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How long should a lager beer be aged?

Added: Monday, September 11th 2023

I&G lager

Lager is a much abused and misunderstood beer style. Much of what passes for lager, brewed by giant global brewers, has little in common with the true style.

Lager is a German word meaning “storage”. Beer is stored for weeks and even months during which time it undergoes a slow second fermentation at a temperature just above freezing point.

Alastair Hook, who founded Meantime Brewery in London and trained at the world-renowned Munich brewing school, says: “The longer you lager beer, the better it will become”. To prove the point, Budweiser Budvar Original (5%) is lagered for 90 days and it’s possible to taste the beer, in ice-cold cellars beneath the brewery, at one, two and three months to see how it ages and improves over that long period.

In sharp contrast, the so-called lagers brewed by the global producers are today routinely made in just 21 days. These are beers brilliantly dubbed “Ersatzenbräu” by the late, great beer writer Michael Jackson.

A discussion about how long beer should be lagered has been prompted by the Scottish brewer Innis & Gunn that has just launched a beer called 12 Moons Lager (5.8%). It’s aged for a full year, hence the name, and the brewery believes it’s the longest known ageing period for a lager.

Until the arrival of 12 Moons, the beer with the longest ageing period was Samichlaus (14%), first brewed in Switzerland but now produced at the Schloss Eggenberg Brewery in Austria. The name means Santa Claus and it’s brewed every year on 6 December, St Nicholas’Day, and then lagered for 10 months.

Budweiser Budvar’s Budvar Reserve (7.5%) has an impressive 200 days in the lager cellar but 12 Moons may now lead the field. Dougal Sharp, founder of Innis & Gunn, says: “Since we like pushing the boundaries of brewing, it seemed fitting to create a long-matured lager in honour of the moon. We’ve brewed 12 Moons with both lager and ale malts and with naked oats for texture. Styrian hops give their special floral aromas of lemongrass and spice.”

Unusually for a lager, 12 Moons is neither filtered nor pasteurised and as it’s bottle conditioned could claim to be “real lager”. It’s certainly a full-flavoured and quenching brew with orange and lemon fruit from the hops from the floral and spicy hops.

Innis & Gunn are not alone in making proper British interpretations of lager, as Utopian in Devon and Freedom in Staffordshire prove. If lager is your preferred tipple it’s now possible to enjoy full-tasting versions of the style, avoiding the blandishments of Ersatzenbräu.

▪Innis & Gunn 12 Moons Lager is available from at £9.99 per 750ml bottle.