The craft-beer revolution at times appears to be a game of constant experimentation and one-upmanship. The IPAs have become hoppier even as the flavor profiles have reached the outer limits of good taste. (More fruit! Weirder fruit! Coffee and chiles, yes!) Whatever happened to the humble lager, which is the perfect post-lawn-mowing drink and the ultimate sports beverage?
Urban Chestnut Brewing Company not only remembers the lager, the staff celebrates it. It's the brewery’s love for the beer that built St. Louis that's behind its first-ever LagerFest, and it couldn't have come at a better time.
Ryan Rakel is the ombudsman and event coordinator at UCBC's Grove Brewery & Bierhall. He explains the origin of the festival as a simple matter of taste.
"It's a style that we know and love, and we brew them well," Rakel opines. (He's right; try UCBC's Zwickel and fall in love all over again.) "It's the most mass-produced and popular beer, but not in craft breweries. It's not easy to do, and it's not easy to hide its flaws if it goes poorly."
But when the process succeeds, it's magical. A perfect lager is crisp, refreshing and easy-drinking. The warmer the weather gets, the better a lager tastes — and that's the motivating force behind the festival. UCBC challenged area and national breweries that make quality lagers to whip up a historic lager of the past in order to get a wide variety of styles. The results should be impressive.
"We should have 20 to 25 varieties on tap," says Rakel, before rattling off a list of options. "We're doing four, because we're hosting — a 1910 lager, a honey lager and what we're calling an India Pale Lager. There's a Kulmbacher clone, a couple doppelbocks, a Baltic porter and a couple of ambers."
The honor for oldest variety goes to Stubborn German Brewing Company, of Waterloo, Illinois. The brewery had an ace-in-the-hole, Rakel says. "Stubborn German actually has the beer ledger with the 1866 recipe, which is cool. It will probably be more raw and malty, sweeter, more like an ale."
If you're worried about some of these beers being tough on your taste buds, you shouldn't. There's not much that separates the historical lager from the modern.
"In general the ingredients don't change really," Rakel says reassuringly. "The modern hops and hop hybrids are new, but the basics are the same. Technology has changed, and refrigeration is a huge development in lagers — no more cutting ice from a frozen river and throwing it in a cave.”
Of course, there's more to LagerFest than beer and food. It's going to be an all-around celebration of the brewing industry. On the schedule are meet-and-greets with some of the breweries, a display of breweriania and historical presentations by several beer writers. Rakel describes it as "an open-beer campus," which is exactly what this town needs. "If you're a beer nerd, you'll love this. If you're a casual beer fan, you'll have lots of things to try," Rakel promises.
LagerFest takes place from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Urban Chestnut's Grove Brewery & Bierhall (4665 Manchester Avenue; www.urbanchestnut.com). A commemorative glass and five samples cost $15. Additional samples can be purchased (two samples for $5).