Sunday 23 December 2018

UK Lager 1835 -1914

Lager has been present in the UK market for longer than you might imagine. The first bottom-fermenting beer was brewed as early as 1835, though it didn’t hang around for long.

When Gabriel Sedlmayr returned to Munich in 1835 after his research trip to the UK, he sent John Muir, an Edinburgh brewer he had befriended, bottom-fermenting yeast. Muir, using instructions from Sedlmayr, brewed Lager in his brewery at 28 North Back of Canongate. . Problems propagating the yeast meant the experiment didn’t last long.

The first commercial imports of Lager arrived in the UK in 1868 . Bottom-fermenting beer, mostly in the form of Vienna Lager or Mïnchener quickly gained a toehold in the British market.

Though available, sales of Lager were tiny compared to indigenous styles, mostly because of the high price. Imported Lager cost around three times as much as a British beer of a comparable strength.

Lager imports increased throughout the late 19th century. I don’t have figures specifically for Lager, but I do know that it was almost all the beer imported to the UK.

British beer imports 1860 - 1914
year barrels
1860 3,592
1870 5,058
1880 10,742
1890 35,081
1895 44,399
1900 50,875
1905 51,944
1900 50,927
1914 74,205
Brewers' Almanack 1928, p. 115
Brewers' Almanack 1955, p. 51.

The high price Lager demanded drew the attention of local brewers, who reckoned there was money to be made brewing it in the UK. Several brewers tried brewing Lager in the 1870s, but with little commercial success. It was only in the 1880s that anyone was to have lasting success with UK-brewed Lager.

The brewers to achieve lasting success were those that invested in specialist Lager-brewing plant. For example, Tennant who built a state of the art brewery in 1889  and Wrexham Lager Brewery whose first beer was brewed in 1883 .

There were, however, several spectacular failures in the 1880s and 1890s, which seems to have put off most others from entering the Lager market. When imports were cut off during WW I, interest was revived in brewing Lager in the UK, but, other than a few experimental beers, nothing much came of it until peace returned.


Unknown said...

But Ron, is it possible to pin point the year thal lager gained it's strangle hold over the British beer scene?

John said...

I share your fascination with UK lagers, despite never drinking them when I'm out. When I got 'Lets Brew' I thought I would be knocking up multiple Victorian milds and porters, but I seem to be brewing up as many UK lagers.

Ron Pattinson said...

Lee Haseley,

all will be revealed tomorrow.