Budweiser has just released a new beer, their Discovery Reserve American Red Lager, which was brewed in honor of the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. We won’t celebrate that anniversary until this summer because we landed on the moon on July 20, 1969. Or we landed in a Hollywood studio on July 20, 1969, depending on how conspiratorial your high school history teacher was when you were a kid. But Budweiser has already released the beer because if you’re not first, you’re last. Because this is America.
I feel like the “red lager” style is the perfect beer to celebrate an American accomplishment, because this is the style of beer that I most associate with the first boom of craft beer in this country. And let’s face it, the moon landing aside, craft beer is absolutely our country’s greatest achievement. Anyway, if you were alive in the early to mid ‘90s, and really interested in this wild “micro brew” thing, you probably drank a lot of red lagers. And most of them were probably called George Killian’s Irish Red. That beer was all over the place. You could find it right next to Pete’s Wicked Ale. Just below Newcastle Brown Ale.
There—I just described the entire “micro brew” section of the gas station I went to with my fake ID in the mid-‘90s. Typically, I couldn’t afford anything in that fancy zone so I stuck to the always on-sale Busch Light in a can. Which I guess brings me back to Budweiser’s new American red lager.
If you’re not familiar with the red lager style, it’s basically an amber lager, which is basically a derivative of the Vienna lager. Think: vaguely malty and easy drinking. Where Vienna lager and red lager diverge, in my opinion, is that red lagers are sweeter and don’t typically have that biscuit thing going on in the same way as Vienna lagers. Although Sam Adams is an amber lager and I’d say it’s more biscuit than sweet, so there’s obviously some variance in the style. Regardless, it’s an ideal gateway beer to darker styles which is probably why so many macro breweries love it.
Bud’s Discovery Reserve falls in the Killian’s Red category—more jam than biscuits. It pours a pretty deep copper color, with little head and has no nose whatsoever. Maybe I’m just struggling with spring allergies, but this beer smells like emptiness. Nothing. On the palate, it’s not quite as biscuity as a Vienna, and doesn’t have as much caramel as say, Sam Adams. But it’s not exactly crisp like a straight lager either. Instead, there’s something vaguely fruity running on the underside of the sip. Almost cherry, but not quite. It lingers on the back end too.
Discovery Reserve is definitely easy to drink, and it’s more complex than Bud’s standard lager, but if I were going to choose one over the other, I’d have to go with straight Bud. But I will credit Discovery Reserve for piquing my interest in the red lager style, which I honestly haven’t given much though to in a couple of decades.
Here are four more red lagers to check out if you’re looking to explore this often-overlooked style.
Yuengling Traditional Lager
This is the most ubiquitous version of the red lager, and it’s probably one of the best too. There’s nothing overwhelming about Yuengling’s Traditional Lager. It’s just a little bit malty and just a little bit hoppy and just a lot easy drinking. But you know all this, because you’ve probably had it a thousand times when you’ve scanned a beer menu looking for either A) the cheapest beer on the menu or B) the best beer on a macro beer menu. Yuengling typically fills both categories.
Great Lakes Red Leaf Lager
Great Lakes’ version lands on the malty side of the style—definitely more amber than red—and this beer came up exactly when every “micro brewery” was brewing a red lager, back in 1996. It was actually the second beer Great Lakes introduced, and it’s still part of their core lineup.
Uinta Brewing Yard Sale Winter Lager
You’ll have to wait until the snow falls to catch this lager, as it’s one of Uinta’s winter seasonals. It certainly has the bones of a lager—crisp and refreshing—but has strong notes of caramel and honey to help justify the winter release. It’s just 4% ABV, which makes it perfect for that mid-lift pick me up.
Brooklyn Brewery labels this one an American Amber Lager, but gives a nod to the Vienna Lager style in the marketing. And I’ll give that to them because A) when you brew a beer you can put it in any style you want. And B) it really does deliver heavy on the caramel like Vienna lagers tend to do. But maybe because of the dry hopping that this beer undergoes, I get the fruity layer that I find in a Killian’s or Yuengling or Bud’s new Discovery beer. Again, much like Great Lakes’ Red Leaf, this is a flagship for Brooklyn Brewery and helped define America’s craft beer scene from the mid ‘80s on.