Tapped In with Michael Deeds: Pilsners, lagers enjoy surge in beer popularity

After being beaten into submission by enthusiastically misguided beer snobs and their tireless egos, newcomers to the craft beer world often are conditioned to dismiss pale lagers.

Why not, right? These lighter-profiled beers, which include pilsners, are the sneered-upon realm of mainstream American staples such as Budweiser, Coors and Miller.

Except wait a minute. Look at the shelves of your nearby craft beer store. Easy-drinking lagers are popping up everywhere.

Mike Francis, founder of Boise’s Payette Brewing Co., nearly sent me into convulsions a couple of weeks ago when he admitted a situational preference for the brewery’s North Fork Lager over its flagship Outlaw IPA. But Francis’ explanation made sense. Crisp, refreshing and usually in the neighborhood of 5 percent alcohol by volume, a cool lager is the very definition of a summer beer.

“For me personally,” Francis said, “there’s always a time and a place. On the river, I’d rather have a North Fork than an Outlaw. I look at it as there’s lots of different times to drink different beers. Even the really big craft beer drinkers like a good lager every once in a while.”

Francis added that Payette’s Fly Line Vienna Style Lager, a golden lager that tastes a bit sweeter than a pilsner, is Payette’s second biggest summer seller behind Outlaw. “It’s great beer when it’s 100 degrees out.”

Boise’s Sockeye Brewing introduced seasonal Lucky Peak Pilsner on draft in 2014 and in cans in 2015. It’s “selling like crazy,” marketing assistant Dawn Bolen said.

Sockeye head brewer Josh King said that it’s even been moving faster than the brewery’s year-round Galena Gold ale this summer.

“We’ve kind of underestimated how much we were going to go through this year,” he said. “It would probably be nice to keep it out a little bit longer on the shelves, but basically right now our tanks are full of other beers.”

“I know our staff’s been drinking the hell out of it. It’s good beer.”

King said he thinks craft beer drinkers are starting to appreciate cleaner beers after having their taste buds saturated with hops for the past five or six years.

“I think it’s just people not wanting to overload their palates, and they want to be able to sit down and enjoy a few beers again versus getting wrecked on two,” King said. “You can drink three or four even in a day and feel fine. And the light, refreshing flavor, even though it’s a lager — especially with ours, the traditional German flavors with the Czech Saaz hops and the Bohemian yeast and the Czech pils malt — it just gives it a different character than what you’re looking at with your macro brews, for sure.”

Idahoans buy plenty of pale lagers from out-of-state breweries, too. Colorado-based Oskar Blues’ Mama’s Little Yella Pils is a strong seller at the Boise Co-op, according to beer buyer Matt Gelsthorpe. And you can barely shop anywhere in Boise these days without seeing Pivo, an excellent, hoppy take on a pilsner from California’s Firestone Walker Brewing Co.

After being introduced in 2013, Pivo appeared in cans earlier this year. It won gold at the Great American Beer Festival in 2013 and 2014. Pivo is now growing in sales by 45 percent year to year, according to Firestone Walker.

“Domestic pilsner is no longer a joke,” brewmaster Matt Brynildson declared in a press release.

Brynildson calls pilsner “a brewer’s beer. When I get together with other craft brewers, it’s what we drink.”

“When a lot of people first get into craft beer, they gravitate toward the biggest flavors and go searching for the gnarliest triple IPA they can find,” Brynildson said. “Over time, however, they find themselves searching for something more balanced and drinkable and sessionable, and a true pilsner checks all those marks.”

Nonthreatening lagers make attractive gateway beers, too. When fans of typical American light lagers find themselves at craft breweries, they often are surprised to discover that they can’t order a Coors Light.

“North Fork is as close as we have,” Francis said. Informing them that North Fork is from the same stylistic universe (just tastier) won’t scare those potential craft beer converts away. “Where if you say all we have is an IPA, they’re gonna say, ‘Nah, I don’t want to drink that,’ ” Francis explained.

For the rest of us more seasoned imbibers? Sometimes, less can be more.

So go mow a lawn, for crying out loud. Enjoy a cold, pure-tasting lager afterward. Fall will be here soon. Before you know it, beer made from pumpkins and pie spices will start bumping pilsners off shelves.

Tips? Bar jokes? Email Michael Deeds at