The Lager Lowdown – “But… what is lager?”

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Words by Ed Dyer

Hurrah! Summer is here… apparently.

Well, already lost in the mists of time are memories of last year’s mega early summer heatwave as June has been a soggy old affair up to point of writing. But, unpredictable as the weather is, this is indeed what us Brits call summer, and with it comes the season of barbecues, pub gardens and festivals. 

For the discerning beer drinker, thoughts then often turn to what is the most popular but also most abused type of beer there is – lager.

But, what is lager? Despite what you may think, surveying the bewildering selection on offer at your local beer emporium, essentially beer can be broken down into just three categories – Ale, Lager and Spontaneously Fermented Beer. What determines these is the kind of yeast used to convert the sugars into alcohol, and how it works.

The wild card amongst these three, and the most uncommon in this country are Spontaneously Fermented Beers, left open to ferment with wild yeasts blowing in (although most are now made in controlled situations with cultivated strains of wild yeasts). These are your sour beers and saisons, very distinctively flavoured by these yeasts..

In British Brewing terms, the granddaddy style is Ale. Ales are brewed with a yeast that ferments from the top of the liquid and at a warm temperature (usually between 15 and 24 degrees, higher for some styles). These are the beers that traditionally have been brewed in this country for centuries – bitters, brown ales, stouts and porters, originally in cask.

Lagers originated in central Europe and are brewed with yeasts that ferment from the bottom of the liquid, at a much colder temperature. This has to happen over a much longer period in order to convert the sugars into alcohol and for the flavours to develop. In fact, the very name “Lager”, in German, means storeroom, or warehouse. For this process to happen should take at least six weeks (ale ferments out in about a week), which makes lagers harder to produce, especially for small brewers as it ties up vessels for longer periods of time.

The most popular variety (and what one tends to think of when considering a lager) is the “Pilsner” style. The very nature of these beers, with lighter flavours, served cold and fizzy, make them appealing to drinkers, especially when the sunshine is out, a fact borne out by looking at the top selling beers in the world, brands like Budweiser, Heineken and Corona plus the giants of Chinese brewing, Snow and Tsingtao, which are all lagers. These are all great for your summer event, but if you like to support the local economy and buy beers brewed by your local brewery, can you get something cold and fizzy from them?

The answer is a resounding Yes! Don’t be scared of trying something new. Several of our local brewers produce extremely good lagers that are comfortably familiar in style. So for your next barbecue or festival, I suggest you seek out some of the following, all of which are fantastic example of Pilsner style Lagers: Tap Social Movement “Even Larger”, West Berkshire Brewery “Renegade Lager”, Loose Cannon Brewery “Oxford Pils”, Ramsbury Brewery “Red Ram” Lager and Hop Kettle Brewery “Shooting Star” Pilsner.

For more details on these check the breweries’ websites: www.tapsocialmovement.com / www.wbbrew.com / www.lcbeers.co.uk / www.ramsburyestates.co.uk / www.hop-kettle.com

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