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Authentic lagers

"The same obsessive streak that a brewer must apply to make an industrial lager is also needed, to completely different ends, when the aim is to create a lager brewed, fermented and conditioned in the…"

The same professional obsessive streak that a brewer must apply to make an industrial lager is also needed, to completely different ends, when the aim is to create a lager brewed, fermented and conditioned in the older, more elaborate and better flavour-imparting ways.

It is likely that the first commercially brewed lagers, which appeared around 1840, derived from the Kellerbier tradition of Bavaria and neighbouring regions of the Alpine foothills, where for centuries beers had been stored in cold caves over the summer, to save them from spoiling in the heat. 

The best European lagers are made from 100% unrefined malted barley; mashed using the decoction method; hopped with German varieties such as Saaz, Hallertau, Spalt or Tettnang; fermented by a lager yeast strain at no more than 15 Centigrade for up to two weeks; and then conditioned in lagering tanks at between 0 and 4 Centigrade, for as long as three months. 

This last part of this process requires a lot of storage space at the brewery but gains the beer maturity and sees off a wide variety of immature and unpleasant flavours. 

Blond lagers

Blond lagers

The homelands of authentic blond lagers are the Czech Republic, Germany and Austria, though the global spread of the various styles in the late 19th century encouraged a few classic examples in other countries.

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Amber lagers

Amber lagers

Beers had been lagered over summer for centuries in Alpine caves before the emergence of factory-made examples around 1840.  The first of these pre-dated Pilsener by a couple of years and were darker, in varying degrees.

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Dark lagers

Dark lagers

In the same year that Anton Dreher made the first factory-made amber lager at his brewery Schwechat near Vienna, Gabriel Sedlmayer produced the first dark one at the Spaten brewery in Munich.

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Stronger lagers

Stronger lagers

In the back catalogue of central European brewing is a cluster of styles of stronger lager, known collectively as Bockbier. While nowhere near as well-known as their lighter cousins, they are amassing respect for both their range and their quiet assertiveness.

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Other authentic lagers

Other authentic lagers

While the heritage of cold-conditioned beers is not as many-layered as the that of ales, there appears nonetheless to have been a tradition of cold-conditioning some beers going back to the 15th century and it is likely that at least some of these will have been brewed with self-selecting lager yeast.

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About the Author

The lead author and curator of The Beer Styles of Europe and beyond is Tim Webb, co-author of The World Atlas of Beer.

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