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Pete Gillespie (left) and Jos Ruffell (right),
Co- Founders of Garage Project.
Garage Project’s “Pils ’n’ Thrills”: A classic European
Pilsner, given extra kick with high-citrus American hops.
the beginning of a link between mankind and a beverage that would
(at least in part) be responsible for ever ything from the building of the
Pyramids, to the birth of moder n medicine.
And without a doubt, the style most synonymous with the word
“beer” is Lager. The ter m “lager” comes from the Ger man (storeroom
or warehouse), as stor ing the beer at cold temperatures is a definitive
part of the conditioning process and so key to the cr isp, clean flavor
profile of the style.
Lager beer makes up the overwhelming major ity of beer production
across the globe, with ten out of ten of the world’s bestselling beers
being pale lagers. However, at only six centur ies old, the pale lager with
which we are all so familiar is a fairly recent ar r ival on the beer scene.
With little understanding of how the fer mentation process actually
worked, early brewers relied on wild yeast strains to spontaneously
fer ment their beers. It’s believed that this evolved into a process of using
a portion of a successful batch to kick-start the next one; much like
sourdough bread.This kick-starting, lead to a process of unconscious
yeast selection that eventually contr ibuted to the varying qualities of
many of the world’s most acclaimed beer regions and styles.
Somewhere in Bavar ia around the 15th century, it would seem
that brewers began to notice that the beers they stored in the cold
Bavar ian caves continued to fer ment and mature, leaving a smoother,
cr isper, beer behind. As yeast selection continued, a mutation of
the common ale yeast strains of the area evolved into a bottom
fer menting yeast strain specifically adapted to cold temperatures. Thus,
the lager was bor n.
For centur ies, lager beer was much darker than the lagers we know
today.This was due to the common malting practices of the time. It
wasn’t until the mid 19th century — when pale malting practices
were adopted in Ger many — that a beer more closely resembling the
moder n lager was bor n.
Fast forward to the dawn of refrigeration (a technology that was
or iginally developed by James Har r ison to “cool beer” I should add),
and the clean, easy-drinking, pale lager was fast on it’s way to becoming
the most popular beer on the planet; making up more than 90% of the
beer consumed in the world today.
As the beer style most noted for being “easy drinking”, or more
cynically, “non-offensive”, it’s probably no sur prise that lager has often
been viewed by many as separate from the craft beer movement.
Histor ically it has been the darker, sweeter, bolder, (even sour) beers
that have lent themselves to the blending with non-traditional flavors
and ingredients. Whereas, the lager has remained the every-man's beer,
more commonly brewed to please a less adventurous palate. However,
that is slowly changing as we see a renewed focus on lagers by many of
the world’s craft brewer ies.
One such brewery is the always exper imental,Wellington-based
Garage Project, which offers an uncommonly large ar ray of lagers
compared to the average ale-centric microbrewery. I had the pleasure
of speaking with one of the brewer y’s co-founders, Jos Ruffell, at this
year’s Beervana Festival and I asked him how he saw the evolution
of the lager over the last decade or so, and how Garage Project is
approaching the style.
“When Garage Project started we had a blank canvas”, said Ruffell.
“We had a cupboard of different specialty malts, a fridge full of different
hops, and a bank full of different yeasts. So we really had this sort of
pantry that we could go into. We didn’t know what we were going to
brew. Week to week, we would just sort of flow, based on what we were
feeling or what we were interested in.We took a step back after the first
eighteen months or so of the brewery, and we realized that a lot of the
beers that we’d put out were actually lagers. And those lagers were some
of the more memorable and sought after beers we had been brewing.”
Jos explained, that one of the reasons he felt their lagers were so
popular, is precisely because the neutral base of the style worked very
well with adjunct and specialty ingredient r ich beers, something Garage
Project is known for. “They’re not fighting over the fruity esters of
an ale,” he explained. “But that’s not to say that the beer needs to be
bor ing just because it’s a lager.”
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