Industrial lagers

"However encouraging the last couple of decades may have been for consumers trying to access buy interesting beers, around 90% of the beer drunk in the world comes from a narrow range of relatively dull…"

However encouraging the last couple of decades may have been for consumers trying to buy more interesting beers, around 90% of the beer drunk in the world comes from a narrow range of relatively dull styles, promoted extensively to make them appear better.

The key characteristics of a successful industrial lager are that it must be cheap to produce, free from obvious production flaws and have enough visual appeal to justify a relatively high price.  It is unlikely to be lagered in the true sense, or to be distinctive in flavour.

Contrary to popular belief, industrial lagers are not “full of chemicals”, though they can taste that way if drunk at room temperature.  This is because the increase in flavour that the warmer temperature brings, can reveal mildly unpleasant aromas and tastes caused by rapid fermentation and the high proportion of adjuncts that are a feature of many of these beers.  This is why most of them are recommended to be served as cold as possible.

Though the character of an industrial lager is broadly uniform and intentionally inoffensive, they still come in recognisable sub-groups.

American-style industrial lager

Similar to its European equivalent (below), with the exception that rice is also a frequent malt substitute, sometimes accounting for up to 40% of the cereal in the mash.  Rice was traditionally used to make some American beers prior even to Prohibition (1920-1933).  It lowers the grain character of these beers, which are typically fermented strong and then extensively diluted, up to 60:40 with water, before being re-carbonated and packaged.  Typically they have a low hop content and undergo little conditioning.

European-style industrial lager

Some European-style industrial lagers are made from 100% malted barley, though this is usually modified and can be in syrup form.  Many contain wheat and some well-known brands contain up to 30% of processed maize, or corn syrup, or else starch derived from grain.  As with their American counterparts they are usually brewed and fermented at high gravity and later diluted, have low hop bitterness and undergo little conditioning.

Light industrial lager

North American drinkers were asked in the 1960s, a time when few had experience of beers other than industrial lager, what brewers might do to make their beers better.  The most popular suggestions were to reduce the hop flavour and the carbohydrates.  The response was to make a more highly filtered type of beer, with more of its sugars fermented to alcohol.  Christened ‘Light’, or in the case of the Miller brewery, copyrighted as ‘Lite’, this style is an industrial lager with less weight to it.


Light lagers are especially popular in the USA, as at this country club in Nashville, Tennessee (photo: André Brunnsberg)

Strong industrial lager

Often made from the original brew that is diluted to make regular lagers, this style often features much malt substitution, with swift fermentation.  Its higher alcohol content (7.0-10.5% ABV) is generally designed for impact rather than aplomb.  It is steadily disappearing from many European markets, for its association with alcohol-related health problems.

Ultralight and ice lager

These are thinner forms of light industrial lager (above).  The attraction of these beers is their low sugar content, the downside being the absence of flavour.  In so-called “Ice” varieties, protein content is removed at a low temperature.  Also known as soda beers.

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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