The Lager Revival: Beer Guy

by Peter Bailey

Not so long ago, walking into a beer store meant being confronted with a wall of look-alike factory-brewed lager. Then came the craft beer revolution, led by beer rebels like Ken Grossman of Sierra Nevada Brewing or Fritz Maytag of Anchor Brewing.

Beer Glass


In lager-loving Alberta, craft beer pioneers Ed McNally at Big Rock and Neil Herbst at Alley Kat took up the fight, Big Rock brewing a brown ale and Alley Kat an American pale ale as their flagship beers. Neil wanted to show that there was more to beer than yellow, fizzy water.

Today there are over a hundred breweries in Alberta, most of them focussed on ales—from porters to pale ales, from sours to saisons. The lager hegemony was overthrown.

Or was it? Most of the beer sold in Canada is still lager, still from the big breweries. And we’re seeing cutting-edge craft breweries add lagers to the lineup.

Generally, lager is clean, straightforward beer free from adjuncts, harkening back to its Bavarian roots and the Reinheitsgebot law which limited ingredients to barley, hops, water and yeast. Yet within the rules there’s an abundance of styles of lager—bock, dunkel, helles, märzenbier, pilsner, schwarzbier, Vienna lager—–which vary from pale gold to dark black, and taste sweet, malty, smoky or hoppy.

Lager is a good choice for beer drinkers tired of today’s complicated hazies, slushies, pastries and so on. Brewing lager can be more exacting, with no room for error and nothing to hide behind flavour-wise, so making it can be a bit of a high-wire act for brewers. But isn’t that where the fun is?

Edmonton’s Blind Enthusiasm Brewing, is going all-in, announcing a focus on lagers with the Lagerization Project. Blind Enthusiasm owner Greg Zeschuk told me the project is going well, continuing with existing lagers (Fabhelles, Union Bhoys), converting some ales into lagers (Extra Special Monk, Uncharted Citra), and making a new lager (Lager O’Darkness).

Zeschuk sees Blind Enthusiasm’s focus on lagers as rehabilitation—breaking the lager stereotype: “We feel lagers have been undermined as a category of beer by generically mass-produced styles made by macro producers to make a lowest common denominator beer. Most people don’t appreciate what lagers actually can be. Our goal with this project is to show the range by reclaiming traditional brewing methods and doing lagers with more flavour and character.”

He makes a good point. There’s no reason lager should be left in the hands of the big guys. Why not bring the creativity, innovation and drive of craft brewing into lager land?

The craft beer revolution has become an evolution. There’s space in craft beer for everyone. To every drinker their beer. As Greg Zeschuk said, “ultimately I really like the drinkability of a well-made lager. There’s a strangely subtle character to lagers that you just can’t find elsewhere.”

Lager revival six pack

Alberta’s lager tradition goes back to the days of Fritz Sick, who founded Lethbridge Brewing in 1901, and established Old Style Pilsner as the bestselling beer on the Canadian prairies. Today Alberta craft brewers are brewing a variety of great lagers.

Click images to zoom

Union Bhoys Lager
Union Bhoys Lager

Blind Enthusiasm Union Bhoys Lager, Edmonton
This European pale lager honours the Union St-Gilloise soccer team in Brussels, so is the perfect beer to cheer on Belgium (or your team of choice) in the 2020 UEFA Euro tournament. Brewed with both wheat and barley, Union Bhoys is hazy yellow, floral on the nose with a clean, malty taste and subtle hop crispness.

Rookie Season Lager
Rookie Season Lager

Foxtail Rookie Season Lager, Edmonton
A perfect companion for watching the rookie season of the Edmonton Elks football club. #ElksCharge. A copper gold lager that balances sweet malt with a bit of hop spice. A full-flavoured, easy-drinking beer.

Five of Diamonds Pilsner
Five of Diamonds Pilsner

Blindman Five of Diamonds Pilsner, Lacombe
With a name and label from the iconic fishing lure by Lacombe’s Len Thompson Lures, this German pilsner from Blindman is all about tradition. A clean, crisp pilsner hopped with Tettnanger and Saaz hops and lagered (stored) for six weeks, tasting as fresh and bright as the great Alberta outdoors.

Eternal Twilight Dark Lager
Eternal Twilight Dark Lager

Ol’ Beautiful Eternal Twilight Dark Lager, Calgary
Lagers don’t have to be golden, as shown by this dark and delicious lager from Ol’ Beautiful. This refreshing beer balances tones of roasty malt, chocolate and caramel with lager crispness. Gold Winner for Best Dark Lager at the 2020 Alberta Beer Awards.

Idle Hands Italian Pilsner
Idle Hands Italian Pilsner

Annex Idle Hands Italian Pilsner, Calgary
Italian pilsners are kind of like a Porsche tricked out by Ferrari—a solid German foundation combined with Italian flair. Here Annex dry hops a German-style pilsner (adds hops post-fermentation) to create a lovely summer lager, perfect for picnics. Hopped with Cascade, Galena, Mosaic and Saaz.

Copper Vienna Lager
Copper Vienna Lager

Fahr Copper Vienna Lager, Turner Valley
Brauerei Fahr down in Turner Valley was brewing lagers before lagers were cool. In addition to their excellent Pils, Fahr produces this copper-coloured Vienna lager. Flavours of sweet malt, caramel and biscuit are balanced by a nice soft hop bite. Gold Winner for Best Vienna Style Lager at the 2020 World Beer Awards.

Peter Bailey likes a full-bodied lager as much as the next hardworkin’ man. He’s on Twitter and Instagram as @Libarbarian.