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Lager (German: storeroom or warehouse) is a type of beer that is conditioned at low temperatures,[1] normally in cold storage at the brewery, before being delivered to the consumer. It may be pale, golden, amber, or dark.

Although the defining feature of lager beer is its maturation in cold storage, it is also distinguished by the use of bottom fermenting lager yeast. While it is possible to use lager yeast in a warm fermentation process such as with American Steam beer, the lack of a cold storage maturation phase precludes such beer from being classified as lager beer. On the other hand, German Altbier and Kölsch use traditional top-fermenting yeast and temperatures, but with a cold storage finishing stage; its classification as obergäriges lagerbier (top-fermented lager beer) may be controversial.[2][3]

Up 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 however, the term is mainly reserved for the prevalent lager beer styles of southern Germany.[4] In common parlance, these beers are distinguished by their colors, and referred to as a (Bavarian) "Helles" (pale), or a "Dunkel" (dark), though both words may be used as adjectives to describe other types of beer. The popular Pilsner style, which is more heavily hopped, although it is also a Pale lager, is most often known as simply "Pilsner" or "Pils", and generally is called neither a "Lagerbier" nor a "Helles". Numerous other types of lager beer styles are produced, such as Bock, Märzen, and Schwarzbier.

In the United Kingdom, the term "Lager" commonly refers specifically to pale lagers, many of which are derived from the Pilsner style. Worldwide, pale lager is the most widely consumed and commercially available style of beer. It is often known primarily by its brand name, and labeled simply as "beer". Well-known brands include Budweiser, Stella Artois, Beck's, Brahma, Corona, Snow, Tsingtao, Heineken, Carling, Foster's, and Baltika.

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.[5][6]

Based on the numbers of breweries, lager brewing became the main form of brewing in Bohemia between 1860 and 1870, as shown in the following table:[7]

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

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.[8] The first large-scale refrigerated lagering tanks were developed for Gabriel Sedelmayr's Spaten Brewery in Munich by Carl von Linde in 1870.[8]

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 U.S. 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.[9]


A glass of Bitburger, a German lager

The examples of lager beers produced worldwide vary greatly in flavour, colour, and composition.

Pale lager[edit]

Main article: Pale lager

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-coloured 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[citation needed] back to the Spaten Brewery in Germany and applied it to existing lagering brewing methods.

This approach was picked up by other brewers, most notably Josef Groll who produced in Bohemia (today Czech Republic) the first Pilsner beer—Pilsner Urquell. The resulting pale coloured, 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.[10]

Vienna Lager[edit]

Distinctly amber colored Vienna lager was developed by brewer Anton Dreher in Vienna in 1841. Austrian brewers who emigrated to Mexico in the late 19th century took the style with them. Vienna lager is a reddish-brown or copper-colored beer with medium body and slight malt sweetness. The malt aroma and flavor may have a toasted character.[11] Despite their name, Vienna lagers are generally uncommon in continental Europe today but can be found frequently in North America, where it is often called pre-Prohibition style amber lager (often shortened to "pre-Prohibition lager"), as the style was popular in pre-1919 America.[citation needed] Notable examples include Great Lakes Eliot Ness, Devils Backbone Vienna Lager, Abita Amber, and Yuengling Traditional Lager. In Norway, the style has retained some of its former popularity, and is still brewed by most major breweries.[citation needed]

Dark lager[edit]

See also: Dunkel and Schwarzbier

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.[12] Dark lagers typically range in colour from amber to dark reddish brown, and may be termed Vienna, amber lager, dunkel, tmavé, or schwarzbier depending on region, colour or brewing method.

Tmavé is Czech for "dark", so 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".[13] Dunkel is German for "dark", so is the term for a dark beer in Germany. With alcohol concentrations of 4.5% to 6% by volume, dunkels are weaker than Doppelbocks, another traditional dark Bavarian beer. Dunkels were the original style of the Bavarian villages and countryside.[14] Schwarzbier, a much darker, almost black beer with a chocolate or liquorice-like flavour, similar to stout, is mainly 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


  1. ^ Briggs, D.E.; Boulton, C.A.; Brookes, P. A.; and Stevens, R. Brewing, 2004, CRC. ISBN 0-8493-2547-1 p. 5.
  2. ^ Jeff Alworth (2015). The Beer Bible The Essential Beer Lover's Guide. Workman Publishing. p. 234. ISBN 0-7611-8498-8. 
  3. ^ Ray Daniels (1998). Designing Great Beers The Ultimate Guide to Brewing Classic Beer Styles. Brewers Publications. ISBN 978-0-9840756-1-4. 
  4. ^ "Willkommen beim Deutschen Brauer-Bund: Helles Lager/Export". (in German). Retrieved September 3, 2015. 
  5. ^ "500 years ago, yeast's epic journey gave rise to lager beer". Retrieved 2014-04-08. 
  6. ^ "Microbe domestication and the identification of the wild genetic stock of lager-brewing yeast". 2011-08-22. Retrieved 2014-04-08. 
  7. ^ Pasteur, Louis, Studies in Fermentation, 1879. English translation reprinted 2005 ISBN 0-9662084-2-0 p10. Citing Moniteur de la Brasserie, 23 April 1871.
  8. ^ a b James Burke (1979). "Eat, Drink, and Be Merry". Connections. Episode 8. 49 minutes in. BBC. 
  9. ^ Bamforth, Charles (2003). Beer: Tap into the Art and Science of Brewing, Second Edition. Oxford University Press, Inc. ISBN 0-19-515479-7. 
  10. ^ "LAGER BEER STYLES, European All-malt Pilsener". Retrieved 2014-04-08. 
  11. ^ Gregory J. Noonan, Mikel Redman and Scott Russell; Seven Barrel Brewery Brewers' Handbook; G.W. Kent, Inc; ISBN 1-887167-00-5 (paperback, 1996)
  12. ^ "German Beer Guide: Dunkel". Retrieved 2010-05-26. 
  13. ^ "Pražský Most u Valšů at Beer Culture". Retrieved 2010-09-28. 
  14. ^ "Dunkel". German Beer Guide. 2004-08-01. Retrieved 2012-08-14.