Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Lager

Boak and Bailey have written an account of how CAMRA has viewed lager over the years, which is well worth looking at. I thought it was about time that I wrote on this subject, without going over all the ground they covered.

When I was a student, I tried various drinks: mild, bitter, brown and bitter, Guinness, lager, lager and lime, and cider (probably Woodpecker) to find out what I preferred. I settled on bitter. I was a student in Padgate, just on the edge of Warrington, and as the local brewery used to boast in adverts, it was Greenall Whitley Land - they owned nearly every pub in the area, and if you were a lager drinker, that was Grünhalle. You didn't have to be a genius to realise that Grünhalle was German for Greenall, so I was often surprised how many people didn't realise that fact, or that it was brewed in Warrington. As I recall, lager drinkers didn't rate Grünhalle highly, but in those days, you drank what was on offer, or not at all - and that applied to bitter and mild as well as lager.

Pinched from Tandleman
In those less enlightened days, lager was often dismissed, including by myself I have to admit, as a woman's drink, but such sneers didn't slow down the rise of lager during the 1970s. However, even then, there was a view that continental lager was good and that British lager couldn't hold a candle to it: the contempt was for the inferior domestic version. However, the critics were whistling in the wind because none of this mattered to the millions who increasingly adopted British-brewed lager as their usual beer.

In the 1980s, when I was working in Liverpool, Higsons pubs used to stock Carling Black Label, but decided to brew their own lager. Thankfully, they didn't call it Higstein or some such nonsense, but simply Higsons Lager. As I recall, lager drinkers often weren't keen, although some bitter drinkers said it was better than most lagers! They gave up after a while and brewed Kaltenberg under licence instead, but their nice new lager brewery made them attractive for takeover and was instrumental in their closure: proof, surely, that lager isn't good for you.

The success of micropubs and bottled beer shops means that interested drinkers are becoming more aware of the range of beers available from both this country and abroad. However, much as I welcome a discerning approach to beer, I'm not much interested in bottled beers myself. Even if they are beers that I like, I much prefer the draught real ale to its bottled equivalent. Bottles are fine at home, on the odd occasion I drink beer at home.  I've occasionally had a Budweiser Budvar, Pilsner Urquell or similar; pleasant enough for a change, but not a Road to Damascus moment.

Despite my distinct preference for real ale from casks, I fully accept the CAMRA policy that it is pro-real ale, and not anti-anything; the campaign stands for choice, including the choice not to drink real ale. This point was made crystal clear by CAMRA's founders (as B&B's post makes clear) and was reiterated by Colin Valentine, the national chair, at the AGM I attended in Norwich two years ago. This means that comments such as 'chemical fizz' and 'zombeers' - to name a couple of the milder insults - are not only childish and deliberately obnoxious: they are contrary to CAMRA's ethos. Some real ale types - a minority - take the view that, if only we could get lager and smooth drinkers to try real ale, they'd be converted, but  such a view is misguided. Many of them have tried it and didn't like it; others are simply happy with what they drink and see no need to experiment. In addition, we all taste things differently: for example, I can't stand fish, and the sight and smell of seafood makes me feel queasy. If everyone sensed fish and seafood as I do, I'm certain no one would eat either.

We have the modern phenomenon of quality lagers being brewed being brewed by micros and craft breweries. Harviestoun Schiehallion was the first of such beers I came across; as I recall, it was in cask at Fleetwood Beer Festival. It's a while since I've had it, but as I recall, it seemed to have more in common with modern golden ales than it did with Skol or Fosters.

My position is quite simple: I prefer cask real ale, but you can drink whatever you like. I don't think my attitude is radically different from most real ale drinkers I come across and, as a member, it's logical to assume that I meet a fair number of other CAMRA members.

This post has turned out much longer than I originally intended. However, I'll end with this: if I'm buying a round and a drinker asks for lager without specifying a brand, I'll just order the cheapest on the assumption he or she isn't bothered.

6 comments:

  1. Grünhalle.....bleeurgh!

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  2. In my lager-drinking days I did actually rate Grünhalle as one of the better lagers, and certainly a cut above Carlsberg, Skol and Harp. Greenalls did have a proper German-designed brewhouse, so it was brewed in the correct manner and certainly wasn't a top-fermented "bastard lager".

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  3. If you're looking for a Road to Damascus moment with lager Nev, you need to go to Germany or the Czech Republic and drink it unpasteurised, unfiltered and served by gravity.

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  4. Grünhalle was pretty unpleasant in my opinion. It was a peculiar colour of gold and never held its head for more than a moment. For me, the best of the ordinary lagers was Harp which had some decent hopping and a more genuine feel and taste to it.

    Unpasteurised and unfiltered lager? Unpasteurised sure, but in Germany at least (apart from kellerbier) most unfiltered beer is barely drinkable. I've written about it quite a few times.

    I don't mind unfiltered Czech beer but most there is just mildly hazy. No chicken soup there.

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  5. lager was invented so people wouldn't have to touch the bitter.

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  6. An interesting historical perspective, CL!

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