It was over 500 years ago that lager made an appearance in northern Europe – specifically Germany and Austria. German monks started it all and it turns out that the word ‘Lager’ comes from the German word Lagern – ‘to store’.
And it was the storage that was important, lager is a type of beer that must be conditioned at low temperature using bottom fermenting yeast. The German monks were lucky, they didn’t have far to travel to the Bavarian alps where caves could be used to condition the lagers, nice and cold and plenty of snow and ice.
As the processes developed over the centuries, Lager became popular in Europe, but the story of how lager came to the UK has very much a Welsh connection.
It was in 1881 that two homesick German immigrants were missing their lager from home. They started their own brewery in Wrexham, it was in an ideal location as cool storage rooms could be excavated into the sides of rocky hills and they had access to water from the River Gwenfro. Not all worked to plan though. They had trouble keeping the temperature down and as their trials and tribulations continued to improve the process, their company suffered.
The cooling processes were refined and this fresh new beer started to gain popularity in Wales, but it was the emergence of railways that really made things take off. The Great Western railway gave their brewery access to the rest of the UK and shipping lines also started to export Welsh lager to Europe.
Markets were established around the UK, then Europe and as far a field as Khartoum, expansion was massive and there was no stopping Welsh lager. By the outbreak of World War II, production stopped and couldn’t be revived. Access to markets, established over sixty years, proved hard to re-ignite and the breweries struggled.
Thankfully, that wasn’t the end of the story. We did, of course, have large breweries throughout Wales and the rest of the UK who, knowing a good thing when they saw one, snapped up the lager breweries, confident that they might be onto something.
Swinging Sixties and on!
And, of course, they were. As we entered the Sixties, lager began to truly gain popularity which leads us to today, where it’s the most sought after beer in the world.
Two enterprising and home-sick German immigrants bought lager to Wales and around the UK. They also bought 400 years of brewing knowledge with them, we’ll drink to that!