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A question from the Beerprole about what is and isn’t entitled to call itself ‘lager’ recently surfaced* on Twitter, before once again disappearing beneath the tide of the timeline. This reminded us of a similar discussion we’d had a few weeks before with about the term ‘mild’. UPDATE FOR CLARITY: In both cases, the question was a variation on “can beer X really be called a lager/mild”.
What confuses these and many other conversations is the co-existence of several meanings, each of which is equally correct, depending on context.
Historical (19th c.) Common understanding (what it’s come to mean)
US homebrew judging guidance
Mild Any young beer (not aged) — could be strong, could be hoppy; not necessarily dark. Weak, dark, not bitter. Weak, dark, restrained hopping, top-fermented (“ale”).
Lager From the German “to store” — cold conditioned beer. Yellow, highly carbonated, cold — “refreshing”. Made with bottom-fermenting yeast.
Anyone attempting to sell a beer which is perfectly correctly described as lager or mild in historical or technical terms, but which confounds people’s expectations based on common modern usage, is setting up their customers to be disappointed.
Unless, that is, they take care to explain all of that in the labelling or through educated bar staff, when the difference from the common understanding might become an intriguing selling point.