Olivier Dupras noticed it coming. Firstly of 2019, the top brewer at Beaubien Road pub Isle de Garde made a prediction in an interview with Le Devoir: After the rise of ultra-hoppy, hazy IPAs, sugary smoothie beers, and over-the-top pastry stouts, the subsequent massive factor in craft beer can be easy, refreshing lagers.
Two years later, he can take satisfaction in realizing he was proper. Because the pandemic grinds on and Montreal’s brewpubs and brewery taprooms fill cans and growlers for takeout clients solely, they’re pouring extra lagers than ever earlier than. “There are two actions proper now if you see beer tendencies,” says Dupras. “On one aspect there’s very intense hops — double dry-hopping, issues like that. Lagers are a response to the surplus that we’re seeing within the hops.”
United by their use of a selected yeast that ferments at cool temperatures, lagers can vary from pale pilsners to inky black schwarzbiers, with dozens of types in between. What they’ve in frequent is a smoothness and steadiness that appeals to brewers and a rising variety of beer drinkers.
The upheaval wrought by COVID-19 has performed a job, too. “Lagers value much more to make as a result of they take away plenty of the brewery’s sources,” says Noah Forrest, who runs Beerism, a Quebec beer weblog. Whereas ales use a top-fermenting yeast that works rapidly at heat temperatures to transform sugar into alcohol, lagers use a bottom-fermenting yeast that works slowly at colder temperatures. The reward is crisp, refined, balanced flavours, however for a small brewery, the logistics of ready for a beer to mature for a number of weeks, and even months, may be exhausting to swallow. “You may pump out 4 IPAs within the time it takes to make a pilsner,” says Forrest.
The equation modified final 12 months when bars and eating places shut down firstly of the pandemic, which left many brewers with extra time on their arms and extra capability of their fermentation tanks. On the identical time, many beer drinkers who had been caught at residence had been much less inclined to pop open a barrel-aged imperial stout or high-octane double IPA. “Individuals’s consumption has modified,” says Francis Richer, co-owner and head brewer at Harricana, on Jean-Talon Road, whose restaurant and taproom has been takeout-only for a lot of the previous 12 months. “Luxurious merchandise are much less standard, however individuals are coming in to purchase a 24-case of bières de soif.”
Richer says lagers “enchantment to plenty of totally different individuals” — everybody from “Monsieur et madame Tout-le-monde,” who would possibly usually be followers of Molson or Labatt, to beer geeks who’re searching for one thing easy, however well-crafted, and with plenty of selection.
To be clear, this isn’t a pattern created by the pandemic — simply accelerated by it. Throughout Quebec, hopheads nonetheless rush out to the most recent can releases at breweries like Messorem Bracitorium, Brasserie du Bas-Canada, and Sir John, which concentrate on full-on, double-dry-hopped hazy IPAs. However even these breweries are making lagers.
“Lagers are the brewer’s beer,” says Forrest — a maxim repeated by each single brewer interviewed for this text. “They respect lagers nearly greater than something as a result of you possibly can’t conceal off flavours in that fashion of beer. It’s nuanced, it’s refined, there’s nothing to cover behind. The brewers are into it, and it’s lastly beginning to catch on with the general public.”
They could be extra nuanced, however lagers are not any much less flavourful than ales. “Individuals usually assume lagers should be mild and blonde, however with a beer yeast, you may make so many alternative beers,” says Richer. Considered one of Harricana’s newest beers is the Lager de gown de chambre, a smoky brown lager with robust caramel notes.
Over at Isle de Garde, Dupras has a mushy spot for lagers rooted within the German area of Franconia. “My two favourites that we make are our kellerbier and our lagerbier,” he says. The primary is a cloudy, bready lager with spicy, peppery notes from European noble hops; the second is a golden lager with a malty sweetness. “Often, when individuals discuss lagers, they discuss them being clear. We don’t make clear lagers. We make some room for the yeast and the grains to precise themselves.”
Laurier Avenue brewpub Dieu du Ciel, which additionally has a manufacturing brewery and bar in St-Jérôme, has all the time had a robust deal with lagers. However over the previous 12 months, head brewer and co-founder Jean-François Gravel has seen them develop into much more standard than earlier than. “It’s nonetheless a distinct segment, but it surely has develop into a mature area of interest,” he says. Final 12 months, the brewery launched Boire Prague et Mourir, its tackle a Czech pilsner — a maltier, extra expressive reply to the mass-produced pilsners made by industrial brewers. Gravel says it has bought nicely. “And in the summertime, now we have Lazer Lager, which has a light-weight dry hopping that provides it a kick. We’ve bought plenty of it.”
At Kahnawake Brewing Co., head of brewing operations Andrew Stevens says a minimum of a couple of of its 12 faucets are all the time pouring lagers. “I’m taking a look at our faucet checklist and proper now now we have 4 of them,” he says.
Till in-room eating is allowed once more, these brews are all destined for takeout growler gross sales. However Kahnawake additionally started canning its beer final 12 months, which has opened up alternatives to provide much more lagers. Considered one of its most up-to-date releases is a smoked-corn lager made in collaboration with fellow South Shore brewery Champ Libre, which has a taproom simply down the highway in Mercier. “They constructed their very own smoker and smoked the corn in there,” says Stevens. “It’s actually well-balanced.”
Stevens says he was by no means a lot of a beer drinker till he started working with veteran Czech brewer Krystof Michalsky, who launched him to basic European types. “After getting the primary sip of a very clear lager you simply wish to have extra of these,” he says. “I search for one thing very easy-drinking, clear, crisp — it has to look good, too.”
That’s a philosophy shared by Jean-Philippe Lalonde, who launched a brand new brewery, Silo, within the Chabanel garment district firstly of the pandemic. From the start, a Czech pilsner referred to as Louvain was one in every of his flagship beers. He has since expanded his lager program to incorporate a German pilsner referred to as Chabanel, two lighter variations of Louvain — one at 2.8 p.c, one other at 3.8 p.c — and a schwarzbier.
“There’s a studying curve if you’re focused on beer, simply as with wine or many different issues,” he says. “You begin off by searching for daring, apparent flavours. That helps us get our bearings. Basic lagers are about nuance. ‘Much less is extra’ — they’re approachable and sophisticated on the identical time. Brewers respect them due to the technical work behind the nuances you get in a well-made lager.”
If that’s interesting to a rising variety of beer drinkers, too, then perhaps it’s as a result of lagers supply one thing simple, easy, and stylish at a time when the world is something however.