Brush up on your knowledge of one of the most popular beer types – lager
Today most people think of lagers as golden coloured beers, of moderate strength, designed primarily to quench the thirst, but that’s not always the case. The term more accurately refers to a family of cold fermented beer styles brewed in many strengths and shades, from straw to black.
German bocks, dunkels, Exports, schwarzbiers, Baltic porters, Oktoberfest, Pilseners, helles, Vienna lagers, ice beers – and pretty much everything that comes in a green bottle; all are members of the lager family. At their best they share a smooth, rounded character that’s the signature of a long, slow fermentation and extended lagering (cold maturation) of several weeks or even months at around zero degrees Celsius.
The first use of the term lager is reckoned to be in Munich in 1420, but records are sketchy, and the most commonly told story that Bavarian monks developed a system of cold fermentation in icy caves in the foothills of the Alps, is also questionable. What’s not in doubt however is that the first lagers would have been dark beers. The pale coloured, light-bodied refreshing lagers, which today dominate the global beer market, are a comparatively modern invention.
Need advice when choosing a lager? As a rough rule of thumb, I recommend thinking geographically. Beers tend to reflect the climate of their country of origin and it’s no coincidence many of the more robustly flavoured beers come from the cooler countries of Northern Europe. Further south, as the ambient temperature rises, beer is often seen as a simple thirst quenching beverage. Thus, golden lagers brewed in southern Europe, Asia and central America tend to be lighter and milder than their northern counterparts.
But in this era of sour beers and uber-hopped pale ales, aren’t lagers just a bit old hat? Jos Ruffell of Wellington’s much admired Garage Project brewery thinks not. In fact Jos reckons lagers are the next trend. “Nowhere to hide, just simple lagers made well,” he says. “They are a classic for a reason.”