Lager is the world's most popular beer. Enjoyed by more people than any other style. And many of the biggest brands are lagers, including Budweiser, Carling and Heineken. But what is a lager, exactly? And how does it differ from ale?
We should start by explaining how lager is made. Lager is fermented with light malts (though some are smoked for a meatier flavour) and with a yeast that loves cold temperatures.The downside of a colder fermentation means that it takes a bit longer to get the final brew to the ideal 5% ABV mark that all lagers aspire to, and so the pioneering germans would "lagern" their beer (we mean, they'd store it for up to 28 days). today we've shortened that to "lager".
The perfect lagers are light, crisp, carbonated and refreshing. Historically they're not hopped for aroma (only bitterness), and all of the flavour comes from the soft water and the delicate pale malts that have been used for the brew.
There's the peppery bitterness of Czech pale lagers such as Pilsner Urquell. German Pilsners (generally called Pils) can offer a more lemony, herbal bitterness (try Bitburger). While Helles are often lighter in colour than Pilsners (seek out Weihenstephaner Original) and are driven by a bready character derived from the malt.
Then there are dark lagers such as Samuel Adams Boston Lager, which have a toastiness, some sweetness and a dry finish. There are even dark lagers with a distinct smokiness known as Rauchbier, of which Schlenkerla Rauchbier Märzen is a good example. So you see, there might be more to lager than you think.