Michael Fabricant is MP for Lichfield.
With the EU referendum looming, I have been doing some hard thinking.
Yes, I know that at my selection for my constituency back in 1991, I said we have more in common with the English-speaking world including Canada and the United States than continental Europe. And I know I have stuck with that line – up until today. But now, like some of my colleagues, I am reversing 180 degrees.
A few years ago, I visited the town of Mostar in Bosnia-Herzegovina during the Balkan war. The sun was beating down and, as I sat on the west bank of the Neretva River – the Christian side – overlooking the ancient bridge shortly before it was shelled, I saw a bar. And then, after trying the local beer, I saw the light.
Despite the conflict that the local people were enduring, they were still able to produce excellent lager. Fruity, rich in flavour – and lacking the tin can aftertaste that British, Canadian, American, and Australian lagers all seem to have. How comes that a nation at war could produce better lagers than wealthy, peaceful Britain?
And whenever I am in Belgium or Italy, the story is the same: European lagers are generally superb.
While Britain excels with real ales, our lagers lag behind. More often than not, the overriding taste is not of barley and hops, but of the can that the beer is served in – mixed with an unenticing cocktail of chemicals. We wouldn’t accept plastic bottle-flavoured milk or cardboard box-flavoured pizza, so why accept can-flavoured lager? And, to my taste, English lager doesn’t get much better when served from a bottle or the keg.
Things don’t have to be this way.
Until the middle of the 20th century, lager wasn’t particularly popular in the UK, but it now occupies a gigantic space in the British drinks market, overtaking traditional ales. And European imports are now taking up a large chunk of that market: Heineken, Grolsch, Peroni, Leffe, and Kronenbourg, to name but a few household names. Even the Japanese Asahi and Sapporo beers are taking hold. In an increasingly crowded market, Anglo-lagers are losing out. I may be patriotic, but on this matter I vote with my taste buds – and European lager wins hands down!
We already have a Campaign for Real Ale, but is it not now time for a vigorous Campaign for Real Lager? The Real Ale Campaign has done fine work in improving and promoting quality British ale, making the likes of Watney’s Red Barrel history. I believe that a similar campaign for lager would have the same result.
Better British beer would benefit everyone, from customers and manufacturers to the Treasury. Perhaps surprisingly, the UK is the fifth biggest exporter of beer in the world, behind only Mexico, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. With better quality lagers, there is no reason why we can’t overtake at least some of these countries.
When it comes to beer, I’d very much like to see us become more “European”, and start brewing better lager. With hysterical warnings about war, pestilence, and recession should we decide to leave the EU, it is a tad surprising that Remain campaigners haven’t yet moved on to beer. I can picture the headlines now: “Lager will be twice as expensive and half as refreshing if we leave the EU, warns Cameron.”
But, since I wouldn’t believe that claim either, I’ll still be voting Leave on the 23rd.