Cape May Lager
The best things come to those who wait.
That’s certainly been the case with Cape May Lager. Remnants of this recipe hearken all the way back to our first pilsner, Mooncusser Pilsner, from June of 2016, but we’ve spent the better part of a year tweaking, modifying, and fine-tuning.
Because, not only are you going to love the approachability of this brew, but you’ve finally got a good craft beer that dad’s going to like, too.
When we sat down and designed this brew, the idea was to build a beer that would appeal to both the entrenched craft enthusiast — you — as well as the uninitiated craft beer drinker, more accustomed to readily-available macro lagers — your dad, of whom you’ve been asking, “Why do you still drink that same, bland beer?!?”
“American Light Lager beers are still the #1 selling styles in the US, and 80% of the beer sold in the US is not craft beer,” explains Director of Brewing Operations Jimmy Valm. “As an industry, we need to make more converts to the gospel of craft beer, and, instead of berating these drinkers and teasing them about their preference, we need to brew the kinds of beers they like. Just better than the macro-breweries have been doing.”
So, maybe you should lay off dad for a bit. He hasn’t had the chance to try Cape May Lager.
“We wanted it to have the depth of flavor craved by craft beer aficionados while maintaining an everyman approach that the uninitiated would be excited to try,” explains Innovation Director Brian Hink. “If we played it too safe, we’d lose out on the craft beer drinker, but if we went too aggressive with the flavor, we might be able to grab the average beer drinker out of an initial intrigue, but the likelihood of it becoming their next go-to simply wouldn’t happen.”
But it took us a long time to figure out.
“This beer has been in development for well over a year now,” Brian says.
“A looooong time,” Jimmy says.
“Conceptualizing the beer took the better part of three months,” Brian says, “going down the rabbit hole of what to call it — Cape May Pils? Cape May Lager? A styled name like Sandy Beaches Lager or something like that? — which needed to be figured out before we could tackle the recipe formulation.”
When we finally landed on Cape May Lager, our brewers had a little more wiggle room in designing the beer, but “Cape May Lager” was also so broad that it made the design process a little challenging.
“It’s a ‘Pale Lager’ as opposed to a Helles, or a Pilsner, or a Lite Lager, or a Vienna Lager,” Brian says, “so it’s kinda vague in what to expect. It was nice to have the freedom to not be locked into anything stylistically, but once again made it challenging to design.”
It was made even more difficult because “Pale Lager” isn’t really a thing, at least not as far as accepted beer styles go. Furthermore, “lager” is as broad a term as “ale” — neither term really refers to a specific style. All beers are either lagers or ales: it all depends on whether the yeast lies on the bottom of the tank and ferments up or floats on the top of the wort and ferments down. Lager yeast — Saccharomyces pastorianus — hangs out at the bottom of the tank and ferments up.
“So, there are Dark Lagers, like our Tall, Dark, & Lager,” Jimmy explains, “Amber Lagers, like Yuengling; hoppy Lagers, like our Paradise 160; Marzens, like Oktoberfest; Bocks, Dopplebocks, Dunkels, and all sorts in between.”
Most lagers are on the pale side of things, but, even then, there are a host of sub-categories: German lagers, Helles lagers, Czech lagers, American Light lagers, American-Style Lagers, and Pilsners.
“Instead of painting ourselves into a corner with one of these sub-categories, and possibly confusing some of our fans,” Jimmy says, “we decided to keep it simple and call it a Pale Lager.”
“I think of this more as a hybrid Helles and Pilsner, but that’s not a style either, so we went with ‘Pale Lager’!” Brian says. “It’s pale and tastes like a lager, so it makes sense to me.”
These beers are notoriously delicate to brew: minor changes in the recipe could have far-reaching effects on the final beer.
“In such a simple beer,” Jimmy says, “anything even slightly off really stands out. They take a lot of time and each batch has to be handled very carefully. For Cape May Lager, we wanted there to be a slight hoppiness but nothing overpowering.”
So, we went to the drawing board and used our faithful visitors as guinea pigs. Our R.A.D. Series — Research And Development — was designed with a beer such as Cape May Lager in mind: something we wanted to make sure we got just right.
“The R.A.D. process also came in handy in getting feedback from our fans and seeing what they preferred,” says Director of Brewing Operations Jimmy Valm. “This was very helpful. Getting some feedback and direction certainly helped.”
Lab Manager Lauren Appleman agrees.
“The R.A.D. iterations all played their role to get us to the version of Cape May Lager we have now,” she says. “Not only was it great to get feedback on the beer itself, but we were able to get more familiar with lager brewing and how that yeast acts.”
As far as Cape May Lager is concerned, Mooncusser Pilsner was sort of R.A.D. #000.
“Mooncusser was a textbook classic Pilsner,” says Hink, “but when we started to conceptualize Cape May Lager, we knew that would be way too aggressive on the hop front, but that the malt and yeast characters would be the perfect starting point. We also wanted to back off the ABV a hair from Mooncusser’s 5.2% to Cape May Lager’s 4.8%.”
Once we started down the R.A.D. trail, we released R.A.D. #001, which was essentially a “dialed back” Mooncusser Pilsner.
“Bitterness and flavor-wise it was right, but the aroma was way too aggressive,” Brian says. “The amount of whirlpool hops we added were as high as they were with Mooncusser, so it was quite aromatic and ‘hoppy’, and not what we were looking for.”
R.A.D. #005 in February of last year completely removed the hops from the whirlpool, which took us too far in the other direction.
“It was universally agreed that R.A.D. #005 was just too bland, to lackluster, too generic, so it was good that we went too far in the less-hoppy direction for the feedback that we got on that one,” Hink says.
By that time, the summer of 2018 was fast approaching, and keeping up with the demand from our beloved visitors made innovating new beers slightly less of a priority. Yet, we wanted an easy-drinking offering on tap in the Tasting Room for the summer months.
“So, we squeezed in R.A.D. #007 in early June,” Brian tells us, “and that took the hopping approach back to square one where we really focused on layering the hop flavor and aroma throughout the boil, as opposed to just all bitterness or all aroma additions. It was universally agreed to be the beer that we would eventually call Cape May Lager, and I happily drank plenty of pints of it for the few weeks it was available in July.”
The standard ingredients for a pale lager include pale pilsner malts, a Bohemian yeast, and noble Saaz hops.
“But it’s what you do with them that makes the difference,” Jimmy says. “We also add a touch of Melanoiden malt, which gives a little bit more color to the beer. Melanoiden is also intensely flavored with notes of honey and biscuits, but in our recipe, it isn’t even 5% of the total amount of malt used, so it gives the brew just a little extra zing. It helps give the beer a bit more flavor without being overpowering.”
The result is a clean, crisp, approachable brew that shows off each ingredient, giving each its moment to shine without overpowering the others, perfect for ball games, grilling up some burgers, or just hanging out with dad.
Lauren has already been enjoying Cape May Lager.
“I’ve already had a few of these and I’m loving them,” she says. “This is not an overly-complicated beer that uses some crazy adjuncts to pull you in. The hops aren’t overpowering so you could have a few of these and not have your palate get burned out.”
Brian will have a few while watching Spring Training on Saturday, and Jimmy likes them any time and any place.
“Literally,” he says. “I will be enjoying this beer in the shower and as a midnight snack. In the end, I think we got a great beer with a fantastic light malt flavor and just the right level of the Noble hop aroma from the Saaz.”
Cape May Lager is available Friday in the Tasting Room and throughout New Jersey, with distribution planned in PA on March 4th.
Grab a six and go see your dad.