Grandpa Tractor from Costa Mesa's Barley Forge is a refreshing and flavorful taste of a long-forgotten German style that's a perfect match for summertime in L.A.
For too long the pilsner style was overlooked by craft brewers and beer lovers, but the lagers are having a resurgence in popularity, and with it comes more appreciation for the other old-world golden lagers. In addition to the family of pilsners (German and Bohemian and American-style), there are the Helles beers that originated in Munich and the Dortmunder Export style.
These regional specialties were developed in the late 19th century as a response to the overwhelming popularity and technical innovations of the pilsner. Barley Forge's lager is a Dortmunder — and it's a wonderful example of a style that is rarely seen in the craft brewing industry.
The Dortmunder beer can easily be mistaken for a pilsner; they are the same golden color and feature the same delicate malt flavors and Noble hop zest that pilsners are prized for. The brewers who developed the style were trying to make as pilsner-like a brew as they could. It's the subtle differences that make Dortmunder style brews worth seeking out.
Although the pilsner is an effortlessly approachable style that features plenty of depth and complexity for those drinkers who want to dissect their beer, the Dortmunder, and Grandpa Tractor, are even more approachable. Subtle differences in water chemistry and brewing process led the original Dortmunder brewers to balance their beers a little more toward the malt flavors than the hop-leaning pils, and "Dorts" have a fuller body while keeping the same spritzy carbonation and dry, crisp finish. It makes for a beer that's exactly as challenging as you want it to be.
Grandpa Tractor exhibits these textbook characteristics, but the local brew features a quintessential American hop variety instead of the typical European noble hops. The Northern Brewer hops it uses have an evergreen, woody, even slightly minty flavor (they are the signature hop of Anchor Steam), but the flavor is subdued in Grandpa Tractor.
There's enough hop aroma and bitterness to balance out the light malt flavors, but the zing isn't as pronounced as many of the newly popular craft lagers. It won't scare off the hop-averse, but the complexity of the hop character will pique the palates of careful tasters. Pair it with hearty salads, thin crust pizza, or a burger fresh off the backyard grill.
Barley Forger opened a Costa Mesa brewery and tap room (and a kitchen!) in late 2014, and has been generating some great buzz among the craft beer community.
Their range of classic German styles (Grandpa Tractor, Der Beirsal hefeweizen) and unique creations (like a Belgian-style white ale with horchata spices called Don Perfecto) means there's a beer for just about every palate. Barley Forge has limited availability in Los Angeles, but we found a selection of six packs at the Whole Foods Market in Glendale. It's worth seeking out.