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May 19, 2008 | by  | in Opinion | [ssba]

Lager Frenzy

Kiwis do not drink a lot of lager. While we may claim to have had “a few quiet ales” the night before, the chances are that most, if not all, of those “ales” were really lagers. Even Speight’s Gold Medal Ale and Tui East India Pale Ale are lagers.

Basically, lagers are bottom-fermented beers made with a lager years. They are generally brewed at lower temperatures and stored for longer than ales. Although many people think lagers are golden and ales are darker, lagers can be golden, amber or pitch black and can vary in potency from 1% to 14%.

New Zealand’s long-standing love of lager is not unusual. Globally, people drink over 133 billion liters of beer every year and it is safe to say that probably 90% of that consumption is lager. Even the Belgians, brewers of some of the funkiest ales in history, mainly drink lager.

Lagers are experiencing something of a renaissance here. For many years, Stella Artois (5.2%) and Heineken (5%) have been fixtures at parties and events. Both are now made in Auckland under license. Each is crisp and light though Stella is fuller and Heineken is grassier.

One of the success stories of 2007 from a sales perspective was Steinlager Pure (5%). Made with New Zealand ingredients and without additives, people seem to have embraced Pure and it has flown off the shelves. Of course, most craft beers are made with New Zealand ingredients and no additives but you would not know that from Harvey Keitel. It is a gently bitter beer.

Ironically, Monteith’s New Zealand Lager (5%) was not intended to be drunk in New Zealand. It was originally be to going to export-only until the success of Pure encouraged Monteith’s to launch it on-shore. It is well-balanced with a subtle depth of flavour and would be my pick of the Big Four Lagers – though the price tag is somewhat hefty.

At the end of May, Speight’s Summit Lager will be launched. The media kit calls it “a refreshing golden lager, brewed with only natural ingredients” which sounds strangely familiar.

For those thirsting for a bit more flavour, Tuatara Pilsner (5%) showcases a floral nose, a touch of lime and a firm finish. It is an outstanding introduction to the style. New on the shelves is Epic Lager (5%), a well-constructed beer with a balanced bitterness and hints of lime and ginger.


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