In the past I’ve accused CAMRA members promoting the “Locale” scheme – which is supposed to cut down on “beer miles” – of being a touch hypocritical when they’re at the same time criticising British licence-brewed lagers and singing the praises of imported brews such as Budweiser Budvar, which has to be transported halfway across Europe to get here. No doubt their reply would be that if you’re concerned about beer miles you shouldn’t bother with lager at all and should be drinking Old Gruntfuttock from the man in a shed brewery just down the road.
However, that flies in the face of the reality that lager of one kind or another accounts for well over half of the beer drunk in Britain, and it isn’t going to go away. Lager drinkers aren’t going to desert their favoured brew en masse in favour of what blogger Cooking Lager dismisses as “pongy beer”. But, if you want a high-quality lager in this country, at present you’re generally going to have to turn to an imported product.
Virtually all the home-produced lagers are inferior copies of brands originating in other countries. The other major European countries, even those that were not amongst the original homes of lager brewing, have their own indigenous brands – France has Kronenbourg and 33, Italy Peroni and Moretti, Spain Cruzcampo and Mahou. But here all we can offer is Harp (now ludicrously branded as “Harp Irish Lager”) and Carling which, while originally Canadian, seems to have become naturalised over the years.
So it seems an appropriate time to launch Lagers of the British Isles, a campaign to promote and develop distinctive, high-quality indigenous lagers that are not just copies of existing Continental brews. Their mission statement can be seen here. When so many of the big brewers’ lager brands appear tired and only kept afloat on a sea of marketing money, there must be a great opportunity there. Who knows, in a few years’ time we might see BrewDog 77 Lager replacing Peroni as the lager of choice in trendy bars.
And, unpalatable as it may be to some real ale diehards, if they are to appeal to existing lager drinkers rather than just cask aficionados, it is essential that these home-grown lagers are offered in keg form. In any case, arguably “cask lager” is something of a contradiction in terms.