Love lager? "Not bloody likely" is the kind of thing I would have said, drinking my way through another pint of Caffrey's in an Oirish pub in Birmingham (O'Neill's on Broad Street usually). Ten years of living in the Czech Republic has done away with such nonsensical thinking, but then the difference between Czech lager and the yellow fizz of the UK is roughly akin to the relationship between cubic zirconia and a real diamond.
The problem today though is that once proud lagers such as Kozel and Pilsner Urquell are simply shadows of their former selves. Kozel was my favourite lager when I first moved here, then it was bought by Pilsner Urquell, who in turn sold out to SABMiller. In come the accountants and down go the lagering times and the complexity of flavour that goes with it. A similar story can be told of Staropramen, now made with 20% corn syrup, thanks A-B InBev! And yet almost every time I sit in a pub I am regaled with the ridiculous notion that "Czech beer is the best in the world", by a bloke drinking his watered down Gambrinus.
But before I start to sound like the drunk in the corner complaining that things used to be better, there are a wealth of small breweries in the Czech Republic making excellent golden pale lagers; Kout na Šumavě, Purkmistr and Chodovar to name but three. These are beers that should encourage the good citizens of this land to take an axe to the vast stainless steel conditioning tanks which barely hold their wares long enough for the smooth, crisp flavour of a Bohemian lager to develop.
What would Josef Groll make of the state of his beer these days? Groll of course is the man credited with the invention of the pilsner of which all others are imitations. For those who don't know the story, the burghers of Pilsen - as it was back then - were fed up with the poor quality of the beers they were being served up. Determined to change things they looked to Bavaria, bringing in Bavarian technology and know-how, and until 1900 hiring only Bavarian head brewers, to re-create in Bohemia Bavarian style beers. The beer Groll made was to become massively popular and spawn countless pale, insipid imitations, which swept almost everything before them. Groll himself though went back to Vilshofen after 3 years - contract not renewed, creative differences, those kinds of things - to take up the reins of his father's brewery and to die in the only place natural for him, his favourite pub. I am sure Groll, in his gruff and grumpy style (according to legend), would have told the accoutants to shove it and gone about making his Bavarian style lager in the way he knew was best.
So yes, love lager, love it enough to hunt out the good stuff and drink a toast to grumpy old Joe.