Sunday, 12 April 2020

1880s Lager again

As you may well have noticed, I'm a bit obsessed with Lager in the UK. Especially in the late 19th century, when it was just becoming a thing.

There was a lot of discussion about the particular flavour of Lager and where it came from.

"The Flavour of Continental Beers.
AS is well-known, English consumers of the so-called "lager beers" are first struck by their essentially different flavour, as compared with beers of continental production, that they possess ; and various theories have been broached to explain the reason of this difference, some ascribing it to the foreign system of boiled mashes, others to the custom of coating trade casks with a vitreous enamel, while the true cause most likely is a combination of several influences, of which the most important is undoubtedly the use cf a special type of yeast, which possesses the capacity of determining the flavour peculiar to itself this flavour resembling in a great measure the well-known taste of garlic. There is nothing fresh, of course, in the fact that yeast possesses power of this kind, since M. Pasteur described how the peculiar flavour of Burton beer depended almost entirely upon a special ferment that existed in the yeast peculiar to that centre of brewing. More than one English firm has attempted to produce lager beer, but we are confident they will never succeed in imitating the exact flavour peculiar to the Continental beers of that name until they cultivate, under normal conditions, the special yeast that is used in all bottom fermentation breweries."
Holmes' Brewing Trade Gazette - Thursday 01 March 1883, page 13.
In this case, the author seems to have decide that it came mostly from the yeast. Not sure how correct that is.

The oblique reference to Burton beers and Pasteur is fascinating. Could it be Brettanomyces, or a specific type of Brettanomyces, which Pasteur alluded to? It's definitely a possibility, as Stock Pale Ales like Bass definitely contained it.

Another recurring theme whenever Lager was mentioned is it non-intoxicating nature. Having seen hundreds of analyses of 19th-century Lagers, I can attest that they were mostly less alcoholic that British beers. Partly because they had lower gravities, but also because the rate of attenuation was poor: rarely higher than 65%.

"The Necessity for Non-intoxicating Beer.
THERE are certain signs that a portion of middle class society is exhibiting a tendency to prefer beer of low gravity, or brewed on bottom fermentation lines, to those more saccharine and alcoholic fluids that are chieflly produced by English brewers; and, although the experiment of producing Lager beer in England may not be at all times commercially successful, there is no doubt that a great demand would spring up for a beer of low gravity, that combined in itself qualities of brightness, soundness, constant condition, and an easy digestiblity of solid extract. The question arises whether it would be possible to produce such beer on a system somewhat akin to the German method, without the necessity for bottom fermentation, and without possessing the somewhat distinct and, to an English drinker, unpleasant palate flavour of true Lager Beer. It is perfectly evident that for a weak beer to combine the main qualities specified above, it would have to be produced from very superior material to give high dextrine percentage, and that first extract must only be diluted with liquor in place of inferior weak runnings. The necessary high percentage of dextrine might be easily attained by a modified boiled mash, and we are quite sure that with good water of moderate hardness, malt of kinds specified, and careful collection and fermentation of wort, there would be no difficulty in producing a 15 lb. beer of very commendable quality. Brewers' Journal."
Holmes' Brewing Trade Gazette - Tuesday 01 April 1884, page 14.
Of course, it would be many decades before drinkers really adopted Lager in any numbers. Note again the mention of Lager's peculiar flavour.

Drinkers did eventually move over to weaker beers, but not really voluntarily. Mostly as a result of WW I. The 15 lbs gravity mentioned is 1042º - just about exactly what average strength was between the wars.

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