Harp Lager was once a household name in the UK but, never much loved by beer geeks, and outpaced by sexier international brands, has all but disappeared.
It was launched in Ireland in 1960 as Guinness’s attempt to steal a slice of the growing lager market, hitting the UK in 1961. It is still brewed in Dublin and apparently remains popular in Northern Ireland. We can’t recall ever seeing it on sale in England, though – even in the kind of social clubs where you might still find Whitbread Bitter or Bass Mild.
There’s always something fascinating about brands that arrive, dominate, and disappear. Harp Lager in particular is interesting because of the sheer amount of time, money and energy which Guinness sunk into it over the course of decades; because it provided a glimpse into the era of multinational brewing that was just around the corner; and because it tells a story about the early days of the late 20th century UK lager boom.
The tale begins in the post-war era when, for reasons that are much debated, British drinkers began to turn away from cask ale and towards bottled beer, with hints that lager might be the next big thing.
Guinness was then very clearly an Anglo-Irish business, with major brewing operations at both Park Royal in London and at St James’s Gate in Dublin, and managed largely from London.