Frank: The difference between ale and lager brewing is similar to the difference between speed skating and figure skating. The goal of speed skating is to move around the ice as fast as possible. The goal figure skating, on the other hand, is more focused on technique and presentation. Both are fine, and there’s nothing wrong with either of them, but they are two totally different mentalities.
What it comes down to is that lager is a much more difficult beer to make. It requires a lot more patience, an appreciation of history, and an understanding of nuance and restraint. In a large part craft beer in the US today is known for being unbalanced and over the top, but lager beer isn’t like that.
If you are making really well-made lager beer, you are geeking out about the most specific details: what is the PH you are targeting at specific points in the mash to optimize enzymes, how much yeast are you pitching, how much oxygen are you allowing to come in contact with the wort. While in ale brewing mistakes can be hidden, those same mistakes become profoundly understood on the palate with lager brewing. You have to be perfect throughout the whole brewing process, including an intense concentration in wort production, fermentation, and cellaring, filtration, and packaging.
Andy: What do you like about the flavor and taste of lagers compared to ales?
Frank: The drinkability of lagers is unrivaled. I could sit here and drink a well-made lager beer all afternoon without my fatiguing my palate. I am yet to find an ale that I could sit and drink all afternoon in the same way without my taste being overwhelmed.
There’s a great saying in the Czech Republic that the first three beers are for the thirst, the next five beers are for the flavor, and everything else is for your intoxication.
I think Helles is the perfect beer because you can drink it all day long. There’s a ton of flavor, but you have to let your tongue open up to it. With an IPA, the flavor can explode on your tongue like a firecracker. It doesn’t work that way with properly made lagers; you have to search for it.