13 Craft Lagers Ranked (For When You Just Need a Beer)

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Despite the boom in craft ales in America, there’s been no rush to take on Budweiser, Miller and the other big boys when it comes to lagers. One might assume that lagers are cheaper and easier to make since you can buy a case of PBR like it was soda. The reality, though, is that the low cost comes from massive scale and cheaper ingredients. When Prohibition was repealed, grain was scarce and American brewers used rice and corn as fillers.

But more and more craft breweries are starting to take on Budweiser and Miller at their own game. The latest entree is New Belgium’s Shift, a pale lager that packs a lot of flavor at just 5% alcohol by volume. We thought this a perfect time to taste a baker’s dozen of lagers from some of our favorite craft breweries and decide if they’re worth the premium price when you just need a beer.

Beer4.JPG 13. Stoudt’s Gold
Brewery: Stoudt’s Brewing Co.
City: Adamstown, Penn.
ABV: 5%
Style: Helles
Perfect For: Jogging up and down the steps like Rocky.
The verdict: This Munich-style Hellis stood out, but its unique peppery flavor didn’t win any fans among our judging panel. There was a slight funkiness to the hop profile.

Beer11.JPG 12. Joe’s Premium American Pilsner
Brewery: Avery Brewing Company
City: Boulder, Colo.
ABV: 4.7%
Style: Pilsner
Perfect For: When you just want an MGD, but have too much money in your pocket.
The verdict: Every time we do a tasting there’s always a beer from a brewery we love that just doesn’t live it up to its brand name. This time that was Avery Joe’s, which was closest in taste to its mass-produced cousins.

Beer10.JPG 11. Lagunitas PILS
Brewery:   Lagunitas  Brewing Company
City: Petaluma, Calif.
ABV: 6.2%
Style: Czech Pilsner
Perfect For: When you want your thirst quenched, but with a buzz.
The verdict: This is what I imagine Bud Premium will taste like—a crisper, more potent version of what the big guys are making. No complexity, but it goes down easy.

Beer12.JPG 10. Mama’s Little Yella Pils
Brewery:   Oskar Blues  
City: Colo.
ABV: 5.3%
Style: Czech Pilsner
Perfect For: A hot day at the pool where bottles aren’t allowed.
The verdict: I’ve always loved the name of this beer. At 5.3%, though, it’ll take quite a few cans to calm Mama down. Another dressed up version of a typical American lager, we’d reach for one of the breweries great ales instead every time.

Beer7.JPG 9. Bell’s Lager of the Lakes
Brewery: Bell’s Brewery
City: Kalamazoo, Mich.
ABV: 4.5%
Style: Pale Lager
Perfect For: When you might have to drive the boat later.
The verdict: The word “watery” appeared on several ballots, and there’s no doubt there’s a thinness to this beer. While we’re inclined to think of that as a bad thing, this is thirst-quenching beer that goes down as easy as ice-cold lemonade.

Beer6.JPG 8. Polestar Pilsner
Brewery: Left Hand Brewing Company
City: Longmont, Colo.
ABV: 5.5%
Style: German Pilsner
Perfect For: Lunchtime on the slopes.
The verdict: Sharp herbal hoppy flavor separates this from the typical lager, but there’s not much else going on here.

Beer1.JPG 7. Brooklyn Pilsner
Brewery: Brooklyn Brewery
City: Brooklyn, N.Y.
ABV: 5.1%
Style: German Pilsner
Perfect For: Discovering the next great band from Williamsburg.
The verdict: This had more of an aroma than anything that came before it on the list and a much more robust flavor with hints of spice and a little more hops. From here on marks a giant step up from the mass-produced American lagers.

Beer2.JPG 6. Nomad
Brewery: Great Divide
City: Denver, Colo.
ABV: 5.4%
Style: Czech Pilsner
Perfect For: Dinner on the slopes.
The verdict: The Saaz hops are immediately noticeable, but there are more spices and a distinct maltiness showing up here. A complex beer for a pilsner and one we could drink more of.

Beer5.JPG 5. Scrimshaw Pilsner
Brewery: North Coast Brewing
City: Fort Bragg, Calif.
ABV: 4.4%
Style: German Pilsner
Perfect For: Waiting for better waves.
The verdict: Another more complex beer, the Scrimshaw from North Coast is well-balanced and a far cry from your dad’s lager.

Beer3.JPG 4. Brooklyn Lager
Brewery: Brooklyn Brewery
City: Brooklyn, N.Y.
ABV: 5.2%
Style: Red Lager
Perfect For: The New York City Marathon
The verdict: The best clean, simple lager that still tastes like a lager. Brooklyn’s version drinks so smooth, you could put it in your running thermos. Light and airy, but with a well-rounded flavor.

Beer9.JPG 3. Victory Prima Pils
Brewery: Victory
City: Downington, Penn.
ABV: 5.3%
Style: German Pilsner
Perfect For: People who always want hops, even if they’ve just run a 10k.
The verdict: There’s a reason Victory put a big ol’ picture of a hop cone on the label—this tastes more like an IPA than a Michelob. If you’re a hop head, there’s no question this will be your favorite lager. But not all our judges are hop-heads so…

Beer8.JPG 2. Hoss
Brewery: Great Divide
City: Denver, Colo.
ABV: 6.2%
Style: Red Lager
Perfect For: When you want to freak out your beer-snob friends by ordering a lager and ending up with the best beer at the table.
The verdict: Delicious rye flavor with plenty of hops and malty sweetness. I’d have never guessed this wasn’t an ale.

Beer16.JPG 1. Coney Island Lager
Brewery: Shmaltz Brewing Company
City: San Francisco, Calif.
ABV: 5.5%
Style: Red Lager
Perfect For: When you want a really big beer without a lot of alcohol.
The verdict: There was no ABV on the label, and we assumed this one might need to be disqualified since it tastes like an 8% ale. Rich body, more malt flavor than we thought possible in a session beer, but smooth and very drinkable, the 750mil bottle was drained more quickly than most of the 12oz bottles we had. This was a surprise winner from a brewery without the reputation of many on this list—but it was the clear winner.

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