Hearing your father say, “Sit down. It's time we have a little talk.” may fill some people with anxiety about discussing embarrassing subjects, but I can guarantee you that there is nothing awkward about Dad Talk Lager by Roughtail Brewing. This straightforward beer is a very approachable product that even dear old dad would love. The conversation I do want to have though, is one about what exactly makes a lager and how it developed.
For most of the beer world, there are two types of beers: lagers and ales. Yes, I know there are other kinds of beers (sours, for instance), but those are still fairly niche for anyone outside the world of craft beer.
Beer is made by the fermentation of sugars in a liquid by yeast, and humans have been doing this for an incredibly long time. In 2018, researchers at a pre-historic burial site near Haifa, Israel discovered what is considered the world’s oldest brewery with the residue of 13,000-year-old beer!
It is said that the brewer makes the wort (sugary solution) and the yeast makes the beer, and not just any yeast will do. Yeast of the genus Saccharomyces are typically what brewers use and the name translates from Latin as “sugar fungus,” which seems very appropriate.
Since there are two main types of beer, there are also two specific species of yeast used, Saccharomyces cerevisiae for ales and Saccharomyces pastorianus for lagers. While S. cerevisiae has been around for a long time, S. pastorianus is a fairly new creature with an interesting origin story.
When looking back in brewing history, we see that there was a strong tradition of brewing in Christian monasteries. The name Munich (or München in German) actually translates to “by the monks’ place,” likely because of several nearby monastic communities in the foothills of the Bavarian Alps.
In these highlands, the monks realized they could use the area's caves as make-shift refrigerators by stuffing them with ice during the winter months so they could have a place for cold storage during the summer. What these monks didn't realize they were doing by stuffing their ice boxes full of beer for hundreds of years, was mutating a new species of yeast that was cold tolerant and produced a “cleaner” fermentation product.
Lager is actually kind of a funny term because it is both a noun and a verb. We think of the word as a type of beer, but it actually comes from the German verb Lagern which means to store. So, to create a lager beer, after fermenting it at a cooler temperature than an ale ferments, we must store (or lager) the beer at very cold temperatures to allow for maturation.
The German engineer Carl von Linde (funded by Spaten Brewery) actually developed mechanical refrigeration so that lager beers could be produced without ice caves or cellars. This once obscure Bavarian style of beer spread like wildfire around the globe, so much so that nine of every ten beers sold worldwide today are lagers.
Now here is the bad news: What is considered “the norm” for lager beer these days is a bland product that is very flavor neutral. The BJCP guideline for American Lager is downright boring, and it was really only developed to categorize the glut of mass produced macro lagers in America. But just because that is what is expected doesn't mean that it is what you are going to get when you order up a Dad Talk Lager at Roughtail Brewing.
Dad Talk Lager is simply listed as a Pale Lager so I think it is fair to compare it to the American Lager style guideline. The ABV is listed at 5.1 percent which is within the accepted guideline of 4.2-5.3 percent. The IBUs are listed at 5, which is even below the range the BJCP suggests of between 8-18.
I am not joking when I say this style is made to corral American macro lagers. The suggested commercial examples of the style are things like Bud Heavy, Coors OG, and PBR.
Let's see what makes Dad Talk Lager different.
Aroma and Appearance
The nose on this beer is very subtle and has a nice sweetness to it, and there is just a little bit of fruitiness from the yeast. The beer pours a nice yellow straw color and has a tight little head on it with a fair amount of retention. The beer has a little bit of haze to it, as well, which is atypical of the style.
Flavor and Mouthfeel
This beer practically rushes down your throat. It is smooth. It is crisp. It is very easy to drink. The flavor of the beer is slightly sweet, which comes from the malt, and there is almost no detectable hop flavor. The mouthfeel is light and the beer finishes as sweet and light as it starts.
One thing missing from this beer that is normally present in macro lagers is the taste of corn. Corn is often used as an adjunct sugar when brewing American lagers because it’s cheap and, at this point, American beer drinkers are used to it. In the style guidelines, up to 40 percent of the grain bill for an American lager can be either corn or rice. This beer tastes all malt, to me.
I really like this beer for a multitude of reasons. First, Roughtail is doing something that probably costs themselves money. Since the beer requires a cold storage for maturation (lagering), Roughtail is tying up space that could be used to more quickly churn out ales. Secondly, I always respect when small craft breweries do something that bucks the conventional norms.
Lagers are harder to make and there is a reason most small craft breweries don't make them. When you go to a local brewery and they have a lager on tap, try it. If it is good, there’s a high likelihood the rest of the beers will be good, too.
Finally, I love that Roughtail is going for a very basic style and elevating it. By making this malt-forward beer, they are showing that American Lager doesn't have to taste like a can of creamed corn, and that the lager beer drinking masses deserve something better.