When the American craft brewing scene started taking off in the 1990s, it was nothing less than a liquid revolution, and big brands such as Budweiser and Coors were the ones to be beheaded. Since lager was a symbol of that mass production, craft brewers strayed from that style, instead packing their ales with loads of hops and malt and, well, most every ingredient under the sun by now. But as brewers traveled the world and honed their skills, they came to realize that lagers were, in fact, challenging to brew and not limited to one bland style.
“These are really hard-to-brew, simplistic beers that everyone stayed away from because it was taboo for a while,” explained Jaime Dietenhofer, cofounder of Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company. “Everyone thinks it is just a light-yellow, fizzy beer, but that’s not the case. It’s very dynamic as a silo,” he explained, pointing to Baltic porters, Viennese reds, dunkels, and American dark lagers, all of which he produces. “There are so many things to choose from.”
Lagers are also the best indication of a brewer’s acumen. “It will immediately show any flaw in your brewery,” said Dietenhofer, since the crisper, lighter style doesn’t hide anything. “It’s a litmus test for brewing.”
American beer drinkers are finally tuning in, as well, to the new rise of lagers, perhaps finally tiring of the hop explosions, sour puckering, and other bizarre if delicious flavor explorations on their palates. “Since day one, beer has been a social drink,” said Dietenhofer, explaining that lagers’ usually lower ABV, fewer hops, and cleaner flavors allow for a “sessionable” experience. “You can have more than one and not have your palate completely wrecked.”
So on Saturday, May 19, Figueroa Mountain is hosting the first-ever Lagerville, a gathering of nearly three dozen breweries from around California and beyond to pour their latest lager efforts. The festival is as much for brewers as it is for beer fans, as Dietenhofer is taking them all on a Figueroa Mountain hike the day before and ensuring that they don’t get stuck behind their tables during the event.
Dietenhofer will proudly be sharing a number of his beers, including a “neo-American pilsner” he is making for the event, but is also excited about tasting brews from such producers as Alvarado Street in Monterey (which is usually hop-forward), Beachwood from Huntington Beach (which is making a Japanese lager for the event), and El Segundo (which will share its award-winning Mexican-style lager).
“They’re excited,” he said of the other brewers. “This is not just another beer fest. It’s going to be an intimate crowd.”
See lagerville.com for the $35 tickets.
HOSPICE DU RHÔNE REPORT: The world’s top producers and biggest fans of wine-grape varieties originally from France’s Rhône Valley gathered in Paso Robles last Thursday-Saturday for the biannual Hospice du Rhône event, which started back in 1991. The primary events are two days of seminars, lunches, and grand tastings, though there are a number of auxiliary events, like the BYOB, invite-only kickoff party on Thursday at Saxum Vineyards, where loads of classic vintages from around the world were consumed until the wee hours. (Booker Vineyard also hosts one on Friday, but I skipped that one this year.)
Official program highlights this year included Wine Enthusiast’s managing editor, Lauren Buzzeo (who’s also my boss at that magazine), leading a deep dive into South African cinsault, a chameleon of a grape, able to be both lithe or rich, depending on how it’s made. That was followed by a tour of Australia’s Barossa Valley, the rosé lunch, and the grand tasting, where Bob Lindquist poured a 1984 marsanne, Yves Cuilleron wowed with his viogniers, and Anne-Charlotte Mélia Bachas of Font du Loup opened eyes with her natural Châteauneuf-du-Papes, among other highlights.
Saturday morning was also revelatory, as Central Coast Rhône pioneer John Alban interviewed Morgan Twain-Peterson and Tegan Passalacqua about their old vine projects and then Santa Barbara’s Patrick Will of Vintus hosted Philippe Guigal pouring his St. Josephs and Côte-Rôties.
See hospicedurhone.org for upcoming events.