There is no larger shadow cast over the beer world than that of the lager. Having dominated the 20th century through the efforts of macro breweries, the style has become synonymous with what beer tastes like for many drinkers all around the world. However there is more to these styles than those brewers would have you know. Lagered beers are fermented colder and conditioned longer than their Ale counterparts but that doesn't stop them having a wide range of iterations and different flavour profiles from bright hoppy New Zealand pilsners, smooth and malty Vienna lagers, roasty schwarzbier and the traditional Munich helles.
While traditional lager styles have been kept alive and thriving in certain parts of the world, most notably Germany, craft brewers have undertaken the often thankless work of resurrecting, reinvigorating and re-imagining this style which often gets passed over by craft drinkers in search of the next hop bomb. These efforts though are not going un-noticed and will definitely reward drinkers looking for more subtlety and simplicity.
Check out some of the best lagers New Zealand has to offer below.
Tradition is hard wired into the DNA of Zeelandt brewery. Brewer Chris Barber cut his teeth brewing in the south of England before setting up his Hawke's Bay brewery and has made a name for his brewery as probably the best producer of classic European styles in the country. Their Munich Helles, Jerry Rig is a perfectly executed lager with a cracker and bread crust malt character leaning into a crisp clean finish.
If you took this Pilsner to a German or a Czech traditionalist they would probably look at you with horror but the New Zealand Pilsner is making delicious waves in the international brewing scene. New Zealand hops bring a punchy citrus aroma to this light and easy drinking style which has recently been recognized as an official style in the BJCP style guidelines (which even allow for Ale yeasts to be used! You can hear the Germans crying...). Liberty's example, Halo is rightly held up as a benchmark of how this new style should taste with an assertive citrus and passionfruit hop character and a soft smooth finish.
Cargo - Vienna Lager
The Vienna lager brings some extra malt character to the table over it's more popular pale cousins. With rich layers of toast, biscuit, and supporting toffee notes the Vienna lager manages to pack in huge malt flavour while still managing to finish dry, smooth, moreish and refreshing. Cargo's version is one of very few available in New Zealand, but absolutely hits the spot and we'd love to see this style take off here!
The Brut IPA craze came and went pretty quickly but has left a lasting legacy in Urbanaut's Miami Brut Lager. This hoppy little lager was brewed using an enzyme which breaks down residual sugars in the beer meaning it's as dry as can be. Which, combined with the stripped back pilsner malt base allows the bright hops to shine through. Coming in a #cuteaf 250ml can this is an easy one to pack into the chilly bin for a day at the beach.
Down on the Kapiti coast George Duncan has put his own special spin on the classic Japanese rice lager with Yum Yum. Taking a traditional Japanese fruit, the Yuzu (imagine a cross between a lemon and a grapefruit) and a traditional Japanese beer style he has created a beautiful, pithy, citrusy handful of refreshment. The bare bones malt base allows the fruit flavour to shine through and deliver a satisfying juicy kick and supporting pithy bitterness.
What's this? A Black lager? Yes indeed. Roasty isn't usually what you expect when you describe a lager but Schwarzbier is a different beast. Garage Project's Kuro has some of the roast coffee and chocolate notes you'd expect from a stout or porter but without the body and weight of those richer styles. This makes Kuro a great all year round dark beer that delivers bags of flavour without weighing you down.
Honorable Mention - Hallertau - #1 Kolsch
While not technically a lager Cologne's Kolsch style has many characteristics in common. With it's clean and simple malt base the Kolsch maintains the easy drinking nature of a lager. However being fermented with an Ale yeast gives this style a fuller body and more expressive yeast character imparting flavours of berrys and tropical fruit. Hallertau's iconic #1 has been at the cornerstone of this West Auckland's breweries core range for years and continues to deliver.
If you're keen to try some more delicious examples of Lagers and Pilsners check out our Mixed Case.