Trying to keep up and predict beer trends is about as easy as trying to predict food trends. Every conference and panel I’ve attended this year has had one resounding prediction: craft lagers will be the next ‘big thing’. Lagers? Who cares about lagers when I have sours, barrel aged everything, and a resurgence of saisons? Yes, it does sort of feel like lagers have been left behind, especially as IPAs still reign supreme. Let’s take a look at the world of lagers and see why we should care, and why they do have the opportunity to become the next wave of success.
THE CONVERSION FACTOR:
One of the most important factors that we need to always consider within the craft community is a beer’s ability to convert. I’m not talking about a brew changing one from Judaism to Catholicism, I’m talking about luring in the ‘non-craft drinkers.’ In Pennsylvania, Yuengling Lager is what we’re all raised on. I would venture to guess that the majority of people who grew up here probably had Yuengling as their very first beer. Go to any bar and ask for a lager, and you already know it’s a Yuengling coming to you. I’ve been told that there’s a similar feeling out in the Midwest with Shiner Bock.
While both of those are technically craft breweries based on the recent changes from the Brewers Association, it’s safe to say that the average consumer has no idea. In a completely unscientific poll in my office of a demographic consisting of 2 men and 11 women ranging in age from 28-56, 2 people guessed correctly when asked if Yuengling Brewery is a craft brewery (and now my coworkers think I’m weird). Even my work bestie, who I bestow my piles of craft beer knowledge on daily, told me she would never have thought that, and she’s my most successful convert to date.
Since most don’t consider Yuengling to be craft due to their own ignorance of the definition or based their own personal opinion of what craft beer is, we won’t consider them converted in this discussion. If they already like lager though, it should be easy to give them another beer of the same exact style and the clouds part and heavenly light shines down on the new craft beer convert, right? Well, not exactly, but if we know that many people are already drinking what they consider ‘a beer that tastes like beer’ the increased availability of well-crafted lagers certainly has the potential to make an impact on the percentage of beer drinkers who choose craft.
LAGER IS MORE THAN LAGER:
When we think of lagers we usually imagine the classic amber lager, but we also have to consider lager as a classification, not just one particular style. Lagers as a classification style include Bocks/Dopplebocks/Maibocks, Oktoberfest/Fest Beers, Pilseners, and even California Common/Steam Beers. In my ongoing unofficial scientific investigation into this theory continued, I decided to talk to Zeroday Brewing‘s head brewer Theo Armstrong. We quickly decided that it’s not the amber lager that’s going to be the come back, but lagers in general. “No one’s out here trying to create the new Yuengling. We’re trying to make a beer that people think of like they would a Yuengling. There’s not really anything special about a great Helles Lager, but that’s what makes it great. You can throw them back like you would a cheap beer, but stay loyal to your favorite craft brand.”
SO WHAT’S NEXT?
To once again quote Armstrong “we’re not out here creating anything crazy. Most breweries are just reinventing the same wheel that you’ve always seen, but you personally just like one in particular more than the rest.” Is predicting the next trend even possible? I mean, who would’ve thought goses would become a thing? Or sours? Or even amped up IPAs? But, a return to lagers, especially here in Pennsylvania given our German heritage, is something that I wouldn’t argue against.