Monday, 5 October 2009

Lager begins at home

In the past I’ve accused CAMRA members promoting the “Locale” scheme – which is supposed to cut down on “beer miles” – of being a touch hypocritical when they’re at the same time criticising British licence-brewed lagers and singing the praises of imported brews such as Budweiser Budvar, which has to be transported halfway across Europe to get here. No doubt their reply would be that if you’re concerned about beer miles you shouldn’t bother with lager at all and should be drinking Old Gruntfuttock from the man in a shed brewery just down the road.

However, that flies in the face of the reality that lager of one kind or another accounts for well over half of the beer drunk in Britain, and it isn’t going to go away. Lager drinkers aren’t going to desert their favoured brew en masse in favour of what blogger Cooking Lager dismisses as “pongy beer”. But, if you want a high-quality lager in this country, at present you’re generally going to have to turn to an imported product.

Virtually all the home-produced lagers are inferior copies of brands originating in other countries. The other major European countries, even those that were not amongst the original homes of lager brewing, have their own indigenous brands – France has Kronenbourg and 33, Italy Peroni and Moretti, Spain Cruzcampo and Mahou. But here all we can offer is Harp (now ludicrously branded as “Harp Irish Lager”) and Carling which, while originally Canadian, seems to have become naturalised over the years.

So it seems an appropriate time to launch Lagers of the British Isles, a campaign to promote and develop distinctive, high-quality indigenous lagers that are not just copies of existing Continental brews. Their mission statement can be seen here. When so many of the big brewers’ lager brands appear tired and only kept afloat on a sea of marketing money, there must be a great opportunity there. Who knows, in a few years’ time we might see BrewDog 77 Lager replacing Peroni as the lager of choice in trendy bars.

And, unpalatable as it may be to some real ale diehards, if they are to appeal to existing lager drinkers rather than just cask aficionados, it is essential that these home-grown lagers are offered in keg form. In any case, arguably “cask lager” is something of a contradiction in terms.

12 comments:

  1. I'm all for quality British Lager - even keg. Problem is, there isn't much of it. I had a few pints of Sam Smith's Pure Brewed the other night and it wasn't much cop either. It used to be pretty good.

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  2. @ Curmudgy. I've wondered what the point of cask lager was ? What bizarre rot is that? Lager matures at a low temperature; lagering, something that cooking lager thankfully lacks, and gains its flavour. Casking does nothing for it. The Helles of the fatherland is as I understand an unpasteurised keg product.

    @Tandy. You have to persevere. Get a taste for the lout. You’ve ruined your taste buds with hoppy ale. I prescribe 1 visit to tesco, 3 big boxes of cheap lout, and steer clear of ale until you get a taste for the fizz.

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  3. All very well but seems destined to be a niche product in my mind. Where is the market? The vast majority of people who solely drink lager aren't interested in these lagers irrespective of how good they are. They may well drink them but only once they become common place and for that to happen, the big boys would need taking on. It's a completely different scenario from the real ale micro brewer. Depends on what you mean by a "few years" but I'll happily wager that Brewdog wouldn't be displacing the likes of Peroni.

    The main market for this product will surely be the experimental drinker/camra type. Who already drink "quality" lager. If it's good I would drink it but if Budvar is better, then given a choice, I would drink that. Locale is a good promtional tool but taken to its natural conclusion merely restricts choice and makes life very dull.

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  4. Well, there's obviously a demand for various brands of lager over and above the usual mass-market ones, otherwise the off-trade wouldn't be selling shedloads of Budweiser Budvar, Pilsner Urquell, Bitburger, Zywiec etc. And it can't be denied that there is a growing interest in locally-sourced produce, whatever you may think of the whole "beer miles" thing. So I'm sure the demand is there amongst the more discerning drinkers for distinctive, home-produced quality lagers, and I wish LOBI success in meeting it.

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  5. Tyson, although I agree in part with your initial assessment of the situation, I still think that a campaign to promote quality British-Brewed lagers is a good thing.

    Curmudgeon, I read the linked story on the Publican website, and recall reading, a few weeks ago, how Freedom were barred at the 11th hour from having a stand at the Burton Beer Festival. Unfortunately there are a lot of die-hard purists witin CAMRA who are more obsessed with dispensing systems than what the end product actually tastes like. This is taken to ridiculous extremes when pubs are excluded from the GBG for using cask-breathers on some of their slower selling beers. I have tried lagers from the likes of Hepworths and Whitstable, and they are excellent drinks.

    Cooking Lager, yes "Cask Lager" is a contradiction in terms, but on recent visits to Germany I have drank really good Helles dispensed from wooden casks. It is obviously not cask-conditioned, and some at least is filtered as well, but don't always judge a book by its cover.

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  6. I don't like ordinary lager, and I'm not actually very keen on good ones. Having said that, I hope LOBI does okay, as adding more choice with quality products is no bad thing. CAMRA has a policy against cask breathers democratically decided by its conference, not by die-hard purists. It's a contentious issue even within CAMRA ranks, but a line has to be drawn somewhere. CAMRA does promote good foreign beers, which do not usually satisfy the definition of real ale, so the suggestion of extremism is unjustified.

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  7. I think what irks people is that CAMRA is happy to champion foreign beers such as Budweiser Budvar, but will not give house room to UK-brewed beers of comparable quality.

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  8. Budvar are happy to dispense their beer by air compressor, thus meeting the CAMRA requirement for no externally applied CO2 at the point of dispense. As I understand it, Freedom were not.

    Whether that's a good policy or not is quite a different matter,

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  9. Proper lager is so different from lout that lout drinkers will not touch it with a barge pole anyway. Anyone trying to "appeal to existing lager drinkers" is onto a hiding to nothing.

    In what way is cask lager a contradiction in terms?

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  10. Considering that most continental lagers only really got going in the 1870s-1880s, there should be plenty of UK candidates for 'authentic' lagers. Tennents seems to have wasted its provenance and Wrexham doesn't seem to have any go behind it yet. But why not rescue some names like Graham's Golden Lager from the past? Where are they? Probably tucked away in the 'name vaults' at most major breweries. That's where Wrexham lager was (as part of Carlsberg).
    Big or medium-sized breweries could be successful - just have a look at the quality lagers being produced by Carlsberg as Jacobsens.

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  11. Proper lager is so different from lout that lout drinkers will not touch it with a barge pole anyway. Anyone trying to "appeal to existing lager drinkers" is onto a hiding to nothing.

    It's nowhere near that black and white. There are plenty of lager drinkers who get bored with the usual suspects of Stella, Carlsberg etc and are choosing beers like Budvar and Krombacher because they want something "better" and more authentic. That's the kind of audience I see quality British lagers aiming at.

    In what way is cask lager a contradiction in terms?

    The cask-conditioning/dispense by handpump model was designed for British ales – no authentic German or Czech lagers are served like that. Even unfiltered and unpasteurised brews are chilled and served under pressure. Cask lager is typically too warm and insufficiently carbonated – in reality, it is a lager-style cask beer that essentially appeals to existing cask drinkers.

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  12. A small but significant minority of German lagers are served by gravity, and some people say
    they like them better that way. No filtration, no pasteurisation, no extraneous gas.

    As it's stored and racked near freezing there is no need to prime the cask as the CO2 stays dissolved in the beer. You would be more correct to say that CAMRA's definition of real ale only takes British ale into account and isn't designed to cover lager.

    Anyway, ale is also chilled. That's why it is in the cellar.

    You seem to be labouring under the misapprehension that lager should be as fizzy as soda water. It shouldn't.

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