Sunday, March 13, 2016

How lager conquered the world: Food historian argues it globally dominated because it’s ‘clean’

by Joseph Brean

Like a Big Mac or a Coke, a Budweiser is one of the global economy’s more reliable pleasures, cheaply available almost everywhere.

Historically, like the double-pattie burger and the iconic cola, the global dominance of light, fizzy, relatively bland, central European-style lager — from Budweiser to Molson and Corona — relied as much on cleanliness and consistency as it did on taste, as anyone who has tasted a Bud can tell you.

In a talk to a gastronomy conference at the University of Toronto Mississauga this weekend, food historian Jeffrey Pilcher will argue that lager conquered the world, after first conquering ale, because it was viewed as clean in an age preoccupied with hygiene.

In Language of Beer: Sensory and Social Constructions in the Rise of a Global Commodity, he also describes how the modern craft beer trend has risen in resistance to this gastronomic hegemony.

Lager is basically the McDonald’s of beer. It is safe, dependable, but most importantly, it seems clean, because it is bottom fermented at cold temperatures, unlike ale, which is brewed warm, in a more inviting environment for pathogens.

In the 19th century, as international trade kicked into high gear, the global popularity of lager “resulted from associations with discourses of hygiene,” writes Pilcher, professor of historical and cultural studies at the University of Toronto Scarborough.

In an interview, Pilcher points out that Louis Pasteur — the grandfather of germ control, whose technique of heating liquids to make them safe to drink made possible many modern commodity beverages, from milk to juice — was a lager man, praising its microbiological safety.

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