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

Text illustration: 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 thoughts on “Great Myths of Our Time: Beer Geeks Don’t Like Lager”

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

    1. 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.

    2. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.)

  8. 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.

  9. 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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