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The true meaning of lager

February 15, 2018

A couple of weeks ago I went on a trip to a local micro-brewery with some family and friends. The trip involved a talk about the brewing process and lots of beer-tasting; it was arranged by my wife, proving beyond all doubt that she is capable of organising a piss-up in a brewery.

It was on this day that I learned the origin of the word lager. What I did not know was that although ale and lager are produced by a similar process with similar ingredients, they use different kinds of brewer’s yeast: the yeast used in the making of lager takes much longer to ferment and leads to a fizzier and stronger brew. You can make ale in a week, but brewing lager can take anything from six weeks to six months. So it has to be stored for longer, and that is where the name comes from, because the German word for storage is lager.

And here is another interesting fact. Mass-produced German beers such as Beck’s – you’d think they were lagers, right? But if you look at the label on the bottle it doesn’t say lager. And the reason for that is that the big multinational brewers use various technical processes to speed up the fermentation, so that it takes only a few hours. Under the German regulations a beer must be stored for at least six weeks to be entitled to be called a lager. So although Beck’s tastes like a lager, they are not allowed to call it one.

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One Comment
  1. Simon Carter permalink

    And in a more sinister usage konzentrationslager (KL) was the German name for a concentration camp.

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