibly dark in color, dunkels are basically all malt and can add in other types of flavors. This is a pretty popular Oktoberfest beer (which, by the way, is coming up).
Literally “black beer,” the schwarzbier breaks down beer barriers…and by that I mean that, for all practical intents and purposes, may as well be deemed a lighter stout. Schwarzbiers can have coffee and chocolate flavors (like stouts), are dark and opaque (like stouts) and are very malty (like stouts).
Doppelbock makes a return! Depending on what style of doppelbock you get, you can classify it as a pale or a dark lager. I feel that dark lager is a better classification, but then again what do I know – there’s only been hundreds of styles brewed over hundreds of years.
The Vienna Lager
Truth be told, there isn’t much to say about the Vienna lager, but I did write an entire article about it so I don’t know.
Vienna lagers are sort of the bridge between pale and dark lagers, and while someone out there would argue that you have to use certain temperatures and densities for a beer to be considered, you could easily find someone who says something completely different.
The American Lager
For better or for worse, we here in the United States have our own style of lager…and yes, it’s basically just cheap beer like PBR, Budweiser, Miller, and so on. I will say that breweries have started to put a spin on this style, and by spin I mean massive improvement. If you see an American Lager at your local brewery, give it a try.
The Japanese Rice Lager
A style that’s really gaining in popularity lately, the Japanese Rice Lager is pretty much exactly what it sounds like — a lager with rice. While tons of different beers incorporate rice, Japanese Rice Lagers are known for being clear, clean, and delicious. Well, that last one is my opinion.
What Makes a Lager a Lager?
Lagers differ from ales in a few ways, starting with yeasts as lagers use lager yeasts. Lagers are also cold fermented unlike ales which ferment at warmer temperatures. All of this (when done correctly) yields a beer that tends to have a lighter color and hop flavor profile than a pale ale would.