I'm pretty psyched to have finally gotten lager season rolling. I usually get to do at least a couple of lagers each winter, but I got a late start this year since I had a few other yeast strains already in action. I'm planning on doing at least another batch of the smoked helles (pretty much a Schlenkerla Helles clone) and a Baltic Porter with Paul Key.
When I design a recipe, whether it's "to style" or free-style, I like to think a lot about how I want to final beer to taste, smell, and look like. I like to keep a couple of commercial examples in mind if there is anything close to what I am looking to target. For example, if you are talking about German Pilsner, you have anything from Bitburger or Radeberger pils (very light, clean, and somewhat hoppy but pretty much a lawnmower beer), to something pretty radically hoppy and aromatic like Victory Prima Pils. More often than not, there's a huge range within the style to work with. Less so for German beers for sure, but still there's a range. This is why I think it's funny that some brewers make a point to say it's below them to brew to style. It's as if they think you can't make a creative expression if you stick pretty much within a recognized style. If you think about that for more than a second, you realize that's just not true. It's like saying that a cubist or a surrealist isn't really a painter. Not that beer is fine art, or that it has to be taken so seriously, but I guess art works as a good analogy. Maybe a food analogy would work even better: Do all cheeseburgers taste the same? Of course not!