Beer history Generalisations about beer culture

When Did Lager Become Ordinary?

Another nugget from the BFI pub documentary collection: “When lager first appeared in quantity in this country in the early sixties, it was regarded as a luxury drink, and expensive drink,” says a voiceover in A Round of Bass (1972). Not very much more expensive than any other drink, and not just for women, he adds.

Watch the clip from a 1974 episode of Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads above (from 3:25). Terry (James Bolam) is down-to-earth and resolutely working class; Bob (Rodney Bewes) is a well off office worker struggling upwards into the middle classes. Terry drinks bitter while Bob, of course, has a bottle of lager. So, at this point, lager was still the classy choice — a symbol of Bob’s social status.

The first recorded use of the phrase ‘lager lout’ appears to have been in about 1988. At some point in between, lager lost its ‘posh’ reputation. Stella Artois managed to cling on to ‘poshness’, we reckon, until about 2000.

With the emergence of Greenwich’s Meantime and, more recently, Camden, posh lager is back, but we don’t think that, these days, a person’s broad choice of lager, bitter or wine says as much about their social status or aspirations as it used to forty years ago.

Maybe these days, the distinction is between those who choose brands and those who (think..?) they don’t.

Hmm. Ponder ponder.

Beer styles

To those who wait?

Whereas the best lagers have a month, two months or even longer to mature, some big industrial incarnations, we understand, are lucky to get three days.

Given that the purpose of lagering is to allow chemical compounds to dissipate or be consumed by the secondary action of yeast, how is it actually possible to accelerate this process? More chemicals? Sorcery?

Peraps all the important stuff happen in the first three days and the rest is just superstition and marketing, but we can’t help but wonder if is this one of the reasons why, say, Stella Artois tastes so nasty.

Would it improve if given 90 days to ripen?


The lager spectrum

Advert for Stella Artois.

All commercial lagers sit somewhere on a spectrum.

On said spectrum, Becks might act as the zero point, with its more-or-less neutral flavour. We can take it or leave it; it doesn’t actually taste unpleasant; it’s better than nothing. Maybe that’s where Peroni lives, too.

Above that point, there are many good, very good or even excellent commercial lagers. Estrella Damm, for example, might not be remotely like a craft beer, but it’s good. We enjoy drinking it, and even find it a little moreish. It has a certain something.

But, head the other way, beyond the Becks neutral zone, there is the murky world of the nasty lager.

Nasty lagers aren’t just bland or boring: they actually offend the tastebuds. We’d rather drink water than San Miguel, even on a hot day in Spain. What is that flavour? Onions burned in butter? Stella Artois is in the same boat, with a taste that suggests someone has bunged a bit of lighter fluid in to pep it up.

What are your candidates for the nasty end of the spectrum?


Marketing beer: a process

Click for the full size version.

The above chart is inspired by various conversations with and emails from public relations and marketing people in the last few months, many of whom seem to be struggling manfully to sell shite beer. Future version will no doubt be bigger and more complex… suggestions welcome.

beer and food

Things to do with crap beer #5: chicken thigh casserole


You need a specific type of crap beer for this one — you don’t want too much bitterness. We’ve used Stella Artois, and you have to cook it for a long time before the bitterness and metallic taste disappears. We got much better results with Debowe Mocne (other sweet Polish tramps’ lagers like Warka Strong would probably work) and also a bottle of Kronenbourg Blanc that a well-meaning friend left round.  It also works quite well if you have any flat homebrew left in a polypin.

By using chicken thighs on the bone, you create the stock as the casserole cooks, producing a really rich taste. It’s great comfort food, especially on a rainy day like today.

Recipe after the jump.