Every fall I fly to Denver and blitz my taste buds at the Great American Beer Festival. It’s the Oscars of U.S. beer, featuring a fortunes-altering awards ceremony and a festival floor filled with thousands of beers, meted out by the ounce. Multiply a measly ounce by scores of imperial stouts, IPAs and lip-pursing sours, and the palate-wrecking math soon adds up.
After departing the festival daily I crave both water and crisp beer, one I can consume by the cow trough. So I amble to Prost, a German-style brewery with a great patio and even better beer, specifically the grassy, unfiltered Keller Pils. Awash with yeast and dolled up with a head like whipped dairy topping, Keller Pils is the perfect palm accessory, going down easy round after round.
The beer’s biggest drawback is that it’s not sold outside Denver. Actually, as a lager sub-category, kellerbiers are rather rare overall. Most U.S. pilsners and lagers are filtered, as removing yeast creates a clearer, more shelf-stable beer—along with eighty-sixing flavor, plus B vitamins provided by the yeast.
Not so in Germany, where unfiltered, unpasteurized kellerbier ("cellar beer") is a specialty of the southern central Franconia region. Classically, according to The Oxford Companion to Beer, Franconian kellerbiers tiptoe above the 5 percent line, with low effervescence and marked hop presence. (An archetypal example, available stateside, is Mahr’s Bräu Kellerbier Ungespundet Hefetrüb.)
First brewed in 1991, Schlafly has enduringly anchored the Midwest’s beer scene, battling Budweiser in its backyard.
The style is often interchangeably described as a zwickelbier, a word that’s much fun to mutter. Beer fermentation tanks contain a sampling spigot called a zwickel (pronounced zv-ick-el), which lets brewers taste evolving, unfiltered liquid. Such sampling spawned the zwickelbier, typically lower in alcohol than kellerbier, with less hop character. As lagers become more ascendant, especially in the craft sphere, these unfiltered brews have grown more popular, buoyed by events such as Oregon's Zwickelmania.
In its eighth year, with 2016’s edition on February 13, Zwickelmania stars 120-plus local breweries offering inside-the-kettles access to beer. If an Oregon adventure ain’t in the cards, instead seek out Jack’s Abby’s golden, malty House Lager, inspired by Franconian beer, or Columbus Brewing’s Summer Teeth, a hot-weather favorite. St. Louis German-beer specialist Urban Chestnut offers the cloudy, gloriously quenching Zwickel, while Chicago’s Local Option lightly oak-ages its Die Königin kellerbier.
Which brings us to The Saint Louis Brewery, makers of Schlafly Beer. First brewed in 1991, Schlafly has enduringly anchored the Midwest’s beer scene, battling Budweiser in its backyard. "It was kind of like selling a foreign car in Detroit," president Tom Schlafly told Bloomberg Business.
White Lager is a relaxed glugger, a beer that quenches in lieu of igniting a sensorial conflagration.
The brewery persevered, building a banner rep brewing classic interpretations, such as the lightly fruity Kölsch, a British-inspired pale ale, and Hefeweizen, employing an American ale strain. These are hallmarks of a brewery coming of age during the nineties, when European beers energized brewing’s dance floor. That no longer jitterbugs a drinker’s pulse, especially in our era of extravagant hopping and wild whatever. Aligning with modern times, Schalfly makes the citrusy, tropical Tasmanian IPA, containing au courant Southern Hemisphere hops, and the Ibex series of experimental beers, including a barrel-aged saison stuffed with grapes and a tart, apricot purée-filled Berliner weisse.
While these flavor-stretching trials are delectable, it all comes back to the lager for Schalfly. During beach season, Schlafly releases its brightly agreeable Summer Helles, and a dark schwarzbier and Oktoberfest-style lager are suited for fall. To neatly slot into winter, a bright light in the dark storm of porters and stouts, Schlafly recently introduced White Lager, a.k.a. a zwickelbier.
Brewed with a bit o’ wheat, Schalfly’s version follows the letter of the unfiltered law, the beer pouring cloudy with slow, fat bubbles lollygagging skyward, forming a fizzy, fast-diminishing head. The lager smells freshly, sweetly doughy with a whisper of citrus, owing to atypical orange peel. Winter is chock-full of flavor, rounded sweetness balanced by light wheat tartness, citrus zest riding through on the last zingy swallow.
White Lager is a relaxed glugger, a beer that quenches in lieu of igniting a sensorial conflagration. It’s made for drinking instead of deep contemplation, accompanying conversation and not commandeering it, flavorful not forgettable. With lagers, on occasion, the clouds are better off not clearing.