December 10 is National Lager Day—a real thing, apparently, not that we need a formal excuse to celebrate beer. Just what is a lager? You probably have a good idea by sight and taste: lagers, unlike ales, tend toward the clean and the crisp, with a lightness of color and flavor them makes them delightfully refreshing. But the true definition is rather more technical. A lager is distinguished by its fermentation process, which, because it uses a different variety of yeast, involves longer conditioning at cooler temperatures. The result is one of the most widely enjoyed beer styles in the world.
To ring in the lager-honoring holiday—and to be sure that anyone reading along can ring it in with us—we’ve collected and ranked our ten favorite mass-market lagers. These are lagers that, while perhaps less compelling than a few niche microbrews, ought to be available at any bar or liquor store you happen to find yourself in. So drink up—wherever you may be.
10. DOS EQUIS (MEXICO)
Few brands have been as invigorated by an ad campaign as Dos Equis, whose much-beloved Most Interesting Man in the World single-handedly vaulted this lager from middle mediocrity to unstoppable super-force. That popularity quickly entrained a backlash against what many aficionados rated a dire beer indeed, but that isn’t a wholly fair assessment. While hardly the only beer we’d recommend an interesting man drink, Dos Equis is nonetheless quite good, with a crisp, thirst-quenching flair to recommend it. Mexican in origin but decidedly American in style, it’s the perfect match for any summer barbeque.
9. SLEEMAN’S HONEY BROWN (CANADA)
A world removed from the more common Canadian mass-market brews by Molson and Labatt, Sleeman’s deep, dark amber lager is considerably bolder in both look and taste than most lagers of its kind. Brewed, according to its ad copy, “in the tradition of cottage breweries at the turn of the century,” it has a striking richness and flavorful style many will find surprising. Though the name doesn’t mislead: there really is honey to be found on the palate, and notes of caramel, too.
8. RED STRIPE (JAMAICA)
The most iconic beer bottle in the world also happens to house a delicious lager: Red Stripe, one of the cleanest, smoothest, and most appealingly mild-tasting lagers on the market. A touch thing, perhaps, but then that’s the style in beer brewed in hot climes—Jamaica naturally being, like Mexico, a place where it’s best for the beer to go down light and smooth. This will therefore hit the spot best on a blistering summer day, chilled out on the couch or poolside (it’s no coincidence that Red Stripe is marketed most during the World Cup; that’s exactly when you want one).
7. HARP LAGER (IRELAND)
Guinness has long enjoyed a reputation as a mass-market product made with unusual skill and care. In the early 1960s they brought that legacy to bear on the untapped lager market, introducing Harp as a standalone beer whose star quickly (and unsurprisingly) rose. Today it’s no less ubiquitous, popular across the United States (whose local supply is brewed in Canada under Harp’s oversight) as a light lager far brisker than its Irish contemporaries. The dry, accessible taste is paired beautifully with pub fare—a spot of warm Irish stew especially.
6. SAPPORO (JAPAN)
At many American bars, spotting Sapporo’s unmistakable draught tap—shaped like the handle of a samurai sword, of course—is like catching a glimpse of a lighthouse during a storm: it means the safety of a delicious pint of beer is on the horizon. It’s been brewed in Japan since the late 19th century, making it the country’s oldest and most venerable beer; though it’s since flourished to become a mainstream multinational, the drink hasn’t compromised its traditional elegance and creamy taste.
5. TENNENT’S EXPORT LAGER (SCOTLAND)
For more than a hundred years Tennent’s has been brewed in Glasgow, and for more than a hundred years Tennent’s has been Scotland’s best-loved and best-selling beer. A sort of all-purpose lager less inclined to blow minds than modestly satisfy them, it’s the kind of easy-drinking beverage we could well do with more of in the U.S. (where we can, thankfully, still enjoy a pint of this in unchanged Export form). Smooth, robust, and with a taste of intriguing depth, it’s a classic among the drink-adoring Scotts for good reason.
4. GROLSCH PREMIUM LAGER (NETHERLANDS)
Grolsch is a mainstay of Holland, where the stuff has been proudly brewed for going on four centuries. But it’s equally inescapable across Europe: wander into any bar in the Union and you’re like to find a bottle of the stuff, easily spotted by its distinctive swing-top cap. (In Dutch movie theaters, where beer-drinking is permitted, you’ll hear that whooshing Grolsch pop! every few seconds.) As for taste, it’s lightly hoppy, fruity, but not particularly sweet; the finish is mild and the flavor refreshing, if politely unobtrusive. Concentrate hard and you may notice a very slightly tang of toffee or burnt sugar.
3. BROOKLYN LAGER (USA)
Brooklyn Lager: dry-hopped, golden in color, brewed in the Vienna style, it’s been the darling of New York hipsters since its arrival to the five boroughs nearly thirty years ago. Today it’s available the world over, popping up, in bottles and on draught, in pubs and bars from Toronto to London and beyond; in many less reputable joints it’s the only quality brew one can reliably find. The taste is malty and hop-heavy for a lager, in a bold, palate-buzzing way those who like to really taste their beer will love. Best-paired with—what else—a slice of pizza.
2. SINGHA LAGER (THAILAND)
Most mass-market lagers are brewed with “adjuncts” like rice or corn in place of the traditional (but costlier) barley malt, but not Singha: Thailand’s premiere export uses only the real thing, and it shows. A strong-tasting but appealingly fruity beer, Singha is on the whole crisp, clean, and dry—precisely the balance you want out of a lager of this kind. Ideal, as you might expect from its country of origin, with a heavy, spicy meal, its crispness cutting straight through a good yellow curry.
1. SAMUEL ADAMS BOSTON LAGER (USA)
A long-time favorite craft beer in its city of origin, the Samuel Adams Boston Lager has since graduated from micro to macro status, becoming a barroom staple throughout North America. A darker brown—almost amber or orange, really—than the light blonde more common among mass-market lagers, this is malty, sweet and quite easy drinking. In a way its rise to the mainstream is a godsend for true lager lovers: It means that a great beer is on hand no matter where you wind up.