Olivier Dupras saw it coming. In early 2019, the head brewer at the Beaubien Street Pub Isle de Garde made a prediction in an interview with The duty: After the advent of ultra-hoppy, hazy IPAs, sugary smoothie beers, and over-the-top pastries, the next big thing in craft beer would be simple, refreshing lagers.
Two years later, he can be satisfied when he knows he’s right. As the pandemic continues and Montreal’s brew pubs and brewery trophies fill cans and growers for take-away-only customers, they are pouring more lagers than ever before. “Right now there are two movements in seeing beer trends,” says Dupras. “On the one hand there is very intense hops – double jumping dry, things like that. Lager beers are an answer to the excess we see in hops. “
By using a specific yeast that ferments at cool temperatures, lagers can range from pale pilsner to black black beers, with dozens of styles in between. What they have in common is a suppleness and balance that benefits brewers and a growing number of beer drinkers.
The upheaval from COVID-19 also played a role. “Lager beers cost a lot more because they take away a lot of the brewery’s resources,” says Noah Forrest, who runs it Beerism, a Quebec beer blog. While ales use an up-fermenting yeast that works quickly in warm temperatures to convert sugar to alcohol, lager beers use a down-fermenting yeast that works slowly in colder temperatures. The rewards are crisp, subtle, and balanced flavors, but it can be difficult for a small brewery to wait for a beer to mature for weeks or even months. “In the time it takes to make one pilsner, four IPAs can be pumped out,” says Forrest.
The equation changed last year when bars and restaurants closed at the start of the pandemic, leaving many brewers with more time and more capacity in their fermentation tanks. At the same time, many beer drinkers stuck at home were less inclined to open a barrel-aged imperial stout or a double high-octane IPA. “People’s consumption has changed,” says Francis Richer, co-owner and head brewer at Harricana on Jean-Talon Street, whose restaurant and troom were only available to take away for most of the past year. “Luxury products are less popular, but people come in to buy a 24-box thirsty beers. ”
Richer says that lager beers “appeal to a lot of different people” – everyone from “Monsieur et madame Tout-le-monde,” who are usually fans of Molson or Labatt, to beer freaks looking for something simple but good and with a lot of variety .
To be clear, this is not a trend that was sparked by the pandemic – just accelerated by it. Across Quebec, the latest canned releases can still be found at breweries like Messorem Bracitorium, Brasserie du Bas-Canada, and Sir John, who specialize in full-fledged, double-dry-hopped, cloudy IPAs. But these breweries also produce lager beers.
“Lagers are the brewer’s beer,” says Forrest – a maxim repeated by every single brewer interviewed for this article. “They respect lager beers almost more than anything because you can’t hide flavors in this type of beer. It’s nuanced, it’s subtle, there’s nothing to hide behind. The brewers are enthusiastic and it is finally beginning to take hold in public. “
They may be more nuanced, but lagers are no less tasty than ales. “People often think that lager beers have to be light and blond, but you can make so many different beers with one lager yeast,” says Richer. One of Harricana’s newest beers is Lager de Robe de Chambre, a smoky brown lager with strong caramel notes.
Over on the Isle de Garde, Dupras has a soft spot for lager beers, which are rooted in the German region of Franconia. “My two favorites that we make are our basement beer and our lager beer,” he says. The first is a cloudy, already stored warehouse with spicy, peppery notes of European noble hops; The second is a golden lager with a malty sweetness. “When people talk about lager beers, they usually talk about it being clean. We don’t make clean lager beers. We’re creating some space for the yeast and grains to express yourself. “
Laurier Avenue Brewery Dieu du Ciel, which also has a production brewery and bar in St-Jérôme, has always had a strong focus on lagers. But over the past year, head brewer and co-founder Jean-François Gravel has seen them become even more popular than before. “It’s still a niche, but it has become a mature niche,” he says. Last year, the Boire Prague et Mourir brewery released a version of a Czech Pilsener – a more painted, more expressive answer to the mass-produced Pilsener made by industrial brewers. Kies says it sold well. “And in the summer we have Lazer Lager, which has a slightly dry hop that gives it a kick. We sold a lot of it. “
Andrew Stevens, brewery manager at Kahnawake Brewing Co., says at least some of his 12 Ts always pour lagers. “I look at our t-list and right now we have four of them,” he says.
Until room eating is allowed again, these beers are all meant to be sold by growlers to take away. But Kahnawake also started canning its beer last year, which has opened up the possibility of producing even more lagers. One of the most recent releases is a smoked corn lager made in partnership with South Shore’s Champ Libre Brewery, which has a troop in Mercier next door. “They built their own smoker and smoked the corn there,” says Stevens. “It’s really well balanced.”
Stevens says he was never a big lager drinker until he partnered with veteran Czech brewer Krystof Michalsky who introduced him to classic European styles. “Once you have your first sip of really clean lager, you just want more of it,” he says. “I’m looking for something very easy to drink, clean, crispy – it has to look good too.”
This is the philosophy shared by Jean-Philippe Lalonde, who opened a new brewery, Silo, in the Chabanel clothing district at the beginning of the pandemic. From the start, a Czech pilsner named Louvain was one of its flagship beers. Since then, he has added a German Pilsener called Chabanel, two lighter versions of Louvain – one with 2.8 percent, one with 3.8 percent – and a black beer to his warehouse program.
“There’s a learning curve when you’re into beer, just like you are into wine or many other things,” he says. “You start by looking for bold, obvious flavors. That helps us to orientate ourselves. Classic bearings are about nuances. “Less is more” – they are both accessible and complex. Brewers appreciate them for the technical work that goes into the nuances you get in a well-made warehouse. “
If this is appealing to a growing number of beer drinkers, then maybe it’s because lager beers offer something straightforward, simple and elegant in an age when the world is anything but simple.