Beer history opinion

Great Myths of Our Time: Beer Geeks Don’t Like Lager

“Lager in general is underappreciated by ‘beer enthusiasts’.”

That’s something the Pub Curmudgeon (@oldmudgie) said on Twitter the other night. We probably wouldn’t have taken particular note had it not arrived in the midst of what has felt like a positive bombardment of love for lager in the feed.

For example, the Pub Curmudgeon’s Tweet landed right alongside a series of distinctly lagery Tweets from Mark Dredge who is currently in Germany (researching a book about lager, we assume).

And there’s also been this article by Katie Taylor, Nathaniel Southwood’s CAMEL, and lots of this:

We do get what the Pub Curmudgeon is getting at: there was definitely a stretch, 30 years or so, where big-brewery lager was the enemy as far as many CAMRA members were concerned, not helped by its public image.

And it’s true that lagers don’t get big ratings.

But the thing is, they do get the check-ins: Carling has been rated 30,000 times on Untappd, compared to 60,000 for Beavertown Gamma Ray, to pick a popular craft pale ale as a point of reference. Beer geeks (and we reckon anyone who bothers logging every beer they drink counts as a beer geek) are drinking Foster’s, Stella, Carling and Kronenbourg 1664 fairly frequently.

We reckon there’s one of yer false dichotomies here.

The same people who enjoy imperial stouts and IPAs, and love limited edition novelties and specialities, also drink normal beer with their normal mates in normal pubs.

There aren’t many people living a 100 per cent Craft Beer Lifestyle, as far as we can tell. (Even if there are, there are plenty of lagers about in that world these days, from BrewDog to Cloudwater.)

It feels to us that as long as we’ve been into beer, we’ve seen beer people talking fondly about lager. Michael Jackson wrote about lager with as much passion as any other beer style; Graham Lees, co-founder of CAMRA, became a lager specialist; and Alastair Hook built what were arguably Britain’s first Definition 2 craft breweries largely on lager.

Indeed, Meantime’s range of lagers were among the first beers to grab our attention, and lager prompted us to start this blog in 2007.

Many of the first beer bloggers and writers we engaged with were open about their enjoyment of lager, to some degree: Stonch, Tandleman, Ron Pattinson, Max, Velky Al, Evan Rail, Robbie Pickering… We could go on.

In fact, the only person we can think of who still baldly states that he doesn’t like lager in general is Ed Wray — hardly a figurehead for the trendy end of the craft beer movement. (No offence meant, Ed. Or would the opposite be ruder?)

Perhaps the impression that beer geeks don’t appreciate lager is partly a result of the way beer geeks who do tend to talk about it:

  • “Unlike all those other IPA-obsessed beer geeks I, an open-minded world traveller with a sophisticated palate, am able to truly appreciate the subtlety of lager.”
  • “You might think Budweiser is bad but actually it’s good, ahh, not like you thought, aah…” (The Ironic Review.)
  • “Am I the only one here who appreciates a good pilsner?” (No. See above.)

Not that there’s anything wrong with not liking lager.

There’s nothing wrong with not liking it, and there’s nothing wrong with liking it.

12 replies on “Great Myths of Our Time: Beer Geeks Don’t Like Lager”

I do like me a good Lager. That’s main reason I’m off to Berlin next week: to drink Czech Lager at the Berliner Biermeile. But there’s Lager and there’s Lager. The stuff served in UK pubs is mostly piss poor. Not something I’d willingly drink. Though I do tuck into the odd can of Tennents Super when in need of an alcohol jolt.

Lager is just a style – or rather, a family of styles – of beer. Within pretty much any popular style, there are good and bad examples. Equally, there ones that suit my personal taste, and ones that don’t.
Historically, I’ve not been a fan of most British lagers – the mass-produced ones that were never actually lagered, nor made to recipes that suit me. Carling is perhaps the best example – I really don’t like it at all, tastes like stale tobacco water unless superchilled. (Mind you, GK IPA tastes very similar to me.) Harp, Hemeling, Hofmeister, Skol, UK Carlsberg, and UK-produced Heineken – these and many more were unremittingly awful. In fairness, so were pretty much all of the Light Ales available in bottle or can that were competing for the same market. There were a handful of better lagers available on draught, but mostly not very available. Wrexham Lager was OK. Sam Smith’s versions of Ayinger beers were tolerable. And bottled/canned Holsten and Lowenbrau were pretty good. But in the 70s, 80s and perhaps 90s, British Lager was pretty much the enemy of decent beer – poor quality, revolting if not cold enough, and heavily marketed. For anyone interested in quality beer – which then was pretty much CAMRA members and few others – it was anathema. More recently, though, there have been very much better British lagers available. The daddy is Schiehallion , which showed you could make a decent cask lager (all the ones I had had previous to that were pretty grim), and beers like Korev show you can make perfectly good British lager on an industrial scale (albeit a rather small industrial scale).
But I’ve always liked better quality lagers. I’m not a great fan of Stella (but I will drink it), but some of the other Belgian lagers (not bloody Jupiller, though!) are really nice. I absolutely love many Czech and German lagers. And then there’s always a place for local beers in other countries – Egyptian Stella (no relation) and Efes from Turkey might not be great beers by any means, but they suit their local climates and are pleasant, refreshing drinks out there. I’ve drunk many a “Seize” in France with friends and colleagues, and enjoyed every one, although it was a bit of a relief when a craft bar arrived in one of my more frequent destinations. Even Carling might be drinkable in this weather, although I’m not sure I would want to risk it. 😉 Which I guess makes me at least in part a snob – which is surely the elephant in the room of this thread. But ultimately, if I like the taste, I’ll drink it, and if I don’t, I won’t.

Possibly because I live in London I tend not to drink Fosters/Carling etc. as I don’t need to. Better beer, or beer I prefer, is widely available and the vast majority of my socialising takes place in pubs that offer it. That said, on a recent weekend trip to Northampton I was more than happy to drink Fosters, particularly at £2.90 for two pints (a World Cup offer)!

I used to be a complete ‘hop head’ but am more likely to go for a lager (Lukas, Keller Pils, Augustiner), Saison or something tart than a pale ale/IPA now, possibly a reaction to the ubiquitous NEIPA which by and large isn’t for me.

I’m still hoping/expecting to rekindle my love for hops but it hasn’t happened so far.

Ha! I would be delighted to be called “a figurehead for the trendy end of the craft beer movement”! I doubt anyone would believe it though. I can easily go months without drinking any lagers, though I would like to try that Lost and Grounded one if I see it. And as to UK industrial lagers most years I don’t drink any of those at all, but I did have a pint of Carlsberg this year at an event in a hotel. It was foul. I know we now live in ecumenical times but I prefer to drink beers I’ll probably like rather than ones I probably won’t. So there’s got to be something particularly interesting about a lager for me to drink it out of choice rather than out of desperation.

This recent article from Pete Brown seems apposite :

Short version – on holiday in Mallorca he had a UK mainstream lager after days of Cruzcampo and felt taken aback how bad it was. The focus of the big boys on shifting volume through supermarket deals has really hit quality.

Anecdotally, people in pubs are realising this and moving to premium (generally Continental) brands to get some flavour. Part of it is the general move to drinking more but better, but it feels like it’s particularly so in lager. Carling in particular feels like it’s the new mild – it’s got an older demographic than most, who presumably learnt their drinking at the height of its ad campaigns in the 80s/90s.

I think your quick summary is a better take than the original article, which implies that “British” lagers have got worse due to price pressure. No, Pete, they were always dreadful; it’s just that you recognise it now you know so much more about beer. However, it probably explains why the brewers want a share of the (potentially and relatively!) high margin craft market…
I remember when Fosters wasn’t brewed here, and you could get cans (big, odd cans) of the Aussie-brewed stuff – and it wasn’t bad. The moment they started making it here, they made it cheap and nasty – and then charged a premium price – this was the standard method of marketing lager. But some have actually improved – Heineken still isn’t great, but now at least we get the proper version.

So if you want something of quaffable strength you go for Beck’s Vier or Amstel.

There are definite regional preferences in lager – Carling still rules the roost in large parts of the Midlands and North, while Foster’s is more popular in London and the South-East.

Ah, you can’t do nuance on Twitter. What I meant was that lager doesn’t get the attention, not that beer geeks actively dislike it. In a sense, that’s understandable, as it doesn’t have the constant innovation and the in-your-face flavours. Having said that, I suspect your average enthusiast who’s always on the look at for something new might well pass on the craft Pilsner and Helles in Café Beermoth or the PSBH.

The attitude of “most British lager is piss” really comes across as extremely snobbish and unhelpful. I thought people had grown out of that kind of thing. And there’s an unspoken implication that it’s drunk by stupid people.

“There aren’t many people living a 100 per cent Craft Beer Lifestyle, as far as we can tell.”

I think actually there are quite a few who do their level best to, and who you would never find with a pint of GK IPA or Krony in Spoons. Not quite the same thing, but I know several CAMRA members who, as far as possible, never let anything that isn’t cask- or bottle-conditioned pass their lips.

But most British lager (by volume sold) is piss. I like lager and drink relatively quite a lot of it, and having drunk many varieties from many countries, I have formed a considered opinion. Am I snobbish for expressing an opinion that the mass-market UK lager brands taste somewhere between of nothing and actively unpleasant (notably, of stale cardboard with a hint of cabbage). Is it unhelpful to say that, actually, you can do a lot better? And I am setting that “better” benchmark not at Pilsner Urquell, craft lagers or even Peroni, but at a minimum Asda’s Bier de Luxe (£2.15 for 4x440ml) or as a step up, Lidl’s Perlenbacher (£2.65 for 4x440ml). (English prices, not now available in Scotland, unfortunately.)

I may be off to the pub later for a couple of pints of Tennent’s. It’ll do. (It will have to.)

The issue is that, outside the beer enthusiast bubble, the term ‘lager’ has become shorthand for mass-produced, uninteresting commodity pils *and nothing else*.

That complex Dunkel you had the other night? That delicious Bock? That dry-hopped lager on cask? These aren’t considered ‘lager’ by most of the population and aren’t typically marketed as such either – typically promoted within the wider ‘craft’ sector or, if it’s cask, in the same way, and to the same audience, as any other cask beer.

When we say ‘lager’ we’re talking about any bottom fermented beer that undergoes a lagering process – but that isn’t what it necessarily means to most folks, hence the ample scope for misinterpretation in either direction.

I’m a beer enthusiast and I enjoy a pint of Allendale Adder, Tyne Bank Helix, Donzoko Helles and Sam Smiths Organic, to name a few. They’re particularly appealing after a long bike ride and they have plenty of flavour that adds to their their thirst quenching properties. I prefer cold water to Fosters but I can neck a Carling or two down if I need to take one for the team. Cobra isn’t bad either but that’s only when my taste buds are being set on fire.

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