The drinker | lager

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Indy Lifestyle Online

When drinks acquire a bad name, it is usually by association with alcoholism. Think of rummy and wino. Lager, too, has gained a name of shame, but in this case, it is not the drink but the behaviour associated with it. The term, of course, is lager lout, someone given to public rowdiness often accompanied by physical violence. An international football match is an optional extra.

When drinks acquire a bad name, it is usually by association with alcoholism. Think of rummy and wino. Lager, too, has gained a name of shame, but in this case, it is not the drink but the behaviour associated with it. The term, of course, is lager lout, someone given to public rowdiness often accompanied by physical violence. An international football match is an optional extra.

The expression contains elements of class prejudice and political expediency. Some of the worst drink-related behaviour I've ever seen (outside my dining room, that is) has come from young guys wearing £600 suits and drinking £80 bottles of champagne in expensive restaurants. If you're a lout, Bollinger can bring out those tendencies as surely as Tennants Extra. Remember the old line that the superego is the part of the personality that is soluble in alcohol? Well, what matters is the ethanol, not the ingredients or method of fermentation.

As if the thuggish connection weren't bad enough, lager has been demonised from another direction: by the vocal, honourable camp of beer lovers who bemoan the threat to Britain's traditional ales. The threat is real. It comes from young, unsophisticated palates who like their beer clean-tasting, ice-cold, and are easily fooled by massive ad campaigns.

The mediocrity of these brews has blinded many drinkers to the virtues of great lager. It has also given rise to some serious misconceptions, of which the most common is that lager is always golden-hued. Not so. Colour in beer derives from the malt - the germinated grain (usually barley) - that is its largest ingredient after H 2O. After germination, the malt is dried with heat. If you use a low heat, you get a pale colour; high heat gives a darker shade. The temperature affects not just colour but flavour. The original lagers were dark. It was probably the emergence of the Pilsner style that first made people think of these beers as a pale brew; that, and the insipid stuff that often passes for lager nowadays.

But hang on, what exactly is lager? Answer: it's beer made with a special kind of yeast, "experimentally bred", as beer aficionado Michael Jackson puts it, in 19th-century Bavaria to work at cold temperatures. The yeasts were "discovered" long before, when Munich brewers needed to keep their springtime beer in good condition throughout the hot summer. Their choice of natural fridge - caves inside the Alps. Lager, in German, means store. While in store, the yeasts sank to the bottom of their vats but remained active. Later, those bottom-fermenting yeasts were identified and isolated for further development. If you want to read more, there is a terrific historical essay on Jackson's website (www.beerhunter.com).

Lager can be as great as any beer, and it's the perfect summer brew. Seek out Gambrinus, Budweiser Budvar, and (my long-time fave) Pilsner Urquell. Sam Smith Organic Lager, from Waitrose and independents, is an honourable home-grown brand. Almost any expensive German import is likely to be worth a try. A much newer entrant, recently judged Australia's best beer by Jackson himself, is Hahn Premium (pictured). This lovely brew has a well-developed maltiness and loads of fresh hoppy bitterness to balance it out. Available mostly at bars for now, including Slug & Lettuce. And no one will call you a lager lout if you order it. Unless, of course, you sink 15 bottles and start throwing chairs around.

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