Tragically, lager has become the four-letter epithet of the modern craft beer movement. Say the word to today's craft beer fan and you get one of two responses: Either they launch into a lecture about "lager" and its characteristic yeast as a broad category that includes pilsners, bocks, dunkels, Baltic porters, and so on or (more likely) they turn their nose up at such a "pedestrian" beer.
Lagers -- and here throughout I mean the ubiquitous standard pale lager style -- have inherited a bad craft image largely by their association with the multinational corporate brewers. These major breweries have evolved the recipe and flavor profile of the lager (and its bastardized low-calorie counterpart) to appeal to the greatest demographic, and thus made it the least appealing for the ravenous craft beer market.
And craft brewers themselves have not helped repair this image, preferring instead the quicker and easier blonde ales as their lighter, crowd-pleasing option. At present, even with a robust, exploding, and expanding craft brewing market only two commercial lagers are brewed in the entire State of Texas.
Let that fact sink in for a moment. Dozens of blonde ales, multiple saisons from now 50+ craft breweries and almost as many IPAs.
It is difficult to fault craft brewers for this choice as ales can be brewed in half the time it takes for lagers, and independents will gravitate toward the more unique and bold-flavor options to distinguish themselves from the larger corporate breweries. However, the craft beer consuming public does shoulder some blame for so easily dismissing the beauty and simplicity of a perfectly executed lager.
Contrary to popular belief, lagers can be as full of flavor as any other craft beer. True, the simple lager may lack the bitter punch of exotic hops varietals that many IPAs showcase, and the lager will never be as smokey, chewy or deep as a barrel-aged barleywine. However, one should not expect the lager to be any less the artisanal product with its very well-established style guidelines.
One of the Texas lagers mentioned previously is Karbach Brewing's Sympathy for the Lager, named as an homage to the Rolling Stones song and including parody lyrics on the can label. Despite now being one of the larger craft breweries in the state, Karbach is almost unknown in North Texas because they have been very conservative in their marketing and growth and are rarely found outside of their base in Houston. (The second lager is brewed by McKinney's Franconia Brewing but they are dedicated to making almost exclusively German styles of beer.)
Sympathy for the Lager is everything a craft beer consumer should expect in a craft beer. Its toasty pilsner malt is clean and flavorful, and the lager yeast strain lends a light body with a subtle touch of crisp fruit on the end. Bitterness is rather low but the flavors of classic European hops such as Tettnang and Hallertau round out the palate nicely with a respectable 45 IBUs. At just a hair under 5% ABV this is, by any and all definitions, the ultimate session beer.
A medium to light body and easy flavors mean Sympathy for the Lager can pair up with almost any meal, especially as the weather inevitably turns warmer. Packaging in 12-ounce cans also helps the beer travel to parks, picnics or pools where glass containers are not permitted.
Availability: Officially, Karbach does not distribute to DFW and probably will not until next year but, being a Houston-based chain, Spec's locations carry almost all the Karbach beers.