Dr. ‘Stange’ Love or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Blonde
Sure it’s been negative 40 degrees Celsius these last few days, but that doesn’t mean you can’t drink something refreshing amongst all those imperial stouts you’ve been sipping. I mean, one can still get thirsty in the cold, no? Every Christmas we pack up our little family and head to Ottawa from Montreal in order to visit my in-laws. Along the way I almost always try to stop by this fantastic brewery called Beau’s All Natural Brewing; located in Vankleek Hill, Ontario. They have recently updated their retail store, so it really makes for a great little spot to buy or sample some beers. They generally always have several beers to purchase, however almost all of them are either one-offs, or seasonals. But they do have one beer that’s always available, their flagship “Lagered Ale:” Lug-Tread. Lug-Tread is a German styled Kölsch beer that is traditionally drunk from a thin, cylindrical glass called a “Stange” (pictured to the right). I’ve heard many people say that Lug-Tread is the perfect beer to entice the masses into enjoying craft beer. I think they are right. However, I also think that it can be a breakthrough beer for craft beer enthusiasts, and beer geeks alike, to once again rediscover the now dreaded “yellow lager.” When someone makes that step from drinking everyday mass produced beer to drinking craft beer, it often snowballs quickly, and before they know it, their downing a 12% Barleywine like it’s water. When this happens, what often accompanies the transition – and it was certainly the case for me – is a new-found disdain for the style of beer that at one time seemed to be the only beer available; pale lagers. Whether it’s Labatt Blue, Coors lite, Corona, Budweiser, Red Stripe, Molson Dry, Blue Dry, Rickards Blond, or Heineken, the budding beer geek (justifiably) treats them all the same, because they are all same; basically a bastardized Pilsner. And until the last few decades it was pretty much the only style of beer that most of the western world consumed. So although this disdain for mass produced beer is justified – as most, if not all of it is pretty awful – there are quality made German style blond lagers being produced by local craft breweries; and Beau’s Lug-Tread happens to be one of them. Last summer Beau’s also released Mutineer, a delicious Imperial Pilsner, which I will be reviewing below, alongside Lug Tread (although I drank it in August).
Craft lagers really helped me come full circle with regard to beer styles. I would even say that they humbled me a bit. I’ve come to understand something about people (including myself): experience and training may bring us knowledge, and can make us an authority of sorts, but more importantly, what this acquired knowledge teaches us is that there is always more to learn, and that really we don’t know anything. There was a point where I wasn’t interested in any form of lager; I thought they were less complex, less interesting, and were built for the masses – not the “connoisseur.” This was a misconception on my part, and now, one of my favorite beer styles is the Imperial Pilsner. These small revelations can really burst ones bubble, and in this case, many little beer bubbles. Sure Imperial Pilsners are higher in alcohol content, while also being highly hopped as a modern take on the style – hardly a classic blond Pilsner – but still, at one point I wouldn’t touch them either.
Trying Lug Tread (and other craft lagers) re-opened the door to the world of blonds for me, not to mention making me fall in love with German hops. Since then, every time I see a craft Pils hit the shelves, I get excited to taste what kind of new variation on the style will come next. But let’s talk about what Lug Tread is exactly, and here is where things get a bit complicated. I’ve been talking about lagers, but Lug-Tread isn’t exactly a lager, and at the same time, it is a lager. What!? Yes, I know, confusing eh. Technically it’s brewed in the Kölsch style, which is essentially an ale that goes though a lagering process. But maybe it would help to first illustrate the differences between ales and lagers. The main, and probably most important difference between ales and lagers is that they use different types of yeast; ale yeast and lager yeast (simple enough, but don’t worry, it will be confusing again shortly). The predominant difference between these two yeasts are the temperatures in which they ferment. Ale yeast, or “top-fermenting” yeast, ferment more comfortably in higher temperatures, while lager yeast, or “bottom-fermenting” yeast work better at lower temperatures. Lagers are are also then “lagered,” meaning they are placed in cold storage, usually through refrigeration. This helps the beer mature, as it is quite “raw” after the fermentation process (For a far better explanation of the differences between these two yeast strains, check out this entry from “I think about Beer‘s” blog entry: “The Yeasties, The Yeasties – The Beasties in my Beer!” It’s a great read). So, although Kölsch is allowed to ferment with ale yeast at a higher temperature, it is then lagered (placed in cold storage), which gives it that crisp, slightly dryer flavor profile that we all know from the lagers we’ve all consumed many times. This is why Beau’s calls Lug Tread, “Lagered Ale.”
Lug Tread. It pours into my Stange glass a golden yellow color with an effervescent fizzy head. On the nose there are loads of freshly cut wheat, and lots tangy herbal hops. It is earthy, zesty, and has that classic “lager” aroma we all know. There is also some Lemon citrus notes and just a hint of smokiness. The German hops are really apparent and smell fantastic.
The first thing that hits my taste buds are those tangy, herbal German hops that I have come to adore. Like the nose there is that wheat breadiness, with lots of honey notes. There is a great earthy bitterness here as well – it is indeed well hopped, but nothing close to an IPA. I’m also getting some Lemony citrus zest on top of the other flavors. The carbonation is nicely effervescent, with a head that dissipates quickly but never really disappears; leaving a small foamy ring around my Stange glass. It’s really surprisingly citrusy, and the honey malt sweetness balances against the zesty bitter German hops perfectly. This is the perfect drink to quench your thirst, and although I’m enjoying this on a cold winter evening, it’s still incredibly enjoyable. There have been many of a time that I enjoyed this beer on a patio in the hot sun, and I’m kind of wishing I was on one right now.
Mutineer is an Imperial Pilsner that Beau’s released last summer, and for me, it’s one of the best they have done. In short, an Imperial Pilsner is a Pilsner that is hopped up and has a higher alcohol content. Generally it is also somewhat sweet with a hefty malt backbone. Many brewers also use American hops to spice it up a bit. Mutineer pours out a beautiful yellow color, and reeks of German hops. It has the signature Pilsner smell, with with some freshly cut wheat, and bit of grass. There are also a lot of sweet honey aromas happening as well.
The taste front is similar to the nose. It starts with tangy herbal German hops, with a good amount of sweetness from the malt. It has a medium body. There is some minor lemony citrus flavors mixed with some fruity apple elements as well. However, this beer is certainly dominated by the hops, who’s bitterness cuts through everything, leaving a nice amount resinous hop bitterness on the back of my tongue. This is certainly Pilsner for hop heads, and the alcohol burn fits perfectly with tangy hops. I simply love this style, and this one is a great example. I certainly hope it comes back so I can grab some more.
In the new world of Double IPA’s, Imperial Stouts, and extreme beer, I still think there is plenty of room from those refreshing blonde lagers that you might have skipped over in your last visit to the beer store. It’s not to say that they are all tremendous, but there are certainly fantastic offerings available. Some of my favorites from Quebec are Brasserie Dunham‘s “Dunham Pils” and “Snowy Spring Royal Lager,” Hopfenstark‘s Kölsch: “Ostalgia Blond,” and Brasserie Dieu du Ciel!‘s Imperial Pilsner: “6ième Soir” (although this last one wasn’t brewed this year). Happy hunting!
An article by Noah Forrest