Drink This Now: Zwickelbier

This unfiltered, German lager style is popping up on beer menus across town—and for good reason.

Zwickel bier

Emelyn, a zwickelbier available at Idle Hands. / Photo by Chris Tkach

The concept behind Zwickelbiers might seem a little hazy, but that’s just the yeast.

Pronounced tzv-ickle, these German lagers (a subset of kellerbiers) are normally unfiltered, unpasteurized, and served as close to the beer’s source as possible. The word “zwickel” refers to a valve on the cask from which the beers were originally tapped and sampled by their German brewers. These loose guidelines leave the zwickelbier style somewhat open to interpretation, and the results vary among brewers.

Maybe that’s why this yeasty, easy-drinking lager is popping up on bar menus and brewery rosters across the city this summer.

“Stylistically, it’s more of a process term than a beer with specific characteristics,” says Chris Tkach, owner of Idle Hands Brewery in Malden. “For us, zwickel could mean anything from a young pilsner to an Oktoberfest.”

Idle Hands’ zwickelbier, Emelyn, was the first beer made at the new Malden brewery in July. Tkach set out to brew something that captured the “pure essence” of a beer, and settled on a malty Vienna-style lager that’s packaged and kegged right off the fermenter. Since its debut, Emelyn has quickly become one of his top-selling beers.

Notch zwickelbier

Notch Brewing’s Zwickel Bier. / Photo provided.

“Lagers in general are coming back,” Tkach says. “Maybe some people are getting burnt out on hops, or looking for the next thing. [Zwickelbier] is riding a little bit on those tails, and because it’s a type of lager that people aren’t familiar with, it has a bit of beer geekiness to it.”

Notch Brewing owner Chris Lohring also credited the rise of the zwickel to the fall of IPA, characterizing his brewery’s zwickel as a bready, softer take on a German pilsner, with a “good smack” of German hop aroma. The low-ABV lager also fits right into Notch’s roster of session-only beers.

“They are typically lower to modest gravity beers,” Lohring says. “We like that, and we love lager.”

Perhaps the easiest thing to understand about zwickelbier is that they’re readily available. Besides Idle Hands and Notch, Night Shift taps a zwickelbier, called Kehl, as a taproom exclusive in Everett. Cambridge Brewing Company also has one, appropriately called the Zwickel, as part of its current draft lineup.

So next time you’re skimming the drink menu, ditch the hop-bomb for the unfiltered purity of a zwickel lager. Just remember, it’s a lot easier to drink than it is to say.