The term lager comes from the German term “lagern” and means to “store”. The drink originated in Bavaria in Germany in the early nineteenth century. The Bavarians experimented with techniques that involved storing their beers in lower temperatures for longer periods of time. Using yeasts that would lie at the bottom of the mixture the longer period involved would result in the lager clearing its impurities and giving it the pale colour that we associate with the drink today. The yeasts used would also be able to consume some sugars helping to give it that cleaner feel.
This longer period resulted in the yeast taste disappearing from the lager and also the extra time resulted in a greater build-up of carbon dioxide giving the lager that extra fizz. The early lagers were not as pale as they are today, and this was as a result of the heavy water found in the Bavarian region. Part of the process was actually to store the lagers in frozen caves and still the colour of the finished product was dark. Today’s lagers from the same region remain darker in colour than the average lager. The early Bavarian brewers then started to share their knowledge with Gabriel Sedlmayr II setting off on a tour of European capital cities. The ideas he shared in Austria resulted in a number of beers being brewed but still darker in colour.
In 1843 the Bavarian brewer Josef Groll visited Pilzen in Bohemia in the Czech Republic. Combining the German recipe with the softer local water and the local barley which was low in protein, produced the first pale lager which was to be known as pilsner. The first golden beer had now been produced and the lager was soon being exported to other areas. Other cities soon followed suit producing their own lagers. such as Budweis in the southern part of the country. It was interesting that the brewers in Bavaria then started to play around with their recipes in search of a clearer lager. They were of course hindered by their natural water, but this did not stop them in searching for the outcome they so desired.
The Sedlmayr’s sons in particular worked tirelessly and in 1894 they produced the Munich Helles. They did this by playing around with the recipes of the malt. This paler beer caused some controversy with the traditionalists but was accepted by the Bavarian brewers, and now the lighter coloured Bavarian lager was seen as the way forward. This German version of the pilsner lager is different slightly darker and has more character in taste. It is “maltier” and stands apart from the tasteless mass-produced lagers that are found today. The German brewers have definitely set the standard for the production of lager. By 1874 the exports of the pilsner lagers were reaching Paris and the United States. In would only be a matter of time before the brewers of lagers would be establishing globally.
With different local water supplies and different grains in many different countries it was only natural that local brewers would take advantage of this new beer. The trend that had been started in Bavaria would soon gather momentum in many other parts of the world.