Lagers are not the most exciting beer styles for the new age hop heads out there, but they still play a very important role in a healthy beer diet.
Picture a Sunday afternoon in February; it’s hot and steamy, and a storm threatens on the horizon. The lawn desperately needs to be mowed, and it’s now or never. After a few too many compressions on the fuel primer, you push the lever to choke and begin to yank at the pull start. Six or seven attempts later, you decide it’s now time to force the issue by pushing the mower forward using your left arm, whilst heaving back with the right. Each failed attempt brings frustration, and just several minutes later you’re wringing with sweat and have formally threatened the mower. Irritated and defeated, you head back for the house. It is at this point you remember placing a few lagers in the fridge, and all is bliss once more.
Pale lagers are very crisp, clean, uncomplicated tasting beers and are best served very cold. When it’s hot and you just want something cold and simple, they’ll hit the spot time and time again.
The defining feature of a lager is its maturation in cold storage and by the use of bottom-fermenting lager yeast. The most common are pale lagers, which are also the most widely consumed and commercially available styles of beer in the world – beers such as Heineken and Stella Artois are pale lagers. Up until the early 19th century, most lagers would have been dark; it was only later in the century when technological advances made it easier to produce pales that the dark lagers took a back seat. There are still plenty to be found in good bottle shops.
In contrast to lagers, you may have come across the terms Real Ale and Cask Ale in your personal beer odyssey – particularly if you have been to traditional English or American pubs. Cask or Real Ale is a traditional style of beer and refers to the way the beer is stored and treated after the initial fermentation for distribution to the masses.
Traditionally and prior to modern brewing technologies, breweries distributed ale via wooden barrels called casks. The downside to this cask method was that there was more chance of the beer being spoilt by oxygenation and sterilisation problems. Along came steel kegs, which improved brewing efficiencies, such as easier cleaning and distribution and displacing the poured beer within the keg with CO2 instead of oxygen.
Beer in steel kegs is usually filtered, pasteurised and carbonated/poured via CO2 gas, while Cask Ale is transferred directly to the cask after the initial fermentation and therefore has live yeast and only natural carbonation. This in turn creates an entirely different texture – low carbonation and subtle flavour differences in the beer compared to if the beer had been brewed for transfer to steel kegs.
Real ales can be poured directly from the cask or pumped through a traditional hand pump, which creates a lovely creamy head on the beer.
As the craft beer movement continues to grow in Australia, more craft breweries are starting to produce cask ales. Locally we are lucky to have New England Brewing Co, who prepare limited batches of Cask Ale to be served at selected venues and usually at a slightly higher temperature (not warm!) than other draught/kegged beers. Stand-outs last year from the guys include the Lamington Dark Ale, which was particularly well received on a cold Armidale evening.
Cask Ale season has begun, so be sure to check out the limited releases.
Drink less; taste more!