Brewer Q+A: The Making of Grandes Lagos Lager

TASTING NOTES: Starts crisp and clean, but a slightly tart bite surprises the palate with a hint of lemon, complementing the gentle malt sweetness. The addition of hibiscus flowers adds an earthy floral aroma and subtle pink hue to what would otherwise be a golden brew. Delicious, but wow! This is a lager?

You bet, says Pub Brewer Steve Forman, the man behind our newest seasonal Grandes Lagos Lager. Brewed with hibiscus flowers, Grandes Lagos is adding some flair to our lineup of traditional lagers. “Don’t get me wrong. I really enjoy brewing true-to-style beer, but it’s always fun to just screw around with something you’ve never used.” I sat down with Forman to find out how Grandes Lagos started as a funny idea but quickly blossomed into refreshing cerveza.​

What is a Mexican lager?

Mexican lagers are closely related to German lagers. Think crisp, clean, and easy drinking. As Germans and Austrians made their way into South America, they brought with them their brewing expertise. Vienna lagers, despite the name, really found life in Mexico, so in many ways, Eliot Ness has a heritage closely related to Mexican-style lagers.

What are the characteristics of a Mexican lager?

Easy drinking. Their appearance can vary depending on the grain bill, but they tend to be smooth, crisp, and slightly sweet. Darker Mexican-style lagers like Eliot Ness have a bigger malt bill, but lighter versions are typically brewed with flaked corn. Grandes Lagos uses flaked corn to dry out some of the sweetness for a crisp flavor and lighter appearance.

The addition of hibiscus flowers really sets Grandes Lagos apart from our other lagers. Why did you decide to brew with it?

It’s kind of a funny story. One of our lab technicians always told me he wanted me to brew a Mexican lager, and he was notorious for wearing this really floral hand lotion all the time. I told him if I make him the recipe, I’ll brew it with flowers as sort of a joke. But then I started thinking about what sort of edible flowers could be used to brew and realized I had never tried using hibiscus. It sounded fun and I knew I wanted the recipe to be unique, so I thought why not?

What kind of flavors does the hibiscus add to the beer?

It may be obvious to say, but it adds a sweet floral aroma to the beer. Flavor wise, you’re going to get a slight tartness and earthy floral taste.

Grandes Lagos was first developed on the small batch system in the brewpub. What sort of experimentation did you do when working on the recipe?

Since I had never used hibiscus before, I spent a week drinking a lot of hibiscus tea at different strengths to see what sort of flavors I would get from the flowers. From there, I played around with the recipe a few different ways. I figured out what I wanted the base recipe to be and tried brewing it with hibiscus, without hibiscus, and with lime peel. They all tasted great, but I really liked the hibiscus the best. What I wasn’t expecting was the pink tint. I didn't think any color from the flower would stick around during the brewing process, but it's become one of my favorite things about the beer.

Grandes Lagos Lager is available now in 6-Packs, 12-Packs, and draft wherever our beer is sold. Read more about it here.