The Lagers of Northern Europe

Workers at the Heineken Rotterdam plant

This area contains two of the largest producers of world lager, Heineken and Carlsberg. Heineken is originally Dutch whilst Carlsberg hails from Denmark. Both of these companies are in the top five biggest breweries in the world.

Heineken was founded in 1864 by 22-year-old Gerald Heineken in Amsterdam. In 1869 the company switched to Bavarian method of using bottom-fermenting yeasts, so their pathway was aimed at the production of lager. This was now known as “Gentlemen’s Beer” and its sales in the sky rocketed as the Franco-Prussian war in 1870 caused supplies of imported Bavarian beer to drop. Heineken invested in the image of their new clean beer, by building a new state-of-the-art brewery with a 3000-meter work floor in Rotterdam in 1874.


By 1875 the company was winning awards in Paris and now the company was exporting its lager to France. With the continued investment in its plants in both Amsterdam and Rotterdam with cooling systems and electrical lighting being installed, the quality and the popularity of the product continued to improve. From such humble beginnings the company has grown into a major multi-national company. It was listed on the Stock Exchange in 1939 and has acquired many breweries that now put their products under the Heineken brand name.


As close as father JC Jacobson and son Carl were ever going to get

Carlsberg was first produced by J.C. Jacobson from the micro-brewery that he had created in Copenhagen in 1847. He was heavily into the research aspect of brewing the lager and opened a research laboratory in 1875. One of the biggest discoveries of the laboratory was of that of the species of yeast, “saccharomyces carlsbergensis”. This species of yeast allowed paler lager to be produced. Whenever he discovered something new he was happy to share his knowledge with his competitors. In fact, the sharing of ideas with fellow brewers led him to installing a refrigeration machine in 1879. This was aimed at encouraging bottom fermentation at lower temperatures.


He had an interesting relationship with his son Carl. He sent him across Europe to investigate brewing techniques in Germany, France, Austria and Scotland. Competition between them was so intense that when J.C. passed away he left the company to the Carlsberg Foundation. The Foundation has gone from strength to strength acquiring other breweries, such as UK owned Tetley, Denmark’s Tuborg and the Greek brewery Olympic Brewery. The foundation now has a wide variety of alcoholic produce but will always be remembered for the pioneer work it did in the 19th century on the brewing of lager.


The major companies appear to have bought out most of the competition but there are a number of smaller breweries that still remain. In the South West of England, the St Austell Brewery Company in Cornwall are now brewing their own Korev lager. The lager is produced using a mixture of German and Czech hops to produce a lager of 4.8% alcoholic content. The company has aimed their sales at local markets and have even targeted the surfing community. The colour of the lager is pale gold and the taste is a delicate honey and herbal balance. The lager has only been selling since 2010 but it has already achieved remarkable success with its sales increasing markedly from year to year, both at home and abroad. There is no doubt that the major breweries have competed with each other to buy out the competition in Northern Europe. However, there has been a recent trend that has seen the emergence of smaller breweries that have wished to produce their own lagers targeting more localised markets.