JUST AS IT IS meet that Great Lakes Brewing be responsible for one of America’s best Oktoberfests, it is equally fitting that their durable reputation should rest upon the shoulders of Dortmunder Gold. The usually modest Cleveland brewery allows itself some pride over this recipe, which dates back to their establishment in 1988 and has anchored their year-round rotation ever since. Each bottle’s label depicts a Great American Beer Fest gold medal, making it clear that its name refers less to its straw-bright color than to its many accolades. With more than a dozen gold medals (mostly from the World Beer Championship), Dortmunder edges out the highly respectable Edmund Fitzgerald porter as Great Lakes’ most decorated brew. So—whence all this fuss?
Admittedly, Dortmunder doesn’t have much competition. While Rheinland staples like Kölsch and Altbier can readily be found outside of Der Vaterland, Dortmunder lager is relatively overlooked by brewers and drinkers alike. Happily, this beer’s fortune depends on more than just exclusivity. It pours with an appealing clarity, plenty of visible effervescence, and a wispy white head that dissolves with a tasteful hint of merengue froth and the lightest note of its 5.8% ABV into a crisp, mineral-tinged finish. The aroma is fresh and nuanced: clean light grains and a little spice and citrus. True to its style, the malt profile is a little more prominent than a pilsner though not quite as dark as Vienna lager—2-row pale and caramel 60 alone are enough to provide its base, color, and just-medium body. The hops are American (Cascade and Mt. Hood), reasonably based in tradition but a little more assertive and appropriately suited to the slightly elevated body. Overall it’s a surprisingly characterful but still easygoing companion, drinkable in summer and beyond. Quintessentially ‘nice’, at the risk of sounding blasé over what remains one of America’s best lagers.
Served: 12 oz bottle best by 12-28-13