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These days, it might seem like everyone is drinking IPAs, but the reality is that lagers remain the world’s most popular beers. Lagers are more than the light, bubbly brew sipped while watching sports; They’re a lot more varied than you might think. A diverse family of cold-fermented beers, lagers range from generously bittered Czech pilsners to crowd-pleasing domestic beers, and smoky lagers that would pair perfectly with BBQ.
With so many lagers to choose from, literally coming from all over the world, it can be difficult to narrow it down. To help you smartly wade through the carbonated bounty, we sought sage advice from a range of brewers and industry professionals. Here are their picks for the best lagers to drink right now.
Best Overall: Firestone Walker Brewing Pivo Pilsner
- Region: California
- ABV: 5.3%
- Tasting Notes: Citrus zest, lemongrass, floral
Experts were largely in consensus on Firestone Walker’s Pivo. “There is no better pilsner brewed in America for my money than Pivo,” says Max Shafer, the head brewer at Roadhouse Brewing in Jackson Hole, Wyo. He notes the beer will “satiate your thirst and itch your hoppy scratch.” He even modeled his brewery’s pilsner on Pivo.
“This beer is the perfect blend of West Coast hoppy meets crisp lager,” adds Skip Schwartz, the innovation and wood cellar lead at WeldWerks Brewing in Greeley, Colo. With a “bone-dry, bitter finish” and slightly spicy hop complexity, it’s a “perfect lager,” Schwartz says.
Best American: Coors Banquet
- Region: Colorado
- ABV: 5%
- Tasting Notes: Bananas, biscuit, bread
Adolph Coors founded his namesake brewery in Golden, Colo. in 1873, and his first lager remains an essential beer for generations of Americans. “If your grandpa was a badass (and) west of the Mississippi—mine was—he drank Banquet,” says Yiga Miyashiro, the senior director of brewery operations at Saint Archer Brewing in San Diego. The key to making the crisp Banquet Beer, as 19th-century Colorado miners called it, is a long cold fermentation for up to 30 days. Next time you take a sip, search for the subtle note of bananas that is the result of the expressive yeast.
Best German: Schlenkerla Helles Lagerbier
- Region: Germany
- ABV: 4.3%
- Tasting Notes: Hops, smoke, crisp
Germany’s 14th-century Aecht Schlenkerla brewery is the world’s preeminent producer of rauchbiers, or smoked lagers, that are aged “in the same caves that they’ve used for centuries,” says Colm Kirwan, a partner at The Jeffrey, a New York City beer bar. Instead of smoked malts, this golden lager gains its gentle smoldering quality from the brewery’s copper kettles and house yeast. The lager drinks clean and brisk, the smoke omnipresent yet never overpowering. The beer “feels like history in a glass,” Kirwan says.
Best Light: Miller Lite
- Region: Wisconsin
- ABV: 4.2%
- Tasting Notes: Light malt, smooth, clean
In 1966, Rheingold brewery introduced America’s first light lager, a 99-calorie beer called Gablinger’s. It flopped and the recipe was later sold to Miller Brewing. They rejiggered the formula to create the 96-calorie Miller Lite, introduced nationwide in 1975. It became a breakaway hit that tasted great and was less filling. “It just tastes like good old-fashioned beer, exactly what you want when you’re crushing light (or lite) beers,” says Miyashiro.
Read Next: The Best Light Beers
Best Belgian: Idyll Days Pilsner
- Region: New York
- ABV: 5%
- Tasting Notes: Earthy, smooth, floral
Belgian-style beers are the specialty at Brewery Ommegang, where this lager is made with floor-malted European barley, flaked corn and a traditional Belgian lager strain. A month-long period of cold-aging rounds out the rustic pilsner, which is unfiltered and has a light haze. You’ll dig the flavors of honey-drizzled biscuits and the lightly floral scent of Czech Saaz hops. Idyll Days is both a crushable and contemplative pilsner.
Best Dark: New Belgium 1554 Enlightened Dark Ale
- Region: Colorado
- ABV: 6%
- Tasting Notes: Bread, chocolate, roasted coffee
Cammy Smith, a founder and “tightrope walker” at the circus-themed LUKI Brewery in Arvada, Colo., is a huge fan of New Belgium’s 1554, a dark lager that’s fermented at warmer temperatures. “This is a great approachable beer, balanced out with notes of chocolate, dark coffee and bread,” says Smith, who calls 1554 her “all-time favorite beer, period,” and a great party beer. She likes the “moderate malty flavor that possesses a sweetness that is not overpowering,” adding that “1554 has a smooth finish with mild bitterness.” If you can’t find it, Miyashiro suggests the Baba Black Lager from Utah’s Uinta Brewing. “They make some damn good lagers,” he says.
Best Hoppy Lager: Victory Prima Pils
- Region: Pennsylvania
- ABV: 5.3%
- Tasting Notes: Spicy, floral, snappy
If you like your lagers with enhanced aromatics and bitterness, look for the Prima Pils from Pennsylvania’s Victory Brewing. “Traditional German hops are the stars of the show, and you can tell because a single sip will transport you to your favorite beer garden in Germany,” says Shafer.
Read Next: The Best Craft Beers
Best Strong: Schneider Aventinus Weizen-Eisbock
- Region: Germany
- ABV: 12%
- Tasting Notes: Sherry, cloves, dark fruit
Scotch fans will want to break out their snifters for this slow-sipping German lager. It undergoes a freezing process to remove water, creating a concentrated, mahogany-hued indulgence that “is the only real true German bock bier,” says Doug Hasker, the brewmaster at Puesto Cervecería in San Diego.
Kirwan also approves of the strong lager with “notes of raisin, plum and spice” that is a “real treat around the holidays.” Take your time drinking the lager, letting it warm up to let the flavors and aromas bloom. Kirwan says the beer “gets better as it reaches room temperature.”
Read Next: The Best Beer Glasses
Best Pilsner: Pilsner Urquell
- Region: Czech Republic
- ABV: 4.4%
- Tasting Notes: Herbal, spicy, elegant bitterness
Pilsner Urquell is one of the world’s most influential beers, lager or otherwise. Its 1842 debut in the Czech Republic town of Plzeň, a.k.a. Pilsen, ushered in the era of golden lagers that endures today. “Pilsner Urquell is still the best example of the pilsner style,” says Jared Williamson, the lead brewer at Schlafly Brewery in St. Louis. The Czech Republic’s native spicy, herbal Saaz hops “shine in this classic, and the soft water profile really sets the standard for brewers to mimic around the globe.”
Best Amber Lager: Great Lakes Eliot Ness
- Region: Ohio
- ABV: 6.1%
- Tasting Notes: Bready, smooth, mildly sweet
Amber lagers are often overlooked for flashier beers, but they’re among brewing’s most crowd-pleasing beers. The best in class is Great Lakes’ long-running Eliot Ness, an amber lager named after the famous Prohibition law-enforcement agent. The smooth and mildly sweet lager drinks clean and toasty, with a touch of spicy, floral hops for balancing. Pair the beer with grilled sausages or a pizza crowned with pepperoni or sausage.
Best Helles: Spaten Premium Lager
- Region: Germany
- ABV: 5.2%
- Tasting Notes: Honey, bread, grass
If you’re not a huge fan of hops, you’ll want to stock your fridge with plenty of this pale German lager. Spaten brewery created the golden helles (German for “light” or "bright”) in 1894 in response to the pilsner’s burgeoning popularity. The richly malty German lager is bready and balanced, hinted with honey and grass.
“Spaten Lager is one of the cornerstones of the helles style, and it continues to set the standard for all others to be judged by,” says Schlafly. For a craft helles lager, look for the Cruise Control from Two Roads in Connecticut.
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Best Craft: Narragansett Lager
- Region: Rhode Island
- ABV: 5%
- Tasting Notes: Clean, crisp, balanced
Introduced in 1890, Narragansett Lager is one of America’s great heritage beers, crushed by Quint in the movie "Jaws" and formerly the official beer of the Boston Red Sox. Made with Iowa corn and produced in the same way for the better part of a century, this snappy lager hits that holy trinity of flavor, value and refreshment. This is a beer for sipping by the six-pack while gnawing chicken wings, housing a hot dog or devouring nachos.
Best Mexican: Bohemia Clásica
- Region: Mexico
- ABV: 4.7%
- Tasting Notes: Earthy, fruity, refreshing
Corona, Tecate, Pacifico: There’s no shortage of pretty similar Mexican lager for stuffing with limes and sipping by a beach. But what if we told you there’s a Mexican lager so good that there’s no need for extra citrus? Since the early 19th century, this Mexican brewery has made the Czech-inspired Bohemia that packs a bit more bitterness and robust flavor than the average Mexican lager. Try it with tacos and good times.
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Joshua M. Bernstein is a veteran journalist specializing in beer, spirits, food, travel and other intoxicating ways of the world. He regularly writes for The New York Times, Men’s Journal, New York magazine, Wine Enthusiast and Imbibe, where he’s a contributing editor in charge of beer coverage. Bernstein is also the author of five books: "Brewed Awakening," "The Complete Beer Course," "Complete IPA," "Homebrew World" and "Drink Better Beer." He loves drinking crisp pilsners and all things lager.