German lager was once my downfall. My advice to Brits going to Euro 2024 – don’t do as I once did | Pete Brown

With Euro 2024 kicking off in 11 weeks, the Foreign Office has issued its travel advice for England and Scotland fans planning on following their teams to Germany. Fair enough. It’s handy to remind people about travel insurance, health insurance and keeping your valuables safe. But towards the bottom of the page, there’s a cautionary note about alcohol: “Beer can be stronger than in the UK, so drink responsibly, know your limits and respect local laws. You may not be let into the stadium if you drink too much.” Are they calling British football fans lightweights?

Some of them may certainly wonder if they really need to be schooled on how to drink lager. They are generally thought to be pretty good at it. Paul Goodwin, cofounder of the Scottish Football Supporters Association, told the BBC: “There are of course many things that Scotland fans need to be warned about but we don’t really think this is one of them.”

Well, allow me to offer Mr Goodwin and the travelling fans a cautionary tale.

Years ago, at the start of my career as a drinks writer, I visited Oktoberfest for the first time. The beer at the festival is served in litre tankards known as steins, or more accurately, Maßkrug, given that a stein is technically made from pottery. No one really minds that the top third of the glass is foam – it adds to the character. You swing them as much as you drink them, the beer disappears quickly as you sway along to the band and you have quite a few, but it’s OK because the beer is Helles, a light lager style at about 4% ABV.

So when we visited a biergarten the following day and saw Oktoberfest Bier being sold by the Maẞ, I naturally assumed it was the same thing we had been drinking at Oktoberfest. You know, what with it having the same name and everything.

But Oktoberfest Bier is not the beer they sell at Oktoberfest. Oktoberfest Bier is a strong, malty lager brewed in spring and conditioned over the summer to be drunk when the days start getting colder. It’s typically between 6% and 7% ABV. I didn’t know this. I had seven steins over the course of the afternoon, and then I tried to stand up. We’ll draw a veil over what happened next.

We may drink a lot of beer in this country, but we don’t really learn much about it. Even fans of lager believe that lager is “just lager” – it’s cold and fizzy, goes down easily and refreshes body and soul. But most of what passes for lager in the UK is so awful, it gives beer and drinkers a bad name. (Anyone remember the “lager lout”?)

“Lager” is the German word for “store”. Remember that Oktoberfest beer that ages all summer? A decent lager needs at least a month in cold conditioning tanks, kept between 0-2C for the yeast to finish its fermentation and develop the subtle yet characteristic clean bite that any great lager has. Most lagers brewed in Britain are lucky if they see the inside of a fermentation vessel for more than a week. Technically, they’re not really “lager” at all. And many big lager brewing corporations seem to have a curious disrespect both for the beer (which they usually refer to as “the liquid”) and the people who drink it (“the consumer”).

Nonetheless, British drinkers love it. Madri, a “Spanish” lager, has recently become the most successful new British beer launch in history, but is completely unknown in Madrid, mainly because it is brewed in Burton-on-Trent and Tadcaster.

So when you go to Germany, the quality and variety of lagers can take you by surprise. This quality is protected by the Reinheitsgebot, a controversial “purity law” that restricts the ingredients brewers can use. So those brewers have to get inventive. There are smoked lagers, unfiltered lagers, dark lagers, session lagers and lagers as strong as wine.

There’s no such thing as “just lager”. There are lagers in Germany of a similar strength to the leading UK brands that taste far better. And the stronger beers taste like no lager you’ve ever had in the UK, apart from those brewed by some brilliant small British craft brewers. If any advice on drinking does need to be given to travelling fans, it’s this: get your head around lager as a beer of quality, rather than quantity.

The Guardian