What Lager Beer Is: Taste, 8 Classic Brands + 9 Best Beers
When it comes to the world of alcoholic drinks, beer is a classic staple that never goes out of style. After all, what better way to end a long day or celebrate with friends than cracking open a cold bottle of beer? Here you will find the best lager beers and learn what lager beer actually is.
Beer, beer, beer – arguably the world’s most popular alcoholic drink, this beverage has been around since early human civilizations.
Because of its long history, beer has gradually branched out and given rise to other subtypes of drinks – all of which still prove to be popular today.
Lager is one of these best-known brews, and this surprisingly refreshing drink deserves its own chance to be in the limelight. In this article, we’ll lay out the essentials, and you’ll learn about:
- The basics of lager beer, including its ingredients, alcohol content, taste, and more
- How lager fares when compared with other popular beer types such as ales and pilsners
- A rundown of the most popular lager beer brands available, as well as the best beverages you absolutely must try.
Let’s get right into it and explore everything you need to know about lager beers. By the end of this article, we’re sure you’ll develop a better appreciation for this one-of-a-kind brew.
What a Lager Beer Is – Explained
Contrary to what many people think, lager is actually a type of beer that’s known for its golden color and fizzy texture. In fact, it’s a brew that enjoys a high level of carbonation, so it’s a great substitute for soda and packs quite a kick.
Lager differs from other types of beer thanks to the fact that it’s brewed at low temperatures with bottom-fermenting yeast – this simply means that the yeast descends to the bottom and slowly ferments the drink from bottom to top. This special brewing process is what gives lager its distinctive characteristics.
Origin of Lager Beer
Lager is traditionally thought to have originated in Bavaria in the 1400s, but there’s a potentially older account that the first lager ever brewed was in South America.
The drink’s name comes from the German word for “storage”, which gives quite an insight as to how this drink came to be. Back then, lagers were typically fermented and stored in cool caves, giving them their unique taste.
When refrigeration became cheaper and more widespread, lagers exploded in availability and popularity as these drinks can now be brewed year-round and served cold.
Ingredients of Lager Beers
As it is a type of beer, lager’s primary ingredients are clean water, malted barley, hops, and bottom-fermenting yeast. Of these, the yeast is the most important in distinguishing lager from other types of beers.
Still, the exact types and measurements of these ingredients vary depending on the batch, and many breweries play around with other additions for different flavor or carbonation levels.
Additionally, lagers produced commercially in regions outside Germany and the Czech Republic (which have strict purity laws around beer) sometimes use a different grain, such as rice or maize.
Alcohol in Lager Beer
Lagers tend to be between four and six percent alcohol by volume (ABV) or eight to twelve proof. This puts them on the lower end of the spectrum in comparison to other beers.
However, imperial lagers can contain up to 10 percent ABV. Low- and no-alcohol beers are also readily available for those who want the fresh taste without the booze.
Taste of Lager Beer
The flavor of lager beer depends highly on the individual beer. In general, however, lagers have a mild taste and are refreshing without being overpowering. Additionally, pale lagers also have a rather clean and crisp flavor, owing to the type of yeast used to brew the drink.
In particular, amber lagers have a maltier and denser flavor described to be reminiscent of a toasty profile with subtle caramel notes. Dark lagers, on the other hand, have a strong, almost chocolaty taste. These darker lagers are notably not nearly as popular as pale lagers and are commonly found in central Europe.
Calories of Lager Beers
A typical can or bottle of lager beer is around 150 calories. However, the exact number of calories does depend on the strength of the beer as well as the brewery that produces it.
In general, the stronger the beer, the more calories it has, so lagers with relatively low ABV are also low in calories. Other factors that affect the number of calories include serving size and beer brands.
The Differences: Lager versus Ale
Ale is another popular type of beer that’s known for its sweet and fruity taste, which occurs due to the release of esters during the brewing process.
Esters are chemical compounds that are found in fruits such as apples, bananas, and stone fruit. Ale is historically linked to medieval England, where it was a crucial part of the diet since it provided a clean source of water and calories.
Ale is produced using top-fermenting yeast, named for the froth that rises to sit on the surface of the liquid while it is brewed. This is also known as warm fermenting and is typically done at temperatures ranging from 60 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Ales can be consumed in as little as three weeks of fermentation.
In contrast, lagers use bottom-fermenting yeast and use a cool fermentation process, sitting at around 50 degrees Fahrenheit. They are then stored (or lagered) at near-freezing temperatures for several weeks.
While this process takes longer than warm brewing, more of the strong ingredients get metabolized by the yeast – leading to the lager’s clean taste.
Appearance and Taste
Ales are typically a darker amber color compared to the pale gold of lagers and often have a stronger flavor that tastes quite malty and fruity.
However, there’s a large variety of ales, with the more bitter-tasting pale ale being clearer and lighter than the nuttier brown ales. While all lagers should be served ice cold, darker sweet ales are sometimes served cool or even at room temperature.
Pale ale typically has around five percent ABV, while darker ales can be as low as three or as high as six. This means ale has a roughly similar alcohol content to lagers. However, popular American pale ales (APAs) tend to be slightly stronger than the average American lager.
The shelf life of both ales and lagers varies dramatically based on conditions and type of beer (craft or commercial, brand, type, and the like).
In general, if kept refrigerated, most beers are good for around six months after being packaged. This time may be shorter for local beers and longer for mass-produced bottled beers.
Pilsner versus Lager
Here’s the first thing you should know about Pilsner – it’s actually a type of lager. To be precise, pilsner is the name for a variety of pale lager that has undergone a careful fermentation process and the added benefit of a generous addition of hops.
Despite the fact that all pilsners are lagers, there are key differences between these two drinks.
Pilsner is pale amber in color and tends to have a stronger and more varied flavor than other pale lagers, thanks to the fact that it’s quite hoppy. There are a wide variety of pilsners worldwide, ranging from the straw-colored, bitter German pilsner to the subdued, sweet, and malty American brew.
Pilsner is dubbed as the first pale lager and was made long before other lagers started being produced, so we know much more about its exact origins.
It was first brewed in 1842 by Bavarian brewer Josef Groll in the Czech city of Plzen, from which the brew got its name. This first pale lager was dubbed Pilsner Urquell (meaning “original”), and you can still get your hands on this drink today.
Color and Appearance
Pilsner is slightly darker than most pale lagers, though some varieties are a bright golden color. However, pilsners will always be lighter in color than amber and dark lagers. For tap beers, both pilsners and other lagers should be served with about an inch of head (beer foam) at the top of the glass.
Pilsners have a strong flavor in comparison to other pale lagers. They’re known to be dry, hoppy, and sometimes even spicy. These brews also enjoy a wide flavor profile that’s highly influenced by the location where they are brewed.
Other popular pale lagers, on the other hand, often have a fresh clean taste with a weaker and milder flavor.
Due to the bottom-fermentation process, all lagers – including pilsners – are carbonated. Pilsners are right in the middle in terms of the carbonation level of lagers, ranging from about 2.4 to 2.8 volumes. Meanwhile, ales are often more lightly carbonated than lagers.
The main defining characteristic of a pilsner is its hoppiness. This unique flavor comes from Saaz hops (one of the four “noble” hops) which are relatively low in bitterness and high in aroma.
Other lagers can use noble hops too, as well as any variety, meaning they could be more or less bitter than a pilsner depending on the batch.
Benefits of Lager Beer
Lager beer is popular for a reason. While its amazing taste and ability to give a gentle buzz are the main factors, there are several other things that make the brew even more desirable for plenty of people. The pros and cons vary from beer to beer, but here are some great reasons why you should choose lager.
Lower Calorie Content
Lagers have some of the lowest calorie contents among all beers, and it does this while still tasting amazing. They also maintain that low-calorie content while retaining a moderate alcohol level. Other low-calorie brews are simply that way because they typically have a lower ABV.
Lower Alcohol Content
That being said, lagers also have a fairly low alcohol level themselves. Thanks to this characteristic, you can enjoy a beer (or even a few) without getting too drunk, which is in stark contrast to other brews you can get your hands on.
As such, lagers are the perfect choice for relaxing on a sunny day or for socializing all night long.
Lower in Carbs/Gluten
The buzz in social media about gluten has made many consumers wary of ingesting food and beverages containing high levels of this protein. Fortunately, while most lagers still contain some gluten, the levels are much less than other beers such as ale.
This is due to the grain being diluted during the long fermentation process. Thanks to this, lagers are a great choice for people with mild gluten intolerances or who are cutting back on carbs.
Lagers are arguably the ultimate refreshing drink. They have subtle notes and flavors that shine through the clear taste and don’t overwhelm the drinker with sour beer flavor or dense wheat-ness. A wide variety of flavor profiles also exist in the market, so there are plenty of types to sample to find what you like best.
If you’re craving lager’s mild and light taste, there’s probably an excellent can or bottle near you. Due to lager’s immense popularity, most local breweries produce at least one type or, more commonly, several brews.
If local brews are available, you can hit two birds with one stone by getting a refreshing drink while also supporting your community.
Most Popular Lager Beer Brands
You’ve probably already consumed a few lagers in your time, even if you weren’t aware of it. That’s because many of the world’s most popular beers are, in fact, lagers.
If you want to more consciously dive into the wonders and range of lager beers, take a cue or two from some of the most popular and familiar favorites.
Recognizable for its electric blue branding, Bud Light prides itself on being easy to drink and easy to enjoy. Its 4.2 percent ABV makes it a light and refreshing drink with a subtle taste.
This flavor profile has earned the drink a rather divisive reputation, especially among consumers who like a bit more kick. Nevertheless, if you’re after a great can of lager without all the bells and whistles, Bud Light is your best bet.
Another top contender among pale lagers is Coors Light, touted as a drink that’s “as cold as the Rockies”. Coors Light enjoys a 4.2 percent ABV, making it an excellent choice for a refreshing drink with friends.
When it’s a hot summer day, grab an ice-cold can and pour the clear yellow liquid that presents a bit of foam on top.
Want a lager steeped in history? You’ll never go wrong with Miller Lite, America’s original light beer.
Low in alcohol content (only 4.2 percent ABV) and with a golden-yellow, light to medium body, Miller Lite’s fizzy character makes it the perfect drink to cap a long night of drinking and partying. Whatever the occasion, a can of Miller Lite is an all-rounder.
Corona Extra is aptly described as summer in a bottle. Best enjoyed ice-cold with a wedge of lime or lemon in the bottleneck, this Mexican lager will always be a favorite. Kick back the sand and relish Corona’s 4.6 percent ABV drink that comes in a light yellow body and subtly sweet flavor notes.
A true-blue pale lager, Michelob ULTRA touts a 4.2 percent ABV that packs only two grams of carbs, making it an excellent drink for long summer evenings in the company of friends.
Boasting a clean taste and a waft of light, malty funkiness, Michelob’s Lager deserves a spot in your fridge. As the brewery itself says, “It’s only worth it if you enjoy it”.
If you’re feeling a little fancy, crack open one of these fine Belgian lagers. At just 5 percent ABV, Stella Artois is on the stronger end of popular lagers and conceals a smooth texture, golden amber hue, and a nice head that quickly evaporates to reveal fizzy bubbles rising to the surface.
It’s no surprise then that this lager has developed a cult following.
Here’s a well-known brand that you’ve probably already tasted – Heineken’s very own lager. The brewery’s forest green bottle holds a rich yellow beer with a generous heaping of foam that slowly dissipates, leaving behind a consistently fizzy texture.
Don’t be fooled by Heineken’s sweet and earthy aroma, as this drink packs quite a punch at 5 percent ABV.
This iconic and popular beer dubs itself as the king of beers – a seemingly fitting title considering it’s an all-time American favorite.
Sitting at 5 percent ABV and with an excellent balance between sweet notes and bitter flavors, Budweiser is reminiscent of a great summer party on the beach. Sip this golden beer with its quickly dissipating foam and feel the lightly carbonated texture give way to a clean, crisp finish.
Best Lager Beers
After exploring all that the big names in the lager world have to offer, take a pause and try something new. Instead, why not sample one of our best lager picks?
Expand your lager-tasting horizons and experience new flavors – who knows, you might find these selections even better than the typical brews you’re used to.
Yuengling Traditional Lager Beer
Our first best lagers come from Yuengling, America’s oldest brewery. This dark amber, 4.5 percent ABV drink features a toasted brown color and has a richer flavor than its pale cousins.
Crack open a bottle and experience the exquisite, slightly sweet taste courtesy of roasted caramel malts that gives way to a light and decadent finish.
Vienna Lager Beer
In the world of lagers, Devils Backbone’s signature Vienna-style lager appears to be one that enjoys near-universal popularity – and for very good reasons. This malty, caramel-tasting lager belies its foreboding, deep-red, coppery color.
Coming in at 5.2 percent ABV, this brew’s restrained aroma and flavor might just keep you coming back for more.
Brooklyn Brewery Lager Beer
This one is a kicker because of its daring combination of grapefruit and pine aromas that surrender to the rich flavors of toast and coffee. Brooklyn Brewery’s lager boasts a deep amber hue, a potent 5.2 percent ABV, and the versatility to pair well with just about any staple of American cuisine.
Complexity is this lager’s main selling point – take a generous sip and experience the malty, carbonated notes with a refreshingly hoppy finish.
Harp Lager Beer
This Irish brew prides itself on its crisp taste and purity, and the results are well worth the effort. Clear gold liquid with quite a heap of foam on top, Harp Lager enjoys a mild flavor profile that pairs excellently with its restrained and subdued aromatic notes.
With its smooth finish and 4.2 percent ABV, you’ll probably find yourself reaching for another bottle.
Landshark Lager Beer
The Sunshine State’s jovial culture translates well in this classic, island-style, golden lager with a refreshing tropical flavor. At 4.6 percent ABV, Landshark Lager draws drinkers in with its malty aroma and keeps them around thanks to its crisp, clean, light, and subdued notes.
True to its name and origin, Landshark Lager is the perfect accompaniment to a long day basking under the beach sun.
Boston Lager Beer
In response to the running gag about how American beer tastes like water, Samuel Adams has taken on a crusade to make Americans experience full-flavored beers.
The result is a German-style, 5 percent ABV lager with a firm texture that truly captures the essence of what a lager should be. Its complex blend of sweet and bitter notes creates fireworks in your tastebuds and leaves a dry, satisfying finish.
Dos Equis Lager Beer
Balance is the name of the game with Dos Equis Lager Especial. This is a golden pilsner that’s sure to hit the spot and features Mexican twists of lime and salt peeking through the clear, crisp flavor – all in a light brew that boasts 4.2 percent ABV.
Because of its smooth finish, Dos Equis’ lager might just quickly become your new favorite.
Moosehead Lager Beer
Coming from the last independent brewery in Canada, this northern brew has been putting smiles on frosty faces since 1867.
With a complex flavor profile that combines the sweetness of malt with the bitterness of hops, all fermented with Moosehead’s signature yeast, this lager is definitely one for the books. At only a 5 percent ABV, Moosehead Lager will captivate you with its clean finish and high carbonation.
Lucky Lager Beer
Another excellent Canadian-style drink brewed in America, Lucky Lager pulls out all the stops and delivers a 5 percent ABV beverage that fares well against other contemporaries.
This classic drink sports a bright yellow hue with rich white foam on top and a crisp finish. For those cold nights or long days at work, a bottle of Lucky Lager might just be the perfect companion.