The beer that conquered the world

lager lager

‘And on the seventh day, He cracked a lager.’

Story by Mikey Lowe

Not quite the literal translation in the Book of Genesis, but who won’t claim to enjoy a clean brew dancing with the unfussed flavours of its basic ingredients having worked six nights in a row?

I cut my drinking teeth on a can of lager in the sun. I was one. Dad thought it hilarious to capture me holding (an empty) can of Fosters the size of my infant head. Mum didn’t.

In my coming of age, I’d have sent many a can to the trash amidst the bodies of fallen memories at a school mate’s parents’ garage or university buddy’s run-down flat. We didn’t expect much from it and it was willing to oblige. No doubt we are aware of it’s global dominance?

Beer writer Ian Coutts claims that, “nine out of every ten glasses of beer drunk on the planet are lager”. No other beer has reached as far thanks to several unique points in its history.

Lager’s rise began with a decree by Duke Albrecht V of Bavaria in 1553 that beers could only be brewed between St. Michel’s Day (September 29) and St. George’s Day (April 23) to the effect of curbing spoilage over the warmer months. The colder conditions took longer to brew but rewarded with a more stable result. In German, lagerung means storage lending to the resulting lager a reference to this longer fermentation period.

Owing to the stability of these new brews, the Bavarians practiced brewing under colder conditions rather than just for storage. Though Albrecht’s decree was rescinded by 1850, the brewing conducted over the past three centuries’ had effectively changed brewing history. A love tryst had occurred in that time, evolving saccharomyces cerevisiae (regular ale yeast) to saccharomyces pastorianus which was noticed to ferment at the bottom of barrels – lagers are referred to today as ‘bottom fermenting’.

This new yeast, constrained by the colder temperatures, didn’t offer the fruity, wacky esters of s. cervisiae but instead extolled the virtues of beer’s key ingredients.

Brooklyn Brewmaster, Garrett Oliver explains that brewers referred to lagers as ‘naked’, “meaning that there was nowhere for imperfect flavours to hide”.

And so the near-perfect lager reached further, fostered amongst the 19th century German mass migration to the US of A where they set up small(ish) breweries such as Anheuser-Busch, Yeungling and Pabst.

Americans furiously took to lagers and college parties became synonymous with the ghosts of beers past where nine out of ten college drinkers delight in lager’s everyman drinkability. Clean and virtuous kegs of lager for a wholesome rest after six days of hard study.