UPDATE: FoxNews has apparently changed the title and removed the paragraph about lagers. Quite confusing. Check their URL and you'll see the original title, if not their full introduction.
Today happens to be National Lager Day, apparently. Quite frankly, I was not aware that we had or needed special days for various sorts of beer, but there you have it. The primary reason these special beer days exist seems to be that it gives beer writers an excuse to write an article (SPOILER: that's what I'm doing right now! My hypocrisy is approaching a pristine snow level of purity).
True to form, FoxNews' leisure section has written up a list of the top ten beers for Lager Day. Sadly, they made a slight misstep: none of the ten beers they listed are lagers, thus missing the point of the whole exercise. Now, they did somewhat address this: they said, "When you're not tasting your favorite lagers, we recommend spending the rest of the day stocking up on beer for the long, cold winter ahead." This seems to suggest that they wanted to make a list of non-lagers to celebrate National Lager Day. Am I crazy to think that this is even more ridiculous than the other possibility, which is that they don't know what a lager is? Might as well make a list of NFL greats to celebrate the MLB All-Star game, or a list of the best grain alcohol mixed drinks to celebrate Father's Day.
Either way, I thought I'd help FoxNews out by providing some helpful alternatives to what they suggested. I'm going to try and find comparable lagers, though as you'll see, they included some extremely non-lager-like beers on their list, so that wasn't always an easy task. Additionally, I should note that the goal here wasn't to find the ten best lagers--rather, these are lagers that feature similar characteristics to the non-lagers on FoxNews' list.
Fox's #1: Full Sail Wassail Winter Ale (Winter Warmer, 7.2% ABV, .56 BAR)
Actual Lager #1: Uinta Yard Sale Winter Lager (Winter Lager, 4.2% ABV, 1.24 BAR)
Wassail is a pretty standard winter warmer offering; it's a brown/red ale with a bit of a fruity hop aroma, plenty of sweet caramel and vanilla notes, and a hint of spiciness. Yard Sale is a lighter beer by ABV, but it's got a similar hop character (with a bit more citrus, perhaps) along with the same caramel maltiness and a touch of spice. Yard Sale has a bit less bitterness to it, but that's to be expected when we restrict ourselves to selecting only lagers.
Fox's #2: Widmer Brothers Ginger Barrel-Aged Brrrbon '13 (Winter Warmer, 9.4% ABV, 2.38 BAR)
Actual Lager #2: Fullsteam Bourbon Barrel-Aged Southern Lager (California Common, 5.6% ABV, 0.39 BAR)
Admittedly, it's tough to find a good bourbon barrel-aged lager. I actually have never had such a thing, though it sounds like an interesting concept--I was especially intrigued by a Jack's Abby/Lawson's Finest Liquids Smoked Maple Lager aged in bourbon barrels, but sadly that was a one-off brew that is likely unavailable to most of you. I myself will be at Jack's Abby in the near future, so feel free to wait with bated breath to see if I can locate this and assemble a full report.
In the meantime, it sounds like Fullsteam's Bourbon Barrel-Aged Southern Lager will have to suffice. It can't possibly match the heavy, boozy bourbon aroma and flavor of the 9.4% ABV Brrrbon, nor does it feature the same heavy dose of Cascade and Simcoe hops, but reviews suggest that it's a decent low-gravity substitute with many of the same sweet vanilla, caramel, and woody notes along with a strong bourbon opening. Also, it happens to actually be a lager.
Fox's #3: 21st Amendment Fireside Chat (Winter Warmer, 7.9% ABV, 2.53 BAR)
Fox's #8: No-Li Brewhouse Winter Warmer (7.5% ABV, 0.51 BAR)
Fox's #9: Deschutes Jubelale (Winter Ale, 6.7% ABV, 3.59 BAR)
Actual Lager #3/8/9: Lakefront Brewery Holiday Spice Lager Beer (Winter Lager, 11.0% ABV, 1.81 BAR)
I've chosen to combine these three because they're very similar beers. One might think that FoxNews, freed from the prison of having to put only lagers on a list of lagers, might be able to provide more variety. One would be wrong.
Fireside Chat, Brewhouse Winter Warmer, and Jubelale are all deep reddish-brown beers, with spices (and to varying extents, cocoa) dominating the aroma and flavor. Each of the three has more hops than you might expect, with No-Li leading the charge at 73 IBU.
My lager alternative to these is Lakefront's Holiday Spice Lager. This is one strong beer. 11.0% ABV is a rare height for any lager style, and certainly well above that of any mass-produced lager (the highest ABV for any of our American adjunct/light lagers is just 8.1%. That belongs to Steel Reserve 211 High Gravity, that classic American family favorite). Holiday Spice Lager isn't as hoppy as the No-Li, but its booziness gives it a warmer, stickier character which plays up well in winter conditions. One online review I saw noted that Holiday Spice Lager pairs well with BBQ potato chips, which: no. I do not believe you, anonymous internet person who likes BBQ potato chips.
Fox's #4: Ommegang Abbey Ale (Belgian Dubbel, 8.2% ABV, 3.67 BAR)
Actual Lager #4: Jack's Abby Sour Time Lager (Witbier, 4.8% ABV, 4.3 BAR)
This was a bit of a toughie, as Abbey Ale is a strong brown Belgian Dubbel with a number of wine-like characteristics. There aren't many lagers that exhibit sherry, dried fruit, and spicy notes all at once, and I had to take to Google to find a good comparison. The first result I came across was a Youtube video of a man snorting a mixture of sherry, cider, and lager, which I cannot in good conscience recommend.
Having abandoned efforts to find a sherry-flavored lager, I settled on Sour Time Lager as the best option here. Sour Time Lager is a spiced wheat lager that's been aged in white wine barrels with Lactobacillus and Brettanomyces (souring agent and wild yeast, respectively). The result is a citrusy, white-wine-like beer with some herbal notes and an oaky finish, which is just the bizarre sort of beer you get when you bring in Brett and sour elements. It doesn't match the strength of Abbey Ale, but for those seeking a winey or sherry-like lager, it's probably the best bet.
Fox's #5: North Coast Brewing PranQster (Belgian Strong Pale Ale, 7.6% ABV, 2.6 BAR)
Alternative #5: New Belgium Hop Kitchen Hoppy Bock Lager (Maibock/Helles Bock, 6.9% ABV, 0.24 BAR)
This was another difficult one--PranQster is a Belgian pale with saison characteristics, and there aren't all that many good Belgian-style lagers to choose from. New Belgium's Hop Kitchen Hoppy Bock fits the bill, with a fruity flavor from its Belgian yeasts and the peppery, spicy character of a saison. The funky Hoppy Bock is a bit crisper than the mellow PranQster, and features more hops than a typical lager. It's certainly not a twin to PranQster, but my backup option was Stella Artois and that just seemed mean.
Fox's #6: Affligem Noel Christmas Ale (Belgian Strong Dark Ale, 9.0% ABV, 2.42 BAR)
Alternative #6: Moylan's White Christmas Spiced Winter Lager (Winter Lager, 6.0% ABV, 0.81 BAR)
Noel is a rich, mellow brown spiced ale, with flavors of caramel, molasses, and raisins throughout. It's a phenomenal recommendation for a Christmas lager, except for the pesky lager part. White Christmas is a little lighter and less syrupy (which is to be expected, since Noel is somewhere between a dubbel and a tripel). Both of these beers are dark and spicy, and either should serve you well on a cold winter night. Noel is a bit thicker, sweeter, and heavier, whereas White Christmas features a wider variety of fruit flavors and a lighter finish.
Fox's #7: Stone Suede Imperial Porter (Imperial/Double Porter, 8.4% ABV, 1.92 BAR)
Alternative #7: Jack's Abby 2nd Anniversary Lager (8.0% ABV, 8.34 BAR)
Stone's collaboration with Bluejacket and 10 Barrel brought us Suede, which has been one of my favorites recently. As far as I can tell, FoxNews is a little confused as to what the beer is actually called:
One of the words there should be "Suede". The astute reader will notice that none of those words are "Suede".
Titles aside, this beer is crazy smooth, and while you won't really taste the avocado in the avocado honey it contains, you will notice that this a fantastically dark and silky brew. Honestly, I can't think of or even Google a lager that compares, so instead I'll highlight a lager that appeared this summer that I strongly hope returns in some form: Jack's Abby 2nd Anniversary Lager.
While it's almost entirely different from Suede in most ways, they share that insane silkiness, a rare characteristic for beers. 2nd Anniversary has a significant hop presence, while Suede does not, and 2nd Anniversary is a blonde to Suede's pitch black. Nonetheless, they stand apart as two beers where the texture might be the defining characteristic of the beer.
Fox's #10: Unibroue Quelque Chose (Fruit Beer, 8.0% ABV, 2.28 BAR)
Alternative #10: Old Dominion Cherry Blossom Lager (Fruit Beer, 5.2% ABV, -0.27 BAR)
This is one case where I'd say that even those inclined to insist on lagers for Lager Day might want to rethink. Quelque Chose is a dark red beer flavored with every cherry in Canada . It's barely carbonated, very sweet, a little sour, and not altogether unlike cherry soda (or cough syrup, depending on how charitable you are with your comparisons). There's no lager like this, which perhaps means this isn't the sort of beer to feature on National Lager Day. If you absolutely must, you can try Cherry Blossom Lager; it's not nearly uncarbonated the way Quelque Chose is, but they did use a lot of cherries, and it's a lager. It's also a substantially worse beer by most accounts.
So there's our list. Of course, none of this is to say that the beers they highlighted were bad, necessarily; they picked out a nice group of winter warmers, porters, and spiced beers. Still, if you're going to make a list of "beers for lager day", one should maybe take a moment to acquaint oneself with the concept of "lager". Okay, maybe they meant to make a list of winter beers for Lager Day. But why? I suppose some conundrums must remain mysteries to the likes of us. At least we can enjoy pondering them over a good winter beer or a lager, as the case may be.
Image taken from the Library of Congress Archives.
You can follow Alex on Twitter @AlexanderFossi.