Beerista: Know your lagers – Helles, Pilsners and everything in between

The first in this series looks at the traditional, mainstream versions of the style

Lagers usually mean yellow, fizzy and boring – or that’s cerainly what the mainstream ones are like.

The American lager style came to domination after Prohibition, when many breweries were consolidated and sought to create beers with mass-market appeal. The result is that lagers have a reputation for being rather flavourless; think Budweiser, the sweet and bland “King of Beers”.

The style is often misunderstood, however, with many interesting variations across different countries, from Germany to Thailand to Mexico. You can find malty red lagers to hoppy pale ones or dark ones, from rich ruby Bocks to gleaming Vienna lagers.

International lagers, which include Heineken, Peroni and Carlsberg, have slightly more flavour than their American cousins. They are often a touch deeper in gold colour, but with the similar sweet, grainy and clean profile typical of these styles.


A Munich Helles is another step up in flavour, still light and quite sweet and bready, but with a little more hop profile from the German Noble hops used, such as Hallertau or Tettnanger. (Try Munich Helles Hofbräu Original, 5.1 per cent)

The German-style Pils (for example, Bitburger and Jever) offer more again from the hops, with herbal and floral aromas and flavours to the fore.

The Czechs probably make the best original Pilsners – though my German cousins might disagree. Made with the Saaz hops, they have a spicy and floral aromas, often with a hint of fresh mint and a more complex malt profile.

Of all the mainstream lager styles, the Czech pilsner is arguably the most robust and interesting, and include the well-stocked Budvar, Staropramen and – one of my favourites – the 4.1 per cent Pilsner Urquell, a reliably sessionable, thirst-quenching classic.

Next week: lesser-known lagers