Great Lakes Dortmunder Gold: Learn To Love The Lagers

July 16 2011 - 12:55 PM

Let me come out and say that I am a huge fan of lagers.  I know their reputation has been pummeled by the industrial beer manufacturer.  Our televisions tell us that the only kinds of beer that exist in America, or Mexico for that matter, are either watery lagers or Guinness, and the dozens of other craft brewing styles are veritable apparitions.  Lagers have been trashed the way that Chianti was sullied in Italy prior to vintner-led efforts to resuscitate its reputation. This rep is understandable based on the millions of gallons of chemical-laden, corn infused, watery, bland, sundry product routinely shipped from beer factories here in the U.S. and abroad. 

Lager's reputation cannot be revived in just one column.  The craft beer loving community will never fully embrace this style.  My goal is simply to get any beer lovers out there to give a lager some love, at least once in a while.  Forget the cliches such as "I love a lager on a hot day" or "lagers are great with hot dogs".  Like any great beer, lagers are for just about anytime, not just a particular style of weather or cuisine.  They can be consumed to great effect when it's 20 degrees and the cabinets are bare.  The key is in finding the right one for which love has gone into the concocting, a daunting challenge.

Cleveland Ohio's wonderful beer maker, Great Lakes Brewing, is truly one of the best at delivering beers meant for ordinary, everyday drinking.  It bears its heart for lagers and its best expression of this love is its Dortmunder Gold.  It's often overlooked. I've shunned it myself in the past in favor of, of course, IPA's. As a friend of mine pointed out, you rarely see it on tap in Chicago, and it often appears at out-of-the-way bars with a peeling tap handle label. 

But this is a truly excellent beer.  Aptly named, its color is a radiant gold.  The aroma is clean, but you can tell right away that there's more to this than the dozens of other skeletal lagers I could name, with the piney hops, herbaciousness, and hint of citrus on the nose.  Carbonation is substantial.   You could easily do a German tap house pour on one of these and develop a serious head on it.   It truly separates itself from the rest of the lager field with its density, as it has an ever-so-slight creaminess about it, yet never approaches sacrificing its crispness.  Hops kiss the palate enough to balance out a pleasant malt foundation that's a bit caramel-like around the edges.  As it warms up this malt layer becomes more noticeable, adding a touch of sweetness to the overall profile.  It finishes clean and sharp with enough hops to keep the palate engaged.

This is not a lager designed to stay out of your way. It's not some 38 calorie swill churned out for some model perfect person who uses more hair products than drinks beer, mingling at a rooftop bar in River North pretending to drink their beer while the calorie counter ticks in their head.  Dortmunder is a serious beer that just happens to also be incredibly refreshing and exceedingly versatile.  It's an ode to lagers, a testament to a great beermaking style wronged.   Along with Victory Prima Pils, this is perhaps the most well crafted lager in the U.S.  Even BeerAdvocate agrees

It should be called, Dortmunder Gold, or how I stopped worrying and learned to love the lager.  Embrace the lager, people.

–Mark Sheppard