For most Americans, beer is a lager. Those mass-produced, light lagers have long been demonized by a beer movement looking for more flavor. To be frank, lagers are so much more than the watery commodity beers that took over the American brewing industry in the middle of the 20th century. In truth, many lager styles are much harder to brew than their ale alternatives — and they take longer, which explains why many craft breweries hang their hats on ales.
The fundamental difference is easy: Lager yeast ferments on the bottom, while ale yeast ferments from the top. Fortunately, traditional and new lager breweries alike are crafting refreshing lagers that are readily available across the country. As lager production takes skill, we’ve done our research to bring you the best lagers from well-respected, high-caliber breweries. Pack these lagers into a cooler for an imbibing outdoor cookout with your buddies.
When it comes to the best lager beer, these are the options to seek out.
A quintessential craft lager, it helped build Brooklyn Brewery into one of the most well-known and respected breweries in the U.S. Unlike the light lagers most Americans were familiar with when Brooklyn Lager launched, the darker, toastier notes certainly awoke many taste buds. It’s still a solid go-to beer.
Firestone Walker has a great track record with pretty much every beer it brews. The brewery’s core lineup features two delicious lagers: Premium Lager and Pivo Pils. But in 2021, the California brewery expanded its 805 brand and launched 805 Cerveza. The Mexican-style lager is clean and crisp and can satisfy any heat-induced thirst.
While the craft beer movement was largely built on hop-forward beers — save the granddaddy Samuel Adams and a select few like Brooklyn — more breweries have popped up that focus on lagers. With the tagline “Drink Lager,” Jack’s Abby is all about the bottom-fermenting beers. Jack’s Abby showcases the many varieties of lagers, but a perfect example of the great brewing is Post Shift Pilsner.
Nearing 200 years old, Pennsylvania’s Yuengling Brewery knows how to brew the best beer. It’s the oldest operating brewery in the country, founded in 1829. Yuengling Lager is a fantastic amber-colored lager with a bit of sweetness and a touch of bitterness from a light hopping.
There was a time a few years ago when large craft breweries recognized they could capture market share by appealing to mass lager markets. Those drinkers had not yet crossed over to the land of IPAs, and might never do so. Enter a beer like Founders Solid Gold, which labels itself a premium lager and tastes like a full-bodied mass-produced lager.
Creature Comforts in Georgia was one of the first breweries to pop up and say, “The Southeast can brew good beer!” Its Bibo Pilsner and Tropicalia IPA are both incredible flagship-type beers. Then there’s Classic City Lager, a beer labeled to look like an old regional lager and taste like one, too. The brewery says it best, “Good Cold Beer.”
Before the craft beer movement, there was a surge in imported beer drinking. Among those imports were the Mexican lagers from brewers like Modelo and Corona. Mexican lagers are true to their German heritage, and while the lighter ones are amazing representations of pale lagers, Negra Modelo is a smooth, caramel-y lager in the Dunkel style (oh, and Modelo is now outselling But Light, FYI).
Along with the Mexican lager craze — not the current craft movement of Mexican-style lagers — the import sections are awash with green bottles touting lagers from Europe. Pilsner Urquell, when fresh, is among the most perfect beers in the world. A perfect example of the Pilsner style, it’s a beer for beer drinking.
Germany is the land of an array of delicious lagers of all colors and flavor profiles. Weihenstephaner makes many of them, including Original, which is a Helles. The light yellow and crystal clear lager is full-bodied, bready, and sweet, with a tiny touch of hops.
Great Lakes Brewing Co. is a pioneering Midwest brewery, serving Cleveland since 1988. Dortmunder Gold Lager has been a staple for the brewery since the beginning, and for a reason: It’s good. As the brewery says itself, it pairs well with “pretty much any social function.” It’s a little sweet, a little punch of hops, and easy drinking.
Every fall, Oktoberfest rolls around as the beer drinkers holiday. While plenty of German brewers send over their Festbiers and Marzens, Sierra Nevada takes it a step further. In the past few years, the brewery has collaborated with a traditional German brewer to make the traditional beer here in the States. Last year was Bitburger.
Need a lawn-mowing beer? This is it. Glistening with sweat with clippings spread across your feet, cracking an ice-cold Montucky Cold Snack will satisfy the need for a beverage without any overpowering flavor.
There’s hardly a more crisp and refreshing beer on the planet than Peroni. The lager, which has helped spark the vast interest in Italian-style pilsners, is a model ale, balanced, food-friendly, and tremendous on a hot afternoon. The label touts pure Italian style and the beer is as clean as they come.
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