Dortmund Export, Dort, Export

Pronunciation guide for English-speakers:

A Westphalian lager that originated in Germany's steel and coal district along the River Ruhr in the 19th century. Dortmunder is the laborer's answer to the elegant, aromatic deep golden Pilsner from Bohemia and the straw-blond, brilliant, malty Munich Helles. Dortmunder is a full-bodied, moderately hopped beer of at least 5% alcohol by volume. It became the favorite quaff of coal miners and heavy industry workers in the first half of the 20th century. The mines and mills of the Ruhr District have all fallen silent now, and the Dortmunder has largely been replaced by the racy modern Pils. However, the Dortmunder Unions Brauerei (DUB) and the Dortmunder Actien-Brauerei (DAB) each
still make their own version of this classic lager style, as do many brewpubs. Both DAB and DUB export their brews to North America.

Related beer styles:
Helles, Pils

Dortmunder - A Hearty Brew for a Hardy People

Dortmund Export is a blond lager that evolved in the latter part of the 19th century in the Ruhr District of Germany. The District is an oblong stretch of land running east-west, some 20 miles wide and 60 miles long. It is divided along its length by a tributary to the Rhine, the Ruhr River, from which it takes its name. To understand the Dortmund Export beer one must first understand its region of origin.

A Tough Brew for a Tough Place
From the start of the Industrial Revolution to about the 1980s, the Ruhr District was the industrial heartland of Germany. Duisburg, the city with the largest inland port in Europe, was at its western edge and Dortmund, the District's largest city, at its eastern edge. Between the two cities, there were dozens of towns and cities all crowded together. Up to 3,000 feet (1,000 meters) deep in the earth, ran rich seams of hard coal, some not even four feet in diameter. These residues of ancient vegetation provided the carbon for Germany's steel and the energy for Germany's industrial machine.

The Ruhr District was the crucible in which the coal from below was fused with ore hauled in by freighters, barges, and trains from all corners of the globe. The District had hundreds of coal pits and steel mills. The marriage between coal and iron spawned a giant industrial megalopolis that was the heart and soul of the so-called German economic miracle that pulled the country out of the rubble and poverty, during the aftermath of World War II. During much of the 20th century, nights in the Ruhr District were never really dark. The sky was kept aglow by an omnipresent fiery hue as the blast furnaces, one after another, spewed their molten rivers into the factories around them. The air smelled burnt. If you left your laundry on the balcony overnight to dry, it came back in dirty the following morning.

It ought not to come as a surprise that the beer the Dortmund brewers made for their hard-working patrons was as tough and hearty as the people who drank it. When a miner got off his shift all showered but exhausted after eight hours of jack-hammering chunks of coal from the rock in a dark, dusty, hot, and dangerous shaft, what he needed was a beer he could respect. Likewise, when the steelworker left the blast inferno, where he earned his daily bread, a place hotter than the world's hottest desert, he wanted a restorative draught. The beer the Dortmund brewers came up with was the Dortmund style, a lager as strong in maltiness as the best Bavarian brew and just a touch deeper golden in color than the best Pilsner brew, and with a good dose of satisfying, earthy bitterness.

There was nothing wimpy about the lager from this stark, no-nonsense region of coal, steel, and sweat. Where the Bavarian Helles excelled in straw-blond elegance, gentle hoppiness, and rich maltiness; where the Bohemian Pilsner excelled in lingering, aromatic hop reverberations in the finish; and where the effervescent northern German Pils excelled in edgy up-front bitterness; the Dortmund style excelled in the middle, with a substantial flavor and mouthfeel a solid beer for a solid breed of people. Up front, it ranked in bitterness above a Munich Helles, for instance, but lower than a Lower Saxon Pils, while in the finish, it ranked half way between a Munich Helles and a Bohemian Pilsner, with both hops and malt in a medium-dry balance. But in the middle, where the heart is, it outshone all its blond lager contemporaries, with a hefty mouthfeel and an alcohol by volume content of about 5.5%, compared to an alcohol level in the upper four percentile range for all other blond lagers.

In the old days, perhaps the best Dortmund style was made by the Kronen Brauerei. Brewery owner Heinrich Wenker introduced his version of a strong Munich-style lager to his home city in 1843, just one year after the first batch of Pilsner had been brewed by the Bohemian Burgher Brewery of Pilsen in what is now the Czech Republic. By 1871, Wenker began to make his lager a bit stronger than the brews of his competitors so that it would not spoil when shipped for "export" outside the city limits. This was the period, when Dortmund was rapidly industrializing, and soon the citizens of the greater Ruhr District, especially the miners and steel workers, clamored for the Kronen Dortmund Export...and the name stuck. Today, the style is still known as Dortmund Export, or sometimes just Export for short.

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