Out with the New in with the…Old? The Return of the Lager and Rise of the #crispyboi

An Article by Mike Davis

What trends have marked the Quebec beer scene in 2020? It seems that while we were once a few years behind the U.S., the latest fads and hype styles have quickly made their way through la belle province, resulting in an abundance of #hazybois, pastry stouts and fruit infused are-they-beer-or-not smoothies and slushies bursting onto the market this year. Surprisingly though, alongside all these hype styles, this year a number of breweries in Montreal and beyond have also been quietly pushing the return of a more traditional style— the humble lager.

Over the last six to eight months, we’ve seen an explosion in lagered beer and a growing thirst for all things crispy. Whereas before you could count the number of good lagers/pilsners on one hand, now almost everyone and their mother have released a lager of some variety. Even some of the biggest hype breweries in the scene right now— Messorem Bracitorium, Pub BreWskey and Brasserie Sir John— have all released one or two #crispybois alongside their more trend-forward brews. In this short article, I’ll dig into why this is the case, and what it means for the future of craft beer in Quebec.

Almost everyone is familiar with lagers— they are arguably one of the most widespread and popular beer styles across the world. Most people probably associate these beers with the mass-produced lagers and pilsners from the world’s largest macrobreweries, from Budweiser to Molson. For several years now though now, craft lagers have been slowly gaining popularity. Interestingly, this seems to have been driven— at least at first— by the brewers themselves. Not only are lagers refreshing, relatively low ABV beers perfect for the end of a hard shift, but they are also a test of a brewer’s capabilities, since there is no place for faults to hide. Offering both a challenge and a reward, the lager has therefore emerged as the beer of choice for brewers who want to prove themselves.

We saw this especially this summer during “Lager des Lagers” hosted by Poincaré Chinatown. Breweries such as Messorem Bracitorium, Auval, Brasserie du Bas Canada and Microbrasserie Grands Bois competed to see who had the best lager in a blind taste test, with Messorem Bracitorium’s Germa-inspired “Il Était Une Fois Soiiif” taking home gold. With this level of interest in the humble lager among brewers, its almost certain that this is a trend that will stick around.

But while the brewers themselves have been been an important factor in bringing about the craft lager wave, it would never have taken hold without the evolution in tastes of the average craft beer consumer. Now that the craft beer market has matured somewhat in Quebec, there are many beer drinkers who have come full circle, going from macro-lagers, to craft IPAs/Stouts/Sours, and back to craft lager. After years refining their palates, many have come to appreciate the work that’s put in to make these lagers. Lagers allow the grains and hops to shine, without any competing adjuncts or overwhelming sweetness or bitterness. They have become the perfect palate cleaners, something to kick off the night before downing pints of haze and diabetes, or a little tipple to enjoy between two in-your-face IPAs. Even for the less snobby drinker, a #crisyboiiiii offers an easy drinking brew that’s good at any time.

Finally, the COVID-19 pandemic has also provided an occasion to experiment with lagering. Breweries that wouldn’t typically invest in the time to produce these slow brewed beers found themselves with more time on their hands that expected due to the almost total shut down of the industry in the early months of 2020. We’ve even seen the appearance of several extra-lagered versions of existing pilsners from the likes of Brasserie Harricana and Brasserie Dunham as the brewers have invested this extra time in refining their processes.While we don’t know what 2021 will bring us, we can be sure that there will be plenty of lagers to drink. I for one am excited to Czech them out…

An Article by Mike Davis

Photography by Noah Forrest