Bierfest offers local fix for lager lovers

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A scene from Bierfest 2015.

Buzz: Hey, Marnie, I've had it. Every bar in town sells this complex yuck like pumpkin-jalapeño imperial IPA, but no one sells the old-school lagers I love: Piels, Ballantine, Schmidt's! I can't even get Bud or Beck's at a lot of places these days.

Marnie: I know exactly what you mean, Buzz. I love that the beer world has exploded into a rainbow of colors and flavors. But I do wish that traditional crisp, refreshing lagers and traditional beer drinkers like you were getting more respect. After all, these became the world's most popular beers for good reason.

Pale lagers were Germany's signature refinement of the brewer's art in the 19th century. Our broader modern range of beer styles is a huge step forward, but not everyone is looking for the higher levels of alcohol and sweetness in craft ales, let alone the extra bitterness that often comes along for the ride.

Buzz: So lagers are really the best beers? Last time I asked a bartender for a lager, he told me they had "no crap on tap."

Marnie: I hear that a lot: "ale = good / lager = bad." It doesn't really work that way, though. Lagers can be brewed to the lowest standard or to the highest, same as ales - or cups of coffee. Saying lagers suck is as silly as saying vanilla ice cream sucks just because it's so popular that many are mass-produced.

And you don't have to take the wine lady's word for it, either. Even your buddy Joe Sixpack picked Victory Helles Lager - a simple, old-school beer - as his 2015 Beer of the Year.

Buzz: Vanilla ice cream and a lager beer. Now that's an interesting comparison.

Marnie: Yes, cheap, mass-market beers are almost exclusively lagers. But that doesn't mean there aren't great ones available. And it's not just the classics, like German pilsners. Pennsylvania is the No. 1 state in the U.S. for American lager.

Buzz: C'mon. I've been to Milwaukee and St. Louis, and I bet they wouldn't agree. Heck, those are the homes of Old Milwaukee and Blatz and Falstaff, not to mention Budweiser. They sell more than anyone.

Marnie: Sure, those multinational conglomerates brew more volume, but the two largest independent brewers in the U.S. both make most of their beer in Eastern Pennsylvania, in breweries less than 50 miles apart. You might guess the biggest one is lager-specialist Yuengling, but most people don't know the other is Samuel Adams.

They may have started in Boston, but 70 percent of their beer is brewed in Lehigh County, and the vast majority is also lager-brewed German-style.

Buzz: Wow. Why do they still call it Boston Lager, then?

Marnie: I'm sure they have their reasons, Buzz. If you want to support the lager revival, come check out Philly Bierfest, which I'll cohost Saturday at the German Society of Pennsylvania on Spring Garden Street. This event specifically celebrates Pennsylvania's German brewing heritage.

More than three dozen breweries from Pennsylvania and Germany will pour lagers and other German styles, and you'd love the entertainment - roller-derby arm wrestling, Berlin-style BEERlesque, live bluegrass, and even oompah versions of funk tunes. Find out more at PhillyBierfest.com.

Buzz: I LOVE roller-derby women. And you can't beat burlesque and beer.

Marnie Old is a local sommelier and wine author known for practical advice with real-world relevance. Her newest book, "Wine: A Tasting Course," is an illustrated crash-course for the wine-curious. Marnie also advises clients in the beverage and restaurant trades. Check her out at MarnieOld.com or follow her on Twitter at @MarnieOld. Buzz's musings are interpreted by Gar Joseph.

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