Did you know that in the US the 10th of December is celebrated as National Lager Day? It’s no secret that we love lager, and shockingly, as we don’t have an equivalent celebration of lager in the UK we have decided to stage our own boozy jubilee. Lager is often underrated and misunderstood in the UK craft scene, and considering that lager accounts for 65% of UK beer sales (The Cask Report 2018) it seems about time that we should celebrate it’s hoppy goodness in this country too. The US is light-years ahead of the UK in its appreciation of this universal drink, and it’s about time we caught up. Whilst the nation’s IPA obsession reaches fever pitch, we think that the UK needs it’s own National Lager Day and here are a few reasons why.
Lager- The underdog of the craft beer world
The UK craft beer industry has boomed over the last decade, with the number of independent breweries at an all time high. Despite it’s exponential growth, the UK beer scene has maintained a snobby attitude towards lager, with ales dominating the market. The reputation of lager has long been sullied by mass-produced, often imported lagers, which lack freshness and quality. Yet, with lager making up around two thirds of this country’s beer sales it is clear that the demand for this under-rated style is alive and well. Most craft breweries launch with an IPA, only adding a token lager product as a side note to their core range of ales. Instead of asking ‘why is lager so popular?’ the craft beer scene has continued to disregard a whole style based on negative stereotypes.
It's a sad reality that most of the mainstream UK lagers are tasteless, boring and, according to the Barvarian Beer Purity Law, can’t even be classified as beer. As a result, many beer drinkers believe all lager to be pale and flavourless, which couldn’t be further from the truth. Lager can be dark, hoppy, malty, sweet, savoury or a variety of other characters- pick a beer descriptor and there will be a lager style to match it! These poor quality, big name lager brands will continue to dominate the market until craft breweries end their single-minded fixation upon ale and provide the British public with worthy lager alternatives. The US craft lager scene has developed it's own distinctive identity and we want to see a unique UK craft lager industry emerge in the same way.
Why aren’t we overrun with craft lager?
But why, we hear you cry, aren’t the craft beer producers of the UK giving the masses what they want? If lager sells so well, surely it makes sense to flog every possible variation of lager to a bloody, twitching death, in the same way we have seen breweries pump out every array and flavour of ale humanly possible. When 90% of global beer volume is lager, why is lager still largely ignored in the craft beer industry?
To put is bluntly, lager is really bloody hard to brew. Like, reaching the final ever level of Candy Crush kind of hard. Our head brewer Gavin explains why lager is so tricky to make: ‘We have been told on many occasions that we are mad to be running a lager-only brewery, often by other brewers. There are a few reasons for this. Lager is one of the most complex and difficult styles to brew due to the lower fermentation temperatures, longer tank residency and general finesse required in getting it right. If a lager has a flaw in it, it is very easy to detect due to the clean nature of the beer and the low levels of esters/ other flavours (hop oils) that can often mask flaws in other beer styles’.
Lager takes an average 2-3 times longer to brew than ale. Where a superb quality ale can be turned around in 2-3 weeks, it takes around 6 weeks to brew a lager counterpart, which in turn means that twice as many tanks are required to produce the same volume. The investment of time and equipment is much higher for lager producers, which makes creating lager a huge gamble for new craft breweries. Lager also requires a mastery of brewing unparalleled in other beer styles, as the margin for error and inconsistency is huge. There is nowhere to hide a mistake in a lager, and a faulty batch can’t be rescued through a big ol’ dose of dry hopping. In an already saturated market, most craft breweries won’t begin with such a high-risk and high-investment product when they can instead play it safe with an IPA.
Why we love lager
Lager crosses the boundaries of gender, social class, age and ethnicity. It’s a beer style that is produced and consumed across the world in huge quantities, overshadowing all other beer classifications. It is a sociable drink, with ideal sessionability and broad appeal. A decent lager is crisp, cold and refreshing, but it also so much more. The hoppy Holy Grail offers a spectrum of styles, all of which showcase hops and malt without being overpowered by yeast flavours. Lager yeasts ferment at lower temperatures than ale yeasts; the result is that lager yeast produces less esters (fruity flavours created by the yeast during fermentation). This means in a lager most of the flavour comes from the malt and the hops, creating a cleaner beer.
As Robert Parker, Beer Sommelier of Beer + Brew, describes so eloquently: ‘Lager underpins all the great beer cultures in the world and is an indicator of the level of discernment among the populace. Lager is a glorious, complex beer that encompasses a massive variety of styles. There are intense, dark lagers that have characters of dried fruit, coffee, and cola. There are smoky lagers that are savoury and sweet in equal measure. Some of my favourites are full-bodied German Helles with sweet grain and honey and very little bitterness. And what is better than a clean, crisp dry lager on a hot day?’.
Many beer drinkers may be surprised to learn that lager isn’t a singular style of beer. From Helles and Pilsner, to Dunkel, Dortmunder and Amber Lager, there are a plentiful array of lager styles out there to tickle beer-enthused tastebuds. Pillars co-founder Gavin challenges ‘anyone to try an Eisbock and claim it is boring’. Many breweries and pubs simply aren’t offering a diverse range of lager styles like they do with ales. This is in part based on the gross, and frankly somewhat offensive, assumption that customers aren’t interested in learning more about lager.
Pillars Brewery is the first brewery in London to only brew lagers. We are passionate about bringing exceptional lager to the market in many different styles, which has not been done before in the UK. Our manifesto is to make freshly brewed lager, with a focus on quality, accessible to as many people as possible. Our lager is unpasteurised to retain as much flavour as possible, which means we have to get the beer out fresh. Our typical tank to glass time is a matter of days, and this really shows in the taste. You don’t have to be a beer critic to recognise an impressive product; people know when they are drinking a great lager.
Our mission to lead a lager revolution
Lager is undoubtedly the tough, spunky underdog of the craft beer world, and finally in 2018 we are starting to see a new appreciation for this centuries-old beer style. Independent, turned big-time, breweries such as Camden and Meantime have smashed through the craft beer scene with their premium lager products. Cloudwater, Tiny Rebel, and Thornbridge have all conjured up outstanding lagers, delivering a variety of styles to broaden the lager lovers’ palette. Although there has been a huge leap forward in the fledgling trend for better lager, simply brewing one exemplary lager amongst a line up of ales wasn’t enough for us. We wanted to create a whole range of incredible lagers, offering both traditional and modern, experimental styles. Our whole brewing operation is dedicated solely to the complex, beauty of lager.
When we founded Pillars Brewery in 2016 we were spurred on by a determination to create real lagers that all beer drinkers can really appreciate. Craft lager is for everyone, from craft beer aficionados to your Nan’s weekly half a pint during bingo. As an exclusively lager brewery all of our focus rests on brewing innovative, exciting lagers whilst maintaining the integrity of traditional beer making principles. We’ve begun our assault on lager’s bad rep by brewing our own high-quality versions of the more common lager styles (Helles and Pils) and selling them as fresh as possible, along with our flagship product Untraditional Lager which is an adventurous India Pale Ale and Pilsner hybrid (IPL).
We also want to bring other lager styles to the market to showcase the versatility of lager and change the misconception that lager is boring. We also want to have a little fun along the way, and smash the boundaries of lager styles, which is why we created The Lager Experiment series. As always, The Barvarian Beer Law serves as out foundation, but then we test and tinker with the most riotous ingredients and absurd combinations to create imaginative new recipes. Ultimately, the people of the UK deserve a better variety and standard of lager than what we’ve all been used to. Robert Parker calls for UK lager brewers ‘to improve the standard and choice while also understanding that the way forward isn’t a complete disregard for established or existing examples’ and that’s exactly what we aim to do. We are leading a lager revolution and it’s about to sweep the nation! Bring on National Lager Day in the UK!