Making lagers well can be like designing minimalist architecture; flaws show when there’s no ornamentation to hide behind. The attention to detail required means many breweries devote themselves primarily or even entirely to this category of beer. Here are eight leading the charge.
Red Oak: Outside of Greensboro, N.C., in the town of Whitsett, Red Oak brews its all-Bavarian lager lineup that includes its flagship amber and Hummin’ Bird Helles. Look for seasonal, draft-only bock releases like Black Oak doppelbock and Big Oak bock-strength Vienna lager.
Chuckanut: The Bellingham, Wash., brewery was named Best Small Brewpub of the Year at GABF in 2009, the first all-lager brewery to win the title. Since then, it’s continued to put out consistently award-winning beers, including a kölsch, pilsner and Dunkel lager.
Sudwerk: Brewers of German-style lagers since 1989, the Davis, Calif., brewery has recently turned its attention to redefining the humble American lager. The Dock, a 12-gallon pilot system and taproom, serves as a hub for innovation as well as a gathering spot for curious drinkers.
Gunpowder Falls: A German-trained brewer is behind this central Pennsylvania brewery, which brews all of its offerings according to the Reinheitsgebot, a German beer purity law that states that only water, malt, hops and yeast may be used in brewing.
Metropolitan: The all-German, primarily lager brewery cranked out its first batch in 2009; this year, it’s expanded distribution into Wisconsin, a state whose German history makes it no stranger to a tasty copper lager or Oktoberfest. Keep an eye out for the sporadi- cally released local favorite Heliostat zwickel lager on tap around Chicago.
Heater Allen: The predominantly German- and Czech-style lager brewery from McMinnville, Ore., has expanded in its eight-year history, but it’s still tiny at an annual output just over 1,000 barrels. This year it plans to bottle its kölsch, a popular draft-only beer that debuted in 2014.
Orlison: Bucking the hop-forward ale trend that’s dominated Pacific Northwest brewing, this Washington state brewery is proudly lager-only. Lighter styles include a year-round pilsner, Havanuther light pilsner and Clem’s Gold pre-Prohibition lager, as well as darker hybrid styles including the subtly roasty Brunette brown lager and Underground stout lager.
Jack’s Abby: Three brothers founded this lager-only brewery in 2011 in Framingham, Mass.; since then, they’ve racked up awards for their not-so-traditional lagers, including a double India pale lager, a spiced wheat lager, a Berliner-style lager and a seasonal pumpkin lager. Construction is currently underway on a new downtown brewpub, which will increase capacity and allow for new packaging.