Similar to the whisk(e)y and wine worlds, the beer world can seem overwhelming for beginners. From New England IPAs, goses, barrel-aged stouts, lambics, milkshake IPAs, imperial porters, it can be a daunting task to even get started. This is why so many drinkers opt to stick with their tried and true local (or national) domestic lager. We’re talking about the likes of Genesee, Old Style, Narragansett, Utica Club, Miller, and of course Budweiser.
While I’d never tell you what to drink (if you enjoy drinking nothing but Genny Cream Ale that’s great), I would like to help broaden your beer-drinking horizons by at least a little bit. I’m also not going to say that only lager fans should get into the craft versions of this style. The classic, crisp, refreshing lager is the perfect respite from a robust stout or overly hoppy IPA. In fact, it just might be the best example of what a beer should actually taste like. You know, a beer that tastes like beer.
To help you find a new craft lager to imbibe, I decided to once again turn to the blind taste test. I picked eight well-known (and some lesser-known) craft lagers and nosed and tasted them.
Our lineup today includes:
- Jack’s Abby House Lager
- Captain Lawrence Classic Lager
- Night Shift Nite Heavy
- Smuttynose Lager
- Victory Classic
- Creature Comforts Classic City
- Brooklyn Lager
- DuClaw Regular Beer
Time to get our lager on!
Part 1: The Taste
This beer has a ton going on in the aroma department. It smells like a lager should with notes of cereal grains, rice-like sweetness, subtle fruity flavor, bready malts, and just a hint of spicy hop presence at the end. The palate is loaded with more cereal sweetness, caramel malts, slight citrus zest, and a final crescendo of spicy, piney hops that ties everything together nicely.
Complex aromas of ripe fall apples, cereal grains, bready malts, and slight spices are prevalent on the nose. On the palate, I found notable hints of clover honey, sticky toffee, caramel apples, and gentle, spicy, resinous hops that balance everything out nicely.
This beer smells like the way I imagine beer to smell. There are obvious sweet cereal scents, lemon zest, and caramel malts upfront. Sipping it brought more lemon, herbal flavors along with caramel malts, sweet honey, and sweet corn. It’s classic and totally thirst-quenching.
This is a classic lager nose. There are memorable aromas of sweet caramel, bready malts, dry hay, and clover honey. The palate follows suit with flavors like sticky toffee, herbal hops, cereal grains, and more honey. The finish is sweet, slightly spicy, and very dry.
A lot is going on with this beer’s nose. There are notes of manuka honey, ripe tropical fruits, wet grass, dry hay, bready malts, and just a touch of herbal hops. Sipping it, I noticed more ripe fruit, lemon zest, more honey, caramel, and a pleasing, spicy, hoppy finish.
On the nose, I found hints of lemon cake, light corn, and wet grass. But not much else though. The flavor is slightly lemony with more caramel malts and subtle hops. The flavors are fairly muted and unexcited, but overall, fairly straightforward and refreshing.
This beer smells like the lager your parents or even grandparents drank and that’s not such a bad thing. There are hints of cereal, cracker-like malts, corn, and slight citrus on the nose. The palate is highlighted by flavors like sweet corn, toffee, lemon zest, and a finish of floral, spicy, piney hops.
This beer’s nose is fairly unique. While the caramel malt aromas are right up front. There are also floral, piney hops present. The palate is just like the nose with bready malts, caramelized sugar, and spicy, resinous hops at the finish. The hops are a little more prevalent than I’d hope in a classic lager.
Part 2: The Ranking
This is the part of the story everyone has been eagerly awaiting. It’s time for the rankings. You’ve already read (and hopefully enjoyed) my tasting notes. You’ve seen what I smelled on the nose and tasted on the palate. Now it’s time to rank them. Keep scrolling below to see how everything panned out.
8) Smuttynose Lager (Taste #6)
Average Price: $15 for a twelve-pack
Smuttynose is well-known for its brown ale. But the New Hampshire brewery also makes a classic lager. Brewed with Pilsner, Vienna, and Copper Carapils malts as well as Hersbrucker hops and Weihenstephan Lager yeast, it’s known for its sessionable, refreshing flavor.
This beer finishes dry and crisp and is exactly what you hope it would be. It’s just not all that complex and memorable.
7) Brooklyn Lager (Taste #8)
Average Price: $10 for a six-pack
Brooklyn Brewery’s Garrett Oliver is one of the most well-known, respected brewers in America. He’s known for his innovative, exciting beers. While the brewery has many unique and delicious brews, one of its best is also one of its most simple. This award-winning amber lager is known for its combination of malt sweetness and slightly hoppy flavor.
This is a great example of a unique take on a lager. The only problem is that it might not be for everyone. It is a great beer to bridge the gap between IPAs and lagers but didn’t quite play as well today against the rest of the beers on this list.
6) Night Shift Nite Heavy (Taste #3)
Average Price: $8 for a four-pack
Night Shift set out to make a classic “American lager” and they did so with their Nite Heavy. This golden-hued lager was crafted for people to take a break from their usual macro brews and enjoy a refreshing, crisp, crushable craft lager.
This beer proves that you can make a simple beer that can still be crisp, sweet, and highly drinkable. Definitely a well-crafted brew.
5) Captain Lawrence Classic Lager (Taste #7)
Average Price: $8 for a four-pack
Captain Lawrence is known for its award-winning, envelope-pushing beers. But fans of American lagers don’t need to try any of those because the New York-based brewery makes a “Classic Lager”. It’s known for its light body and clean, refreshing flavor.
This beer is light, highly drinkable, and has a great combination of sweet malts and slightly spicy hops. All in all a fairly well-rounded, classic lager.
4) Jack’s Abby House Lager (Taste #2)
Average Price: $10 for a six-pack of 16-ounce cans
Massachusetts’ Jack’s Abby is a brewery built on its lagers and they’re all great. But if you want to imbibe a classic, Helles-style, crisp lager, look no further than its House Lager. It’s known for its old-world, German lager flavor.
This beer is extremely well-balanced and crushable. There’s a nice combination of malts and slightly spicy hops that make it extremely memorable.
3) Creature Comforts Classic City (Taste #5)
Average Price: $9 for a six-pack
Creature Comforts is known for beers like Tropicalia and Tritonia, but you shouldn’t sleep on Classic City, the brewery’s take on the traditional American lager. This 4.2 percent light, sessionable lager is made with the “choicest malted barley & hops.”
This is a complex, exciting beer. It’s the kind of beer that requires multiple tastings to find all the myriad flavors present. But once it hits, it really hits and might become a regular in your beer fridge.
2) Victory Classic (Taste #4)
Average Price: $18 for a twelve-pack
Pennsylvania’s Victory is a big name in the craft beer world. While it gets attention for its Prima Pils, Dirt Wolf, and Hop Devil, their Classic Lager might actually be their best beer. Brewed with Pilsner malt and Hallertau hops, it’s known for its clean and light crushable flavor.
This is a great, dry, refreshing, slightly sweet, subtly hoppy beer that is just as well-suited for warm weather drinking or as a respite from the winter doldrums.
1) DuClaw Regular Beer (Taste #1)
Average Price: $12 for a six-pack
This beer couldn’t be more aptly named. It’s literally called “Regular Beer” and the tagline is “beer that tastes like beer.” Brewed with a symphony of Pilsner, Carapils, and Vienna malts as well as flaked rice and Chinook and Hallertau hops, this is truly a unique, fresh beer.
This is a great example of what a craft lager should taste like. It’s simple, elegant, highly crushable, and refreshing. This is the kind of beer I’d crack open again and again.