After gruelling heats, months of buildup and an Imbibe Live final that looked almost too close to call, Bock by Geipel Brewing has been chosen as the winner of Imbibe’s Lager Challenge in association with SIBA and Mitchells & Butlers.
Host Mitch Adams invited finalists onstage to challenge lager’s bad rap. The difficulty here, he said, is that when brewing this type of beer, there’s ‘nowhere to hide’: this style is simple to drink but much more challenging to produce.
His sentiment was echoed across the board: it’s time for lager to go where it’s craftier cousins have followed. Contestants presented elegant, flavourful brews which eschewed mass production and embraced traditional techniques and lager’s many proliferating styles.
From 70 entries whittled down to five, North Wales brewery Geipel saw off stiff competition from Redchurch, Fourpure, Coalition and Zero Degrees. The top spot comes with the prize of a seasonal listing in M&B pubs – something which propelled last year’s winner North Brewing to new audiences as the residency tore through 300 kegs.
Founder Eric Geipel excelled at his own game – Geipel’s mission is to produce traditional lagers – as his invitation to ‘subvert the “bland” lager stereotype’ struck a chord with the audience. They voted in his darker, full flavoured lager whose bready, malty nose was followed by notes of bitter chocolate and coffee, cherry and hints of melon.
‘People are fed up with mass produced and it’s probably been that way for a while. As lager becomes a thing, some of the ale brewers are trying their hand and it doesn’t always work if they don’t have the right equipment,’ he said.
‘I liken the way we do it to Japanese cuisine. It’s simple food but you need top notch ingredients, attention to detail and very good knowledge of your processes.’
SIBA’s Neil Walker said flavourful, quality lagers will only become more popular as consumers think more about their drinks.
‘People are expecting more from beer and lager is coming into that. For a long time the most interesting beers were pale ales and IPAs and that’s what the craft brewers were focusing on, but that’s coming back to lager.
‘Really good lager is difficult to do but incredibly rewarding. We had a variety of styles today and the winner was the most challenging; the most unusual.
‘People like complex drinks. No one is asking how we can make red wine less complicated and more simple. It’s getting people to think differently about lager, not just as refreshment or something that quenches your thirst.’