You can trace the connection between craft beer and the outdoors directly back to Dale’s Pale Ale. The first craft beer in a can was a natural fit for adventurers who wanted to tuck a “good beer” into their PFD, or Camelbak or ski jacket. Of course, paddlers and skiers and backpackers were putting cans of Big Beer in their packs long before Dale’s Pale Ale came around, but Dale’s opened the floodgates and soon, every craft brewery started canning their pale ale, their stout, their porter and their IPA. But then, not every style of beer goes with running class IV rapids. When you’re shredding the gnar, you want something light, crisp and poundable. ‘Cause you’re gonna want more than one. In short, you probably want a lager.
We’ve written quite a bit about how craft breweries have come full circle and embraced the straight lager style that once defined the American beer landscape, and here we have two breweries that are brewing lagers specifically with the outdoors in mind. The beers are essentially brewed for the same purposes—to be enjoyed in the outdoors at the end of an adventure—but it’s their subtle differences that prove even easy-drinking lagers are better off in the hands of craft breweries.
You might’ve seen hints about Sweetwater’s Guide Beer on social media during the last month or so, but the official launch isn’t until February, when you’ll see big, 16-oz. cans of this lager hitting stores. I got ahold of some early samples and have decided that I dig Sweetwater’s approach to the lager, which is straight forward as hell. Guide Beer pours yellow and clear except for the gazillion bubbles that form into a perfect, thick white head. There’s some sweetness on the nose, but it’s subtle and this isn’t the kind of beer you sit around sniffing anyway. This is one of those straight-forward lagers we’ve been talking about—low ABV (4%), crisp and light and dry on the back end. The malt involved comes across light and unassuming, like crackers and the hops are as equally as ethereal. Instead of the fruit or pine that craft drinkers are used to, you get a dry hop bite, like something you’d find in a Czech pilsner. It’s the kind of easy-going lager that used to only be made by Big Beer.
Maybe the coolest part, Sweetwater is donating 11% of the profits from this beer to support river guides, who keep us safe and make sure we have the time of our lives for very little money. Look for Guide Beer to hit shelves in February, and look for it in my hands throughout spring and summer.
Jackson Hole-based Melvin partnered with their neighbors, Teton Gravity Research, makers of great ski films, for this pilsner. This pilsner falls into the lager umbrella just like Guide Beer, and it’s built for the outdoors just like Guide Beer, but that’s about where the similarities end. Pilsgnar pours a pale yellow with a massive white head but has almost no nose whatsoever. This is surprising considering the palate is incredibly hop-forward and floral. It’s lighter than Guide Beer, but not as crisp. Instead, it’s almost creamy. It’s earthy and herbal with a gin-like quality offering what I swear tastes like juniper berries. Pilsgnar is also dry on the back end, but the hops have lest bite. It’s bright and easy to drink, with none of the light breadiness of Guide Beer. I’d say it’s not as balanced, but still comes across as more complex than Sweetwater’s beer built for the great outdoors.
Does that make it less appropriate for outdoor adventure? No. It’s still 4.8%, light and easy to drink. There’s just more to uncover with each sip. That’s neither better nor worse. You just have to decide if you want something light and straightforward, or something light that unfolds more slowly. You’ve got choices when you’re looking for an easy-drinking lager after you shred the gnar.