Sunday 29 July 2012

Lager Beer in Britain

British Lager and Allsopp. Two obsessions for the price of one today. The article has some intriguing points to make about why British brewers stuck with top fermentation.

Lager beer is steadily and surely gaining in favor in all parts of the world. Not many years ago lager beer was almost unknown in Canada; to-day it forms a considerable portion of the total product of the Canadian breweries. In Australasia likewise, and in Africa and Japan it has been found necessary to put in lager beer plants. In all the continent of Europe and in the United States lager beer has become the most popular beverage; England alone adhered to its ales and heavy bitter beers. But even here the growing taste for lager can no longer be ignored, as is evidenced by the installation of a lager plant at Burton-on-Trent, a description of which is given in the illustrated columns of this issue of The Westken Brewer

In a recent issue of the New York Sun appeared the following remarks anent this plant:

One of the largest brewing companies in Burton-on-Trent has added a new building to its plant, filled it with American machinery and begun the manufacture of lager beer. British brewers would scarcely abandon time honored processes and expensive machinery, build new plants and adopt new methods unless there were sound business reasons for the innovation. Some brewers, a few years ago, expressed the view that lager beer, though a great improvement upon the brews of barbarous peoples, was not to be compared with the light bitter or heavy beers of England. The beverage which they regarded as unsuitable for cultivated palates has, however, grown in favor among British drinkers. The "American bars" in London and other large cities have thrived and multiplied, and perhaps they had much to do with creating a demand for American brewery products. At any rate, the demand exists, the pioneer lager beer brewery of England has been built to meet it, and it is prepared to turn out 60,000 barrels a year.

The innovation meets the approval of many Englishmen who think that the interests of temperance and hygiene are furthered by a demand for lighter alcoholic beverages than those which the British are accustomed to drink. The Lancet has analyzed both the light and dark lager beers, and compares their composition to that of the typical bitter beer of England. It finds that the proportion of proof spirit is decidedly lower in lager than even in the light bitter beer, and that the heavy British beers contain nearly twice as much alcohol, while the proportion of nourishing constituents in lager beer is as great as in the heavy British ales. It therefore regards lager beer as a wholesome, refreshing, light beverage, without the drawbacks of the heavy beers, and thinks that if lager beer is introduced extensively into Great Britain an important step in temperance reform will have been taken.

In this splendid plant, erected by one of the oldest and largest brewing concerns in the British isles, American methods, American machinery, in fact, an American plant throughout, was installed by an American company, the Pfaudler Vacuum Fermentation Co., of Rochester, N. Y., whose system was adopted by the English brew ers after a thorough investigation of the various systems in use in Europe.
Western Brewer, December 15th 1899, page 520.

It sort of agrees with my theory: that British brewers had already invested in modern plant that could turn out top-quality beer. Unlike many other parts of the world, where brewing had been unscientifc and hit-and-miss before the introduction of bottom-fermentation. Also on a much smaller scale, too. That a couple of breweries came a cropper by investing in expensive lagering plant didn't encourage many others to take the plunge.

60,000 barrels is just a drop in the ocean. Bass alone produced more than a million barrels each year at this time. I suspect that Allsopp were more interested in brewing Lager for export markets (like Tennent's in Glasgow) where demand for Ale was falling. Certainly the adverts and labels I've seen for Allsopp's Lager mostly seem to relate to export beer.

You have to laugh at Lager being pushed as a temperance drink. Now it's one of the main targets of the neo-prohibitionists. Of course, with the fall in gravities around WW I, the situation with regards alcohol content was reversed. Continental Lagers, remaining at their old strength, became stronger than most British top-fermented beer.

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