American Lager – Can I Make One I Won’t Hate?

I’ve never been a fan of American Lager. They can call it ‘Lite’, ‘Heavy’, ‘Original’, ‘Premium’, ‘Genuine’, ‘High’, ‘Draft’ or dozens of other marketing words, and it always lands with me as ‘bland’.

But then I’m over at my in-laws for Christmas and something unusual happened.

lite beer photo
Photo by donireewalker

Their usual fare is Bud Lite Lime, which is in my top 5 worst beers I’ve ever had, so I was planning on just waiting until I got home to enjoy a nice homebrew. However, to my surprise, my father-in-law offers me a Michelob Original Lager that was quite fresh since it had come straight from the plant in Cartersville, GA. I expected to be displeased with the beer, but figured I’d at least try it since I had never had one.

And…I actually liked it. I mean, I wasn’t sprinting to the fridge to grab another, but it was quite pleasant. Slightly sweet grainy malt, light earthy hop presence. Well carbonated to keep it light. I was surprised that a macro could have this much flavor and aroma. My father-in-law gave me the rest of the 12 pack because he said he’d never drink it, and I’m rarely one to turn down free beer.

The Idea

As I cracked the next few bottles of it over the next few days I noticed that it was advertised as being made with 100% malt, 2-row and caramel malt, and 100% European hops, which I believe I saw used to be Hallertau and Saaz before now just being “European Noble Hops” generically. The sad thing is, this is one of the fastest declining beer brands. My guess is that it’s typical consumers are folks who like more flavorful beers and they have moved on to even more flavorful offerings like Pale Ales and IPA’s as craft beer has become more popular and more widely available.

But as I enjoyed Michelob Original, I began to think that this was a beer that could be brewed relatively cheaply, and with minor tweaks could be both really interesting, really easy to drink, and quite flavorful. The problem with Michelob Original, as I saw it, was the caramel malt. It left sweetness in the beer that wasn’t terribly out of place while the beer was fresh, but even at only a month and a half old, it was beginning to become cloying. It wasn’t readily apparent, but this beer was oxidizing quickly.

It also dawned on me that while this might have been the most enjoyable American Lager I had ever had, it was surprisingly lacking in American ingredients, especially the American beer ingredient we’re best known for: HOPS!

Ingredient Selection

hop bale photo

So I had this idea for a crisp, light, refreshing lager with only base malt and a single hop, fermented dry. The flavor would be low slightly sweet grainy malt with a medium low earthy and citrusy hop presence.

This was to be AMERICA – The Beer.

I wanted an American hop that had some citrus notes, but also had some noble-esque qualities of spice, earth, or wood. This sounded like a tall order until I ran across the newest hop variety releases from the USDA breeding program. Tahoma, Cashmere, and Triple Pearl are the first new varieties to come out of the USDA’s hop breeding program since it’s revival in the late 2000’s. All three have European ancestry, and Triple Pearl and Tahoma have noble lineage. Triple Pearl is described as having citrus, orange, melon, lime, pine and pepper notes, which perfectly fit what I was looking for. So I bought some from Yakima Valley hops and got to work on a recipe.

The rest of the recipe is pretty simple. Rahr 2-row is as American as barley comes, and while using Budweiser or Coors yeast would be super American, I went with WY2001 Urquell Lager because I like how dry it gets and I had it on hand.

Tasting Notes

Aroma

Low sweet melon, pepper and orangey citrus hop notes. Orangey citrus may be the stongest of those hop aromas. Low sweet malt aroma that has a nondescript character. I know it’s made with 2row, and if I just imagined what a 2row beer smells like, this is it. No esters, diacetyl, or DMS. Clean lager-like character.

Appearance

Lemon yellow with low haze. Pillowy white head with medium to large bubbles rises to two to three fingers high. Head leaves sticky lacing and receeds slowly to a cap on top of the beer that persists throughout the pint.

Flavor

Sweet malt of low intensity. Low sweet melon from the hops with a very low spicy character. Balance is to the malt side and bordering on sweet. Bitterness is very low. Finish is dry, but sweetness lingers.

Mouthfeel

Prickly med-high carbonation lifts low body to a medium-low feel in the mouth. The carbonation serves to provide some bite that is missing due to the low bitterness.

Overall

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Very close to what I was shooting for. I think this would probably do best in competition as an International Pale Lager. It doesn’t quite have the hop character to fit it in Pre-Prohibition Lager, and the malt character is far too prominent for American Standard or Light Lager. WY2001 continues to be a favorite lager yeast for me. Gets the beer very dry

I’ll definitely brew this again sometime, especially closer to summer. Using 100% 2-row worked well, and it’s very affordable. I found Triple Pearl on sale, so it was quite affordable as well. Reusing yeast, this 10 gals of beer cost me only a little more than $20, which is a great deal.

Triple Pearl had a lot of the character I was going for, but it’s just a little too soft and delicate. The bitterness is not high enough to counteract the sweetness from the malt, which is saying something since this beer is 100% 2-row and it finished at 1.008. I don’t think Triple Pearl is enough to stand on its own in this beer, so I want to try pairing it with another hop. I tried dry hopping in a pint of this beer in the glass with Triple Pearl and while it certainly improved the aroma, I don’t think the character is right for dry hopping. I still have most of the keg left, so I may try a different hop as a dry hop for a few days in the keg. If I do, I’ll update this article. I have some Saphir like Firestone Walker uses in their delicious Pivo Pils, so I might try that. I might also try Amarillo because I think it’s bite might work well in this beer. Same for Chinook.

The other thing I would change is to adjust the mineral profile of the water. I just used my house water, which is very close to RO water and used lactic acid to get the pH close. This worked well enough, but I think some Sulphate would really make the crispness pop. I might try adjusting this in the glass or keg as well.

Check out the recipe below, and if you brew it, let me know what you think. Cheers!

Recipe Details

Batch Size Boil Time IBU SRM Est. OG Est. FG ABV
11 gal 60 min 20.64 3.37 1.047 1.008 5.15

Style Details

Name Cat. OG Range FG Range IBU SRM Carb ABV
International Pale Lager 2 A 1.042 - 1.05 1.008 - 1.012 18 - 25 2 - 6 0 - 0 4.6 - 6 %

Fermentables

Name Amount %
Pale 2-Row 20 lbs 100

Hops

Name Amount Time Use Form Alpha %
Triple Pearl 1.41 oz 10 min Boil Pellet 10.7
Triple Pearl 2.82 oz 20 min Aroma Pellet 10.7

Yeast

Name Lab Attenuation Temperature
Urquell Lager 2001 (2001) Wyeast 82% 48°F - 58°F

Mash

Step Temperature Time
152°F 0 min

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