The (very hot!) late-summer season is upon us and fall is knocking at the door. Making this the perfect time for a lager. The general lightness of the style makes them wonderfully refreshing, while the central European vibes remind us of coming Oktoberfest bacchanalia.
Just like with IPAs, there isn’t “one” lager. It’s a varied and nuanced category — dark, light, sessionable, hoppy, malty, fruity, earthy, smoked… — and requires some persistence and expertise to fully understand. To offer the necessary insight, we reached out to 13 undeniable beer experts to find out which lagers they’re drinking right now. Their picks dance across the style. Yes, this list is very German and Czech heavy because, well, that’s where the best lagers are typically made. Still, we like the variations at play below.
Hopefully, these 13 selections — from people who truly live and breathe beer — will inspire you to seek some of these tasty drafts out for yourself.
Schönramer Pils — Mark Dredge, author of A Brief History of Lager
Style: German Pilsner
Brewery: Private Landbrauerei Schönram, Petting, Germany
My favorite lager?!
This is a tough one to answer, but I’ve come to crave a couple of key characteristics in a great lager, or specifically a great Pilsner: A clean clarity of flavor (often from filtration) which helps emphasize the hop bitterness and the beautiful richness added by a decoction mash — which gives a little extra fullness and malt flavor.
A lot of classic German lagers have those qualities, but I haven’t tasted any better than Schönramer Pils.
Schönramer Pils has a brilliant golden color. It’s got snappy natural carbonation from its long lagering time. There’s some light toasty grain which gives it some weight in the middle, and a bracing, racy, grapefruit-like bitterness which really hangs around and demands you go back for more. It’s perfect.
Right now, I hate the use of ‘crispy’ to describe almost every lager, especially anything unfiltered or in the Helles style (they are more chewy than crispy!), but this is one of the few beers which you can legitimately call ‘crisp’ (but please, not ‘crispy’ and it’s certainly not a ‘crispy boi’).
Neder Schwarze Anna — Andreas Krennmair, award-winning home brewer and author of Vienna Lager
Brewery: Brauerei Neder, Forchheim, Germany
This beer was love at first sip for me.
Neder — a local brewery located in Forchheim in Upper Franconia — calls this beer a “Schwarzbier.” When I first tried it, it tasted like so much more. It tasted slightly roasty, malty, with notes of chocolate and coffee, and most unexpectedly, it was a refreshing and thirst-quenching beer. Schwarzbier really doesn’t describe it — it’s much closer to a Czech tmavý or a robust stout. If you’ve ever had the dark lager at U Fleků brewery in Prague, this is the Franconian version of it. It’s equally a warming beer in winter as it is a refreshing beer at Forchheim’s annual Annafest beer festival in the summer. It’s also a great beer to pair with a dessert, like vanilla ice cream or a chocolate brownie (or both).
Very dark with just a few dark red specks of light shining through. It pours with a white-ish head. On the nose, you’ll find chocolate and coffee. On the palate, it’s full-bodied with strong notes of chocolate, coffee, and dark malt, without ever being sweet. It’s balanced with a medium hop bitterness. It finishes dry with the malty notes lingering on.
Jack’s Abby House Lager — Bella (One Hoppy Lady), certified Cicerone
Brewery: Jack’s Abby Brewing, Framington, MA
When I think about lagers, I think about Jack’s Abby in Framingham, Massachusetts. My go-to lager is their House Lager. It has a traditional German taste that I love.
I keep this one stocked in my beer fridge. It’s a no-brainer to bring to picnics or barbecues because this is a beer that everyone can enjoy.
It’s very flavorful but still refreshing. It’s highly carbonated, which results in a great, full, and foamy head. It’s crisp but has the right amount of bready, malty sweetness. The body that makes it easy to drink on its own, while still standing up to foods I’d typically eat in the summer, like shellfish or grilled pork. To me, it’s just a perfect example of a balanced, easy-drinking beer. You can tell that a lot of thought went into it.
Russian River Brewery STS Pils — Garrett Oliver, brewmaster Brooklyn Brewery and founder of the Michael Jackson Foundation for Brewing & Distilling
Style: Czech Pilsner
Brewery: Russian River Brewing Company, Santa Rosa, CA
When it comes to imported lagers, I’m a big fan of Augustiner, out of Munich, which is among my favorites. And more obscure ones, like Andechs. I think the best pilsner in the United States, or one of them anyway, is being made by the great Russian River Brewery in California, and that’s STS Pils.
If you’ve never had it, is just a real firecracker. It’s just absolutely beautiful.
Pilsner Urquell — Latiesha Cook, certified Cicerone and president of Beer Kulture
Style: Czech Pilsner
Brewery: Plzeňský Prazdroj, Plzeň, Czech Republic
Always duplicated but never replicated, one of my all-time favorite lagers is Pilsner Urquell. I can drink this every day!
Its got a beautiful amber hue. The smell is like grandma’s fresh-baked bread meets floral hops and spices. The first sip is glorious as the malt speaks to you. But the swallow is where the magic happens, the hops and spices crescendo into the most pleasing experience.
Knoblach Schammelsdorfer Lagerbier — Joe Stange, co-author CAMRA’s Good Beer Guide To Belgium and managing editor Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine
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Lagerbier Ungespundet, alc 5,3 by Knoblach Brauerei #knoblachschammelsdorf #knoblach #lagerbier #ungespundetlagerbier #germanstylebeer #germancraftbeer #craftbeer #craftphotography #craftbeerphoto #beernerd #beerlover #beerphotography #beernerds #beernerds #beerphoto #cervesaartesana #biereartisanale
Brewery: Brauerei Hans Knoblach, Litzendorf-Schammelsdorf, Germany
A lot of the beer I’m really missing in this accursed year without travel is Franconian kellerbier, and one of my favorites from that region is Knoblach Schammelsdorfer Lagerbier. The reason I love it is that it’s fucking bitter.
A lot of the other country lagers you find in the region are more akin to softer, sweeter, unfiltered helles or amber lager. I enjoy a lot of those too, but my favorites tend to have a nice, firm bite, and Knoblach has the firmest, with a not-quite-harsh, earthy bitterness. It’s balanced with the residual sweetness from the malt. It can be hard to stop drinking it, especially in warm weather while quaffing from a stein krug under the chestnuts. Bring on the obazda.
Mahr’s Bräu Ungespundet Naturtrüb (aU) — Matthew Curtis, founder/editor in chief of Pellicle Magazine
Brewery: Mahr’s Bräu, Bamberg, Germany
I love lager. Picking a favorite was a far more complex task than I anticipated. A first, my thoughts drifted to the robust and bitter svetlý ležák of the Czech Republic, beers such as the muscular Zlata 12º from Pivovar Kutná Hora (located just to the east of Prague). Then I thought of modern iterations from the U.S., like the precisely snappy and refreshing Pilsner from Zwei Brewing in Fort Collins, Colorado. Even my home country got a look in with modern British lagers such as Keller Pils from Bristol’s Lost and Grounded, deftly holding their own on a global stage.
But, after much deliberation, I realized the answer came from Germany. Of course, it did. But I’m not thinking of the subtle, nuanced Helles of Munich. The beer that I thought of is Ungespundet Naturtrüb — aU for short — from Bamberg’s Mahr’s Bräu.
I prefer something a little maltier, something with a push of sweetness that perfectly balances the spice and pepper of noble hops, a quality inherent to the lagers of the Franconia region and this is it. This is a lager that is centered and whole. Ultimately, aU is as delicious as it is thirst-quenching.
Augustiner Bräu Dunkel — Natalya Watson, Beer Sommelier, author, and podcaster
Style: Munich Dunkel
Brewery: Augustiner-Bräu, Munich, Germany
This was a tough choice, but I decided to go for a lager style that I think deserves a little more love: the Munich Dunkel. One of the things I love most about this style is that while it’s incredibly full of flavor (think richly bready and chocolatey), it’s still incredibly refreshing thanks to its clean lager character.
My favorite descriptor for the aroma of this style is ‘toasted bread crusts.’ It’s so specific and totally spot on. Take a sip and you’ll pick up on all of the style’s rich, bready flavor, and maybe even a hint of chocolate. Then there’s just enough bitterness in the balance that keeps the beer malty, but not sweet. If you haven’t tried a dark lager yet, I’d definitely recommend giving this beer a go!
Bierstadt Lagerhaus Helles– Alyssa Thrope, head brewer Jagged Mountain Craft Brewery
Brewery: Bierstadt Lagerhaus, Denver, CO
It’s pretty common for brewers to prefer drinking good, clean lagers on the regular. I’ve drunk my fair share after brew days whether it’s hot or cold outside. Living in Denver has the perks of having access to some of the most talented brewers in our country and one of my favorites is Ashleigh Carter over at Bierstadt Lagerhaus.
She continuously pumps out some of the best clear, refreshing lagers. Every time I go I like to order two beers at once: her Helles and Slow Pour Pilsner. By the time I finish the Helles, the slow poured and clean as hell Pilsner is waiting for me. Both hit the exact right notes you’re looking for in the style and keep me coming back.
Threes Brewing Vilet Pilsner — Cory Smith, beer writer and photographer
Style: German Pilsner
Brewery: Threes Brewing, Brooklyn, NY
How the hell do you choose just one lager?
I’m not entirely sure, but the folks at Uproxx have thrust this impossible task upon me, so here goes… So many deserve a shout out. Downing an ice-cold Rothaus Pils at Gold Star Beer Counter in Brooklyn was a favorite. A sunset and cans of Suarez Family Brewery’s Palatine Pils is a choice way to spend an afternoon, speaking from experience. I once drank tank Pilsner Urquell in Prague. That memory hasn’t left my brain a full two years later. Since I can only pick one, I’m going with a staple from my days in Brooklyn.
Threes was brewing Vliet before the recent uptick in lager interest began. When Vliet first arrived as a regular ol’ Pilsner in the land of IPA, it was kind of out of step — or way ahead of the curve. They kept brewing it, kept dialing it in until it reached its current state, which is damn near perfect.
Vliet is clean, lightly herbaceous, subtly hopped, and infinitely crushable. It’s sweet and earthy in equal measure to keep things interesting. It’s glowingly golden and crystalline in the glass. This is a beer that disappears far too quickly.
Creative Creature Brewing TP for my Acai Bowl Pastry Lager — Ray (CraftBeerRay), professional beer reviewer
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Really digging TP for my Acai Bowl Pastry Lager by @creativecreaturebrewing! Wow! This is definitely a different take on a Lager. This beer is jam packed with a ton of Acai, Acerola Cherries, Raspberries and Honey. One reason I drink a lot of IPA’s and Stouts is because I feel like more creativity goes into those styles of beers as opposed to most Lagers. But this beers has everything I look for in craft beer. Great job to the guys at CC.
Style: Honey Lager
Brewery: Creative Creature Brewing, El Cajon, CA
One of my favorite Lagers has to be “TP for my acai bowl with acai, acerola cherry, raspberry and honey” by Creative Creature Brewing out of El Cajon, California in San Diego. Most of the craft lagers I usually drink are pretty standard, but this beer is totally different.
The consistency of it is a little thinker due to all the fruits in there and it’s also on the sweeter side so it’s technically labeled as a “Pastry Sour Honey Lager.” In my opinion, this is one of the most unique lagers I’ve ever had. Props to the team at Creative Creature!
The Shop Beer Co. Bonsai Daniel-San — Tara Tea, professional beer reviewer
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Bonsai Daniel-San, our @wortwrangler collab, is finally here! We took our Japanese Rice Lager and dry-hopped it with Mosaic & Amarillo! We will have draft & 500ml bottles available tomorrow at 10am. Make sure to give @wortwrangler a follow! • $5+tax per 500ml bottle, no limits
Style: Japanese Rice Lager
Brewery: The Shop Beer Co., Tempe, AZ
I want to go with Helton Brewing’s Pilsner. It’s crisp, made only with Saaz hops, and has that distinctive spice to it you expect in a pilsner. The label art for it is killer too, probably my favorite of Arizona beer labels (not that that makes it a better pils, but it adds to it!). But if I were to pick a lager-lager and not a pilsner, then it would be The Shop’s Bonsai Daniel-San, a Japanese Rice Lager.
Not many people do Japanese rice lagers, and that’s a shame. This one is super light and crisp. It has a mild hop flavor with some sweetness and a dry finish. This one is delicious and hits the spot perfectly when it’s typical Phoenix-triple-digits weather. It’s so refreshing.
WRITER’S PICK: Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Märzen — Zach Johnston, Deputy Editor UPROXX Life, podcaster One More Road For The Beer
Brewery: Brauerei Schlenkerla, Bamberg, Germany
I love a good smoked beer and there really isn’t any better than Schlenkerla’s Rauchbeer Märzen. It’s the sort of dark beer that might speak (for some) more to a firepit in the late fall or early spring or a smoker pit on a rainy night to some. To me, this is a year-rounder that is meant to be enjoyed under the chestnuts in a well-shaded beer garden on a hot summer’s day or next to smoker while you wait for the brisket to hit just the right spot of tender and juicy. This is also the ultimate campfire beer that keeps things light while still packing in the flavor.
The locally smoked malts of Bamberg (they use beech for smoking) imbue this beer with a sense of a campfire used to smoke bacon while pulling in an echo of bitter hopiness. The malts then veer towards the lightly smoky and fatty ends of a well-used smoker. There’s a very mild toffee sweetness underneath the smoke. The sip stays light because it’s a lager and not a stout or darker ale, meaning you can drink a lot of this beer while you’re outside or inside.