Thursday 15 October 2009

Lager of the British Isles

It’s British Lager Week, didn’t you know. On Tuesday I went to the White Horse on Parsons Green because Melissa Cole (see this post) was hosting a night on behalf of Lagers of the British Isles (LOBI – check out their mission statement on their website as it’s a good one). Basically, a number of chaps from a number of lager breweries spoke while we drank their beer.

The first was Hepworth’s Blonde which I’d had before from the bottle. I didn’t think much of this. The Freedom beers came next – Pilsner, Lager and Dark Lager. The Pilsner had a biting dry finish, the lager was sweeter than the Pilsner and/but less interesting and the Dark was brown bread and caramel (but not all that dark). Cotswold Brewing Company followed with their smart and simple bottle labels. 3.8 was clean and biscuity with a faint citrus finish, Premium (which uses Cascade hops!) had little aroma but more biscuits and a dry, hop finish which was really tasty.

Then things stepped up: Harviestoun’s Schiehallion, with its great fruity-floral bitterness and full, smooth body, is a really cracking beer. Staying in Scotland, next came WEST (beer menu here): St Mungo was berries, shortbread and a lovely dry finish which gets sweeter as you drink; the Munich Red was okay, but reds aren’t really for me; and their Dunkel, a dark, roasty, smokily dry beer was spot-on (it might also be worth saying that while drinking the WEST stuff I wrote: Is Scotland the best brewing country right now? Interesting thought, there’s probably a post in that idea…). Towards the end there was also some Cotswold Autumn lager (no link) with a stone fruit sweetness to it and a Cotswold Wheat Beer which was very drinkable, citrusy, fruity, 'wheaty'.

What was great to see was that all of these beers were also being sold on draft in the pub downstairs; I’ve never seen so many different lagers available in one place. There was also a few cask ales on which were very tempting, but after all that lager I was thirsty for more and went for another Schiehallion, which really is super (interestingly, I wonder how cask lagers fit into CAMRA’s ideas? I’d guess they don’t.).

I don’t drink much lager, as you might know from reading this blog (save for bathing in Mythos whenever I can), so it was really interesting to spend an evening drinking just that and it reignited something in me from my holiday to Greece in the summer, that ‘lager, it’s the little things…’ You see, it takes drinking a few in a row to really appreciate that it’s the tiny nuances that make the really big differences – the citrus hop in one, the fuller body in another, a sweeter aroma, a dryer finish. Lagers don’t punch you in the face with a bag of hops and they don’t fill your mouth like oily stout, so there isn’t that esoteric wow factor to them. But it’s all relative. Comparing a lager to a big IPA is like comparing chicken soup to chicken madras, but compare a tin of soup to a Michelin-starred chicken broth and hopefully you see my point. What lagers do have is the power to sate, the simplicity to gulp without thinking or a subtle complexity to make you think if you want to and just something about them which suggests belonging and friendship and drinking together with mates for the pure fun of drinking together with mates. It’s great to see that there are some really good lagers being brewed in the UK right now and good luck to LOBI.

Great to see Dave there and Oliver Thring too, the best food writer I know of. Oz Clarke was also there, thankfully I didn't see him burp-back tasting. Eww. And British Lager week runs from the 12th October to the 18th October.


  1. There's definitely a place in the world for lagers and the best ones are as good as many ales. There's a time and place when nothing but a cold lager will do.

    Can't beat a Mythos on holiday in Greece.

    My favourite lager is Viru though, so crisp and so refreshing (and comes in a very attractive octahedral bottle!)

  2. Mark,

    if you want wow factor from a lager, may I suggest a trip to Prague? In particular to U Slovanske Lipy, where the 10 degree golden lager is more flavourful and downright fantastic than many other, stronger lagers? Also their 18 degree baltic porter is pure beer decadence!

  3. I don't really see the point of cask lagers. I mean Schiehallion is a nice beer but if I didn't know it was a lager I wouldn't have guessed it.

  4. You ask about CAMRA's view of cask lagers - it's my understanding that as long as the beer is 'living' in the cask (or bottle-conditioned), then it's "real ale".

    Harviestoun Schiehallion has won many CAMRA awards, over several years - in the 'Speciality Beer Class' of the Champion Beer of Britain (CAMRA annual awards), Schiehallion won Gold in 1996, 1997 and 1999, and Silver in 2001, 2002, and 2004 - so it's certainly been recognised as a great beer, and totally acceptable style, by CAMRA!

  5. Oh another tip for you, try the BrewDog 77 Lager - it's full of flavour and very moreish! I've only had the cask version but I'm sure their bottled product will be good too (the rest of them usually are!)

  6. Perhaps I am spoilt by having lived for ten years in the home of truly great lager, but BrewDog 77 simply doesn't cut it (especially as their label describes it as a "pilsner"). Yes it is flavourful, yes it is nice, no is isn't anything like a pilsner, more like one of their superb IPAs.

  7. Mark, I love Mythos. And that's the first time anyone has used the word octahedral in my blog, so cheers!

    Velkyal, I'd love to go to Prague on a lager tour, and don't worry, when I do I'll be coming straight to you for advice! As for 77, I love the beer but it is more like an IPA, but that's fine by me.

    Ed, yup, it doesn't scream lager at you, but if it tastes good then that's all that matters.

    Tania, interesting to see that Schiehallion has won CAMRA awards, and deservedly so. I guess this means the the word REAL takes prominence over the work ALE in their name. And 77 is a great beer (available in some Tescos now) but I prefer zeitgeist, the dark lager - that's something else!

  8. Mark,

    Re CAMRA - as long as it's cask conditioned then it's OK by us (says he lasping into sweeping generalisation mode).

    Re LOBI - what a shame they do not include arguably the best lager made in the UK - Moravka by Taddington Brewery.

  9. It was good to see you too Mark.

    To answer why they don't include Moravka is because they haven't applied to join. I could be wrong but I'm guessing they would be welcomed should they want to join the club.

    As for cask lager I'm afraid I think good lager, and Schiehallion is an example, is better NOT from cask but keg. Hopefully I'll get around to doing a complimentary post to this once I've got some other stuff out of the way and explain why I think this is the case.