"Of all the beers I tried at the Craft Brewers Conference in San Diego, this was the one that stuck in my brain," recalls Simons, who is now the head brewer at Dry Dock Brewing in Aurora. Since New Glarus doesn't sell beer outside of Wisconsin, he says, "I decided to make something like it for myself." The result, Franconian Lager, went on tap at Dry Dock's South Dock location late last week; it's one of five lagers I've tried recently that were brewed using unusual, intense or complicated processes to take them to the next level.
To make Franconian Lager, Dry Dock used a complex and time-intensive process called decoction mashing. This old-school European technique calls for separating a portion of the mash at least once during brewing, and then boiling it at an even higher temperature in order to extract more flavor — before adding it back in. Most breweries aren't set up for decoction mashing, though, because they don't have the right equipment or don't have the time and staffing required.
"I think there is a perception by some that it's not a necessary process with the advanced malting that we have today," he continues. "That isn't necessarily untrue, but I do feel decoction mashing makes a lager more compelling over a lager with single-infusion mash or even a step mash. A decocted lager will have more depth of malt compared to the same recipe that's mashed with a single infusion. If done correctly, it creates a rich malt character that still finishes crisp and relatively dry. So even a darker lager like a Dunkel is refreshing, repeatable, and sessionable."
That's why Dry Dock takes the time to produce its award-winning German-style lagers with a decoction mash. "It lends an authenticity to the beers, and in my opinion, makes them more enjoyable and drinkable," Simon explains. "Even though it's a longer brew day, I truly do enjoy the process."
Here's a rundown of Franconian Lager and four other delicious lagers now available:
Dry Dock Brewing
Dry Dock's Franconian Lager has been a taproom favorite since the brewery unveiled it last year at its South Dock location. Now it's in cans as part of Dry Dock's limited Cut & Run Series — cans that are only sold out of the taproom. The series highlights "the finest and most favored beers that are piloted at South Dock," the brewery says. Brewed from Weyermann floor-malted barley (which involves another labor-intensive, traditional process), the beer underwent an extended decoction mash before being fermented and lagered for ten weeks. It has "deep notes of dough and toasted malt giving way to a light noble hop aroma," the brewery says.
Bierstadt collaborated with Finn's Manor, a cocktail and craft-beer bar/food truck pod and Bierstadt's neighbor in the River North Art District, to create this beer, which was brewed with heirloom corn from Oaxaca, Mexico. When Finn's owner Tommy Taylor took his staff to Oaxaca to sample mezcal (Finn's has a large selection), he learned about heirloom corn varieties and suggested using them in a Bierstadt beer in early 2020 (right around Cinco de Mayo). After tossing around some ideas, Taylor and brewers Ashleigh Carter and Bill Eye tried out six different whole-kernel corn varieties steeped in hot water and selected Bolita Azul, a blue corn, and Bolita Belatove, a reddish-purple one. After grinding the corn themselves, they mashed it and added it to the barley. Then they went through their normal brewing process — which is far and beyond what most breweries do for lagers — using single decoction and a technique called flotation (which together can add at least four hours to any brew day, but is standard operating procedure at Bierstadt). "It left the lager with the very slightest pink tint — so faint it can be perceived best through direct sunlight after drinking a four-pack," the brewery wrote on its Facebook page. "Crazy happy with this beer and so glad that Tom even had the idea," Carter adds. This year's version of Especial was released in early May and is available on draft and in cans.
Wild Provisions Beer Project
One of the many geeky things that Wild Provisions does in the complicated and careful creation of its Czech-style lagers (which include decoction mashing, coolship fermentation and stainless-steel lagering) is to make different versions of the same beer based on its "specific gravity." This brewing term refers to "the measurement of the density of the wort prior to fermentation," Wild Provisions says. A higher gravity means there is more sugar in the beer and, as a result, more alcohol. To tell the batches apart, the brewery labels them with "degrees Plato," which is used to measure the specific gravity. For its Czech Dark Lager, Wild Provisions brewed its first batch at 14 degrees Plato, which meant it had more alcohol (about 1 percent ABV higher) than a later batch, which was at 11 degrees Plato. The first batch was slightly sweeter, while the second was drier and more cracker-y. At one point, the brewery had both batches in cans at the same time so that customers could explore the difference. The best way to try them, though, is out of Wild Provisions' traditional Czech side-pull faucets.
Cellar West Artisan Ales
Cellar West is one of just a few breweries in Colorado that's aging lagers in wooden foeders (others include Cerebral Brewing, 4 Noses Brewing, Pikes Peak Brewing and Cabin Creek Brewing). Its latest is Meadow Keeper Country Pils, a 5.3 percent ABV keller "pilsner-style bier" that the brewery recently released in cans. To amp up the beer-nerd quotient even further, however, Cellar West used 100 percent Bohemian floor-malted pilsner malt, which it calls "akin to the bucolic, rough-hewn brewing grain commonplace many, many years ago, and still to this day in several historic European lager breweries." The brewery also added whole-leaf Perle hops to the kettle — "a first for us, to replicate the fresh-from-the-field hopping methods routine in the hop growing region of Hallertau; [they] lend some itty bitty notes of citrus peel and mint, along with a light bitterness."
New Image Brewing
Premium Pils is described by New Image as "the culmination" of owner and head brewer Brandon Capps's experiments and changing techniques over the past eighteen months. Like some of the other lagers on this list, it was brewed using a double decoction mash; that process was enabled by a brewhouse that New Image installed at a new production facility in 2019. In a post, Capps says that to make the beer, he also employed “float tanking," “slow crashing," “cold diacetyl rest" and “cold dry hopping." Then, he writes, "as a final touch to add a slight modern twist to the beer, we dry hop with Huell Melon, which is a German varietal containing many of the localized characteristics of European hops but which has also been bred and selected for the production of more fruit forward and modern hop flavors that are typically associated with American hops." The beer, which was released on May 14, will become a year-round fixture in New Image's core lineup.