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Pale Lager

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The most popular beer style in the world, Pale Lager is a dry, crisp lager with very little flavor and a light body; it is brewed to be refreshing and easy-drinking rather than flavorful and is often brewed with a substantial amount of adjunct grains, especially maize and rice. However, some beers brewed in this style can be all-malt as well.

This style encompasses the standard American Lager, exemplified by Budweiser, as well as many popular European pale lagers, sometimes called International Lager, such as Carlsberg and Heineken. Because this is the most popular style brewed by large international brewers, home brewers tend to use names like Macro Lager or BMC (short for "Budweiser - Miller - Coors") to describe it. Some, including the BJCP, categorize these beers as Light Lager, although that name sometimes causes confusion with the low-alcohol, low-calorie "Light" or "Lite" beers marketed by some large brewers.

Contents

History of Pale Lager

Before Prohibition, American brewers on the East Coast and Midwest were brewing their own versions of European Pilsner beers. American brewers quickly found that the six-row barley available to them was not well suited to brewing light-colored, all-malt beers, and began using adjunct grains such as maize to lighten the body of the beer. The result is a beer with a lighter body, less malt flavor, and correspondingly low hop bitterness, flavor, and aroma.

On the west coast, a separate style developed, called Western Lager, featuring a much lighter flavor and hop character than the standard American pilsner. These lighter beers were not well regarded by the rest of the country, but after Prohibition, they became the template for the pale American lagers that would go on to become the world's most popular beer style.

Types of Pale Lager

Rice or Maize Adjuncts

Because the style lacks any strong malt flavor, the adjuncts chosen, if any, can significantly affect the flavor of the beer. American pale lagers brewed with maize tend to have a sweet, corn-like flavor, while Asian pale lagers brewed with rice (as well as Budweiser) tend to be more neutral, sometimes almost flavorless. All-malt versions tend to have a different character as well.

American Mass-Market Lager

Budweiser and Miller are the examples of this style, although it is also brewed in other parts of the world; for example, Foster's Lager from Australia, Corona from Mexico, and Kirin from Japan. The unifying characteristic is the extremely light flavor and color.

European Mass-Market Lager

Heineken and Carlsberg brew beers very similar to the American breweries, but with somewhat more of a malty flavor, and sometimes with correspondingly higher hops to balance the beer; adjuncts are often lower but rarely absent. These beer still resemble the American mass-brewed beers than they do true European Pilsner. Some American brewers also brew "premium" beers, such as Miller Genuine Draft or Anheuser World Lager, in order to compete with the European imports. Because of the "green bottle" traditionally associated with these beers in the United States, skunking is common enough that it is considered a characteristic of the style by some.

Light or Lite Lager

The "Light" or "Lite" versions of mass-market pale lagers are lower in gravity, alcohol and calories than the "standard" versions. As a result, they are also lower in flavor and mouthfeel; some can seem watery.

Dry Beer

{{ #if: | Main article: [[Dry Beer|]] | Main article: Dry Beer }}

Dry Beer is an Asian variant of the Pale Lager, briefly popular in the United States and still brewed by several large brewers. It features unusually high attenuation, with the result that it has almost no sweetness and very little body.

Ice Lager

{{ #if: | Main article: [[Ice Lager|]] | Main article: Ice Lager }}

Ice Lager or Ice Beer has undergone a process of freezing and (sometimes) removing part of the water, resulting in a sligtly more concentrated flavor and a slightly higher alcohol level. In most commercial examples, the effect is insignificant and the resulting beer is almost indistinguishable from a standard pale lager except for a slightly higher (0.5% abv or so) alcohol level.

Western Lager

Western Lager is a historical style that was popular in the western United States before Prohibition. Lighter than the American Pilsner beers that were brewed in the rest of the United States at the time, they were often looked down on as weak and flavorless by East Coast brewers and drinkers. The specific difference from other American lagers was the inclusion of rice rather than corn. After Prohibition, Western Lager developed into the standard American pale lager.

Brewing Pale Lager

Like all beer, pale lager is made with water, malt, hops, and yeast; the main addition is the use of corn or rice adjuncts to add fermentable sugars without increasing body, color, or flavor. Because the rice or corn cannot convert their own starches to sugars, high-enzyme 6-row barley is usually used. To save space, some major American breweries reportedly brew their pale lagers to much higher gravities, then dilute them with water before kegging or bottling.

Because there are no heavy or strong flavours, there is nothing to mask even slight off flavours caused by flaws in the brewer's methods or ingredients, so fresh ingredients and great care are needed to brew this style well.

Malt
6-row malt or a mixture of 6-row and Pilsner malt to moderate the 6-row's grainy profile. UK 2 row pale malts are generally too dark and don’t have enough diastic power.
Adjuncts
Maize can be added in the form of pre-gelatinized flaked maize in the mash or corn syrup in the kettle. Corn grits are used by many commercial brewers because they are cheap, but they require a separate cereal mash before being added to the main mash. The same goes for flaked rice, rice syrup and rice grits.
Hops
Obviously a lot of American hops are used although some foreign styles grown domestically and some imports are used. Importantly the bitterness is low at around 10-14 IBU.
Yeast
Most major yeast companies sell American lager yeasts, often referred to as "A-B yeast" because of its supposed origin.

So from the above we can put a list together:

  • 2 row pale or pilsner malt
  • 6 row pale malt
  • Rice or maize adjuncts
  • Hops from the list of: Noble, Cascade, Willamette, Spalt, Newport, Sterling and a few others
  • Yeast. Lager, American, Wyeast 2035. or similar

A good clean tasting water is a must especially if you plan to brew strong and water it down. Sterilized water can help with this but you’ll need to add brewing salts to it. You can also use Campden tablets to take out chloramines and boil to remove chlorine.

You need to mash for highly fermentable wort, which means at the lower end of the mashing scale maybe 150-152 or if you have the inclination ability to step mash then do some lower temp steps with a rest at 140 really helping to get a dry beer. A single infusion at 145 for 2-3 hours will yield the highest percent fermentability. (Brew Science and Practice, Briggs et. all, p212)

With sparging clarity is important so fly sparging can help or at least returning plenty of the first mash back to the mash when Batch Sparging. You need to be careful not to sparge bellow around 1010.

A good boil is required to make sure you boil off any DMS and allow a good hot break.

Also note that due to poor handling and clear bottles that these beers quite often get skunked and the beer swilling masses have got used to it and see it as a positive flavour in these beers. So short of finding a passing skunk...I suggest looking after a few bottles and also letting a few bottles skunk in daylight. Taste two side by side warm then taste two side by side chilled to see what you think.

External Resources

Competition Styles

The BJCP contains three categories of standard mass-market lager, including light beer; less commonly homebrewed specialties such as Dry and Ice Beer should be entered into as Specialty Beer. The GABF style guidelines, with their focus on commercial beer, contains a wider range of categories of pale lager.

BJCP Style Guidelines

Lite American Lager

1A. Lite American Lager Vital Statistics
BJCP Style Guideline Definition (2004)
IBUs: 8-12 SRM: 2-3 OG: 1.030-1.040 FG: 0.998-1.008 ABV: 3.2-4.2
Aroma: Little to no malt aroma, although it can be grainy, sweet or corn-like if present. Hop aroma may range from none to a light, spicy or floral hop presence. Low levels of yeast character (green apples, DMS, or fruitiness) are optional but acceptable. No diacetyl.
Appearance: Very pale straw to medium yellow color. White, frothy head seldom persists. Very clear.
Flavor: Little to no malt aroma, although it can be grainy, sweet or corn-like if present. Hop aroma may range from none to a light, spicy or floral hop presence. Low levels of yeast character (green apples, DMS, or fruitiness) are optional but acceptable. No diacetyl.
Mouthfeel: Very light body from use of a high percentage of adjuncts such as rice or corn. Very highly carbonated with slight carbonic bite on the tongue. May seem watery.
Overall Impression: Little to no malt aroma, although it can be grainy, sweet or corn-like if present. Hop aroma may range from none to a light, spicy or floral hop presence. Low levels of yeast character (green apples, DMS, or fruitiness) are optional but acceptable. No diacetyl.
History: not specified
Comments: A lower gravity and lower calorie beer than standard international lagers. Strong flavors are a fault. Designed to appeal to the broadest range of the general public as possible.
Ingredients: Two- or six-row barley with high percentage (up to 40%) of rice or corn as adjuncts.
Commercial Examples: Miller Lite, Bud Light, Coors Light, Amstel Light


Standard American Lager

1B. Standard American Lager Vital Statistics
BJCP Style Guideline Definition (2004)
IBUs: 8-15 SRM: 2-4 OG: 1.040-1.050 FG: 1.004-1.010 ABV: 4.2-5.1
Aroma: Little to no malt aroma, although it can be grainy, sweet or corn-like if present. Hop aroma may range from none to a light, spicy or floral hop presence. Low levels of yeast character (green apples, DMS, or fruitiness) are optional but acceptable. No diacetyl.
Appearance: Very pale straw to medium yellow color. White, frothy head seldom persists. Very clear.
Flavor: Little to no malt aroma, although it can be grainy, sweet or corn-like if present. Hop aroma may range from none to a light, spicy or floral hop presence. Low levels of yeast character (green apples, DMS, or fruitiness) are optional but acceptable. No diacetyl.
Mouthfeel: Light body from use of a high percentage of adjuncts such as rice or corn. Very highly carbonated with slight carbonic bite on the tongue.
Overall Impression: Little to no malt aroma, although it can be grainy, sweet or corn-like if present. Hop aroma may range from none to a light, spicy or floral hop presence. Low levels of yeast character (green apples, DMS, or fruitiness) are optional but acceptable. No diacetyl.
History: not specified
Comments: Strong flavors are a fault. An international style including the standard mass-market lager from most countries.
Ingredients: Two- or six-row barley with high percentage (up to 40%) of rice or corn as adjuncts.
Commercial Examples: Miller High Life, Budweiser, Kirin Lager, Molson Golden, Corona Extra, Foster's Lager


Premium American Lager

1C. Premium American Lager Vital Statistics
BJCP Style Guideline Definition (2004)
IBUs: 15-25 SRM: 2-6 OG: 1.046-1.056 FG: 1.008-1.012 ABV: 4.7-6
Aroma: Low to medium-low malt aroma, which can be grainy, sweet or corn-like. Hop aroma may range from very low to a medium-low, spicy or floral hop presence. Low levels of yeast character (green apples, DMS, or fruitiness) are optional but acceptable. No diacetyl.
Appearance: Pale straw to gold color. White, frothy head may not be long lasting. Very clear.
Flavor: Low to medium-low malt aroma, which can be grainy, sweet or corn-like. Hop aroma may range from very low to a medium-low, spicy or floral hop presence. Low levels of yeast character (green apples, DMS, or fruitiness) are optional but acceptable. No diacetyl.
Mouthfeel: Medium-light body from use of adjuncts such as rice or corn. Highly carbonated with slight carbonic bite on the tongue.
Overall Impression: Low to medium-low malt aroma, which can be grainy, sweet or corn-like. Hop aroma may range from very low to a medium-low, spicy or floral hop presence. Low levels of yeast character (green apples, DMS, or fruitiness) are optional but acceptable. No diacetyl.
History: not specified
Comments: Premium beers tend to have fewer adjuncts than standard/lite lagers, and can be all-malt. Strong flavors are a fault, but premium lagers have more flavor than standard/lite lagers. A broad category of international mass-market lagers ranging from up-scale American lagers to the typical "import" or "green bottle" international beers found in America.
Ingredients: Two- or six-row barley with up to 25% rice or corn as adjuncts.
Commercial Examples: Miller Genuine Draft, Michelob, Coors Extra Gold, Heineken, Beck's, Stella Artois, Singha

GABF Style Listings

The GABF's pale lager styles include one, listed as "International Style Pilsner", that more closely resembles a Heineken-style pale lager than a true Pilsner. The GABF also includes style listings for specialty pale lager categories, including Light Lager, Dry Beer, Ice Beer, and Low-Carbohydrate Beer.

International Style Pilsener

20. International Style Pilsener
GABF Style Listing (2007)
International-Style Pilseners are straw/golden in color and are well attenuated. This medium bodied beer is often brewed with rice, corn, wheat, or other grain or sugar adjuncts making up part of the mash. Hop bitterness is low to medium. Hop flavor and aroma are low. Residual malt sweetness is low; it does not predominate but may be perceived. Fruity esters and diacetyl should not be perceived. Very low levels of sweet corn-like dimethylsulfide (DMS) character, if perceived, are acceptable. There should be no chill haze.
Original Gravity (ºPlato): 1.044-1.050 (11-12.5 ºPlato)
Apparent Extract/Final Gravity (ºPlato): 1.008-1.010 (2-2.5 ºPlato)
Alcohol by Weight (Volume): 3.6-4.2% (4.5-5.25%)
Bitterness (IBU): 17-30
Color SRM (EBC): 3-4 (6-8 EBC)


American Style Light (Low Calorie) Lager

25A. American Style Light (Low Calorie) Lager
GABF Style Listing (2007)
These beers are extremely light colored, light in body, and high in carbonation. Calorie level should not exceed 125 per 12 ounce serving. Corn, rice, or other grain or sugar adjuncts are often used. Flavor is mild, and hop bitterness and aroma is negligible to very low. Light fruity esters are acceptable. Chill haze and diacetyl should be absent.
Original Gravity (ºPlato): 1.024-1.040 (6-10 ºPlato)
Apparent Extract/Final Gravity (ºPlato): 1.002-1.008 (0.5-2 ºPlato)
Alcohol by Weight (Volume): 2.8-3.5% (3.5-4.4%)
Bitterness (IBU): 5-10
Color SRM (EBC): 1.5-4 (3-8 EBC)


American Style Lager

26A. American Style Lager
GABF Style Listing (2007)
Light in body and color, American lagers are very clean and crisp and aggressively carbonated. Flavor components should be subtle and complex, with no one ingredient dominating the others. Malt sweetness is light to mild. Corn, rice, or other grain or sugar adjuncts are often used. Hop bitterness, flavor and aroma are negligible to very light. Light fruity esters are acceptable. Chill haze and diacetyl should be absent.
Original Gravity (ºPlato): 1.040-1.046 (10-11.5 ºPlato)
Apparent Extract/Final Gravity (ºPlato): 1.006-1.010 (1.5-2.5 ºPlato)
Alcohol by Weight (Volume): 3.2-4.0% (3.8-5%)
Bitterness (IBU): 5-14
Color SRM (EBC): 2-4 (4-8 EBC)


American Style Premium Lager

26B. American Style Premium Lager
GABF Style Listing (2007)
This style has low malt (and adjunct) sweetness, is medium bodied, and should contain no or a low percentage (less than 25%) of adjuncts. Color may be light straw to golden. Alcohol content and bitterness may also be greater. Hop aroma and flavor is low or negligible. Light fruity esters are acceptable. Chill haze and diacetyl should be absent. Note: Some beers marketed as "premium" (based on price) may not fit this definition.
Original Gravity (ºPlato): 1.044-1.048 (11-12 ºPlato)
Apparent Extract/Final Gravity (ºPlato): 1.010-1.014 (2.5-3.5 ºPlato)
Alcohol by Weight (Volume): 3.6-4% (4.3-5%)
Bitterness (IBU): 6-15
Color SRM (EBC): 2-6 (4-12 EBC)