Mark Dredge is a beer, food and travel writer. His new book, A Brief History of Lager: 500 Years of the World's Favourite Drink, is released on the 19th September so we had a chat to him about the beer style we all love.
How did you get into writing about beer?
In 2008 I decided to start writing a blog about food, but it was rubbish. At the same time I was drinking more beer and getting more interested in it, specifically with enjoying beer with food, so those two things combined into a different blog. For a few years I was really dedicated to writing that and really loved the process of being creative around beer, while also learning more about it. I started to write some paid-for pieces, I started working for a brewery, then got asked to write a book and it’s all just been progressing from there. It still amazes me that it’s my job to write and talk about beer and that I’m currently writing my seventh book.
Your new book A Brief History of Lager is out on the 19th Sep. Where did the idea come from?
I found it remarkable that there wasn’t a book dedicated to lager. It accounts for over 90% of all beer sold around the world and it’s the most-drunk alcoholic drink in the world – but there was no book telling its history. I thought I knew some of the stories of lager but as I looked more into it I got more interested in the history, and in particular the social history. For me, lager is not just the most-drunk drink, it’s the most social drink and I wanted to try and understand how, where and why people have drunk lager over the last 500 years. You won’t learn how to brew a lager in the new book, but you will learn how lager became so popular and what it’s like to drink it around the world.
Did you learn anything new or unexpected while writing A Brief History of Lager?
I was constantly learning new things and seeing stories in different ways. For example, I didn’t quite appreciate the impact that American brewers had on lager brewing around the world, particularly as they grew very large at the end of the 1800s and developed new technologies. I was also surprised at how much domestic changes in the 1950s and onwards impacted the beer industry in favour of lager. And it was fascinating to see why and how us Brits were the last nation in the world to become lager drinkers – it took us until 1989 before lager drinking overtook ale, yet if a Scottish brewer in the 1830s had been able to keep a sample of lager yeast alive for more than a few brews, the story could’ve been very different. And did you know that Manchester had a German beer hall as early as 1868 or 1869?
Why do you think craft lager has become more popular in the UK over the past few years?
Lager was the beer we all rejected when we decided we wanted something different to drink. We moved from that simple yellow lager and onto pale ales, IPAs, sours and stouts, and they gave us something completely different. But I think that the more beer you drink, and the more widely you drink, the more likely you are to return to lager again – but return to better lager or lager with more flavour.
But at the same time we don’t necessarily want too much more flavour and we still want the recognisable characteristics of a great lager – balance, refreshment, carbonation. As more brewers decide to make lagers, drinkers get to see that it’s possible to make really interesting and tasty lagers.
The majority of drinkers think pilsner is the only style of lager but there are many more to choose from. Which are your favourites and why?
More so than specific styles, I like to have lagers fresh and close to where they’re brewed. If I’m in Munich then I want a Helles or a Dunkel. If I’m in Prague then I want a Pilsner Urquell. If I’m in Franconia then I want an amber-coloured Kellerbier. If I’m in the US then I’m probably looking for a super hoppy IPL, or India Pale Lager. One of the main realisations I had when writing the lager book was that while lager is the most global drink in the world, the fact that it’s made in almost every country in the world, and that everywhere has their own brands, makes lager the most local drink in the world. And there are local variations wherever you go, even with the mainstream brands: Japanese lager is dry and crisply bitter, whereas Chinese lager is very delicate and a little sweet; Mexican lagers are some of the most interesting and varied, with more amber and dark lagers than most places; Italian lager is bready and dry; Spanish lager is lighter and more refreshing – and most of those differences are because of local cuisine and climate. It’s a global drink with local flavour.
Apart from Manchester Union of course which UK lager breweries should we be looking out for?
There’s a lot of really good lagers brewed in the UK right now. I like Lost & Grounded, Braybrooke, Donzoko and Camden Town – each does different kinds of lagers and they do them really well. There are also newer or lesser-known brewers making good lagers, like Round Corner, Utopian and Geipel.
What’s next for you?
I’ve just sorted out a new website for myself – www.beerdredge.com. I needed somewhere to put some of my work, links to my books, and a place to post some new blogs or features. And I’m working on a new version of my first book, Craft Beer World. I wrote that in 2012 and it now feels really out of date and needs updating. After spending 15 months really focusing on lager, and mostly lagers made by the big and best-known multinational breweries, I’m now jumping right back into craft beer and trying to understand where it’s at in 2019. It’s exciting to see the full spectrum of craft beer again.
Pre order A Brief History of Lager: 500 Years of the World's Favourite Drink