Lager than life

Cold-fermented lagers—one whole, huge branch of the beer-style family tree—have a flavor spectrum not unlike their ale siblings; they can display gorgeous hops or gritty grains, all in a huge range of shimmery hues. From breezy Helles versions to dark, lusty dunkels, lagers are loaded with nuance; here, 10 of our current favorites show how forward-thinking lagers really are.

1. Samuel Adams Winter Lager: Rather than pumpkin-pie-ish, additions of cinnamon and ginger in this breezy, 5.6%-ABV weizenbock read fresh, dry and earthy. A dose of orange tickles the cheeks.

2. Two Roads Ol’Factory Pils: Built like a pilsner but hopped like a pale ale, this 5%-ABV lager is dry-hopped and has a lush, green swallow and a pop of citrus pith in the back.

3. Ruhstaller Gilt Edge: Cluster and Cascade hops grown locally for the Sacramento brewery pepper this subtle, grainy session ale (it’s only 4.8% ABV) with scratchy spice and bitterness. A breath of orange adds a hint of sweet.

4. Hangar 24 Helles Lager: We may or may not buy these by the 24-pack and we may or may not employ this as our standard shower beer. Bubbly, ephemeral, floral, fruity and dry, it’s got flavor complexity with wrapped in an easy lager package.

5. Dogfish Head Piercing Pils: There’s nothing piercing at all about this 6%-ABV Czech pilsner brewed with pear juice, pear tea and Saaz hops; the clean hops work with the sweet pear to soften the classic style, not fruit it up. The delicate effervescence is so beautiful, it’s a miracle on its own.

6. Great Divide Wolfgang: One of the most flavor-forward lagers around, this boozy doppelbock is loaded with toffee, molasses, pumpernickel, raisin and plum, though the mouthfeel remains lager-light.

7. Anderson Valley El Steinber Dark Lager: Creamy and full up front with a quick, dry swallow, this 5.5%-ABV lager has the earthy, toffee sweetness of a brown ale with a lager’s snappy finish.

8. Base Camp Ripstop Rye Pils: A bit of rye in the grain bill lends the swallow a sharp earthy note and zaps the palate dry.

9. Lammsbrau Organic Winter Spezial: Yep, lagers can be organic, too: This German import is brewed with strictly organic malt, hops and yeast in the German pils style. The result shines with hop spice and malt-driven fruit notes and a swallow that’s burlier than its 5.1%-ABV suggests.

10. 961 Lager: All the way from Lebanon, this creamy lager’s an easy-drinker; the fluffy mouthful carries a neat, balanced package of barely sweet bready malt and dry, grassy hops.