Saturday, 15 August 2009

Why Lager?

Why lager? It's costly and time-consuming, so why bother?

One of the traditional reasons is to obtain a very high CO2 concentration in the beer. I'll let Charles Graham explain.

"There remains, however, a still more important factor in giving fulness to beers of medium original gravity, and that is the carbonic acid. Beer cooled to a few degrees above the melting point of ice must necessarily contain more carbonic acid than at 60° F., which may be taken as the average temperature of English beer as consumed. We all know that draught or bottled ales, if allowed to stand some hours, become insipid and flat, and taste as if several pounds per barrel less in the original gravity. The important influence of carbonic acid in making beers taste fuller and rounder has long been carefully attended to by the German brewer, whose great aim has been to secure as large an amount as possible. Hence an important part of the duty of a German brewer is to have his beers in perfect condition in the cellar, so that with a fortnight's closing of the bung- hole, a sufficient amount of carbonic acid shall be formed and retained. For the same object one often finds in restaurants and beer kellers, air or carbonic acid forcing pumps to increase the amount of gas when the beer becomes too flat. The greater amount of carbonic acid in German beer is partly due to the greater amount of saccharine and albuminoid matters, but chiefly to the low temperature. The influence of temperature in the lager cellar upon the amount of carbonic acid has been the subject of some experiments by Professor Langer and Dr. Schultze. The beer they experimented on was made from a wort showing 10 degrees Balling, and had been attenuated 60 per cent. The carbonic acid found in 100 volumes of beer was at—

0.4º C 0.332 by weight 100 volumes by volume
1.6 º C 0.320 by weight 96.4 volumes by volume
2.8 º C 0.311 by weight 93.7 volumes by volume
4.0 º C 0.297 by weight 89.5 volumes by volume
4.7 º C 0.285 by weight 85.8 volumes by volume

Thus an elevation of 4'3° C. in the cellar temperature reduced the carbonic acid by one-seventh of the original volume, or nearly 15 per cent Hence the reason for keeping the temperature of the lager cellar as low as possible ; so that more carbonic acid may be kept in solution."
“Journal of the Society of Chemical Industry” 1882, page 31.

Did you spot the early reference to top-pressure dispense? I wonder why no-one uses the expression "carbonic acid forcing pumps" today? It sounds so much more quaint than "keg pump". Those silly Germans. Didn't they realise the inherent superiority of cask beer?

Thanks to Gary Gillman for pointing out this article to me. You can never know too much about Lager.

Charles Graham was the man behind Graham's Golden Lager, later known as Skol. We all owe him a deep debt of thanks.


Tandleman said...

It seems to me there is still a large degree of confusion as to the relationship of temperature to condition (or the amount of carbonic acid should one wish)

And 60F? Not much chance of condition at that temp.

Gary Gillman said...

I believe too a high CO2 content tends to retard damp paper oxidation. I am not sure why, can it be that it displaces oxygen to the same degree..?

Graham was a bright guy, and clearly enterprising by his involvement in pioneering (in England) lager brewing.

But while his point about flatness seeming to result in a thinner beer is interesting, he makes no counter point about the estery and other higher flavours of top-fermented, warm conditioned beer. In part this may be because 1800's lager was much better than the norm today, even the low ABV examples. Low attenuation would promote flavour. But relatively high hopping would, too. Look how good Pilsener Urquel is today. If that was the norm or ideal at any rate of 1800's lager, quality must have been high in the fresh product.


Tandleman said...

Also Gary, he drew his conclusions in Scotland - which led in lager development in the UK - not that anyone called it the UK then.

Ike said...

Even though decadent western countries like Britain and The Netherlands have turned their backs on this iconic lager, Skol is still being produced in huge amounts for the rest of the world.

It is by far the biggest selling beer in Brazil for instance, and has a large market in Africa and India, because of the joint ownership of its name by both Inbev and Carlsberg.

It just goes to show you can't keep a good product down. Mr Graham must be really excited, wherever he is now and even Hagar the Horrible must have a smile on his face (remember the adds).

Gary Gillman said...

Okay thanks for that.

I remember in the 1970's or late 60's when Skol was launched here. A big splash was made promotionally, but the brand did not catch on as I recall. The introduction of Carlsberg was much more successful, a domestic version was brewed here for many years. (It is still a big seller here, but is now an imported product, brewed in Denmark).

I have a clear recollection of the first time I tried Carlsberg, at my friend Bob's apartment in Montreal. Up until then, I would have been used to the palate of the big brewery ales (Molson Export. Laurentide. 50. O'Keefe. Dow). I did not understand beer palate then, but I could tell that this lager Carlsberg was different but couldn't see why. I did not like it then, but do now. The Canadian ales I mentioned were true top-ferments, at least at that time, and despite cold-conditioning had a distinct ale character.

I was disappointed Professor Graham made no adversion to the question of palate. He seemed if anything not to like a hoppy beer of character.

Skol must have been long in the making since Graham's paper was delivered in 1882. I'd be interested in any further information on his involvement with Skol and lager brewing.


Ron Pattinson said...

Ike, Skol helped Oranjeboom on its way to oblivion. Many of their pubs were branded Skol when I first arrived in Holland. It wasn't a success.

Ron Pattinson said...

Funnily enough, even as Graham was speaking, Lager was being in Scotland. By William Younger. I've photos of some of the logs, so there will be more on that later.

I've a fair bit of information on Graham's Lager. It kept popping up in the Whitbread Gravity Book.

Ike said...

There may have been an element of sarcasm in my comment about Skol. I remember all to well when Holland seemed swamped with it. Now it's just swamped with Heineken.

Mac said...

You'll know that Graham's Golden Lager was the product of John Joseph Calder (1868-1962) the great brewing entrepreneur who ran the family business here in Alloa, Scotland.

It came on the market in 1927.

His younger brother Sir James Charles Calder (1869-1962) was a major player in the whisky industry.