beer reviews

British Lager: Getting There

Freedom Pilsner, a British lager.

We’re fascinated by British lager and try as many as we can get our hands on, hoping to find one which can compete with its German or Czech cousins. This week, we tasted two which were new to us, if not to anyone else.

On trial were Windsor & Eton Republika (4.8%) and Freedom Pilsner (5%), both purchased online from Noble Green Wines (despite their website’s efforts to prevent us) at, respectively, £2.29 and £1.69 per 330ml bottle.

Drop Dead Gorgeous

Republika takes a well-worn route in its presentation and packaging, making references to Mitteleuropa, or, rather, highlighting the underlying German-ness of parts of English culture. Silver foil and heraldry set our tastebuds up for something special — a ‘premium lager’ experience, if you like — because we’re suckers like that.

Gold rather than really pale, it didn’t fizz on pouring, but did produce a mountainous head, from under which came a brief and appetising whiff of sulphur. At first, it tasted sweet (sherbet?) but with successive gulps, bitterness built up in the back of our throats, providing an overall balance.

We struggled to identify any specific flavours, but what it reminded us of most strongly was drinking Budvar in Prague. Not profound, but fresh and satisfying, and certainly more so than weary old bottles of Budvar from the supermarket in the UK.

Those who argue that it’s time to buy British beer instead of imports might have a poster boy in Republika, and we’d gladly buy it by the case.

See, I’ve already waited too long/ And all my hops have gone

To what extent this Freedom, now based in Staffordshire, is the same brewery as the one founded by Alastair Hook and Ewan Eastham in West London in 1995 is debatable. Nonetheless, there’s a certain thrill in drinking a beer with its roots in the days before ‘craft beer’ was really ‘a thing’ in the UK.

But here’s a problem: our bottles might as well have been from 1995 for all the zing they had left in them. We don’t know how old they were because the best before date on the label was blank, but they gave the impression of having sat on a warm shelf for a good few months.

In lieu of hop aroma there was a strange but not unpleasant smell we couldn’t quite agree on, though Bailey insisted it was apple wood smoke. The overwhelming flavour was honey-sweet malt, with perhaps a touch of saltiness. Not bad, but not exactly a delight for the senses.

There is a third way…

We couldn’t resist trying our own home brewed lager in the same session and found it the best of the three — and we’re usually pretty hard on our own efforts. Rough around the edges as it is, it seemed the freshest of all (bottle-conditioning?) and was certainly more bitter.

Which British lagers should we add to our next online beer order?

22 replies on “British Lager: Getting There”

Can I recommend West Berkshire Isis Pilsner. If you like Republika – as I do – you’ll love this in my opinion. They do mail order – cases only – or buy from the brewery.

Sam Smiths Pure Brewed Organic Lager. My mate Paul swears by it, and after it usually

Also Pilsner from the Hop Studio, which is my favourite and Great Yorkshire Lager from Cropton

Another vote for Korev, seems to be getting better and better, and a great thirst quencher following recent strenuous excursions on the South West Coast Path (also rather like Cornish Rattler Cider in St Austell pubs for the same purpose).

Also very nice is Curious Brew from the Chapel Down vineyard in Kent which seems to be spreading its wings in the South East and London. As their blurb says “Brewed in England with precision and passion to create a uniquely satisfying, drier, cleaner, fresher, lager beer. We use East Anglian malt, saaz and cascade hops, then re-ferment using Champagne yeast before adding a “dosage” of the rare and fragrant Nelson Sauvin hop, before cold filtering this unpasturised beer”

Korev is pretty good these days, and it helps that it tends to be served in posh glassware, by staff who’ve been trained to give it a decent head. It’s certainly better than any of the other lagers readily available down this way.

Has anyone tried Holt’s keg lager (Crystal or Diamond) lately? I have to admit I’m not in any hurry to try them either, but still – they’ve won awards and everything. The landlord of a Holt’s pub I was in recently said they’ve been doing well, and contrasted them very favourably with that well-known palindrome, Regal lager (“I used to hate even pouring it – the smell!”).

Have you tried the West lagers from Glasgow? Good stuff, very clean, although the St Mungo is basically Stella Like It Used To Be, and therefore a bit loopy juice…

First tried Freedom in the Rutland Arms, Sheffield, last year and was impressed. So much so that I got the full range in for my big summer barbecue this year. I can thoroughly recommend the dark lager and Pioneer, which are both great. The local Hepworth Blonde and Saxon, here in Horsham, are not bad. Always try out an interesting lager if I see it in a pub and have a lager urge!

Big fan of Freedom Lager here, especially the dark and pioneer as mentioned above. I’m also very keen on Camden Hells. Stroud Brewery have also just launched their own lager near me, which is very pleasant, with cascade and nz hops in the mix. so with this and Cotswold Brewery’s products, I think British craftisan lager is in a very strong place.

Despite their arcane practises, I’d also second the Sam Smith’s Pure Brewed Lager. It’s often overlooked, and I think has a crispness lacking in some UK Lagers. That sweetness abounds in the Great Yorkshire (Cropton) lager, and although not bad, it’s just not to my taste.
I too am a sucker for UK Lager; but it misses the spot so often. I want flinty aroma and sharp crispness. I want bread and creamy malt. We seem to ‘over-sweet’ things…..

I’m a big fan of Republika, Korev, and also Camden Hells. In general, I think most UK Lager styles I have tried have been pretty poor though. Some of the ‘Lagers’ we come across are nothing more than carbonated blonde ales. We have never been obsessed by tradition, but with our first Pilsner we lagered for 60days+ but found we simply couldn’t have one of our valuable tanks tided up for all that time if we were going to make Pilsner core beer. We have been researching Lagering and talking to lots of brewers for the purposes of our own production, and asking ‘how long to cold store’. The answers couldn’t be more diverse, some believing the longer the process the better, others saying it is all bollocks and producing good examples in a week or so, albeit using lower temps. Most of the better ones seem to be lagered for about 4-6 weeks. I would be interested to hear peoples thoughts on Lagering times… merit or myth!

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