Words - Matthew Curtis | Photos - Dianne Tanner
When I ceased being someone who merely enjoyed beer ever-so-slightly more than your average person and became an irrepressible ale enthusiast I pretty much wrote off lager. Those student days of working my way though as many cans of Heineken as possible on a weekend were over and I was seeking increasingly more potent flavour bombs to satisfy my increasingly jaded palate. This was a mistake.
Over the past few weeks I've had a regular craving for bready, crisp, fresh and bitter lagers. I've also found myself getting a lot more out of them than usual. Camden Hells Lager has become a staple of mine, especially the unfiltered and USA versions. Their new 'Indian Hells' promises to have the light body and drinkability of their core lagers but with a juicy, resinous quality that's usually found in the best US style IPA. The prototype of this; 'Indian Summer' has been one of my go to beers at their brewery tap, it's a crying shame whenever the keg kicks the dust.
Bermondsey upstarts Fourpure have blown me away with the steady evolution of their Munich inspired pilsner. It has an assertive, grassy, almost herbal bitterness that has begun to satisfy me in the same way as a citrus heavy pale ale. It's taught me that not only heavily dry hopped beers benefit from being drank as fresh as possible. That bitter hit is at its best when the cans are young. Plus it's only £11.70 for a six pack from my local offy making it the cheapest 'craft' beer I've seen from a London producer so far.
Last month in Dublin I once again got to sample unfiltered Pilsner Urquell poured from a wooden barrel. These barrels are lined with pitch so the beer takes no quality from the wood at all. This is a stunning beer, one of the best I've tried all year and I found myself appreciating it's berry-fruit like quality much more than when I tried it last year. It must be said though that the pomp and circumstance provided by brewmaster Vaclav Berka adds to the quality of the experience. Pilsner Urquell has just been released in a limited edition four pack of cans. Each can has a different design pulled from the Czech brewery's rich archives. They're stunning as is the fresh pils within although I'm certain I detected a (not unpleasant) acetic note from the canned beer. Despite this minor flaw they didn't last me long.
Perhaps it's a reaction to an ever increasing array of similar tasting pale ales. Perhaps its the never ending quest to find a new taste, each better than the last. Either way unlocking the subtle nuances of great lager is immensely enjoyable and I'm looking forward to working my way through a wealth of German and Czech classics and educating myself further.
Thanks to Mark Dredge and Pilsner Urquell for the cans and thanks to Spiegelau UK for letting me test the very attractive pilsner glass pictured above. Unlike the IPA glass it didn't do enough to enhance my drinking experience to write about it but it certainly looks very nice.