23 January 2014
HBG Commentary/Conversation | Let's Talk About German-Style Beers: Where's the Lager Love in Indiana?
Jim: I'm not sure how much there is to say on this topic, but it came to mind because of a recent Twitter discussion that Matt, Rod, Jake, and I were knocking around:
Given Indiana's rich German heritage, why isn't there an Indiana brewery that focuses on German-style beers? Are we ever going to see an Indiana brewery that is, for lack of a better term, lager-centric?
Matt: Breweries in other states are doing the German thing. For example, Metropolitan and Jack's Abby are doing amazing things. As for strictly German lagers -- All I can think of is Olde Mecklenberg. They are doing it the hard way with decotion method and all. I think their beer is pretty amazing.
Jake: Yeah, the only brewery I can think of that has focused on German styles successfully is Metropolitan in Chicago.
Jason: I think it could work, but most of the German-Americans that come from that heritage expect a German-American lager that comes cheaper than most craft beers.
My question is, could a brewery create a regional adjunct lager as their main beer (think Yuengling) for the normal lager drinker and then other better beers to attract better beer drinkers?
Jim: I'm not sure that's possible at the moment in Indiana, though I could be wrong. But I do think that some great lagers are already being made in the state. One of these beers could serve as the type of regional lager you're talking about. For instance, the lagers that Sun King has done are quite good, especially the Oktoberfest. And we also have breweries like Fountain Square and Upland doing well-made Pilsners.
So what do you think is the reason behind this aversion to craft breweries doing lagers? Does it have to do with consumer preferences (I'm thinking craft beer consumers here--the typical hopheads and big beer aficionados)? Are production costs different? Lack of creativity?
I think overall, there seems to be a bias against lagers among some craft beer fans, which is a bias that I don't understand. I realize that everyone's tastes are different, but if I had a dollar for every time some craft beer person said, "Ew, lagers," . . .
Mike: I'd imagine it's pretty hard to improve upon the category when you're competing against breweries that make lagers which are pretty widely available and who have been at it for hundreds of years.
That's not to say that I think it's a bad idea…
Jim: But I think that argument also could now be applied to the quintessential craft beer styles that are so readily available. I mean, how much more innovative can you be with the standard wheat/pale/IPA/amber/stout/porter line-ups you see so much of out there? Yes, there's room for more innovation, but how much more? And everybody seems to be making those styles now. I think that's why you see breweries like Local Option and Off Color doing stuff like the Gose style and breweries like Prairie and Jester King focusing on Saisons and farmhouse ales.
Rod: Although they've certainly deviated on the production side, Abita's brewpub focuses on German styles. The water down there is perfect for it. Chuckanut focuses on German styles and won Small Brewpub of the Year or something like that at GABF a few years back. They're probably the closest to Germany I've tasted in the US.
The craft beer movement pretty much set the understanding that "ales have flavor" and "lagers are Budweiser." Hard to undo decades of conformance to that notion.
Mike: I can't seem to find the numbers, but given that IPA is the top selling style of craft beer (followed by what I'm guessing are pale and porter and whatever else everyone always brews) and that the entire category is still exploding, is it really a surprise that we don't have more craft-brewed lagers? People generally brew what they want to drink, don't they?
Rod: I think there's a lot of room for some creativity with a German brewery in today's Bigger Flavors are Better market. Radlers are gaining in popularity. Schneider and Brooklyn have had success brewing a collaborative hoppy hefeweizen. Gose and Berliner Weisse offer sour options. Rauchbier offers up a variety of smoked malt variations to lend flavor. Vienna Lager is one of the world's most popular styles (albeit typically called Amber, Brown, Pale, Dos XX or whatever).
The primary issue is that none of the German styles are currently popular. Everything is an IPA or an imperial something to get people's attention. The craft beer crowd is interested in other things right now. Could you create a craft beer clone of the Hofbrauhaus and be very successful? Of course. But Hofbrau is also brewing their beer locally in Cincinnati but none of us named them as a local brewery producing only German styles.
IPA is the top selling style by a long shot. Given the introduction of fresh hops, hybrid hops, local hops and newly popular foreign strains, I don't see that changing for awhile.
Jason: I think lagers are more regional based on current drinking habits. Southern Indiana is a lager region, but again, they go more towards the Bud-Miller-Coors. If a local brewery could brew a lager that is maybe $1 more per six pack than a BMC lager, the drinkers might go for it. I think a craft lager has to go after the BMC crowd, not the craft ale crowd. Just my two cents.
Matt: All of these new breweries though are opening up with the same four beer styles. This just makes me think how this is a boom or bust time in beer. There is so much competition in those beer styles that the chances a place makes a name for itself with those beers are slim. Then they will come out with an $11.99 sixer or four pack. If you can't make a beer better or for a lower cost point while brewing the same beer everyone is then you are nearly doomed before you open your doors.
Rod: The microbrewery bubble burst in the '90s for the same reason. It will burst again, but hopefully not as dramatically. The question is when, but we're certainly seeing the same traits.
Jake: Whenever I wonder why all of the new breweries are making an IPA, I remember Matt's comment after Winterfest last year (2013). When people came to the cask tent, they asked for "IPA". Didn't matter who made it or what the other options were, they wanted "IPA". It follows my argument about a bell curve in how people progress through craft. At first, they are still brand loyal. If they were drinking Coors Light before and they found that cream ale got them into craft, they stick with it. Then, they go to the bell where they want to try an IPA that is priced at $9.99/six pack. Doesn't matter who makes it. Bonus points for it being local to their neighborhood. If they progress beyond that, the brand loyalty comes back to a focus. I know the breweries that I trust to get my money with a consistent product, and that is where I spend it.
While we get excited for the stuff Off Color, Westbrook, and Crooked Stave are doing, there is a much larger crowd that want to drink Sun King because they're at Lucas Oil and are the local brand. The niche within the niche is going to be a tough play. Especially for people that don't have brewing experience beyond their garage.
After we had this conversation, we learned that New Oberpfalz, a brewery planned for Griffith, will focus on Bavarian-style beers. So it looks like Jim's prayers will be answered.