Lager yeasts are efficient workers and are able to ferment more of the sugars in a wort than ale yeasts. They also produce fewer fruity compounds. This results in a crisp-tasting beer of generally lighter body and less-fruity aroma than an ale. In the past 100 years or so, lagers have become the predominent beers of the world, so much so that many types of ales and ale brands have been lost.
Lagers are made at lower temperatures (about 10ºC (50ºF) or so) and should ideally be “lagered” for at least several weeks close to freezing point after fermentation to produce a smoother, rounder beer. The advent of refrigeration allowed lagers to sweep the world.
Also spelled pilsener, plizner or pilzener, or called pils, this is one of the world's great (and possibly most widely copied) beer styles. The term pilsner is often misused to describe a golden lager. True pilsners are soft and malty, have a full, flowery hop aroma and good hop bitterness, creating a dry finish. Budweiser Budvar and Pilsner Urquell, both from the Czech Republic, are two classic pilsner-style lagers. The first pilsner was brewed at a brewery in Pilsen (Plzeň), Bohemia, in the current-day Czech Republic, west of the capital, Prague.
Germany and the Czech Republic are the centres of pilsner brewing, while the style is also strong in Belgium, where Stella Artois is made. Czech pilsners are more malty than their German counterparts. In the US and many other countries, Budweiser Budvar is called Czechvar due to trademark battles with the maker of the bland US lager Budweiser.
Purists argue that pilsners should only be made with barley grown in Bohemia and Moravia, and Saaz hops from the Zatec region of Bohemia.
OG: 1.040 to 1.050. IBUs: 25 to 45. ABV: 4% to 5%
This dark lager from Germany is full of character and drunk in copious quantities at the two-week Oktoberfest (the majority of which actually falls during September) in Germany. They are spicy, reddish or copper-colored and slightly sweet.
Once, when drinking vessels were metal or pottery, the colour of beer wasn't important. Then along came glass and the pilsner style. Dark lagers have a well-balanced spicy maltiness and a roundness imparted by the lager yeast. Some also have a grainy character.
In his Beer Companion, Michael Jackson describes the dortmunder style as “fuller in colour and body than a pilsner. It is less aromatic, hoppy and bitter than a pilsner, but drier and firmer than the malty pale lagers of Munich. It is also slightly lower in carbonation and less foamy.”
This style is traditionally smooth, generally dark and slightly sweet with a high alcohol content. Double bock is a stonger version. There is also a weizenbock, a strong version made with wheat.
A golden lager from Germany, its name means “bright”. These lagers are less bitter than pilsners and have a lighter body than dortmunder-style beers. They are on the sweet side, but with a delicate, spicy hoppiness.
California common/steam beer
These are lagers that are fermented at ale temperatures. These beers, of which Anchor Steam Beer from San Francisco is the best-known example, have a yeasty, citric flavor from the warm temperatures. There should be lots of caramel maltiness and a fair amount of hops both in the bittering and on the finish. Northern Brewer hops are often used. This medium-bodied beer should be amber colored.
OG: 1.045 to 1.055. IBUs: 35 to 45. ABV: 4.5% to 5.5%
These rank, alongside most mass-market lagers from the United States, as some of the most bland — Oliver and Geoff, and many others, would say worst — beers in the known universe. They include the likes of Southwark Bitter and West End Draught (South Australia), Toohey's New (New South Wales), XXXX Bitter (Queensland) and Victoria Bitter (Victoria). They are highly carbonated and made with generous amounts of adjuncts such as cane sugar. In Australia, a light beer is a low-alcohol versions of these lagers, rather than low-calorie beers as they are in the US.
American pale lager
The vast majority of beer drunk in the US falls into this category. It is made with light grain and adjuncts such as rice to lighten the body and colour of the beer. Hop bitterness is very low, body is light, carbonation high and taste is dry. Light beers are lighter-bodied beers with even less flavor.
OG: 1.025 to 1.050. IBUs: 8 to 15. ABV: 2.8% to 5%