Friday, 12 June 2009

Lager from British barley

I like to maintain a steady supply of Barclay Perkins references. They did, after all, provide my inspiration for this blog.

Barclay Perkins were one of the first English brewers to get into lager in a big way. Their first experiments were during WW I and by the early 1920's they'd a purpose-built lager plant and were in full production.

The following passage is taken from the speech of chairman Lt. Colonel Robert Wyvill Barclay given at the 41st annual general meeting of Barclay, Perkins & Co. Ltd.

'The new customs duty of £1 per bulk barrel on non-Empire beers is not really such a big thing as it sounds at first. I attracted a certain amount of attention during the debate on the Budget, and I agree with Colonel Gretton, who pointed out that some members were trying to make a mountain out of a molehill. At the same time, we, as brewers or lager beer , do greatly appreciate this action of the government in supporting a British industry, but it is too son as yet to judge what result this new Customs duty will have on the imports of foreign lager beer.

Some of the Members who oppose this increased Customs duty in the House of Commons seem to be under the impression that lager beer cannot be brewed in this country, but we have had expert opinion on this from the Scandinavian Brewers; Laboratory, who say: "Basing our judgment on the results of our investigation, we may consider the quality of the beer as of the highest standard possible, and we may reckon this produce of yours equal to the finest lager beer we know."

That is only one opinion, but we can add to that the opinions of lager beer brewers from all over the world who have visited the brewery at various times.

I should like to back these opinions and ours by inviting those M.P.s to come to the brewery and taste any brand of foreign lager beer obtainable in London they like to name against Barclay's lager. I leave it at that.

I referred to the debate on the Budget just now. Sir Joseph Lamb raise the question of the use of British barley in lager beer. I may be of interest to state that this company have for some time in the past has been experimenting with the making of British barley into lager malt. This has now gone beyond the experimental stage, and I can assure you that the Barclay's lager you drink in this country is made from a large proportion of British malt.

The proportion of British malt has gradually been rising each year as our maltsters have mastered the making of lager malt from British barley, which requires a different process than for making malt for the top fermentation beers.'
"The Brewers' Journal 1936", page 396.

I like the bit where he calls out M.P.s to parallel taste imported lager against Barclay's. I wonder if any turned up at the brewery? There being free drink on offer, I bet some did. You know what a bunch of greedy pissheads politicians are.


Andrew said...

Not sure about other breweries, but Carlsberg exports grew from 1918 up to WWII. Exact figures are hard to find, but I think they're tucked away somewhere
"After years of trying, Carlsberg finally beat its 1914 record with export sales of 45,300 hl. The success continued and in the final year before the Second Word War, export sales reached 64,296 hl, almost two-thirds of which went to Great Britain. in this year, Carlsberg accounted for 55% of Great Britain's total imports of continental beer. however, it should be noted that the export sales in the 1930s were relatively smaller than in 1914, compared to total production."

Matt said...

The title reminds me of Carling's latest advertising campaign that claims the beer's great taste (sic) is because they use British barley:

I'm assuming that British lager went from force carbonated bottles to keg without ever being 'real' in bottle or cask. I've also heard people say that it was seen as a woman's drink up to the 60's.

Ron Pattinson said...

Matt, surely lager is still a girl's drink? Everyone knows real men drink Mild.

Andrew said...

"In the mid 1900's our team of British Brewers discovered a way of bringing together the involving flavour of ale with the pleasurable refreshment of continental lager."

Oh jesus christ, let's keep the marketing department away from the history books...

Gary Gillman said...

That marketing bumph is probably a way of referring to the then-fashionable sparkling ale trend, i.e., cold-conditioning top-fermented beer and serving it both cold and filtered.

I don't think England or possibly even Denmark ever had unfiltered lager.

True, the Germans have a couple of styles (e.g., the "un-bunged" is one - I can't spell the German word - kellerbier is another) that are unfiltered and comparable to real ale. But it seems the nature of lager not to admit of such treatment. I.e., the months of cold-conditioning would clarify and mature the beer and it would be racked clear and ultimately filtered mechanically and pasteurized.

I think it was the schenk beer in Germany that was served unfiltered in some cases, beer newly brewed but not long-matured as genuine lager originally was.

In fact, I sometimes wonder if this unfiltered lager was a kind of echo of the top-fermented beers sold for fast consumption (mild beers in our terms here) that were being displaced by genuine lager.

I have always believed something similar of lager and lime, that lime was added to restore the fruity taste people remembered from the ales lager was slowly replacing.

Anyhow, it is true that lager (apart from regional markets such as Wrexham, Wales and parts of Scotland) initially had a female following in London at any rate. That and perhaps a kind of snob appeal, too. I recall English writers lauding iced Carlsberg Special Brew for example - one of my holy grails but I never encountered this beer - well maybe once but I don't remember it.

Also, being well-carbonated, a half-pint lager went a longer way than bitter and would have appealed to females and those perhaps more accustomed to drinking soft drinks or Champagne.

All that is in the distant past and can one conceive of a more laddish drink than English-brewed lager?

Which are the best ones by the way? I don't mean Budweiser Budvar or other imports, but genuine English-made lager (licensed or not)? There must be some good ones.


Gary Gillman said...

I should add that I am aware of krausening and that its function is something like the priming of real ale. Still, this step seems different to me than the priming of quick-fermented real ale where the original yeast is still active. The very technology that allowed lager to be kept fresh and maturing for a long time was I think complemented naturally by technology to filter the final result or simply bypass the krausen and add CO2 artificially as is so often done today.

Thus, aged lager receives a krausen and can (but rarely is) served still fermenting. Real ale is fermented for a much shorter period and warm-conditioned (traditionally anyway) and is served with a slight re-ferment via priming where needed. Analogy? Yes, but in practice not really due (IMO) to the fundamentally industrial-technological nature of lager brewing, and this is why I think very little "real lager" has ever been sold even in the heartlands of the style.