The evolution of a craft beer drinker is an interesting thing to watch. Many newer craft beer drinkers—myself included back in the day—tend to start by branching out into beers like amber ales, pale ales or IPAs. Beers like Fat Tire from New Belgium, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Anchor Steam tend to be gateway beers for a lot of people.
After some time, many future beer nerds start to turn to bigger and bigger beers and end up focusing on barrel-aged stouts, imperial IPA and barrel-aged sours as they chase more and more flavor in their beer. As time passes those beers start to become taxing to drink more than a pour of and people start shifting back to easier drinking lagers and pilsners. Mix in a few forays into Belgian and meltier German styles and that is my personal journey over the past 20 years in craft beer. Don’t get me wrong I still enjoy drinking almost all styles of beers including those gateway beers and the high abv flavor bombs but a good German pilsner or Helles tend to be in my hand more often than not. I always thought that was indicative of my beer journey but I have since watched many of my personal friends follow the same patch and now the industry as a whole seems to have a slightly similar shift.
The recent surge in popularity for easier-to-drink, crisp styles has been a welcome one for me. Finding a good Helles a few years ago meant shopping in the import section of the local big-box liquor store and little else. Now I can go to almost any of my favorite local breweries and get a crowler of lager or pilsner and most of them are well made and delicious.
Out of the light lager styles Helles has become one of my favorites. It is so easy to drink with its crisp malt bill and very low bitterness that putting down a 32-ounce crowler is a very easy task and usually leaves me wanting another. Today’s review is the Lost Camper Helles Lager from Door County Brewing Co. out of Baileys Harbor, Wis. Lost Camper is a pretty straight forward Helles brewed with Pilsner malt, Vienna and a touch of Munich and it comes in at the high end of the general ABV range for the style at 5.2 percent.
The beer pours surprisingly hazy for a Helles and an SRM around 6 which is at the darker end of the style guideline. A thick white head with large bubbles dissipated to a halo after about a minute meaning it’s not the most traditional-looking Helles. The aroma consists of traditional cracker-like and white bread malts but there is just a touch of sweetness as well as some DMS on the nose. DMS stands for Dimethyl Sulfide which can be perceived as a cooked corn or cabbage-like aroma. I get a small amount of old-world hops giving it a very faint herbal quality.
The slightly darker than average malt bill comes through in the first sip as well. It has a slightly chewy mouthfeel and it seems Door County used more than just a touch of Vienna malt in this one. The beer also lacks the bright crispy character I look for in a Helles lager due to the mouthfeel and the light sweetness. The hops arrive a bit more in the finish with a slight lingering dull bitterness that dries the roof of my mouth along with the malt character that sticks around after the sip.