Stonch’s piece on lagers made in the UK made me think about why lager got so popular in the UK so quickly in the late 20th century. As the British Beer and Pub Association say:
Until 1960 lager accounted for less than one per cent of the British beer market… it was not generally provided on draught until 1963. Since then its growth has been phenomenal and it now accounts for almost half the beer market in Britain.
I’ve heard various explanations.
1. The big breweries were determined to move from cask to keg, and lager works better from kegs than ale. Faced with a choice between John Smith’s smooth flow and Fosters, I’d probably go for Fosters, so there might be something in that.
2. People picked up the taste for cold lager on package holidays in continental Europe, and especially Spain. It seemed more refreshing and more ‘sophisticated’ than boring old British ale.
3. As the British diet got more varied and spicy after the end of rationing in the early 1950s, people wanted a lighter, more refreshing beer to go with it. Here’s a bit from an article on the history of the curry from The Observer:
Like so much else connected with curry… the origins of lager-drinking with Indian food are mysterious. Namita Panjabi has been told that in the early days of Veeraswamy in London’s West End, which was founded in 1927, the King of Denmark came whenever he was in the country. Frustrated at not being able to drink Carlsberg – which wasn’t then available here – he shipped over a barrel, so that when he came to eat it would be available for him.
4. All of the above are probably partly true, but my favourite theory is that British soldiers serving in Germany during the war, and then the cold war, came back to the UK as enthusiastic advocates of lager, and demanded the same product back home. My uncle, who was stationed in Germany in the 1960s, certainly speaks fondly of the steins of lager he enjoyed in Munich, and has been a lager man ever since.