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Top 100 Beers of 2018

Top 100 Beers of 2018



by Jim Koebel
Southside Lager
Arches Brewing

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Founder Jeff Dake Talks Southside Lager

Who was responsible for this beer’s recipe?
I first designed the original recipe for this beer at my home in an attempt to taste/test the impact of decoction mashing versus the use of specialty grain. I used a simple grain bill, noble hops and a Bavarian lager yeast strain to create a beer where differences in the subtleties of the flavor would be easiest to discern. After brewing this beer multiple times, we all grew to love the characteristic caramel flavor and deep color created through decoction and the crisp hop finish of this classic lager style.

What sets this beer apart from other examples within the style?
The difference-maker in this beer is the decoction mashing, which brings a bit of traditional European brewing technique to a modern craft brewery. Originally done by Arches as direct fire boiling of portions of the mash, we never thought we’d be able to bring that character to a beer made on the steam-jacketed 20-barrel brewhouse. But with some clever thinking and a little flexibility, we’ve developed a multi-stage mash that still creates the caramelized character of the decoction process by boiling at least 50 percent of the grain bill for up to 45 minutes.

What makes this beer truly world class?
Focusing on the core elements of a simple lager style brings the world-class character to this beer. We put so much effort into the treatment of the grain, building a balanced water profile that supports both malt and hops, and we continue to use a Bavarian lager yeast that won’t create flavors that mask the malt character and will flocculate out readily to allow you to appreciate the gorgeous color and clarity. The European noble hops, including Hallertauer, Tettnang and Saaz impart a delicate spicy character to temper the sweetness of the unfermentable elements. This beer isn’t built on a trend, or a regional ingredient/character; it’s a faithful representation of the classic lager. The character of the beer is nearly as old as professional brewing itself. This is the little black dress of beers – always in style.

What is your favorite aspect of this beer (flavor, aroma, mouthfeel, etc.)?
The appearance of this beer is stunning. You can’t help but pause and admire it freshly poured into a pint glass. The amber hue and lacy cream head stand in sharp contrast and looking through it is like looking through a stained glass window. Its appearance stands out as the epitome of what a beer should look like, and you can almost taste the malt character by looking at it.

How popular is this beer among your faithful fans?
Southside is a consistent draw with our fans and newcomers. It is the beer that we recommend to those who know little about craft beer or to seasoned drinkers that need to be reminded of their roots. It is a beer drinker’s beer that never interrupts a good conversation and simply vanishes from your glass at some point in the middle of talking. What’s been most satisfying to us is the amount of love (and demand) for Southside that we’ve gotten from craft beer bars in Georgia. In an industry where innovation and bold flavors are expected out of your local craft beer bar, it’s nice to see beer enthusiasts of all kinds appreciate Southside for what it is.

Judge’s Second Opinion

International Amber Lager is not exactly the most popular style among craft beer fanatics. When you think of this style, what may come to mind is the “import” option at your nearest fast-casual chain restaurant. Can you name a classic example? I couldn’t either, until drinking Southside Lager by Arches Brewing.

The requirements for this style are simple and few: Clean lager character, well attenuated and a slight caramel or toasty maltiness. Sure, there are several optional characteristics, like noble hops and adjunct flavor, but everything must be mild enough to appeal to all types of beer drinker.

An everyday beer like this doesn’t have to make much of a statement in order to make a statement. It doesn’t have to (and shouldn’t) be the biggest, richest, sourest or bitterest beer in the world. Instead, quality and technical merit speak for themselves and make all the difference. Those things mean much more than, say, riding the latest craft beer wave that happens to be cresting (I’m looking at you, New England IPA).

In my original review of this beer, I wrote that it straddles boundaries. It does so in two ways. The first is that it is a craft version of a mass-market beer. Southside Lager certainly isn’t the first beer to be that, but its presence in 2018 signals continued maturity in the craft beer segment. “Craft” beer is no longer code for any single grouping of styles. In other words, style no longer separates craft from macro or quality beer from sudsy swill.

The second is its relation to the session beer trend. For some reason, some beers get to be called “session” (e.g., a mid-range ABV IPA) while others are called “entry-level” (e.g., a Blonde Ale).

There’s no longer a need for this distinction. Southside Lager is an everyday beer you can keep stocked and have no trouble finding a reason to enjoy. The fact that it’s a craft take on mass-market style shouldn’t mean it’s something approachable for your macro-drinking friends. It’s a beer we can all appreciate. – Jim Koebel


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