Basically, the question was: Does anyone drink lagers anymore?
You see, not all that long ago in our macro days, that's all we drank! Pale gold lagers. I drank Labatt Blue. Polk was partial to a few, notably Old Milwaukee and Brava Light. My old college buddy, Beer Bro Glenn, was a devout Brava drinker. The list of now-craft-beer-fanatics and their macro lager past goes on and on.
But when we all stumbled our way into the Wonderful World Of Craft Beers, lagers quickly fell to the wayside as we were assailed with favourful ales - Red Ales, Brown Ales, Amber Ales, Pale Ales and, of course, the Belle of the Ball, India Pale Ales. Because our tastes had shifted, lagers quite simply were no longer a preference.
you're like me and drink only beer, that can put you into a bit of a pickle when you're out on the town with friends in a traditional roadhouse-style bar. Your choices are macro lagers and... well, that's about it. It's not like I can switch to wine or liquor, simply because I never acquired a taste for them. Spending the night drinking macro lager - and believe me when I say you won't drink nearly as many as you did in the old days - is definitely something to be filed under First World Problems. Not life-threatening. I can safely assure you that you'll live to drink tastier craft beer tomorrow.
When we had a high school reunion at Monaghan's Sports Pub and Grill last Summer (another coming up this weekend), I quickly checked the place out. Found out it was a Molson's bar. So I figured, "Oh well, I guess I'm drinking Canadian tonight..." And frankly, that's not a big deal. (In the end, I lucked out as they had Creemore's Hops and Bolts India Pale Lager on tap as well and that has some nicely-hopped tangy bitterness to it. Macro-owned but micro-flavoured.)
But in its defence, Molson Canadian is a perfectly good example of a balanced macro lager. I drank a ton of it in bars during my macro days. No bells. No whistles. Very far from my first choice these days but as my young friend, Charles from Nickel Brook Brewing pointed out after someone's question about macro quality when we were guest speakers at the 2017 BurlOnTap Festival, "Molson's and Labatt make millions of dollars every year. Face it, they are doing something right." But I understand where the question was coming from (as does Charles) in that Molson's and Labatt products are brewed at such an insanely-high volume, the breweries have little choice but to include adjuncts, such as corn, oats and rice, to keep up with the demand. Craft breweries don't include adjuncts, simply because they are making beer on a much smaller scale and hence, don't need to. ("Thankfully so," said every craft beer drinker reading this.)
But back to Polk's original question, which was: Is anyone drinking lagers anymore? Since it's Polk, let's assume he meant craft lagers and further to that, I will simply add: Are there craft lagers worth purchasing, given our tastes have shifted so dramatically towards ales? Both Polk and I know the answer is "Yes!" - me because I started trying a large number of them for this very column. And Polk because I've seen him review plenty on his You Tube channel.
Now in this little treatise, I will be looking at both lagers and pilsners, since pilsners are a form of lager, named as such simply because they were created in the Plsen region of Czechoslovakia.
Now before I begin, I will caution that I tried a few dozen Ontario craft lagers for this and I have one complaint about a great number of them. A lot of you are just making your own nearly-identical versions of Molson Canadian. Not naming names, certainly, because I get why you're doing it. You want an accessible lager for macro drinkers to sample your fares. To that, I say one thing - Don't! We already have tons of access to Molson Canadian and I won't pay extra to drink your damn version of it. In fact, one honest clerk at a craft brewery actually waved me away from their lager once, saying simply, "It's basically Canadian." So knock that shit off, brewers. Create a different one. Molson's has Canadian nailed down.
And as I start now, a second caution, gentle readers. I will be dealing with only golden pale lagers. No ambers, darks or Viennas.
Let's start with Ontario's Big Two Straight-Up Lagers and they would be Muskoka Craft Lager and Cameron's Captain's Log Golden Lager. For my money (and both breweries have received a tidy sum of my money for this pair), these are the two most solid craft lagers in Ontario. Captain's Log (a reference to Oakville's first lighthouse formerly used by captains as a navigational landmark) is 5%, just 15 IBUs (international bitterness units) that uses Canadian 2-Row malts, as well as Noble Variety and Saaz hops, the latter being a traditional pilsner hop. At 4.8% and 13 IBUs, Muskoka Craft has an extra little touch by being unfiltered - a rarity for lagers. This one also uses 2-Row, as well as Crystal 40 malts with a boost of Saaz and Magnum hops. Both are smooth, easy-drinking lagers, created for warm Summer days and as such, are great starters to any patio evening. Style-wise, neither is a massive step away from macro lagers but taste-wise, both are a significant step up from them.
Okay, so that's three solid craft lagers so let's look at three top-notch pilsners. In Ontario, you have to start with the one that's our longtime gold standard - Steam Whistle Pilsner. As much as we love our hops, I don't know any serious craft drinker who doesn't enjoy this beer. In fact, it's the one I always keep on hand because macro lager drinkers always happily enjoy this one as well. This might just be the ultimate macro-to-craft crossover beer.
However, there's a few more Ontario craft pilsners that I'd put in Steam Whistle's lofty stratosphere and not too surprisingly, Great Lakes Brewing of Etobicoke makes one of them - their Over My Dad Body Pilsner. Hilariously illustrated by my man Drunk Polkaroo's picture up top, the 5%, 25 IBU German-style pilsner has the same straw and light citrus on the nose that the rest of these do and is a little hazy, meaning unfiltered to a certain degree. I can also personally confirm that it goes beautifully with a three-pound Shrimp Burrito made by my buds over at Mucho Burrito here in Oakville. How do you beat that? (You don't.)
Okay, last Summer, our friends up at Lake of Bays Brewing (Baysville) rebranded nearly all their beers and in my opinion, replaced them with far superior ones. However, the one that seemed to cause the most stink online was replacing Rock Cut Baysville Lager with the new Switchback Pilsner. Their beleaguered social media person just kept repeating the same thing over and over: "Try the pilsner!" I hope those whiny-ass bastards did because man, Switchback blows its predecessor out of the frikkin' water. Created (or would that be recreated?) by Head Brewer and the sole Dane in their chop shop, Dan Unkerskov, he created a whole new bird with this 4.5% beauty that's fresh-cut grass and floral on the nose with some nice citrus on the tongue. This is both one of my favourite pilsners and session beers, all in one cool rebranded package. To those who complained, look, I'll admit that it's not my place to say you were wrong. So I'll say instead that you were completely incorrect. And possibly suffering from head trauma.
This all leads me into my favourite Ontario pilsner and one that may owe a favour to Steam Whistle... in a kinda, sorta way.
Okay, here's the deal. I'm stopping this now but I'm only halfway through my list. I'll be back here Wednesday morning with the remainders because yes, the Province has some great lagers! Upcoming is one from Bellwoods Brewing that should have (but didn't) get them sued, two beautiful Helles (German-style) Lagers and a healthy handful of nicely-hopped lagers, including the one that I think is Ontario's Reigning Lager Champion. And you know what? I thought I'd be able to cover them all today. But this is gonna need a Part Two. That's good news for lager lovers. But Scooby Doo Gang, that's it, that's all and I am outta here. Until next time (so, you know, Wednesday morning), I remain...