A common complaint was that they tasted of garlic. A flavour supposedly produced by the beer and the pitch lining of the cask containing it. But that wasn't the only aspect of foreign Lager which was found lacking. This is a report of an exhibition of the drinks trade held at the Agricultural Hall in London.
"The various exhibits of beers, wines and spirits, were arranged in a separate portion of the Hall, to which a charge for admission of sixpence each person was made. These so-called tasting stalls were in several instances elaborately and artistically fitted up, and their different occupiers competed with each other in their eagerness in offering samples to the throngs who continually passed by. In this department there were exhibits of both English and German beer; one exhibitor of American lager was entered in the catalogue, but we failed to find his stand. We have no desire to speak disrespectfully of German beer, but the samples offered to the public were such as we feel sure will never replace home-brewed beer in this country; the thinness on the palate, the absence of all flavour of malt extract, the artificial aeration, the peculiar taste described by most of the public as resembling garlic or onions, are all characteristics which, however agreeable to the German taste, will take a long time to be acclimatised here; when such beers are offered at prices ranging from 2s. to 3s. per gallon, we think English brewers have not much to fear from competition from that quarter, at all events so far as our home trade is concerned."
The Brewers' Guardian, October 14th 1879, page 340.
Not just garlicy, also thin and lacking malt character. Fizzed up artificially, too. It's all sounding rather like CAMRA's criticism of Lager.
Well, German Lagers might not have replaced British Ales, but home-brewed ones have. It did take a while, mind. More than 100 years after this article was written. Two to three shillings a gallon was incredibly expensive. A Mild Ale of around 5% ABV - probably amount the same strength as Lager of the day - cost a mere shilling. Even an expensive beer like Bass Pale Ale only cost one shilling and eightpence a gallon. I've never seen a British beer that cost as much as three shillings.
The author then went on to critique the Lagers of some specific exhibitors.
"Messrs. H. HURTER & Co., 1t, Adam-street, Strand, also showed some “Tivoli” beer brewed by the Tivoli Brewery Company of Berlin. This was drawn from the usual aerating apparatus, and when in the glass was bright and sparkling to the eye, and, to those who like this description of beer, pleasant to the palate.
Messrs. Fred. Jacob & Co., 79 1/2 Gracechurch-street, came next with samples of so-called Pilsener Beer in cask and bottle. Its name would imply that it came from the famous brewery at Pilsen, in Bohemia, but we believe it was really brewed by a firm at Bremen, in North Germany. This beer was excessively pale in colour and thin to the palate, with the characteristic flavour of all German beers. We liked its appearance better than its taste.
Mr. F. Gardner, 17, Devonshire Square, is agent for Bardili's Stuttgart lager beer, and exhibited samples in both cask and bottle. Although the usual characteristics, we considered this was the best sample of German beer at the Exhibition, and at the prices quoted, viz. 4s. per dozen for reputed pints, may command a trade amongst those who have a liking for foreign beer."
The Brewers' Guardian, October 14th 1879, pages 340 - 341.
Plenty of faint praise there. For example, "to those who like this description of beer, pleasant to the palate", "We liked its appearance better than its taste." and "may command a trade amongst those who have a liking for foreign beer". Thwe author clearly wasn't a fan of Lager.