Thoughts on 'Normal Beers'


One of the questions we're most commonly asked, in the brewpub and Bottle Shop, is the inquisitive "Why don't you make regular beers?". And though there are a variety of tempting replies we could counter with, the most obvious being "What's a regular beer?", we understand what that question really means: Where the lagers at? In truth, this is quite a complex topic, one I'm not sure an unsuspecting patron really wants to hash out at the bar, but I thought we'd address our thoughts on this for posterity's sake.

For starters, what's a lager and what's an ale? How are they even different? A lot of people will tell you that lagers are light and ales are dark. Or lagers are refreshing and ales are more of a meal. Lagers are easy-drinking, ales are sippers. But none of this is necessarily true, especially when you consider styles like black lagers and session ales. All that differentiates lagers from ales is the yeast, the single-celled organism that fights the good fight and converts sugars into alcohol and CO2. In simple terms, ale yeasts tend to ferment at warmer temperatures, more quickly, and therefore [can] have a quicker turn around time than lagers. Lagers ferment (and condition) at cooler temperatures, which slows down the process considerably.

Our approach to making beers is largely about what we're inspired by or interested in, at a specific moment in time. With lots of demand and not enough tank space to supply everyone with the beers they want, we tend to think of each fermentor as prime real estate. If lagers take longer, they make that supply chain even more strained. Making ales, including light sessionable ones, allows us to deliver more beer to our patrons, and we like that idea. In short, we have nothing against lagers except for their fermentation timeline.

Something else to consider is the fact that brewing lagers is rather technical, and many of the larger macro breweries have really perfected it. Paulaner in Germany consistently puts out amazing Helles style, Vienna, and traditional lagers. Despite not being macro, Trou Du Diable just snagged a gold medal for La Pitoune in the 'Kellerbier' category. There are a lot of establishments around our brewpub that sell lagers, but none sell sour stouts and brett-barrel aged quads (but we wouldn't complain if they did!). We like brewing styles that excite us and providing something a bit out of the ordinary.

Earlier this year, during the Craft Brewers Conference in Denver, we attended a seminar on "Belgian Yeast". In it, Yvan De Baets (esteemed Co-owner and Brewmaster at Brasserie De La Senne in Brussels and contributor to Farmhouse Ales) admitted that he wasn't sure what "Belgian" yeast even was, and spoke about the topic in a way that made me look at brewing differently. Though he covered quite a range of ideas, he touched on the notion of using one yeast to create a range of flavours. Endearingly, he told us that "it takes a lifetime to know her" -- the 'her' here meaning yeast.

Every single beer we brew and have brewed is an ale. Ales are 'normal' to us, whatever that word even means, and we utilize many different ale yeast strains to make our 50+ beers. Some beers we brew have lots of yeast-derived esters and phenolics (fruity and spicy notes), while others are relatively neutral. Stay Classy is light and refreshing, slightly fruity and aromatically hoppy at 2.8%. Our imperial stout Hellwoods is rich, viscous, bitter, malty, and weighs in at 10%. They use the same yeast. Would we love to do lagers in the future? Absolutely.

What all this means is that categories are broad, labels are misleading, and 'normal' is in the eye of the beholder. The landscape of ales, especially craft ales, is richly diverse and covers a wide spectrum from light & easy to dark & thoughtful. We encourage you to do away with the idea of 'normal' and remember that much like a yeast strain, with ales "it takes your whole life to know her".

And remember, as the brewery that eagerly adopted the mascot of a half man/half shark mythological creature who rides a broom as a means of transportation, you'd perhaps be better off not to use us as the hallmark of normality.