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Noxious ramblings from a semi-professional malcontent

Adam Chatburn

Lager is back! It’s the new craft beer! C’mon, it’s craft now!

Bah, humbug. Let me tell you laddie, some of us fought a war against lager. You young bucks probably don’t remember a time before craft, but we old-timers do. The tasteless swill that was forced down our throats by mega breweries turned our stomachs and in turn brought about the craft revolution. Beers became tastier and macro lagers, whilst undeniably still prevalent, became an object of snobbish scorn. Freed from the constraints of tasteless yellow water, craft beer surged ahead, styles were resurrected and developed around the world, and the landscape changed forever.

Many have forgotten those battles. Over the last couple of years, pilsners and other lagers have become popular again in craft circles. From both shadow brands and legitimate craft breweries, wave upon wave of technically proficient yet utterly uninspiring lagers now occupy shelves that used to be filled with ales of distinction. The return has reminded me of the way anti-vaxxers have forgotten the horrors of the past, or the way the political extreme right has resurged and been emboldened of late.

Craft breweries struggled to make lagers for a time because they are easy to make, but notoriously difficult to do well. The lengthy tank time (4 to 8 weeks) required to successfully lager a beer meant that they were broadly uneconomic when two or three batches of IPA could be knocked out in the same time. But breweries grow, and more tank capacity allows breweries to make more lagers. Now they can try to take on the big boys at their own game.

For many years, lager love was a bit of a dirty secret among brewers. I recently ran into a very fashionable brewer from Brewers’ Row with a case of Old Milwaukee under his arm. “It’s not mine! I’m holding it for a friend! I’m going camping!” The shame of it!

So why is lager now coming back? I believe the answer is simple: it’s really cheap to make. This is starting a price war at the bargain end of the market, with ever-growing cans matched by ever-shrinking price tags. Could it be that big beer has finally succeeded in derailing the craft revolution by bringing lager back? Or were these lager louts just hiding in craft clothing waiting to turn back the tides of “taste”?

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