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A glass of lager from Bitburger, a German brewery

Lager is beer which has been brewed and conditioned at low temperature.[1] Lagers can be pale, amber, or dark. Pale lager is the most widely consumed and commercially available style of beer.[2] The term "lager" comes from the German for "storage", as the beer was stored before drinking - traditionally in the same cool caves[3] it was fermented in.

As well as maturation in cold storage, most lagers are distinguished by the use of Saccharomyces pastorianus, a "bottom-fermenting" yeast that ferments at relatively cold temperatures.


Until the 19th century, the German word lagerbier (de) referred to all types of bottom-fermented, cool-conditioned beer in normal strengths. In Germany today, it mainly refers to beers in southern Germany[4][better source needed], "Helles" (pale) and "Dunkel" (dark). Pilsner, a more heavily hopped pale lager, is most often known as "Pilsner", "Pilsener", or "Pils". Other lagers are Bock, Märzen, and Schwarzbier. In the United Kingdom, the term commonly refers to pale lagers derived from the Pilsner style.[5]

History of lager brewing[edit]

While cold storage of beer, "lagering", in caves for example, was a common practice throughout the medieval period, bottom-fermenting yeast seems to have emerged as a hybridization in the early fifteenth century. In 2011, a team of researchers claimed to have discovered that Saccharomyces eubayanus is responsible for creating the hybrid yeast used to make lager.[6][7]

Based on the numbers of breweries, lager brewing became the main form of brewing in the Kingdom of Bohemia between 1860 and 1870, as shown in the following table:[8]

Year Total Breweries Lager Breweries Lager Percentage
1860 416 135 32.5%
1865 540 459 85.0%
1870 849 831 97.9%

In the 19th century, prior to the advent of refrigeration, German brewers would dig cellars for lagering and fill them with ice from nearby lakes and rivers, which would cool the beer during the summer months. To further protect the cellars from the summer heat, they would plant chestnut trees, which have spreading, dense canopies but shallow roots which would not intrude on the caverns. The practice of serving beer at these sites evolved into the modern beer garden.[9]

The rise of lager was entwined with the development of refrigeration, as refrigeration made it possible to brew lager year-round (brewing in the summer had previously been banned in many locations across Germany), and efficient refrigeration also made it possible to brew lager in more places and keep it cold until serving.[10] The first large-scale refrigerated lagering tanks were developed for Gabriel Sedelmayr's Spaten Brewery in Munich by Carl von Linde in 1870.[10]

Production process[edit]

Lager beer uses a process of cool fermentation, followed by maturation in cold storage. The German word "Lager" means storeroom or warehouse. The yeast generally used with lager brewing is Saccharomyces pastorianus. It is a close relative of the Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast used for warm fermented ales.

While prohibited by the German Reinheitsgebot tradition, lagers in some countries often feature large proportions of adjuncts, usually rice or maize. Adjuncts entered United States brewing as a means of thinning out the body of beers, balancing the large quantities of protein introduced by six-row barley. Adjuncts are often used now in beermaking to introduce a large quantity of sugar, and thereby increase ABV, at a lower price than a formulation using an all-malt grain bill. There are however cases in which adjunct usage actually increases the cost of manufacture.[11]

It is possible to use lager yeast in a warm fermentation process, such as with American steam beer; while German Altbier and Kölsch are brewed with Saccharomyces cerevisiae top-fermenting yeast at a warm temperature, but with a cold-storage finishing stage, and classified as obergäriges lagerbier (top-fermented lager beer).[12][13]


The examples of lager beers produced worldwide vary greatly in flavor, color, composition and alcohol content.


Lagers range in color from extremely pale, through amber beers such as Vienna lager, to dark brown and black Dunkel and Schwarzbier. The depth of color comes from the specific grain bill used in the beers; paler lagers use unroasted barley and may even add other grains such as rice or corn to lighten the color and provide a crisp, bright finish to the flavor. Darker lagers use roasted grains and malts to produce a more roasted, even slightly burnt, flavor profile. Styles commonly classified as lagers include:

  • Helles, a pale malty lager brewed in southern Germany around Munich.
  • Pilsner, a pale hoppy lager originally from the city of Plzeň in the Czech Republic, which influenced the modern American lager style.
  • Märzen, an amber lager, traditionally brewed in Munich for the celebration of Oktoberfest, though the beer served at modern day Oktoberfest is Festbier, a style closer to Maibock or Helles than Märzen.
  • Bock, originating in Einbeck in central Germany, is of a higher alcohol content (7% abv or more) than most lagers. Sub-styles include Maibock (traditionally served in May, lighter in color and body), Doppelbock (with an even higher alcohol content), and Eisbock, a type of ice beer which has been concentrated by freezing.
  • Vienna lager, which can range from medium amber to brown, originating in Vienna, Austria, but also influencing brewing in Mexico, typified by beers such as Dos Equis Ambar.
  • Dunkel, a dark brown lager; the word (meaning dark) can also be appended to other styles to indicate a darker variety (e.g., "Dunkelweizen").
  • Schwarzbier, a dark brown to black lager.

Pale lager[edit]

The most common lager beers in worldwide production are pale lagers. The flavor of these lighter lagers is usually mild, and the producers often recommend that the beers be served refrigerated.

Pale lager is a very pale to golden-colored lager with a well attenuated body and noble hop bitterness. The brewing process for this beer developed in the mid 19th century when Gabriel Sedlmayr took pale ale brewing techniques back to the Spaten Brewery in Germany and applied it to existing lagering brewing methods.[14]

This approach was picked up by other brewers, most notably Josef Groll who produced in Bohemia (now part of the Czech Republic) the first Pilsner beer—Pilsner Urquell. The resulting pale colored, lean and stable beers were very successful and gradually spread around the globe to become the most common form of beer consumed in the world today.[15]

Vienna lager[edit]

The Vienna lager beer style was developed by Anton Dreher in the late 1830s by combining the knowledge of making pale malt he had gained during a visit together with Gabriel Sedlmayr to England and Scotland in 1833 and cold bottom fermentation using lager yeast he was given by Gabriel Sedlmayr. In late 1840, Anton Dreher started renting a cellar to mature his beer under cold conditions, a process that is called "lagering". The resulting beer was clean-tasting and relatively pale for the time thanks to the use of smoke-free "English" hot air kilns, resulting in a pale amber color.[16]: 8–18 

The beer style became well-known internationally, in particular due to the Dreher brewery's restaurant and beer hall at the International Exposition of 1867 in Paris, and started getting copied by many of the US-American lager breweries founded by German immigrants.[16]: 32–34  The first amber-colored Oktoberfest-Märzen brewed by Franziskaner-Leistbräu in 1872 was also a Vienna-style beer brewed to a higher strength.[16]: 61–62 

The Vienna lager beer style has survived to this day, mostly thanks to the emerging microbrewing, home-brewing and craft beer scene in the United States of the 1980s and 1990s.[16]: 90  Due to the influence of the American craft beer movement, Vienna lager can again be found in Europe, including traditional Austrian breweries like Ottakringer and Schwechater who have made this pale amber beer style part of their range of beers again.[16]: 93 

Notable examples of Vienna Lager in the US include Brooklyn Lager, Samuel Adams Boston Lager, Great Lakes Eliot Ness, Devils Backbone Vienna Lager, Abita Amber, Yuengling Traditional Lager, Dos Equis Ámbar, and August Schell Brewing Company Firebrick. In Norway, the style has retained some of its former popularity, and is still brewed by most major breweries.[citation needed]

Dark lager[edit]

Lagers would likely have been mainly dark until the 1840s; pale lagers were not common until the later part of the 19th century when technological advances made them easier to produce.[17] Dark lagers range from amber to dark reddish brown, and may be termed Vienna, amber lager, Dunkel, tmavé, or Schwarzbier depending on region, color or brewing method.

Tmavé is Czech for "dark", so it is the term for a dark beer in the Czech Republic - beers which are so dark as to be black are termed černé pivo, "black beer".[18] Dunkel is German for "dark", so it is the term for a dark beer in Germany. With alcohol concentrations of 4.5% to 6% by volume, Dunkel is weaker than Doppelbock, another traditional dark Bavarian beer. Dunkel was the original style of the Bavarian villages and countryside.[19] Schwarzbier, a much darker, almost black beer with a chocolate or licorice-like flavor, similar to stout, is brewed in Saxony and Thuringia.

See also[edit]

  • Beer measurement, information on measuring the color, strength, and bitterness of beer
  • Reinheitsgebot, an influential Bavarian and German brewing law
  • ale – Type of beer brewed using a warm fermentation method
  • sour beer – Beer with a tart or sour taste


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