However encouraging the last couple of decades may have been for consumers trying to  access to more interesting beers, over 90% of what is drunk in the world comes from a narrow range of predictable, see-through, frothy-topped brands, usually blond, that are fermented with lager yeast and produced on an industrial scale to a ‘fast beer’ specification. 

The key characteristics of a successful industrial lager are that it must be cheap to produce, free from production flaws and have enough visual appeal to justify an inflated price.  It is highly unlikely to be lagered in the true sense.

Contrary to popular belief, industrial lagers are not “full of chemicals”, though they can taste that way if drunk at room temperature, as the fuller flavour the warmer temperature brings gives away the cheapness of the ingredients and the speed of fermentation.  This is why many are served as cold as possible.

Though the character of an industrial lager is broadly uniform and intentionally inoffensive, they still come in recognisable sub-groups.

American-style industrial lager

Similar to its European equivalent (below), with the exception that rice is also a frequent malt substitute, sometimes accounting for up to 40% of the cereal in the mash.  Rice was traditionally used to make American beers prior to Prohibition but nonetheless lowers the grain character of the beer.  Typically a product of high-gravity brewing, most are fermented as strong beers before being extensively diluted, up to 60:40 with water, prior to re-carbonation and packaging.  Typically they have a low hop content and undergo little conditioning. 

European-style industrial lager

Some European-style industrial lagers are made from 100% malted barley, though this is usually modified and can be in syrup form.  Many contain wheat and some well-known brands contain up to 30% of processed maize, corn syrup, or starch derived from barley or wheat.  As with their American counterparts they are usually brewed and fermented at high gravity, then diluted, have low hop bitterness and undergo little conditioning.

Light industrial lager

Light lagers are especially popular in the USA like in this country club in Nashville, Tennessee (photo: André Brunnsberg)

North American drinkers, when asked in the 1960s what others sorts of beer they would like to see, decided they wanted beers with less carbohydrate content.  The solution was to increase the amount of filtration and ferment more sugar to alcohol.  The result is an industrial lager with less weight to it. 

Strong industrial lager

Usually featuring much malt substitution, with swift fermentation, this style of higher alcohol beer (7.0-10.5% ABV) is generally designed for impact rather than aplomb.  Some are the high gravity brews that with dilution become popular brands.  Steadily disappearing from Europe markets for their association with alcohol-related health problems. 

Ultralight and ice lager

Thinner forms of light industrial lager.  The attraction of these beers is their low sugar content, the downside being the absence of flavour.  The so-called “Ice” varieties have their protein content removed at a low temperature.  Also known as soda beers.