Jack's Abby: Bringin' Lager Back


A year or so ago there were rumblings about craft lager’s “rise”.  The forerunners of this great movement saw that lager had been on the upswing, & called for more craft brewers to take on bottom-fermented brewing.  Um…hello?  How about PA?  Our collective craft brewers can boast the majority of the decorated craft lagers in the country.  Here in Pittsburgh, we’ve got Penn Brewing, the state’s oldest craft brewer that used to deal almost exclusively in lagers, and Church, who are also no slouches in that department, having brought home numerous medals for their Pious Monk Dunkel.  Across the state, Victory Prima Pils, Stoudts Pils, Troegs Sunshine Pils, Sly Fox Pikeland Pils, and Penn Kaiser Pils are on many short lists for some of the best US-made pilsners around.  So as far as a “lager revolution” goes – welcome to the Craft Lager State, people!

This place somewhere in New England was catching some attention, though, for brewing all lagers.  Big deal, right?  Been there, done that.  They’d get mentioned alongside Alchemist, Lawson’s, & even Hill Farmstead for places to watch in the upper Northeast.  Okay, some mighty fine company, but I still didn’t think it worth paying much mind.  What really grabbed me - & a lot of others – by the collar was this: this place entered a barleywine competition & came in first.  Jack’s Abby, out of Framingham, MA, brewed a 13% ABV barrel-aged “lager wine” that beat every other conventional “barleywine-style ale” in the Cole’s 10th Annual Barleywine Competition earlier this year.  Lager, boring?  Lager, conventional?  Hell no!

It dawned on me when I heard this that craft lager-brewing could represent a paradigm shift in modern craft brewing, the way that pale ales, top-fermenting yeast, & Cascade hops did in the late ‘70s.  Or at the very least, open up a lot of creative doors.  Lager yeast offers a different flavor profile than ale yeast, so what happens when you apply what’s typically a clean, “backseat” kind of yeast strain & long, cold conditioning to a broader array of ingredients?  We’re seeing what’s happening with the surge in IPLs (of which Jack’s Abby all makes several) – where else could saccharomyces pastorianus take us?  This could also be a big step in the public’s aware of how prominent the role of yeast is in forming flavor & aroma (it’s not all about the hops & malt).

The House is very excited to host the first Jack’s Abby tap takeover on Friday, July 19th.  As much as I’d love to taste a 13% barrel-aged lager wine, that monster is brewery-only.  But dry your eyes - we’ll have plenty to choose from, with eight of their innovative lagers on tap, including:

Framinghammer, a Baltic porter.  Not everyone realizes that most Baltic porters are made with lager yeast, an evolution of the imperial porters made in the Baltic region over time.  So last time you had Victory’s Baltic Thunder or Duck Rabbit’s Baltic Porter, you were drinking a lager!

Smoke & Dagger, a black lager that straddles the fence between a roasty Schwarzbier & a smoky Rauchbier.

Mass Rising, double India pale lager, with hop additions in the kettle, hopback, & dry-hopping.

Hopstitution, an extra pale lager utilizing a rotating hop profile.  This is #8, featuring Chinook & Lemon Drop.

Sunny Ridge, a more traditional continental pilsner, with a big, herbal Noble hop nose & dry finish.

Jabby Brau, a session lager weighing in at 4.5%, using locally sourced ingredients.

Leisure Time, a spiced wheat lager in the vein of a Belgian witbier, seasoned with coriander, orange peel, lemongrass, & chamomile, with a citrusy hop presence.  Good for deck-drinking, for sure.

Maibock Hurts Like Helles, a traditional springtime specialty, with a golden color & strong malt presence.

So just because we’ve been doing lager forever here in PA doesn’t mean there isn’t new ground to be broken.  Hope you can join us this Friday, & here’s to the continuing evolution of craft beer.
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