Thursday, 30 July 2009

Lager boomers (part one)

I've finally got all through the Sundry Brewers section of the Whitbread Gravity Book. It contains exactly 1,200 beers. Now what to do with all that info? You know what? It's the Summer of Lager. So Lager's where I'll start.

Once I wouldn't have been interested in the lager entries at all. Not "proper" British beer. Not even proper beer at all. But I'm not the bigot I was. Discovering that virtually no-one else had ever bothered to seriously look at the history of British lager-brewing was all the encouragement I needed.

The period covered by these analyses is exactly when Lager was beginning its move from the periphery of Britain's beer culture to the mainstream. Why else would relatively small concerns like Hall & Woodhouse, Tolly Cobbold and Lacons have been brewing a Lager?

What were later to become the major Lager brands were already knocking about - as we will see tomorrow - but they didn't dominate. The tied house system so to that. There were still hundred of smaller breweries, each jealously guarding the beer supply to their pubs. And the national concerns were just in the process of coalescing.

What the Gravity Book doesn't tell us is how these Lagers were brewed. Given the size of the breweries, I doubt many (or perhaps any) were bottom-fermented. As for decoction mashing, well they wouldn't have the equipment to do it. Not unless, like Barclay Perkins, they'd built a brewhouse specifically for that purpose.

What can we say about these beers? There's quite a big spread in gravities, ranging from 1032 to 1045. Most are around the same as standard draught Bitter or Mild. Which is interesting. By the 1970's, most Lagers barely scraped over 1030. With the exception of Flowers, all are pretty well attenuated.

Tomorrow it's the turn of the national brewers' efforts. Won't that be fun.


Matt said...

I'm intrigued by your comment "I doubt many (or perhaps any) were bottom-fermented". If that's the case, in what sense were they 'lagers'? If they were top-fermented using a pale/Pilsener malt, they sound more like the forerunners of golden ales like Golden Pippin and Summer Lightning.

Jim Johanssen said...

Ron- not only did Flowers have the lowest attenuation they also have the highest O.G.. They did have their a attenuation did rise from 1956 to 1961-62. I have wonder if this was market driven or process driven.


Adrian said...

Matt, I suppose they could still be considered "Lagers" if they were cold-conditioned after fermentation. If that were true, perhaps it would allow these ale brewers to make a lager with their "house" yeast which would probably keep the costs down.

Rob Sterowski said...

They were lagers in the sense that that's what it said they were on the label.

Ron Pattinson said...

Matt, small brewers with a single brewhouse and open fermenters:

- wouldn't have had the equipment to decoction mash
- wouldn't have wanted a bottom-fermenting yeast interbreeding with their normal yeast
- wouldn't have had lager cellars

So they were really lagers in name only.