German Beer Styles: What is Lager?
The word “lager” comes from the German “lagern” meaning “to store” as the early lagers were stored in caves during secondary fermentation. In terms of beer history, lager is a relative newcomer. It didn’t come onto the scene until the early 19th century when Bavarian brewers began experimenting with cold fermentation techniques and using bottom-fermenting yeast, which is what defines the style today. An interesting side note, it is now believed that the yeast strain originated in Patagonia.
When we mention lager, we often think of the pale, straw colored bubbly brew, but it wasn’t always that way. Early German lagers were dark in color which are now referred to as Dunkels. It wasn’t until the popularity of the Czech lager brewed in Plzen, called Pilsner, that Germans started brewing the lighter versions they called Helles lager, or bright lager. Today, lagers span a vast range of colors, flavors and strengths. BeerAdvocate lists no fewer than 28 different styles on their site.
Typical yellow lagers such as Helles, Pilsner or Dortmunder are characterized by the clear straw color, high carbonation and frothy head. Flavors lean towards biscuits, fresh baked bread, spicy herbal hop bitterness and can often be a little grassy as well.
Examples of the lager style would include: Notch Cerne Pivo, Wurzburger Schwartzbier, Oskar Blues Mama’s Little Yella Pils, Paulaner Salvatore Doppel Bock and Kulmbacher Edelherb Pilsner.