Lager is a cornerstone of modern beer brewing and is still a relatively young style. It’s the third most popular beverage consumed globally, sitting behind water and tea. It also has a holiday! With National Lager Day on December 10, let’s dive into some fun facts about its history and how it became so adored in America.
Lager is a light, hoppy beer with a crisp taste. It’s a very soothing drink, as it doesn’t cause people to bloat as much as other brews. You’ll feel refreshed drinking a strong lager compared to a heavy pale ale or stout.
The alcohol content is also low, ranging between 3 to 5% ABV. This beer tends to be the drink of choice at sporting events, weddings, barbecues, and baby showers. While it’s unclear who formulated the idea for the national observance, it’s understandable why it deserved a holiday. Lager is enjoyed by millions of people around the world.
How lager came to be is just as interesting as the brewing process. The first known version was made in southern Germany in the 19th century in the town of Plzen, part of the Kingdom of Bohemia, which is now part of the Czech Republic. It’s unclear who produced the first one, but historians theorize it was likely Benno Scherl, the father of modern brewing.
However, lager wouldn’t be perfected or popularized until the 1840s by beer maker Gabriel Sedlmayr II the Younger. He used influences from Vienna red ales to add a darker color to the golden ales, using different strains of barley and softer water.
Around the same time, another Bavarian brewer, Josef Groll, traveled to Bohemia to test a new style, what we know today as pilsner. Sedlmayr and Groll’s techniques became increasingly popular as the two traveled throughout Europe. By the 1860s, Germany had roughly 135 lager breweries, 32.5% of 416 breweries in the nation.
Yeast Makes the Difference
Where does the word “lager” get its roots? It’s derived from a German word for “storage,” accredited with the cold-conditioning fermentation it must undergo to yield its signature taste. Brewers would add “bottom-fermenting” yeast to it, which can develop at colder temperatures.
The difference between lager and ale is all about yeast. If a beer smells like baked bread, it uses Saccharomyces cerevisiae, the yeast used for ale brewing. Lager uses Saccharomyces pastorianus.
Taste tests found that the beer was light and crisp, setting the standard for lagers for years to come. Some cities in Bavaria and Bohemia would start producing regional-specific versions like Budweis, creating their own Budweiser brew — not to be confused with the American company.
From Germany to the U.S.
Americans would see lagers arrive on their shores in the 1850s following a wave of German immigration. Bavarian brewers took their hops and techniques to the U.S., creating new lines and pilsners that are still produced today. Companies like Anheuser-Busch started Budweiser, a classic American lager, in the 1870s. Even before that, in 1855, Miller Brewing Company made its signature pilsners. They have become staples of American beer culture.
Now that you have all the facts, here are some ways to celebrate National Lager Day. You can host a Beer Olympics where your buddies can only use them for drinking games. If you’re looking for a low-key event, have a taste-testing party with international brands. You can even make a meal that uses lager in the recipe, like carne asada. The 2022 edition of the national day falls on a Saturday, a perfect day to partake in festivities responsibility — be sure to have designated drivers.