I feel like those inside the craft beer industry have been pushing for the “Year of the Lager” for quite some time. I don’t think we’re there yet, but forward progress is being made. Enter the inaugural edition of Lager Fest hosted by Resident Culture Brewing and Casita Cerveceria. This year’s lineup featured some heavy hitters…..Suarez Family, Russian River, Hill Farmstead, Heater Allen, just to name a few. As I made my way around the event, I was struck by the variety within a very narrow style window. 4.5-5% ABV and 15-30 IBUs and 3-6 SRM. Noble hops vs. new world varieties. Some offerings were bright and crisp, others delivered more biscuity malt character. I also enjoyed the opportunity to access a Russian River tap without a line!

As you might imagine, I have a keen interest in the role local malt can play inside of the growing lager trend. This industry heavy event offered an excellent opportunity to explore the space and pick people’s brains. Some brewers I spoke with were looking for flavor and character reminiscent of the classic continental Pilsner malts while others got excited about the terrior of Southern-grown barley varieties. This divergence offers both an exciting opportunity and a challenge for the craft malt industry. #1 – mirror the flavor profile and consistency of the legacy malt houses #2 – highlight the flavors of your region.

At Riverbend, we can address both through the development of custom malt program. To date, we’ve focused on single origin/single variety lots which deliver the bready sweet profile of a continental Pilsner. Blending different varieties and adjusting kilning temperatures add complimentary elements of honeysuckle and green tea.

What about the market demand?

The rise of attractively priced 15-packs of craft lager are shifting customer expectations for the style….making it tougher to sell 4-packs for $10+. This trend also makes it challenging to include premium craft malt in the recipe.

If we want a truly local lager our challenge is craft a beer (and a marketing campaign) that draws the customer into a conversation about the ingredients. Maybe that is accomplished with a name or branding that speaks to a sense of place or history. Maybe we need an eye-catching dry-hop regime (gasp!). Or maybe a new branding element that helps differentiate your product from others on the shelf. Something like the new “Certified Craft Malt” seal from the North American Craft Maltster’s Guild, perhaps? Learn more at www.craftmalting.com