The summer season has many beer drinkers reaching away from ales and toward the other branch of the beer family tree: lagers. And, in the sweltering sun – when it shows its face – the crisp, dry and light-bodied flavors offered by a well-crafted Pilsner are hard to beat. Yet, even for the Pilsner devout, sometimes it’s nice to switch it up with something a tad different that offers a similarly delightful summer beer experience. Germany’s Kellerbier (“cellar beer”) offers just that.
This brew from Franconia in central Bavaria is an unfiltered, unpasteurized, malty, straw- to amber-colored lager, and sometimes referred to as a “Zwickelbier.” According to beer writer Horst Dornbusch, Kellerbiers are very dry with robust-but-balanced malt and hop character. The Kellerbier also traditionally has little carbonation due to a maturation (lagering process) that occurs in unbunged wooden casks while the yeast is still active (similar to cask ale). But for better or worse, modern German versions – and a few good U.S. interpretations – are fermented in closed stainless steel vessels, which lend far more effervescence.
Dornbusch also notes that today’s typical Kellerbier typically has less alcohol and cloudiness due to the filtration systems in modern breweries.
The Kellerbier is still a fairly uncommon beer to find on store shelves or in a taproom here in the States – it is under the radar even in Germany. But, occasionally a historically minded brewery with an appreciation for a great lager – and good enough chops to brew one – releases the style. Sierra Nevada occasionally releases a nice hopped-up version. And just last fall, Matt Brewing/Saranac released a Kellerbier in their cleverly named “German Roots” mixed 12-pack. The mix included some exceptional German-style beers, but the Kellerbier in particular was outstanding. Russian River and Firestone Walker also brew up a next level interpretation of the style with their STiVO Pils.
Still, as you may have heard me advise in other instances, to get the real thing go to the source. In this case, Germany. You probably already know Weihenstephaner from their world class Hefeweizen, but one of their beers of a similar caliber, with a much lower profile, is their “1516 Kellerbier.” If you happen to stumble across this orange-ish, hazy lager with a unique hop combination of lemony Hallertauer and spicy, rare heirloom hops, don’t miss the opportunity to grab some. For an easier find check out Mahr’s “Ungespundet,” another Kellerbier that surely won’t disappoint.
This week’s recommendation: Mahr’s “Ungespundet” an unfiltered lager with bready malt character and hoppy hints of citrus. 5.2% ABV. Bamberg, Germany
— Colin Hubbell is co-owner of the Green Onion Pub and the Hop and Goblet in South Utica, New York.