Brewing American Lager

I just brewed a beer that I rarely drink or think about – an American Lager. Like many of you, my introduction to the world of beer was a pale, mass-produced American Lager. In my case this was a sip of Bud Ice with my family during a tour of the brewery connected to Busch Gardens in Virginia. After that taste, I recall wondering why any of my relatives drank beer at all. So you’ll understand that, like many homebrewers, I was pretty uninterested in trying my hand at the American Lager style.

But after a long steep in US brewing history (try reading Land of Amber Waters for a glimpse of those forgotten years) I’ve come to appreciate the simplicity of the concept of the American Lager. Brew with what you have on hand – that’s the way most breweries in the world do it, why Belgian Tripels have candi sugar and Japanese beers have rice, why British brewers have wonderfully biscuity malt flavors and why American craft brewers make citrusy high-alpha hop bombs. And though our over-reliance on it is much maligned, corn is surely an American fixation. It only makes sense that our brewing heritage would include corn as a prominent feature. Our historically important reliance on corn for whiskey is another bit of the American soul – but that’s another story.

The other reason I’ve decided to try my hand at an American Lager is that I’ve had a few recently that were good enough to force a reconsideration of the style. A Pre-Prohibition Lager brewed by Michael Dawson was the starting point. Nuanced, balanced, just the right amount of body, entirely drinkable. Then Brooklyn Lager came to Minnesota – a distinctively modern take on the overlooked Amber Lager style in the US. And finally, recent news that Yuengling Brewery is now the biggest in the US (most of the other big breweries are owned by foreign companies or brew their beer outside the US) brought their American Lager back to mind.

So, with all that historical bolstering and lager philosophizing will I go for a highly accurate, representative beer for the style? Nah, I figure I’ll get all inspired on it.

5 lbs Rahr 2-row
2 lbs German Munich
.5 lbs Flaked Maize
.25 lbs Flaked Barley
.4 lbs Briess Carapils

.5 oz Northern Brewer @ 60 min
.5 oz Czech Saaz @ 5 min

Mash at 152
OG 1.048 (approximately 80% efficiency)
Wyeast 2124 Bohemian Lager

My goal here is to tread the lines between crisp and silky, new world and old. The corn provides crispness, dryness, and a distinctive grainy/sweet flavor. The tiny amount of flaked barley is there for smoothness, and with any luck I’ll get a flavor that shifts a bit, with a slightly full and silky start yet a crisp, dry finish. Carapils lends some body and sweetness, and the hops are minimal, just a bit to keep it interesting. Rahr 2-row is a plain malt, and this beer should be mainly plain, but a small amount of Munich should keep it interesting without dominating.

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