In a World of Flashy IPAs, the Humble Lager Gets Its Due

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A group of men sit and enjoy a beer inside East Brother Beer Company's taproom.
Attendees sit and enjoy a beer at a previous East Brother Beer Co. event. (East Brother Beer Co.)

In the bitter, hop-heavy world of American craft beer, Richmond’s East Brother Beer Company has always been a bit of an outlier. Its most popular beers are its lighter, more refreshing brews—its lagers, its Bohemian-style pilsner. Meanwhile, co-founder Rob Lightner says, if you go to any random brewery in any major metropolitan area in the United States, it’s almost shocking if the place doesn’t have a dozen IPAs on tap.

In that sense, East Brother has zigged while many others zagged. Now, the brewery has created a new beer festival that is a manifesto of sorts. On Saturday, June 18, it will host its first lager festival, dubbed the Pride + Purpose Beer Festival—to Lightner’s knowledge, the first-ever Bay Area beer festival specifically focused on lagers. It’ll be a day-long celebration of the style, with 25 Northern California breweries on hand to show off their version of what Lightner calls the quintessential “working person’s beer.”

To be clear, Lightner says, East Brother sells IPAs, too, and it’s not a mystery why breweries carry so many of them: “People love them.” The craft beer movement itself started largely as a sort of reaction to the watery mass-market lagers from companies like Coors and Anheuser-Busch. But as much as Lightner appreciates the hoppy, intensely flavorful—and often bitter—IPAs that dominate the craft beer market, he and the rest of the East Brother staff have always loved drinking a crisp, classic lager.

These days, East Brother’s bestsellers are its Vienna-style red lager and its Bohemian pilsner (another light, crisp style). The brewery also has an ongoing seasonal lager series, introducing a new variation every three months.

The appeal of a lager is manyfold: Its lighter flavor and lower alcohol content tends to complement different types of food instead of competing with them. Lagers aren’t precious in the same way that a lot of craft beer culture can be—people don’t come to East Brother to “discuss” the beer. And it’s for good reason, Lightner says, that lagers have long been the beer of choice for working-class people.


“It starts with economics, right?” Lightner says, pointing out that a four-pack of a trendy double hazy IPA might sell for $25 at the grocery store. Lagers, as a general rule, are more affordable. And then there’s the idea of what kind of beer a person is going to want to drink after a long day doing manual labor or any kind of hard work.

“If you want something thirst-quenching, what are you going to choose? A drinkable, crisp lager that’s 4.5% ABV or a double-hopped IPA that’s 8.5%?” Lightner says. “I think [a lager] just lends itself more to work—and the rewards of work.”

Man pours beer into a glass from a can; the beer label reads "Sixth & Canal."
The Sixth & Canal, a collaborative beer between East Brother Beer Co. and Fieldworks Brewing, will be one of more than 30 lagers that will be poured at this weekend's Pride + Purpose Beer Festival. (East Brother Beer Company)

Of course, East Brother isn’t exactly reinventing the wheel here. Lightner estimates that 85 to 90% of the beer that’s sold around the world consists of lagers. People in India and Japan are mostly drinking lagers. The world’s best-selling beer by far—China’s Snow—is a lager. And now that American craft breweries are starting to take lagers more seriously, it seemed like the perfect time to put together a festival that would give the beer style its due.

Attendees at Saturday’s festival will have access to all the lagers they can drink from 25 different Northern California breweries, which run the gamut from big names like Drake’s, Trumer Pils and Russian River Brewing to a handful of lesser known local favorites. There will be food, too, courtesy of food trucks like Ceviche & Co, Crack Crab and the birria specialist La Santa Torta. And VIP ticket holders will also have access to a couple of different discussion panels, including one that digs deeper into the lager’s history as a working person’s beer.

Even the festival’s charitable cause will tie into that labor theme: All profits will support Richmond’s Rosie the Riveter Trust, a nonprofit that builds on the legacy of the original “Rosies”—the diverse group of women who worked together in shipyards and factories on the American home front during World War II. Today, the organization focuses on outdoor education and building career skills for girls and transgender and non-binary youth.

“[The Rosies] kind of represent all that’s good—coming together for a cause, overcoming racial and gender discrimination,” Lightner says. A few of the original Rosies, who are now in their 90s, will be on hand to meet and greet lager festival attendees.

The Pride + Purpose Beer Festival takes place on Saturday, June 18, from 1–5 pm at East Brother Beer Company (1001 Canal Blvd., #C2, Richmond). Tickets are $60 and include unlimited beer tastings.