Could it be? Is simple beer taking back some attention? Is lager winning over craft beer drinkers once again?
In recent years, the clamour for ever more diverse beer styles has seen the humble lager somehow relegated to also-ran, losing attention with serious beer drinkers in favour of an ocean of flavoursome pale ale, IPA, barleywine, wheat beers etc.
Yet the stark reality is that lager is still the most consumed beer category on the planet, with the top 10 best-selling beers in the world all lager (according to this VinePair report).
What's even more interesting is that, on the back of a new wave of lagers and the perceived blowback against worked hazys and sours, we're seeing lager gaining favour with committed beer drinkers.
As Kaddy Marketing Manager Simone Kealy explains, it is born out in the stats:
'We've seen a sales of 40% for lager in the three months to August 2022. That popularity increase has come thanks to a range of high-quality craft lagers from brewers like Heaps Normal, Two Bays, White Bay, Young Henry's & Yulli's.'
But is this just a seasonal thing, or is lager really back? Talking to a few of these lager champions and it's not hard to see the renewed enthusiasm, as James Harvey from Yulli's explains.
'Lagers weren't very sexy not too long ago; there weren't many craft breweries regularly focusing on lager brewing', he explains.
'But in recent years, we've seen a solid uptake in our lagers. Our Seabass Mediterranean Lager is our most popular beer now, and even our Karaoke Kingu Japanese Rice Lager is featured pretty heavily within our core range'
'I think it comes back to simplicity. Big, flavourful beers are fun and challenging, but easy-drinking lagers will always win when it comes to volume'.
That push was noted by DJ McCready from Mountain Culture in our Community interview.
'I really just think that people are looking for more of - and I don't know how else to describe it - a 'standard beer'. I think that there was a big push, especially during COVID lockdowns in the last couple of years, where it's like, "how crazy can you make it? What can we throw in there to outdo the other guy". You know what, I think this is a real big push coming back… you just want a beer that's like, "yep, it's barley and hops, and it's fermented with yeast, and it's supposed to taste like this, and it's pretty straightforward". I think that the lager thing is tied into that'.
There's another angle to lager's accessibility, too, with the more serious lagers straddling both sides of the fence - appealing to serious beer drinkers and someone looking for simple refreshment. Take Bright Brewery's Alpine Lager as an example, which rose to #32 on this year's GABS Hottest 100 and was among the highest-ranked lagers. It's a position that Bright Brewery's Laura Gray is based on a clear identity:
'Alpine Lager is really synonymous with Bright' she said.
'It's brewed with pure Alpine water, fresh local hops, and it's just a beautiful, crisp, easy-drinking beer. It's perfect for those just starting on their craft beer journey, but it's an equally enjoyable choice for those who love great craft beer.'
'It's really found its sweet spot in the market.'
Tully Mansfield from Wayward Brewing doesn't quite see this as a lager resurgence but rather an acknowledgement of lager's place in the beer world.
'It's hard to say if it's a full-blown lager renaissance, but there's certainly a bit of a move towards lagers increasingly being included in the rotations of craft drinkers as people rediscover the joys of a crisp, clean, simple beer that's just really well executed' he said.
'Likewise, it's certainly important in a range as a gateway offering for traditional macro beer drinkers, and can be something that's an important first step in giving someone something that is both approachable and familiar, but markedly better in quality'.
'With Everyday Lager, we feel like we've found the sweet spot that covers both the demographics.'
Wayward's Everyday Lager is an interesting example of a push to more sessionability too. While it appeared to be a relabelled version of the popular Pilsner, Tully explains that there is much more to it.
'It's important to note that that wasn't simply a rebrand or name change'.
'While we kept the overall can design and branding quite similar to the Pilsner for continuity and recognition with existing drinkers, we've actually re-designed the beer itself from the ground up. So the goal was to both make it externally more approachable and accessible, but also match that to the contents based on what we think craft lager drinkers are looking for'.
This wasn't just a gut feel decision either, as Tully notes:
'Our Pilsner was a fantastic, gold medal-winning beer, but we found often its bitterness was a bit divisive for some drinkers. So the new offering is lighter in body, lower in bitterness, and really just designed with all-round drinkability in mind.'
As Corinna Steeb from Prancing Pony Brewery opines, nailing the drinkability is one of the most important elements of lager production.
'Balance is the key. Serious beer requires skilful brewers that understand how to best balance the malt and hops. It's even more important when we create a lower alcohol (and therefore more sessionable) beer - the mouthfeel needs to be moreish, and the hop bitterness needs to be finely tuned with the malt profile and yeast flavours to make it taste like full-strength beer (and leaves you wanting) to have a second one.
'Carbonation also plays a vital role (adding) to the flavour experience - but just a fraction too much and the beer can leave a 'filling' feeling behind'.
Harvey sees that pairing back the brewing complexity is often the key to great lagers:
'Lagers can be a very challenging brew to nail down, there are many temptations to add various ingredients here and there, but our experience has taught us to simplify things as much as possible, using the best and most appropriate ingredients for the style.'
Will this more sessionable style be the hit of the summer? All of the brewers we talked to believed that lager would be a strong category in the warmer months, but they were split about the 'next big thing'.
Steeb thinks it will be more of 2022s big hits:
'Overall, hazy pales and IPA's are still very much on trend'.
'Less on the sweet side but super fruity, perhaps more berry than melon and lemon, with interesting hop profiles that exhibit an elegant, clean and super fresh aromas and leave gently, slightly lingering bitterness behind'.
'Or maybe, I have just described my very own favourite beer for this summer 😊.'
Finally, could sours to next take the spotlight? Gray has other ideas.
'I think sours may have hit their peak, and we're seeing a rise of lighter, fruitier lower-alc options. If you ask me, I reckon it'll be the summer of shandies!'
Heaps Normal Another Lager Non Alcoholic Lager
Yulli's Seabass Mediterranean Lager
White Bay Lager
Brick Lane Draught
Two Bays GFB Draught
Yulli's Karaoke Kingu Japanese Rice Lager
Hairyman Pop Ale Hybrid Lager
Bright Brewery Alpine Lager
Land & Sea Noosa Beer
Two Bays Lager
Photos drawn from Instagram