It's about the beer
Gina Miller and Bill Keeper
Hey Bill, - Now that we're entering March I'm ready to make a prediction about the rest of the
year. Why now? Well you know I'm always late for things. Actually, I was sitting at a bar the
other day (surprise - ha) and noticed how many people, beer geeks and normal people alike
were ordering lagers. If that little observation is typical of bars everywhere I'm predicting that
lagers will be the booming beer for the rest of they year. It makes sense you know. After all ,
they provide a comfortable and logical landing for veteran ale drinkers looking to settle into a
longer-term, everyday style, and they build a needed bridge for macro-beer drinkers to enter
craft territory and keep sales from starting to sink. If you like just remember that old cliché
that lagers are easy-drinking, with cleaner flavor characteristics and a relatively low body.
And for the record, two countries whose beer traditions I greatly respect, Germany and the
Czech Republic have developed their modern brewing culture around lager. That's says a lot
As you know Bill, when the first craft brewers started making beer in the late 1970s, they chose
ale. Call it a backlash against the wimpy pale lagers prevalent in America at the time; a desire
to experiment with new varieties of west coast hops more conducive to making English ales;
and an economic decision based on ales’ shorter fermentation cycle. Plus, with ales’ fuller
flavors, inexperienced brewers could hide flaws that would become immediately apparent in a
lager (yes, that's true no matter what you're going to say, Bill).
Don't get me wrong. Great craft pioneers like Ken Grossman, of Sierra Nevada, Jim Koch, of
Boston Beer and Jack McAuliffe, of New Albion took their flag and ran as far as they could from
macro beer and planted it at the other end of the field. Their ales created the craft culture we
so enjoy today. Still, the fact remains that a good lager is harder to make, is more expensive
and difficult to keep at a consistent level.
Over the years the brewing expertise and business strategies of craft brewers has matured
exponentially and is finally shaking loose the stigma lager has endured for so long in the craft
community as they are making truly flavorful lagers not simply cousins of maco brewer's swill.
I think that significant growth in lager consumption will actually come from experienced craft
drinkers who gradually developed a taste for stronger beer flavors then contracted palate
fatigue from too much time spent drinking turbo-hopped IPAs and sours. Once in a while
they’re looking for beers to better relax with. More often than not,that would be a lager with, in
general, its low alcohol profile and layers of subtle flavors discernible to a sophisticated drinker.
That's it from me, chug-a-lug, Bill.....see you next time.
Hello Gina - For the record I love turbo-hopped IPAs and sours. So there!
I do agree that lager makes for an excellent crossover beer. Not only does its subtle flavor make
it an easy pairing for restaurants, which cater to both craft and non-craft drinkers, but it appeals
to mass-market drinkers weaned on the macro lagers that the craft consumer rightfully disdain.
One reason for lager's potential growth that you don't mention is that as the craft market
reaches near-saturation, is experiencing declining sales growth and over-leveraging by capital,
suppliers, wholesalers and retailers there is a need to find new customers, fast. An obvious
solution is to target the crossover drinker, who can start by trying a craft lager then trade up to
other styles once her palate acclimates to those wonderful turbo-hopped IPAs and sours (so
there again, Gina!
Having said that an important question to ask is just why would a macro drinker spend more
money to buy the same style of beer? Frankly, as I see it, many will not. The stereotypical
codger who’s spent the past 60 years swilling Bud and Coors probably isn’t going to switch. But
your millennial or Gen Xer whose friends are crossing over might just be convinced by a
bartender to try an product that uses higher quality ingredients to make a better tasting beer.
And for that reason I agree (with myself) that growth in the beer industry might come from lagers.
Gina, as you well know I’m an IPA guy. Even more, I find the double/imperial IPAs so full of flavor
it's hard to get enough of them. And thanks to the emergence of juicy, dank hop bombs in the
New England style I'm happier than any happy camper you know. Yet I'll admit that (only
sometimes) I switch to drink a fine lager like Sixpoint's The Crisp, Mama’s Little Yella Pils from
Oskar Blues Brewery and Great Lakes Dortmunder Gold
Now if you promise to keep a secret in particularly warm weather the likes of Narragansett Lager
and Nicaragua's Victoria lager have been seen lurking in my fridge. Needless to say, they don't
lurke long because they go down so fast right from the bottle.
Overall I think you make a reasonable case for your predictions however it's essentially flawed.
Craft beer drinkers will turn to the occasional lager since it does provide a different (and good)
taste profile from their usual beers but they will never make it the first choice of brew. Once your
palate learns to appreciate the incredible array of flavors available in ales it will demand more
and more of it.
Let me leave you with one statistic - The percentage of IPAs sold has increased each year for
the past decade. More to the point, today one of every four craft beers being sold is an IPA.
And by the way, the last time we went out for beer you didn't order one lager. Ha!
Here's looking at you Gina