Stick a pitchfork in this one–Episode #4 is done! On this Beer Run, I drink my 1,000th unique brew and interview Mike Fredrickson, head brewer at Pitchfork Brewing Company.
Sour beers, IPAs, session IPAs, barrel-aged, pumpkin beers—America has seen a variety of trends in the craft beer boom.
It makes me wonder: What’s next?
If I had it my way: lagers. Full, flavorful, easy-drinking lagers like New Glarus’ Two Women.
By in large, American lagers are still trying to shake off the legacy of the macrobrewers and their wet air they pass off as lager beer.
It’s time craft brewers leave their mark on this broad style. If as much attention was put into lagers as fruit-infused IPAs or chocolate/marshmallow/chili stouts, an enormous class of popular, tasty beers could emerge.
I’m not advocating for gimmicky adjuncts, of course, but rather flavorful, classic lagers that could show beer nerds the wonders of bottom-fermenting beers and divert Joe Sixpack away from all the bright red, white and blue packaging.
A blueprint for such lagers is Two Women–the name a nod to times past when most beer was made by women in their homes. This beer might pass as a red lager, Vienna lager or German Pilsner. New Glarus calls it a “Classic Country Lager brewed with Weyermann’s floor malted Bohemian malt and Hallertau Mittelfrueh hops.”
The brewery, which strictly distributes in Wisconsin, is known best course for its refreshing, easy-drinking fruit beers. But its year-round, seasonal and every-once-in-while offerings carry all the same characteristics: consistent, refreshing, go-to quality beers.
Two Women is a testament to the skill of brewmaster Dan Carey, who simply does not miss with classic styles. Carey apprenticed in Germany, a fact that shows particularly in this beer and other German-style lagers like Yokel, Totally Naked and Hometown Blonde. The Staghorn Oktoberfest is the best Märzen I’ve ever had. One of my favorite beer memories was during a visit to New Glarus when Dan himself served me the first pour of Staghorn from a wooden keg in the biergarten. He took great care to manage the foaminess and give me a full pour. Best beer I’ve ever had.
Anyway, I can’t get a fresh pour from Dan every day, so thankfully I can rely on finding Two Women in stores year-round. Two Women has smooth, bready maltiness paired perfectly with bright, earthy hops that leave a lasting tingle on the tongue. There’s distinct German character and a full body that is satisfying any time of year.
Makes me want to throw a couple bratwurst on the grill with fresh asparagus. Maybe some lemon cake for dessert.
Rating: Glass – Growler – Case – KEG
Bell’s Third Coast Old Ale
Perception of a beer is experiential, beyond just appearance, smell and taste. Time, place, state of mind make all the difference between what one perceives as a good or great beer.
The classic example is heavy stouts for cold, snow nights. Bell’s Brewery is Southwestern Michigan makes amazing stouts like nobody’s business. Yet, this winter I have found myself craving its Third Coast Old Ale more than any other beer.
This is a cold-weather beer all the way at 10.2% ABV with a mountain of malt character. As I write this, it is a gloomy, chilly, misty March night in Northern Wisconsin. I had a long day at work and braved the chill and drizzle for an hour on the road bike afterward. That is a great formula for a relaxed, treat-yourself mood. And this beer is a treat.
My bottle shows a 10/08/14 packaging date. Smell is all caramel, cherry and booze. It is utterly rich on the tongue. Bell’s describes this old ale having burnt caramel and dark fruit notes, which is on point. But I pick up a little extra something with every sip of this deep amber-colored beer: vanilla, wood, molasses. Bottom line is that this beer has deep malt complexity. There’s a lasting bitterness too, but the finish is delightfully smooth.
This should make for a nice sipper for preparing a casserole with hearty meat and root vegetables, or simply with a soft brie or camembert while watching rain or snow drift down under the pale glow of street lights. Let yourself be alone with those melancholy thoughts, imagining all the streams meandering to the Great Lakes of the Third Coast.
Rating: Glass – Growler – Case – KEG
Leinenkugel’s Red Lager
I’m starting the Beer of the Week feature primarily to give some props to some old favorites that always have a special place in my heart… and fridge. I’m going to start with one that, sadly, won’t remain an option much longer.
Leinie’s Red has been a 23-year standard in the brewery’s lineup of easy-drinking lagers, wheat beers and, of course, shandy. Leinenkugels, a subsidiary of Miller since 1988, held out longer than just about anyone in getting swept up in the wave of hoppy beers that dominate shelves and tap lines today.
But the 149-year-old brewery has slowly produced some more hop-forward beers in the last few years, a helles lager, an India pale lager and finally the Wisconsin Red Pale Ale in February 2016. The Red Pale Ale is replacing the Red Lager, which had its last run on Feb. 29, according to the Chippewa Herald newspaper. Interestingly, Leinie’s is taking a page out of the New Glarus playbook and offering the Wisconsin Red Pale Ale only in Wisconsin.
The new red is, in fact, a pretty good beer, but I’m sad to see the Red Lager go. Part of it is certainly for nostalgic reasons. It was a beer my dad would order if he wanted to class it up when eating out—or if the place didn’t have Labatt’s. He has since discovered Fat Tire.
I also appreciate the style of this beer—Vienna style lager. For my money, Vienna lager is the most balanced style in the book. Leinie’s version isn’t really top of its class—though it did win a gold medal in the World Beer Cup in 2002—but where I live in rural Wisconsin it’s a welcome option in small-town taverns with little more than macros on tap.
Specs on it are 4.95% ABV, 20 IBU, pale and caramel malts, and Cluster and Mt. Hood hops, according to Leinie.com. The result is a clean, bready malt balanced with tingle of spicy hops.
I’d pair it with a bowling alley pizza or have it with cheddar and pretzels from the comfort of a recliner during the Packer game—if I can find any left this fall.
Rating: Glass – Growler – CASE – Keg