Further Reading #1: Understanding Lager

The cover of this made up paperback, Pelican style.

A few times now we’ve been asked, or seen others being asked, to recommend a single great book that tells the story of lager. Unfortunately, as far as we know, no such book yet exists.

Last time our answer amount­ed to a short read­ing list – this arti­cle, that book, this blog post – which made us think that it might be use­ful to put this togeth­er in a sin­gle place. That is, here. Part­ly because it’s fun, and part­ly to add a bit of weight to the idea, we’ve decid­ed to think of it as a vir­tu­al anthol­o­gy.

Where we have been able to iden­ti­fy free-to-access sources we’ve pro­vid­ed links and in the cas­es of mate­r­i­al you have to pay for we’ve tried to sug­gest free alter­na­tives.

What we real­ly want­ed to find but could­n’t was some­thing to act as a fore­word – a rip-roar­ing, pas­sion­ate ‘In Praise of Lager’ piece. Most we dug up were either too dry, too spe­cif­ic (Czech beer, Ger­man beer) or laced through­out with digs at IPA and craft beer cul­ture. If you know of the per­fect piece, men­tion it in the com­ments below or drop us an email: contact@boakandbailey.com

The Origins of Modern Lager

Of Spat­en and Sedl­mayrs
Ian Hornsey
A good sum­ma­ry of the part played by one Munich brew­ing fam­i­ly in the cre­ation of lager as we now know it, with Anton Dreher (above) in a sup­port­ing role.
Brew­er and Dis­tiller Inter­na­tion­al, Decem­ber 2007 (PDF)

On the Found­ing of Pil­sner Urquell
Evan Rail
The best account of how the gold­en lager we know today came into being in the Czech town of Pilsen, with myths and mis­con­cep­tions bust­ed through­out.
beerculture.org, August/September 2012 Part I | Part II | Part III

Emil Chr. Hansen and the Yeast Rev­o­lu­tion
Lars Mar­ius Garshol
A snap­py telling of the sto­ry of how sci­en­tif­ic advances in the late 19th cen­tu­ry made the mass-indus­tri­al pro­duc­tion of clean, con­sis­tent lager pos­si­ble.
lars­blog, Sep­tem­ber 2017

Detail from an advertisement for Allsopp's Pilsner, 1920s.

Lager Spreads

Ger­man-Amer­i­can Brew­ers Before Pro­hi­bi­tion
Lisa Grimm
The sto­ry of how lager came to Amer­i­ca from the 1840s onwards along with mass migra­tion from Ger­many, and how it spread out­ward from the east­ern seaboard as the cen­tu­ry wore on, lead­ing to the total dom­i­na­tion of Amer­i­can beer by lager in the 20th cen­tu­ry.
Seri­ous Eats, Octo­ber 2011

Mar­tyn Cor­nell
The sin­gle most com­pre­hen­sive account of how lager came to Britain cov­er­ing an ear­ly false start in 1835, the rise of lager brew­ing in Wales and Scot­land, and the fits and starts with which it grew to pop­u­lar­i­ty through the late 19th and 20th cen­turies.
In the book Amber, Gold & Black, 2010.

(Open access alter­na­tive: Ron Pat­tin­son’s ‘His­to­ry of British Lager’ for Scan­di­na­vian Brew­ing Review, 2012–13, Part I | II (PDF).)

A Czech Influ­ence on Bel­gian Brew­ing
Evan Rail
These days, on the oth­er side of the craft beer rev­o­lu­tion, ‘Bel­gian beer’ has come to mean some­thing strong, strange and unique. This arti­cle reminds us that lager is also a core part of Bel­gian beer cul­ture and has been for more than a cen­tu­ry.
beerculture.org, May 2016

A Short His­to­ry of Beer in Hong Kong
Mar­tyn Cor­nell

This is a case study in how lager became the dom­i­nant style beyond ‘the West’: “The end of the 19th cen­tu­ry, how­ev­er, seems to have wit­nessed a com­plete change in Hong Kong’s tastes, with British ales and stouts being replaced by lagers from oth­er lands. As ear­ly as May 1876 Lane, Craw­ford was adver­tis­ing Dan­ish beer from the Tuborgs Fab­rikker’, Tuborg then being just three years old.”
Brew­ery His­to­ry Soci­ety, Win­ter 2013 (PDF)

Carling Black Label beer mat.

Lager in the Modern World

You Have to Think About Growth”
Mau­reen Ogle
This sub­stan­tial chap­ter of Ambi­tious Brew whizzes through sev­er­al decades of beer his­to­ry from the end of pro­hi­bi­tion to the birth of ‘craft beer’, explain­ing how the Amer­i­can palate evolved to crave lighter, bland­er beers, and then just as the brew­ers had the got the hang of that, began to demand the oppo­site.
Ambi­tious Brew, 2006

Sac­cha­romyces Carls­ber­gen­sis: how lager (even­tu­al­ly) con­quered Britain
Pete Brown
As a for­mer adver­tis­ing exec­u­tive Pete Brown has acute insight into how lager was sold to British drinkers and what this account lacks in foot­notes it makes up for in enter­tain­ment val­ue and verve.
Man Walks into a Pub, 2003, pp.237–268

How Brazil’s Favourite Beer Arrived from Scot­land
Mar­tyn Cor­nell
The sto­ry of Car­ling, SKOL and the birth of the multi­na­tion­al lager brand.
zythophile.co.uk, May 2012

The Trou­ble with Ger­man Beer
Ron Pat­tin­son
In this informed opin­ion piece Ron Pat­tin­son, who lives on the Con­ti­nent and knows Ger­many well, not least because that’s where he met his wife, sets out why he believes Ger­man beer is not what it ought to be in the 21st cen­tu­ry. “Around 99% per­cent of beer styles dis­ap­pear­rd in the 50 years before the First World War. Com­pared to the cur­rent choice of pils, pils or more pils, the diver­si­ty of styles pre-1850 is daz­zling. ”
Euro­pean Beer Guide, c.2001

Sky­scraper Brew­er: 30 Years of Jim Koch and Sam Adams Beer
Tom Acitel­li
The author of The Audac­i­ty of Hops reflects here on the lega­cy of Boston Lager: “The recipe, leg­end has it, came via an ances­tor who was a brew­er. Koch’s father, Charles, had been a brew­er, too, though he grew dis­en­chant­ed with the con­sol­i­dat­ing indus­try that was dom­i­nat­ed after World War II by the sort of fizzy bas­tardized pil­sner his son would one day describe to me as ‘alco­holic soda pop.’”
tomacitelli.com, Jan­u­ary 2014

Why the Busch Fam­i­ly Mat­tered
Mau­reen Ogle
In 2008 the firm behind Bud­weis­er ceased to be in any sense a fam­i­ly firm when InBev acquired Anheuser-Busch to cre­ate AB-InBev. Here Dr Ogle, the author of Ambi­tious Brew, a book-length study of the his­to­ry of Amer­i­can brew­ing, reflects on this moment in the grand scheme of his­to­ry.
Mod­ern Brew­ery Age, Octo­ber 2008 (PDF)

Renais­sance of British Craft Lager
Adri­an Tier­ney-Jones
Pub­lished in 2010 before Cam­den came on the scene and before Mean­time was tak­en over by a mul­ti-nation­al, this piece cap­tures a moment in time when only a hand­ful of British brew­eries were dab­bling in lager.
allaboutbeer.com, Sep­tem­ber 2010

* * *

We’ll keep an eye out for more and will aim to add to and update this list as we go.

28 thoughts on “Further Reading #1: Understanding Lager”

    1. Ha! We did con­sid­er it. It (the pas­sage from the nov­el) con­cludes ATJ’s anthol­o­gy Beer in So Many Words.

    1. It feels to us that, at this stage, most of the research is there; what’s lack­ing is the nar­ra­tive to pull it togeth­er.

        1. Fair enough. Sup­pose it depends on the book you have in mind. What we want to *read* and be able to rec­om­mend (see above)is a 280–350 page nar­ra­tive his­to­ry, but you might be envis­ag­ing some­thing more along the lines of Gourvish-Wil­son. A five-year book rather than a two-year, more for ref­er­ence rather than read­ing.

          1. Even to write some­thing rel­a­tive­ly short and light, I don’t think I’ve col­lect­ed enough infor­ma­tion. There are too many gap­ing holes.

  1. Actu­al­ly I think the biggest hole is cov­er­age of our under­stand­ing of what is a “lager yeast”, which has been trans­formed in just the last cou­ple of years thanks to stud­ies of its DNA. Sure­gork and I have worked out a lot of the iden­ti­ties of the yeast genomes sequenced by Gal­lone et al in 2016 – see http://beer.suregork.com/?p=3919 There’s a lot we haven’t sussed (we’re pret­ty con­fi­dent about most of the White Labs ones though), but there’s still hints in the paper – BE039/40, two close­ly relat­ed yeasts mak­ing lager in the US and Czechia are part of the sai­son fam­i­ly (along with a cou­ple of Eng­lish yeasts), where­as WLP800 Pil­sner, alleged­ly from Urquell, seems to be an ale yeast that’s most close­ly relat­ed to WLP320 Amer­i­can Hefeweizen, which in turn is part of the kolsch group.

    Around 10% of the “ale” yeasts sequenced by that team are actu­al­ly being used for com­mer­cial lagers – con­verse­ly Fro­hberg “lager” yeasts like 34/70 and S‑189 seem to work pret­ty well at ale tem­per­a­tures. As we gain bet­ter under­stand­ing of phe­no­types and DNA, the bound­aries between “lager” and “ale”, hybrid and “pure cere­visi­ae”, bot­tom-fer­ment­ing and top-fer­ment­ing , cold-tol­er­ant and not – all seem get very blur­ry. To be hon­est any­thing is out of date that was writ­ten about the biol­o­gy of the organ­isms mak­ing lager more than three years ago, and even today what’s hap­pen­ing in mol­e­c­u­lar biol­o­gy is not real­ly mak­ing its way into gen­er­al beer writ­ing, there’s a huge gap there.

    1. Brew­ing his­to­ry’s a bit like yeast in that respect. So much has been done in recent years ear­li­er work needs revis­it­ing.

      1. We were cer­tain­ly drawn towards more recent writ­ing. The Pete Brown piece is the old­est, and much writ­ing on lager from the 80s and 90s is real­ly too wrapped up in the real-ale-craft-beer vs. big-beer con­ver­sa­tion. It was good to revis­it Ogle and be remind­ed of its val­ue as a book that looks beyond craft. (Your Ontario book is sim­i­lar in that regard.)

    2. I for one wel­come the advances of biol­o­gy and hope we can stop read­ing the end­less def­i­n­i­tion of lager in terms of where the yeast sits when it fer­ments. I’ve yet to seen a mean­ing­ful expla­na­tion of why that might mat­ter – it’s about as use­ful to the drinker as talk­ing about the dif­fer­ence between ched­dar and brie cheeses in terms of the col­or of the coats of the cows the pro­vide the milk, or the clothes worn by the cheese­mak­ers.

      Lager makes more sense when described in terms of the meth­ods of brew­ing and stor­ing it, not the triv­ia of where you might find active yeast dur­ing fer­men­ta­tion.

      1. Inclined to agree. In prac­tice, if it looks and tastes like lager, and is pre­sent­ed like lager, we’d gen­er­al­ly accept it as lager, regard­less of the tech­ni­cal­i­ties of the yeast. Peo­ple who would guess that, say, Früh Kölsch isn’t ‘tech­ni­cal­ly’ a lager in a blind taste test have bet­ter palates than us.

      2. The top and bot­tom thing kin­da made sense when that was the only thing peo­ple had to go on – but it’s very flu­id. The Fuller’s yeast went from top to bot­tom with­in a few gen­er­a­tions after they switched from open fer­menters to cylin­dro­con­i­cals. Now any­one with a PCR machine can do a sim­ple test to see if a) a yeast is a pure cere­visi­ae or a hybrid and b) which of the two kinds of hybrids it is.

        Even canon­i­cal stuff like the cold tem­per­a­ture now seems to look a lot more flu­id than it did.

          1. I may be mis­re­mem­ber­ing, but my rec­ol­lec­tion of a con­ver­sa­tion with John Keel­ing is that the Fuller’s ale yeast took to con­i­cal fer­menters essen­tial­ly straight away, and was very hap­py to set­tle at the bot­tom of the tank from the moment it was thrown in. It was from that moment that the beers start­ing win­ning awards …

          2. That’s my under­stand­ing too. You have to remem­ber that a fer­menter is a fan­tas­tic envi­ron­ment for arti­fi­cial selec­tion, instead of a few hun­dred indi­vid­u­als like you have when breed­ing cat­tle or sheep, you have tril­lions if not quadrillions of indi­vid­u­als, all mutat­ing away in a stress­ful envi­ron­ment. Top vs bot­tom fer­ment­ing is just a mat­ter of den­si­ty, and there’s hun­dreds of genet­ic fac­tors that can affect that – sug­ar stor­age, ion pumps, mem­brane per­me­abil­i­ty and so on.

            Then you end up bin­ning all the float­ing ones and keep­ing the ones that sink, how­ev­er slow­ly – that’s bru­tal.

          3. Thanks guys, fas­ci­nat­ing stuff. Amaz­ing it adapts so quick­ly, even with so many indi­vid­u­als.
            As stu­dents, a group of us did a lot of home brew­ing – we were broke, and in Brum, so we real­ly need­ed a cheap source of some­thing drink­able. We acquired a batch of a com­mer­cial ale yeast (Dav­en­ports, from mem­o­ry) and pro­duced a fair­ly strong bit­ter from malt extract with just a lit­tle crys­tal malt (and quite a lot of hops) – at the lim­its of our equip­ment. We made it in two places, our uni­ver­si­ty-owned flat, in stan­dard Boots brew­ing bins, and in a much cool­er house using a 25 litre wine fer­men­ta­tion ves­sel with a nar­row neck and a lid with just a small air­hole. This lat­ter one used yeast from the first “brew­ery”, which would have mutat­ed sev­er­al gen­er­a­tions from the orig­i­nal. We did notice at the time that the sec­ond “brew­ery’s” beer became more lager-like with time, we thought because of the cool­er fer­men­ta­tion and con­di­tion­ing tem­per­a­ture – which we thought also explained the less vis­i­ble action of the yeast. I guess now that in real­i­ty, we were see­ing evo­lu­tion in action.

    3. That’s inter­est­ing research for sure, although still a bit dense for us to fol­low. We have gen­er­al­ly been drawn to writ­ing that explains lager in cul­tur­al terms rather than the dry pedantry of ‘Well, that’s tech­ni­cal­ly an ale…’

      1. Well the nice thing about the mol­e­c­u­lar stuff is that it backs up that approach – the detail of the biol­o­gy is fas­ci­nat­ing in its own right but if peo­ple are mak­ing com­mer­cial lager on two con­ti­nents with a kind of sai­son yeast, that proves you can use just about any­thing.

        The lab in Leu­ven that pub­lished the big genomics paper has been includ­ing lagers in recent pre­sen­ta­tions, so I imag­ine that they’ll pub­lish some­thing defin­i­tive this year or next. Unfor­tu­nate­ly you then have a dou­ble-blind­ing prob­lem, they don’t say what strains they’ve used, and yeast banks and home­brew com­pa­nies are very reluc­tant to link their strain names to brew­eries.

        But for now it’s enough to say that the old bound­ary between lager yeast and ale yeast is look­ing very porous. There’s a lot of cold-adapt­ed ale yeast out there, and lager hybrids that work well at ale tem­per­a­tures.

    1. Ha ha, we did think of you! But lots of those pieces have stuff like “I have said it many times, any­one can throw boat loads of hops into the ket­tle and get some­thing the lupulin loonies will lav­ish­ly laud to the heav­ens” or (quite a good one this) “Sure you can make your triple black IPA aged in soured goril­la snot bar­rels…” which is what we want­ed to avoid. Would be inter­est­ing to read you In Praise of Lager but lit­er­al­ly *just* in praise of lager. If any­one can do it, you can!

  2. The biggest gap­ing hole in the his­to­ry of lager is still when, where and how the hybridi­s­a­tion between Sac­cha­romyces cere­visi­ae and S eubayanus took place to pro­duce S Pas­to­ri­anus, which, since “wild” S eubayanus has still not been found in Europe, remains a huge puz­zle. There ARE plau­si­ble answers to that puz­zle, but so far they remain annoy­ing­ly evi­dence-free. We don’t even seem to know when “unter­hefe” became a “thing”: and in any case, as qq said above, since S cere­visi­ae strains will set­tle to the bot­tom some­times, some­one writ­ing about bot­tom-set­tling yeast is no proof that S pas­tro­r­i­anus was about. It’s also clear that cold-lager­ing must have been tak­ing place for a while before that hybridi­s­a­tion hap­pened, or the con­di­tions could­n’t have exist­ed for S cere­visi­ae to get jig­gy-jig­gy with S eubayanus, which won’t thrive except in the cold, and make S Pas­to­ri­anus. So until those ques­tions are answered, I don’t think it’s worth writ­ing The Big Book of Lager. Still, we only learnt about S eubayanus in 2011, so pro­grss is bing made …

    1. I was talk­ing with Carls­berg’s yeast sci­en­tist last year. He told me that when they looked at yeast DNA many of the strains iden­ti­fied as Bret­tanomyces were actu­al­ly Sac­cha­romyces. It looks like there’s still loads to learn about all types of yeast.

      1. WLP644 is a famous one that is now being sold as Sac­cha­romyces. You have to remem­ber that all species names are slight­ly arti­fi­cial “box­es” but once you start look­ing in detail at DNA you find that things aren’t as black and white as they first appear. I guess it’s a bit like the stew “genus”- although “species” like car­bonade, Irish, bourgignon, hot­pot etc are quite well defined, in the real world cooks will do their own vari­a­tions that blur the bound­aries.

        A rose by any oth­er name would smell as sweet…

    2. There was­n’t one hybridi­s­a­tion event, there were two, one for the Saaz group and one for Fro­hberg. It has been pro­posed to bring back the S.carlsbergensis name along­side S.pastorianus as the two hybrids are so dif­fer­ent, but even that’s look­ing out­dat­ed as peo­ple like Sure­gork gen­er­ate new cere­visi­ae x eubayanus hybrids.

      Per­son­al­ly I’m intense­ly relaxed about the whole S. eubayanus thing. You have the exam­ple of S.kudriavzevii, which is a cold-tol­er­ant species that hybridised with cere­visi­ae to make cer­tain wine yeasts. It was first found in Japan, but peo­ple tried and failed to find it in Euro­pean vine­yards and tried to con­struct all sorts of the­o­ries about how hybrids hap­pened with this “Japan­ese” yeast. Then it turned up 8 years lat­er on oak trees in Europe, they just had­n’t been look­ing in the right place. In fact oak trees seem to be the pri­ma­ry host of Sac­cha­romyces species, then they come down from the trees to feast on the glut of sug­ar in fruit when they’re in sea­son. Beer through his­to­ry has spent most of its time in con­tact with oak wood, so there’s the oppor­tu­ni­ty for beer yeast and wild yeast on oaks to get togeth­er.

      Peo­ple start­ed get­ting excit­ed when eubayanus first turned up in Patag­o­nia, but it’s now been found every­where from NZ to Cana­da and Tibet. Not yet in Europe, but I’m sure some­thing so ubiq­ui­tous will be found even­tu­al­ly. Cold lager­ing is some­thing that would have hap­pened nat­u­ral­ly to beer made at har­vest-time and then left over win­ter, it does­n’t need too much delib­er­a­tion for that to hap­pen. Par­tic­u­lar­ly dur­ing the Lit­tle Ice Age.

      I’m sure that when the Leu­ven lab pub­lish their next paper they will have some thoughts on what the DNA tells us about the tim­ing of all this. But based on the lim­it­ed data we have, it looks like the ale com­po­nent of lager yeasts split off from the Ger­man wheat beer yeasts ear­ly in the radi­a­tion of the Beer 1 group, which Gal­lone et al put at 1573–1604 based on assump­tions I don’t quite agree with. 🙂 That does­n’t mean the hybridi­s­a­tion hap­pened then, mere­ly when the ale par­ent became iso­lat­ed – it could have end­ed up in a remote Alpine val­ley, or in a roy­al brew­ery with a monop­oly on wheat beer pro­duc­tion. We’ll see what they say when they pub­lish.

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