We asked this very question when we heard that House Lager, the latest release from Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers in Framingham, MA, was a German Landbier. We were curious as to what this beer was all about but we couldn’t find anything in the BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) Style Guidelines on Landbier. We did some research on the Internet on Landbier and couldn’t find a solid answer on the details of this style. As it turns out, for good reason. So we went straight to the source, Jack’s Abby co-owner and brewer Jack Hendler, to find out what the deal is with this beer.
Craft Beer Cellar: Jack, thank you for taking the time to talk with us today. So, what the f*ck is a Landbier?
Jack Hendler: It roughly translates to “country lager” when each brewery had their own house beer. I did a trip through Franconia and went to about 30 breweries and a lot of them had a beer just called “lager”. It wasn’t a helles, it wasn’t a pilsner, and at every single brewery it was slightly different. Some were dark, some were light, it tended to be on the lighter side I would say. But each brewery over time had developed their own house beer. It was really important to us as a lager brewery to create our own house brand. Something that is true to what we like to drink and what we’ve developed over time. It’s been a real work-in-progress and we’ve been brewing it over about 2 years refining the recipe to one that we’re super happy with right now.
CBC: What makes this beer Jack’s Abby’s country lager?
Jack: In the development of this beer, we brought a lot of beer back from Germany and looked at what we liked about certain beers and what we didn’t like about other beers, to develop the recipe for our beer. A lot of the beers, because of the time that we were there, were called Holiday Special Beer. So we went in the direction of a Special Lager and it’s a little bit stronger. To an American 5.2% ABV doesn’t sound like a strong beer, but every little bit of gravity in Germany can change the perception of the quality of that beer. We really like the rich malt flavor we got with a little bit higher gravity.
CBC: What’s different about the way you brew this beer from your other beers as far as ingredients and process?
Jack: We found a great Bavarian hop grower that we buy all our German hops from. He grows predominantly Hallertau, but like his cousin grows Tettnang and his third uncle grows Hercules, so we’ve been able to source all these hops direct from the farmers for our beer. And then on the malt side, they’ve introduced unique old-school malt varieties and we’ve been able to incorporate those into this beer that we think gives it that authentic, traditional German style flavor.
The process is really unique for this beer and comes with it’s own challenges. One of them is just time; time of brewing and time of fermentation. For this beer we do a true decoction so it takes a lot longer to brew this beer. If you don’t know what decoction is, before fancy technical malting practices, you needed to do a lot of things in the brewhouse that modern maltsters now do. One of the ways you got more extract or sugars out of your grain was to separate part of your mash and boil it. And then you transfer that back into your mash and that was one way of heating it. It was also a way of cooking out a lot of the grain. Now most modern breweries don’t do this. It takes a lot of time and a lot of energy. But the only way to get certain flavors out of the grain is to actually, physically cook it. You can’t mimic that flavor. We spend an extra hour and a half per brew to cook the grain to get that German flavor into the beer. The other part is the fermentation. It takes a lot longer to ferment this beer. We ferment it at 48 degrees and then lager it for over a month. So, in short, it takes quite a long time to make this beer.
CBC: Do you filter or pasteurize it?
Jack: It is not filtered or pasteurized. We do centrifuge everything so the beer should be bright (clear), but it is not filtered or pasteurized. You should consume it as fresh as possible.
CBC: What’s one thing you’d like people to know about this beer?
Jack: One of the things we’re trying to drive home with this is that it’s not just a golden lager. It is a golden lager but we’ve really taken the time and effort to put in that traditional German process and we think it has a very traditional flavor. We really put the effort into this to get a great tasting helles or landbier out to the public.
CBC: And now for the tough hard-ball question. What’s your favorite dish in the beer hall to pair with House Lager?
Jack: The best thing about house lager is it goes with everything. We have so many traditional beer hall items, whether it’s the pork shank or bratwurst or the pretzel..the pretzel is actually made with House Lager. So you can’t go wrong with that combination.
Jack’s Abby House Lager has been on draft at the Jack’s Abby beer hall in Framingham and it is finally available at our Massachusetts stores in 16oz can 6 packs with greater distribution expected in March 2016.