Three Millennia of German Brewing
Note, this panel is a work
Beerany beeris such a simple beverage: All you need is some malted grain, a good dose of water, a smidgen of flavorings, a bit of yeast, and, voila, you've got beer. It is the brewer's art, and a true art it is, that turns these simple materials into a sheer endless variety of divine gustatory pleasures.
Beverages, like food, are always symbols of the culinary culture in which they emerged. The greatest drinks are pearls of civilization that have matured over centuries. When we think of Champagne, Cabernet Sauvignon or Cognac, for instance, we conjure up images of the joie de vie of the French. When we savor a Sherry or a Malaga, we are partaking in the mystery that is southern Spain. How could a frozen Vodka be anything but Russian or a Tequila anything but Mexican? Likewise, when we drink a Munich Helles or an Oktoberfestbier, we are vicariously transported into the lederhosen-slapping land of the Bavarians. The character of the drink seems always a reflection of the character of the people who created it.
At the Beginning There
It may come as a surprise to
modern beer enthusiasts, to learn that the history of German beer has been,
for the most part, one of ale, not lager--in spite of the present-day preponderance
of blond lagers, which currently hold well over two-thirds of the German
beer market. But if you scratch the surface of the German lager veneer,
what you'll find is a bed rock of solid ale traditions. Until the 16th century
all German beer was ale. Until about the eighth century, it was brewed almost
exclusively in the home, by tribal hausfraus. By the 11th century it was
brewed mostly by professional brewmonks and brewnuns, until feudal lords
took over most institutional brewing in southern Germany, while burgher-merchants
did the same in northern Germany.
Germans have been brewing ales for at least three thousand years, but lagers (specifically: brown lagers) for only five centuries. The blond, crisp, clean lagers, for which Germans have become so famous in our age, have been around for a scant 150 years. The now ubiquitous hoppy Pils started its conquest only about 30 years ago.
Thus, do not judge history by the most recent past, lest you take as fact what might be a fad or a short-term trend. Decades, even centuries, do not mean all that much in a country, where a traveler can eat and drink in places that were already old when Columbus sailed the seas and discovered that there was an entire continent blocking his route to the orient. There are pubs in Germany, where centuries of stolid bums have rubbed cozy, indelible hollows into wooden benches, from which a contemporary imbiber can take unobtrusive support and comfort as he settles in for an evening of delectable degustation..
Politics, Economics and Religion
In Germany, the fortunes of beer have always been intimately intertwined with the ups and downs of the country's political and religious history, but the secular and the sacred have been strange bed fellows, each with the capacity to reach down into the everyday life of common man and to regulate his existence from cradle to grave.
The secular authorities build roads, collect taxes, train armies, mete out justice, mint coins, finance welfare and organize the police, while the churches preach morals, baptize babies, bury the dead, set up schools and hospitals and give to the poor. But at certain times in history, religious leaders, in competition with their secular counterparts, also had their own armies, sources of tax revenue, courts of law, territorial claims and commercial enterprises.
What does this have to do with German beer, you may ask? The answer is: everything! In a culture where beer defines part of the national character, the question of who controls the brew is paramount. He who has his hand on the levers of power, also has his thumb in the people's beer mug.
One can trace the roots of German beer making back to the tribal Germanic marauders of yore. These inhabitants of the dark Teutonic forests used to menace the poor Roman legionnaires who were sent there to do Caesar's bidding. As we know from Roman reports, Germanic hausfrau-brewsters minded the kettle in the forest clearings. Yes, home brewing had been a venerable tradition on this earth long before February 1979, when Jimmy Carter repealed its prohibition in the United States.
Between the 6th and the 9th centuries, the tribal societies of central Europe became both Christianized and organized into countries united by language and customs. This set the stage for a power struggle between the secular feudal lords and the Christian bishops and monks for control over all facets of life--including beer making! By the 11th century, monastic breweries, run mostly by Benedictine monks and nuns, enjoyed an almost exclusive right to brew and sell beer.
By the 12th century, the feudals, possessed by greed and envy and always strapped for revenues, began to take back most of the brew privileges they had granted so generously to the religious orders during the previous centuries. Many a lord started his own Hofbräuhaus (court brewhouse).
While the struggle between the feudals and the clerics over the spoils of power was at its most ferocious, both parties seemed to have missed the rise, at the beginning of the second millennium, of a new, third force in society, which was ultimately to snatch the economic prize out of both their clutches. This emerging new force were the enterprising city burghers, who quietly created a new prosperity based on industry, commerce and technological innovation. Within a few centuries they had all but monopolized the making of top quality beers with great taste and keeping qualities. They erected private trading empires that spanned most of the known world of the time, and beer, next to minerals, furs and dry goods was among their most profitable commodities. Through their ventures, these free-spirited burghers planted the seeds of our modern civilization that would, in due course, limit the clergy to its spiritual purpose and relegate the nobles to the historical junk heap.
The development of German beer as we know it today was virtually finished by the time the 20th century rolled around--as were the struggles for political and economic power between church and state and between the common people and the aristocrats. But for about a thousand years, the question of who ran the country and owned the beer--monks, lords, merchants, guilds--had determined which beers were brewed and distributed, where, in which quantity and of which quality. Church, state and free enterprise each had its fair share in either furthering or retarding the progress of German beer. From (literally) murky beginnings at the dawn of European civilization, German beers have evolved into mature, sophisticated brews with an unmistakable character that stems from a unique combination of ingredients and processes.
Let this website take you on a journey of discovery so that next time you pop open a bottle of German beer, you can savor not only its sublime complexity, but also the story behind it.
The tribal inhabitants of northern and central Europe started to make beer from wheat, barley or any other grain that grew wild and was considered of not much use for anything else, as early as the latter part of the Bronze Age, probably before 1000 B.C. This we know from their sagas and myths. At that time, Celtic and Germanic tribes were competing for control over patches of inhabitable space in the forests. The struggle between the two groups lasted until about the fourth century B.C., when the Germans had either ousted the Celts from the continent or had assimilated them. Only on the British Isles and along the Atlantic coast of present-day France did the Celts remain the dominant cultural force for another millennium or so.
The tribes of central Europe, spread out over such a large territory and with very little communication among them, naturally were less homogeneous than the collective term "German" implies. The Danes, Norwegians and Swedes of Scandinavia evolved their distinct "Norse" culture, while the inhabitants of Caesar's gallia (roughly modern France and Belgium) developed their "Gallic" ways. Only the tribes in the very center--prominent among them the Alemans, Swabians, Bavarians and Saxons--created a culture that we now associate with the term "German". But no matter where the Germans lived and what their customs, they were brewers all.
The pagans of northern Europe called their beer öl, which is the root of the modern word "ale". But since these folk could neither read nor write, we have no firm documentary evidence of the beginnings of their ale.
We do know for sure, however,
that the Germans were already regular ale brewers by about 800 B.C. Archaeologists
have uncovered the burial site of a well-to-do German of that time, near
the Franconian village of Kasendorf, seven miles from Kulmbach, in northern
Bavaria. The grave not only contained the remains of the deceased gentleman
but also the provisions his contemporaries had generously supplied for his
trip into the realm of the spirits. Among these were crocks of beer, which,
when unearthed almost 3,000 years later, still contained traces of bread--the
standard raw material for the mashes of ancient times.
Today, Kulmbach is home to many famous brews, including the Kulmbacher Mönchshof Kloster Schwarzbier, a malty black lager. Founded as a monastery brewery in 1349 and secularized in 1791, the Mönchshof brewery is still going strong as part of the Kulmbacher Reichelbräu conglomerate. Surely, almost 3,000 years of virtually uninterrupted brewing in the Kulmbach region must constitute a world record!
Early beers were usually dark brews "mashed" from half-baked loaves of bread made from coarsely-ground barley or wheat. The gentle, moist baking of the loaves probably had a similar effect on the grain as today's malting, that is, of activating the enzymes required for the conversion of starches into fermentable sugars. This "modified" bread was then soaked in crocks filled with water, where it fermented. The result was a murky and sour ale, full of floating husks and crumbs--a far cry from the clean and crisp beers made in Germany today.
The first truly historical accounts of beer making among the Germans came from their Roman conquerorsthose literate, wine-drinking military men and imperial officials, who reveled in exposing the deplorable predilection of the barbarian germanii for their inferior "barley wines." These, by Roman standards, were second-rate beverages, often flavored with such unspeakables as oak bark, aspen leaves or even the content of an oxen's gall bladder.
At the time of the first Roman contact, the Germans were already producing beer in large quantities. Thus wrote the Greco-Roman geographer Strabo (around 63 B.C. - 21 A.D.), when he reported that one tribe, the Cimbri, used bronze brew kettles capable of holding about 500 liters. Today, we would call this a 4¼-barrel brewhouse. A remarkable metallurgical achievement for that time!
Some historians speculate that Julius Caesar and his legions learned about beer making from the Germans and introduced it to the British Isles in 55 or 53 B.C., but other historians insist that the Celts had mastered the art of ale making on their own, long before the Romans had figured out how to cross the British Channel in boats. Suffice it to say that, around the birth of Christ, ale was the most popular drink of all the Europeans north of the Alps.
Zwei, G'suffa ... 2000 Years Ago
The best description of tribal Germanic drinking habits has come to us from the Roman historian Publius Cornelius Tacitus. In his De origine et situ germanorum (About the origin and location of the Germans), which he completed in 98 A.D., Tacitus asserted, with some contempt, that the Germanic folk were proficient imbibers, who sought out even the slightest excuse for having a drinking party. No other people, he wrote, were inclined to enjoy so much the art of banqueting and entertaining as the Germans, and it was customary for them to invite strangers into their homes to share a meal and a brew. "The germanii," he said, "serve an extract of barley and rye as a beverage that is somehow adulterated (presumably he means: fermented) to resemble wine."
Perhaps, the cartoon cliché
of raucous tribesmen, frolicking on their bear skins in front of a camp
fire and passing, from one eager mouth to the next, their richly ornamented
aurochs horns filled with intoxicating liquids, is not too far fetched after
Tacitus was impressed by the vigor and energy of the Germans. He described the country as rough and crude, the air as unpleasant, but the people as pure and unspoiled. He observed that the men were capable of withstanding cold and hunger and were always ready to attempt feats of daring. There was one deprivation, however, the Germans apparently could not bear: THIRST! No wonder that both honey beer (mead) and grain beer always flowed in copious quantities at important tribal gatherings, where the Germans discussed such weighty matters as war and peace or the betrothal of a chieftain's daughter.
The Germans sure knew how to have fun and, contrary to current perceptions of their 20th century descendants, were none too eager to do heavy work. At least this is what Tacitus wanted us to believe. He even suggested that it might have been easier to conquer the germanii by shipments of cerevisia (beer) than by force of pilum (lance) and gladius (sword): "If we wanted to make use of their addiction to drink, by giving them as much of it as they want, we could defeat them as easily by means of this vice as with our weapons...They cultivate the grains of the field with much greater patience and perseverance than one would expect from them, in light of their customary laziness."
In Roman high society, German beer was held in such disdain that even the Emperor Flavius Claudius Julianus (331 - 363 A.D.) felt himself called upon to rhyme a silly ditty about the superior virtues of wine compared to beer. In his poem, he likened the smell of wine to that of nectar and the smell of the Germanic "drink from grain" to that of a billy goat. Julianus had come to know the Germans and their beer from his many battles against the Franks and Alemans.
Unimpressed by the highbrow Roman attitude, however, the tribal marauders of the Gallic and Teutonic forests continued to down their indigenous beverages just as they continued to menace the poor legionnaires sent from the Apennine peninsula to keep an eye on them. The sylvan primitives proved to be intrepid warriors, who were as fond of draining the life blood out of their sophisticated, wine-drinking oppressors as they were of draining their aurochs horns of murky quaff. For the emissaries of mighty Rome, life was never safe at such camps as colonia claudia ara agrippinensium (today's Cologne), castra novesia (today's Neuß, outside Düsseldorf), castra xantippa (today's Xanten, on the Rhine, near the Dutch border) or treveris (today's Trier at the Moselle River, near Luxembourg)..
The Romans had brought the grape to central Europe so that they could indulge in the drinking habits to which they were accustomed at home. But it is obvious that eventually they developed a taste for the "inferior" beverage of their Germanic underlings. How else are we to interpret the tomb stone of a Roman merchant, who died in treveris (Trier) on the Moselle River, in 260 A.D.? The epitaph on his stone identifies him as a cervesarius, a beer merchant. Founded by Emperor Augustus in 15 B.C., treveris was the capital of the western part of the Roman Empire and served as administrative headquarters of the Roman territories from Spain to Britain. In this great city of the world, our cervesarius had his liquid wares privately brewed by German ladies in the neighborhood and sold the merchandise at a fine mark-up to his civilized Roman customers.
The Romans even learned to brew themselves, as is evident from a complete Roman brewery discovered in 1983 near the Bavarian city of Regensburg, on the banks of the Danube. This brewery dates from the 2nd or 3rd century A.D. and was part of a canaba, a settlement of craftsmen, that had sprung up within the walls of a fortification called castra regina (hence the modern name of the city: Regensburg). Castra regina was built in 179 A.D. by the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Because of its strategic location along the north-eastern flank of the empire, it became the largest Roman camp in what is now southern Germany, housing some 6,000--obviously thirsty--legionnaires as well as scores of administrators and support personnel.
It is apparent from the construction of the kiln and mash tun of the Regensburg brewery that German beer making had, by that time, progressed from the primitive bread beer found in the grave near Kulmbach to the mashing of malted grains as we practice it today.
Evidence of another Roman brewery in Germany, a fermenter with residues of black beer, was found in 1911 during the excavation of a Roman camp near Alzey, in Germany's largest wine-growing region, in the state of Rhineland-Palatine. Apparently, the fermenter and its contents were hastily abandoned by the Romans sometime in the year in 353 A.D., during a surprise attack by the Alemans.
The Romans' ultimate embrace of the barbaric beverage is also reflected in their language. They came to regard beer as a gift from Ceres, the goddess of agriculture, and treasured it as a strength-giving potion (vis = strength). Hence their term for beer: cerevisia. .
We are now peeking into the sixth century A.D. The Roman Empire had crumbled and the Germanic way of life had flourished in the clearings of the Teutonic forest and along the river banks. For the next three centuries, life, when not interrupted by raiding Huns, Vikings or Saracens, would generally be peaceful in the little farming villages up and down the lands of the Franks, Alemans, Saxons, Swabians, Thuringians and Bavarians. Indigenous civilizations, no longer under the yoke of Latin legions and their pax romana, began to take shape.
While the man of the house was out tending his fields of barley and wheat or chasing the stag in the woods, the lady of the house was busy at the domestic hearth making the bread, the stew and the brew. In German families of that period, home brewing was as ubiquitous as home cooking and baking, and the brew kettle was as important a part of a maiden's dowry as were her cooking pots and pans. It was customary for a brewster-hausfrau to invite her neighbors to a round of afternoon beer. The ladies took the beverage with pieces of bread dunked into it--perhaps a forerunner of the modern coffee-klatsch?
This was the epoch when two influences of tremendous impact on the fate of German brewing began to emerge: feudalism and Christianity. Feudalism established controls from above that changed brewing in Germany from a household activity of the common folk into a privileged commercial activity of a favored few, practiced first mostly by monks and nuns and, since the 12th century, more and more by secular court breweries and mercantile enterprises.
The other influence, Christianity, brought with it the emergence of monasteries not only as beneficiaries of the privileges doled out by the secular lords, but also as centers of education and learning, where brewing knowledge could accumulate, quality standards could improve, and the craft of brewing could evolve, for the first time in Europe, into a true profession..
the Feudal Beer Drinker
Feudalism began to replace the loose social organization of the Germanic tribes, as their ancient customs and practices became codified into coherent bodies of law. Ironically, these new laws were written in Latin, the language of the just-ousted oppressor. The Goths and Burgundians both made new laws in 506. The Franks compiled theirs between 508 and 511. The Alemans got theirs in 719, the Bavarians, in 743. These laws granted every household the right to brew beer. They also specified the tributes each had to render as a tax unto the authorities: a certain amount of wood, meat, hemp, grain, honey, wool--and beer. Under feudalism, money was scarce. Some historians argue that the lack of coinage was one of the main reasons why feudalism took hold in the first place. The Roman system of central administration and taxation had disappeared as had the benefits that came with it: educational institutions, road and bridge maintenance, trade, a uniform currency. With the Romans gone, most wealth-creating activities ceased, the economy reverted to barter as Europe entered the Dark Ages, and for several centuries, there was a great and universal decline in population. The principal values in the economy were labor and produce--and the land needed to turn the former, of the which the people had plenty, into the latter, of which the king took plenty. The impetus that made the system work was the people's need for security and protection and the king's ability to grant it.
Effective power in the Dark Ages resided in local dukes, appointed by the king and pledged to him by a personal oath of fealty. These vassals were charged with raising armies for defense and public safety and carrying out administrative and judicial duties. In exchange, the local lords received land, which they, in turn, subdivided into smaller holdings run by subvassals and worked by serfs. The vassals owed their immediate overlords obedience, war service and a prescribed number of soldiers, usually recruited from the ranks of the serfs.
The bold and strong eventually rose to become noble knights and the weak sank to become toiling peasants. In time, social positions became hereditary and the system evolved into pure feudalism, a static, money-less form of exchange, in which the folks at the bottom traded their labor and their freedom for security and protection provided by those at the top. .
Charlemagne Makes Beer
Such was the system that Charlemagne found, when he started his reign in 768. With few means of transportation and communication, an emperor rarely stayed put for long in the capital, which was Aachen (or Aix-la-Chapelle), about 40 miles west of Cologne. Rulers looked after the realm and local matters by traveling from one castle or crown estate to the next. Without much money in circulation, taxes were in the form of the fruits of the land. The emperor traveled to his revenues in order to consume them on location, since he could not have them travel to him in the form of coins for his treasury.
Charlemagne's empire was organized into great estates, each with a master's house, church, grain mill, forge, bakery, stables, barns, workshops, peasant's cottages and, of course, a brewery. Charlemagne was a great supporter of the brewing craft and insisted that there be a brewery in each of his estates. For his vassals, he wrote an elaborate set of economic ordinances, entitled Capitulare caroli magni de villis (The main points about running Charlemagne's estates), in which he gave rather detailed instructions about almost any aspect of management, including that of the brewery.
Whenever he showed up, paragraph 61 kicked in: "We wish that the intendant on duty bring before Our Person samples of beer. We also wish that they bring along their brewmaster so that they can brew for Us good beer in our presence." In paragraph 34, he instructed brewers about hygiene: "The administrators have to make sure that workers who use their hands in the preparation of beer, keep themselves especially clean." He also insisted on annual reports (paragraph 62): "We also wish that our intendants compose an annual inventory ledger at Christmas time. We also want a list of the beers they brew so that we know which quantities of the different products are available." In these ordinances lie the seeds of institutional, commercial brewing in central Europe, an activity in which the monasteries were soon to become the most successful players.
You Got the Gruit, You Got the Beer
In the feudal system of land control with a clear division of rights and obligations between lords, vassals and serfs, all land not specifically granted to a vassal belonged to the crown. And the crown land held a most important resource for the hausfrau-brewster of the age: Remember, we are still in the pre-hops era. We know that hop gardens were cultivated in the Hallertau region of Germany as early as the 730s, but, for centuries to come, beer generally continued to be spiced mostly with gruit (old German for "wild herbs") such as yarrow, bog myrtle, or juniper. Thus the quality of the beer you could make depended on your access to suitable herbs, and these grew mostly on crown lands. Though everybody was allowed to brew, not everybody was allowed to pick gruit. This gave the crown almost accidental control over the quality of the beer in the land. Initially, the crown reserved the gruit privilege only for its own estates, although it later granted it to churches and monasteries as well. Eventually, the term gruit came to mean not only the herbs brewers used to flavor the beer but also the taxes they had to pay for their brewing privilege.
Preach and to Brew...
At the time of Charlemagne, monasteries were a recent innovation. Outside Italy, the first people to be Christianized were the Irish and the Britons, early in the fifth century. Imbued with missionary zeal, the new converts set out to save continental pagans from damnation. By the beginning of the sixth century, Irish missionaries had started to penetrate the heathen Teutonic forests in search of souls. They founded small monasteries from which they spread the gospel.
A particularly successful missionary was the Irish Saint Columban, who, with his band of followers, planted the seeds of the new creed in parts of present-day France, Austria, Germany and Switzerland. At St. Gall, in Switzerland, a disciple of his founded the famous monastery that was to become by far the largest brewery of the Dark Ages. Another famous missionary/brewer was the Franconian monk Corbinian, who, in 724, built a simple chapel on Weihenstephan Mountain, north of Munich. He must have picked a great spot, since the little religious outpost grew into a Benedictine Abbey, which, in 1040, obtained, from Bishop Engilbert of Freising, official brewing privileges and the right to sell its beer for profit. Today, the brewery at Weihenstephan is owned by the State of Bavaria and is the oldest continuously operating brewery in the world.
Like all Germanic households, the good brethren of the early Middle Ages grew their own grain and made their own brew. They soon discovered that beer, if made strong enough and from the best grains, was not only thirst quenching but also very nourishing, a veritable "liquid bread". This was important to the monks because of their penchant for periodic fasting, when no solid food was permitted to pass their lips. Liquids, however, did not break the fast, at least according to ecclesiastic doctrine, which was made up by the church fathers in Rome. The Holy See, of course, knew little about German beer.
Nunneries, too, became centers
of institutional brewing. After all, their inhabitants would have become
secular beer-making hausfraus had they not chosen the nun's habit.
Naturally, the monks and nuns made more beer than they needed just for their own consumption. As part of their charitable works, they liberally shared both their bread and their beer with the poor and with any traveler or pilgrim who might ask for shelter. Soon, monastery beer gained quite a reputation for quality. As the demand increased, so did the size of the monastic breweries, and some brothers and sisters began to specialize in brewery work.
Discovery of Hops
Being well-educated people, the friars and nuns took a scientific approach to brewing. They experimented with new techniques and ingredients and created systematic records of the results. In the process, they discovered the virtues of hops as a bittering and preserving agent--though nobody is quite sure exactly when--and probably developed the first beers of consistently high quality. We know that, already in the eighth century, the monastery of Weihenstephan was surrounded by hop gardens, and it is doubtful that the friars cultivated the vine merely for aesthetic reasons.
In a book entitled Physica sacra (Sacred world), we can find the first written description of the preserving and healthful effects of hops in beer. The book's author is Hildegard von Bingen (1098 - 1179), a Benedictine abbess, brewnun, physician, natural scientist, and advisor to Emperor Frederick I (a.k.a. Barbarossa). Hildegard drank beer regularly and lived to be 81 years old, an incredible age for that time. It is not surprising that some people like to see a causal connection between her longevity and her dedication to beer.
Beer Privilege - a Tool
Upon his death in 814, Charlemagne left to his heirs a vast empire. By 962, the Germanic tribes in the eastern portion of the that land had become firmly united in the first empire officially called "German". At its head was the Saxon Otto I (912 - 973, a.k.a. Otto the Great). Realizing that the parishes, monasteries and nunneries represented the only network of public institutions in his realm, he firmly allied himself with the church. Since central government was weak in the feudal system, the church and its bishops took over many governmental functions. Bishops doubled as judges, they organized public works and, if need be, even buckled on their swords and rode into battle to protect their flock against foreign invaders or local robber bands.
From kings to serfs, the inhabitants of the feudal world eventually grew to fear the material and spiritual weapons of the church. Otto strengthened the church's position by granting it feudal lay rights and privileges, including the gruit right. Soon, the monastic brewers of the early Middle Ages began to enjoy connections in high places. We know that in 947, for instance, Otto I himself conferred the gruit right upon the church of Liége (in present-day Belgium). Higher-up ecclesiastics became themselves grantors of the gruit right to their subordinates, as did the Bishop of Metz (in present-day France), when he conferred the gruit right onto the nearby monastery of St. Trond, and the Bishop of Cologne, whe he gave it to the church of Neuß (near the present-day Alt beer home of Düsseldorf). .
Beer for Commerce and Salvation
After the demise of Rome, it fell upon the Christian monks to hold the Western world together. Sheltered behind their monastery walls, reflecting on man's soul, virtue and destiny, the friars created little paradises-- refuges in the wilderness, where they copied old books, wrote new ones, conducted almost the only schools and, generally, preserved culture and learning during the five centuries of economic and cultural stagnation that we call the Dark Ages..
Like the feudal manors around
them, medieval monasteries were virtually self-sufficient. They grew their
own grain, raised their own meat, baked their own bread, brewed their own
The earliest monasteries in Germany--a few cloister cells grouped around a wooden chapel--typically had their humble beginnings in small missionary outposts, often built by Irish monks. Many of these posts were placed strategically along well-traveled routes, such as around Lake Constance, which served as the pilgrims' gateway to the Alpine passes into Lombardy and the city of Rome beyond. Initially run by men with the impulse to escape the world, life in a monastery was harsh and simple. St. Columban had prescribed six lashes for a monk who forgot to say Amen or sang out of tune, ten for one who notched a table with his knife. He had decreed that meals should be simple and never large. Food and drink should sustain life, not harm it. Drunkenness was forbidden and the monk who spilled beer had to stand upright and still for an entire night.
Trade in the Dark Ages was mostly carried out by itinerant peddlers who visited settlements on foot or with pack animals. But they had much to contend with: horrible roads, inclement elements, thievish landlords, piracy, brigands. The monasteries were often the safest refuge for a weary traveler. With Christian fervor on the upswing, pilgrimages, too, became very popular, with Rome and Jerusalem claiming the top of the charts for holy destinations. The hooded fishermen of souls, with hostels and breweries already in place along the old Roman roads, went into the hospitality business with gusto. As the flow of pilgrims and other traveling folk increased on the highways and byways of the empire, so did the monasteries' operations. The food, drink and shelter the monks used to share out of charity with anyone who came, soon became a commodity offered to the dusty travelers for profit. Not surprisingly, the observance of ascetic rules began to take a back seat to the chores of providing for the itinerant customers. After a day of hard work in the monasteries' fields, kitchens and breweries, many a monk naturally found more solace in the merry company of his guests than in the austere cloister regimen prescribed by that seemingly so un-Irish Irishman St. Columban.
Shielded by feudal rights and privileges and confronted with an ever increasing demand for their brews, many an abbot eventually succumbed to the commercial temptation and started to sell beer for profit. Cloister inns and pubs began to do a roaring business. Every monastery brewed a different beer and tried to corner the market. The spiritual comrade in the good lord's army soon became the commercial competitor in the beverage business down the road.
Economically, monastic breweries were much like secular businesses, but with several competitive advantages: cheap or free raw materials, cheap or free labor and exemption from all taxes. Monastery beer was good and it was cheap. No wonder that some of these breweries became truly gigantic. The cloister inn at Nürnberg, it is chronicled, eventually made as much as 4,500 buckets (about 2,500 barrels) of beer per year! Another in Bavaria served close to 10,000 guests a year.
The 10th and 11th centuries were the heyday of monastic brewing in Germany. In a country of perhaps nine or ten million inhabitants, there were some 500 monastery breweries (300 of which in Bavaria alone) producing beer in unsurpassed quantity and quality. And all the beer was ale. .
Monks Had Fun, but the Lords Were Jealous
The commercialization of the monastic brew not only propelled it to high standards, but also lead to its eventual downfall. Ultimately, the monasteries became victims of the envy and opposition that their own successes had bred. The riches garnered from the brewing trade enabled the cloistered community to have a comfortable, secular and, on occasion, even decadent life style. This became a source of concern to those among the friars who took their vows of poverty, chastity, abstinence and obedience seriously. It also aroused the envy of the secular lords who, after all, had granted the monks and nuns exclusive brewrights in the first place.
The initial opposition against the secular life style practiced by some of the friars started in the Benedictine abbey of Cluny in Burgundy, founded in 910. It spawned a movement that quickly spread to almost 1,500 affiliated houses all over the realm. The Carthusians at Chartreuse, in the French Alps, started a second monastic revival movement in 1084. The Cistercians at Cîteaux, near Dijon, started a third one in 1098. By the 12th century, a new, purist, anti-secular fervor had taken hold in central Europe and led to a gradual redirection of all facets of monastic life. Once again, piety, poverty and pastoral duties were in, while the secular and profane arts of brewing, commerce and frolicking were out.
On the political side, too, it seems that the church had overplayed its hand. The struggle between church and state intensified once it became apparent that cloister breweries and pubs, founded under the protection of the secular lords, had generated great riches. Christian philosophers such as Augustine (354 - 430) had provided the doctrinal underpinnings of the church's claim of preeminence over the state. The church owned about one third of the land of the realm and the pope crowned the emperor. Locally, the bishops were not just the spiritual but also the effective civil authorities in the empire. They raised most of the emperor's revenues.
To no one's surprise, the emperor finally insisted on his right to investiture, i.e., of appointing his own vassals to the all-important posts of bishop. He could not possibly allow these great officers to be selected by the pope, which would turn the Holy Roman Empire into a hollow shell and the emperor into a mere puppet of an extra-territorial power. The show-down over investiture came in 1077, between Pope Gregory VII and Emperor Henry IV, when Gregory finally played his trump card: he excommunicated Henry. If the Holy See couldn't bask in the temporal glory of earthly might and wealth, the emperor would not be permitted to bask in the eternal glory of heavenly salvation in the hereafter.
Henry had no choice but to make a pilgrimage to Italy and beg for forgiveness. The two men met at the castle of Canossa, near Parma in northern Italy. With Henry on his knees, Gregory reversed the excommunication in exchange for Henry's abandonment of all claims to investiture. The temporal power of the Holy See--and with it the brew power of the Benedictine monks and nuns--had reached its zenith. The pope had won, so it seemed, and henceforth, power and wealth in Germany were to be his to skim off. But Henry was back in Italy, only seven years later, this time not on his knees but with an army. He captured Rome, forced Gregory into exile, and appointed a new pope. He who laughs last ... ! .
The waning of the pope's power that followed Henry's victory had a profound influence on a society run by the church. Where there is a power vacuum, somebody is bound to fill it. The feudal lords, once the benevolent supporters of monastic brewing rights, now became increasingly eager to cash in for themselves on the riches that could be gained from the brew industry. They started to create their own court brewhouses (Hofbräuhaus) with exclusive privileges, enforced by the sanctions of the law, over which, of course, they had total control. As a result, many monasteries lost the right to brew commercially, though some retained permission to continue to brew for their own consumption..
One natural--rather than social or political--cause also contributed to the waning of monastic dominance in the brew industry and to the decline of beer consumption in general. This was a climatic accident that occurred in the first few centuries of the second millennium. The earth underwent a warming trend that allowed wine growing to spread rapidly into ever more northern areas. Especially in southern Germany, cheap and plentiful good wine became available and finally rose to a serious competitor of the once-dominant drink from grain. Interestingly, as the monasteries started to lose their beer privileges, they quickly capitalized on the new wave and, once again, became the leaders, both professionally and commercially, in the emerging wine industry and in the production of wine-based distilled spirits and liqueurs.
Struggle for Purity--But Where's the Yeast?
By the 12th century, feudal aristocrats, especially in southern Germany, began to take over the brew business from the monasteries and convents. A lord would build his own Hofbräuhaus (court brewhouse) and, if he was charitably inclined, issue a license to a secular private brewery--for a hefty fee, of course, but not always with the desired result. As it turned out, the brewing privileges of the monks and nuns were much more easily transferred than their brewing expertise, and beer quality usually declined. In northern Germany, the story was slightly different. There, forward-looking mercantile entrepreneurs rather than feudal nobles challenged the church for its brew monopoly. The enterprising free burghers usually were fast studies. Eventually they triumphed over the men of the cloth and surpassed them in the quality of the beers they produced.
Most of the brews that were en vogue in the High Middle Ages in southern Germany had very little resemblance to the beers we know today. Water may have been the only ingredient we could still recognize with certainty. Brewers used barley, wheat, rye, and oats, even millet, peas, beans, or any other starch-containing kernels in their mash tuns, as long as they could be malted or converted into sugars. Though hops had been known as a flavoring for beer since the eighth or ninth century, any number of herbs such as caraway or juniper, even salt, pith, soot, chalk or hard-boiled eggs were used to "improve" the flavor of beer or to cover up off-flavors..
As beer quality fell off, so did beer consumption. This called for intervention, if need be at the highest level, lest profits for the noble coffers should suffer. It should come as no surprise then that the noble rulers of the day as well as the civil authorities in the cities suddenly developed a keen interest in preserving the public health--or so they claimed--by regulating the quality of beer. Emperor Frederick I himself was the author of the first known secular beer regulation in Germany. It dates from 1156 and was part of the first city code of law, the Justitia civitatis Augustensis, which Frederick gave to the city of Augsburg. The emperor decreed that "a brewer who makes bad beer or pours an unjust measure shall be punished; his beer shall be destroyed or distributed at no charge among the poor." The punishment for a violation was five guilders. After the third offense, the perpetrator lost his brewing license.
To control the quality (and revenues) of the local suds, the cities started to issue strict and often silly regulations. The tyranny of bureaucracy, in many instance, replaced the tyranny of aristocracy. In 1293, the city council of Nürnberg tried to improve the beer brewed within its walls by issuing a straightforward ordinance, in which it insisted that only barley be used to brew beer. Other beer ordinances, however, were not so simple or rational. We know of an early, pesky, lengthy and meddlesome ordinance that dates from 1351. Issued by the magistrate of the city of Erfurt in Thuringia, it states: "A calibrated tankard must always be filled to the mark. The beer in it shall cost 4½ pfennigs and 8 groschen. No burgher or councilor may brew more than two beers per year, nor may he make half a brew, nor may he mill less or more than three boxes of malt to brew with. Only on Wednesday evening, and not before the beer bell is rung, may he start a fire under the tun and start brewing. But nobody may brew who does not possess containers, tuns, kilns and casks. The beer must be an entire brew. The amount to be brewed must be announced on Walpurgis Day (February 25), and the precise amount announced must then be brewed. Nobody may brew with straw and twigs for fire."
"Anybody who breaks an innkeeper's beer mug or runs away without paying, will pay a 10-groschen penalty or must leave town. Anybody who buys hops may not touch the measuring jar until the vendor has filled it and has removed his hand from it. (In those days, brewers bought hops by volume, not by weight!) In the countryside, nobody may sell beer from another region nor may he brew without the knowledge of the town. Any burgher caught brewing in the countryside will no longer be considered a burgher of the town." Here we find an early version of Bierzwang (literally: beer coercion), the parochial practice of the local authorities to permit only those beers to be served within their walls and in the surrounding countryside that were brewed (and taxed) within their own jurisdiction. The Bierzwang remained common in many parts of Germany until 1803, when, under the influence of the Napoleonic conquest of central Europe, Bierfreiheit (beer freedom) was finally established as a matter of law in much of Germany.
In 1250, the good citizens of Regensburg, the town where the Romans had already brewed beer some 1,000 years earlier, received their brew privileges from Emperor Frederick II. As business thrived, the brewers found it difficult to resist the temptation to raise their profits by lowering their standards. After a disastrous harvest in 1433 and its resulting grain shortage, the local beer became so scarce that the city fathers permitted the importation of brews from as far away as Hamburg and Dortmund. By 1447, the Regensburgers finally had enough of substandard local brew. They appointed their city doctor, Konrad Megenwart, as the official beer inspector, and, six years later forbade brewers within their city walls to use "seeds, spice, or rushes" as flavorings. (Hellex 1981) To ensure that the citizens would get their money's worth, the city fathers also outlawed the brewing and selling of thin beers made from the final runnings of the mash.
In Munich, too, regulating brewers and their craft was of apparent and perpetual concern to the city fathers of the day--and a clear indication that not all was well with the Bavarians' national beverage. In 1363, to guarantee quality, the 12-member city council itself assumed the duty of overseeing all beer production. By 1372, there were only 21 brewers left in Munich, not even two for every councilor, and the demand of the people for beer kept these brewers so busy that their brew was consumed almost as soon as it was fermented. In 1420, the city fathers tried to decree from above what the market would not do on its own. They insisted that all beers must be aged for at least eight days before they could be sold.
In 1450, the number of brewers had risen to only 30, and the Bavarian ruler, Duke Stephan II, tried to redress the beer shortage by issuing an appeal to his subjects. He implored them to brew more at home so that beer would not be so terribly scarce all the time. It was to take another couple of centuries, before the brewers of southern Germany finally caught up with their northern German brethren. In the 15th century, however, brewing clearly was not an attractive profession in Munich, the city that was destined to become the beer capital of the world..
In areas with an emerging wine industry, the answer to declining beer quality was often sought in outlawing beer making altogether. Such was the case in the Franconian city of Würzburg, where the magistrate, in 1434, after due consultation with the duke and the bishop, forbade brewing "for ever". Only three years later, however, the climate of central Europe, which had undergone a warming trend for a few centuries, experienced a sudden reversal. Harsh and long periods of frost decimated almost all the vineyards in southern Germany. Wine had to be imported from south of the Alps, and the price jumped accordingly. Consequently, beer, which had been out of favor with the populace made a quick comeback.
The authorities, however, with the timeless arrogance of the mighty, stubbornly clung to their prohibition ignoring both the popular will and the clandestine brewing that it spawned. But greed, as always, got the better of them and they decided to profit for themselves from what they had so miserably tried to suppress. In 1642, Johann Philipp von Schönborn, the Würzburg duke and bishop himself, started his very own Hofbräuhaus. Thus, in Würzburg, "for ever" lasted exactly 208 years. The climatic reversal of 1437 turned out to be long lasting. It brought about a permanent shift in market forces and gave a much-needed boost to the secular brew industry in southern Germany--and, in its wake, spawned even more regulation..
In 1447, the Munich city council issued an ordinance demanding that all brewers use only barley, hops and water for their beers. This was the forerunner of what was to become, half a century later, the famous all-Bavarian beer purity law, the Reinheitsgebot. By 1487, the Bavarian Duke Albrecht IV forced all brewers in the city of Munich to take a public oath of faithful allegiance to the 1447 ordinance. Furthermore, the Duke introduced beer price controls: in winter, a Maß (approximately 1 liter) would cost one silver pfennig, in summer, two. This price difference was to compensate brewers for the extra grain and long storage (lagering) required for stronger summer beers. One of Albrecht's successors, Duke Georg the Rich, in 1493, extended the 1447 ordinance to the duchy of Landshut in central Bavaria. Clearly, a regulatory clean-up was afoot in Bavaria.
The Reinheitsgebot was issued on April 23, 1516. Initially only in feudal Bavaria, but later in all of Germany, it gave government the tools to regulate the ingredients, processes and quality of beer sold to the public. It was drafted by the Bavarian co-rulers Duke Wilhelm IV and Duke Ludwig X and introduced at a meeting of the Assembly of Estates of the Bavarian Realm, at Ingolstadt, some 60 miles north of Munich. The 1516 Reinheitsgebot stipulated that only barley, hops, and water may be used to make the brew. The existence of yeast had not yet been discovered. The Reinheitsgebot is the oldest, still valid food quality law in Germany..
Lager, an Accident?
Until the invention of refrigeration in the 1870s, our forebears could not brew what they wanted, but only what nature let them. Only gradually did they gain an empirical, trial-and-error understanding of the factors that influence fermentation. They realized that the ambient temperature in the cellar had something to do with the type of beer they got from the wort. They also noticed that there were two types of fermentation.
It would take scientists almost another 300 years to unravel the mystery of these two fermentations. The crafters of the Reinheitsgebot did not know that the key to pure beer is the yeast. Yeast are airborne, single-cell fungi that are literally everywhere in the environment. They like to hide out in dank, dark places. The cobwebs in the grain-dust-laden rafters of steamy brewhouses made for an ideal yeast habitat. There yeast could idle away its time until luck and a hefty breeze would swish it down into an open fermenter for another sugary meal of sweet wort.
There are two broad families of yeasts that make great beers: ale yeasts and lager yeasts, each with their own very specific thermal comfort zone. Ale yeasts like a cozy, warm environment, somewhere around 59° to 77°F (15° to 25°C), in which they become most active and produce the best-tasting beer, while lager yeasts do their best work, when it is a cool 39° to 48°F (4° to 9°C) or even below. Ale yeasts lose their appetites at lower temperatures and go to sleep, leaving the field for the lager yeasts. Lager yeasts, on the other hand, can still ferment wort at higher temperatures, but then produce off-flavors that tend to be undesirable in beer. Fortunately for the medieval, who had no pure yeast strains to work with, the two yeasts, when present in the same brew, each become dominant in their respective temperature ranges. Both ale and lager yeasts are in suspension in the wort, while they munch their way through the sugars deep inside the fermenter, but only ale yeasts throw up thick, frothy layers of foam at the top of the brew. Ale yeasts, therefore, are also called "top-fermenting". Lager yeasts, by comparison, are much less exuberant surface fermenters and are thus often referred to as "bottom-fermenting". After they have done their job of turning wort into beer, both ale and lager yeasts take a nap (go dormant), and generally sink to the bottom.
Because of the temperature-sensitive
nature of yeast, the beer the Reinheitsgebot originally sought to control,
was not necessarily a lager. Unbeknown to the medieval brewer, it was probably
a lager during the cold Bavarian winters, but it was most certainly an ale
in the summer, when demand was greatest.
A Munich town council record mentioned cold-fermented beer as early as 1420. Again in Munich, in 1551, a city ordinance implied that fermentation was not an accidental process but that it could be managed to produce a definite result. It stated that "barley, good hops, water and yeast (sic!), if properly mashed and cooled, can also produce a bottom fermenting beer." What tantalizing hints at an early awareness of the difference between ales and lagers!
In 1553, summer brewing was outlawed altogether in Bavaria. By then the authorities--always worried about the supply of healthy summer beer--had obviously learned that cold fermentation yielded a purer beer with better keeping qualities than possessed by those unwittingly brewed and probably bacterially infected top-fermented beers of summer. The official brewing season was, therefore, restricted to between St. Michael's Day (September 29) and St. George's Day (April 23). From spring to fall, brewers had to seek alternate employment. It is obvious that this kind of brew schedule, decreed from above, favored the production of lagers. In many breweries, you simply could not make ales in the cold Bavarian winters.
The importance of the two regulations, the Reinheitsgebot and the prohibition against summer brewing, could not be overstated. These laws caused Bavaria to depart from what had been a common German beer culture. They created a north-south schism between a "new" lager culture and the "old" ale culture. Henceforth, Bavarian brewers would chart their own course, moving firmly in the direction of cold-fermented, malted-barley-based lager beers--a style in which, by happenstance and skill, the Bavarians have, some would argue, remained unsurpassed to this day..
Free Burgher Brewers
By about the 12th century, we observe the birth of a new class of meritorious city burghers linked in trading associations and employing free, wage-earning tradesmen organized in professional guilds. Feudalism, born out of a scarcity of education, money and commerce, in which land and serfs as the only sources of wealth were divided between the learned (the clergy) and the mighty (the lords), soon became an anachronistic shell for a society whose material basis was shifting from land to industry and commerce.
Social control over beer making, henceforth, was not so much a struggle between the lord and the monk as one between the lord and the citizen. As the monks and nuns were losing their brew privileges, merchants in the cities, perhaps more faithful to their own fortunes than to God and emperor, knew a good thing when they saw one. They latched on to the brewing trade wherever possible, and soon found themselves in conflict with church and state alike. Especially in northern Germany, where, as a general rule, the hold of church and state over society was less smothering, free merchants, not feudal lords, emerged as the greatest competitors to the cloistered brewers. The worldly merchants opened up new markets by setting up far-flung trading organizations, most famous among them the Hanseatic League, for the exchange of all sorts of goods from spices, to salted fish, to silk, to beer.
The first cracks in the feudal order occurred as early as 924, when King Henry I was forced to built forts and walled towns to protect the eastern flank of his realm against the raids of marauding Magyars. Not getting much help from the noble lords in his fight against the invaders on horseback from the east, the king turned to the ordinary folk and encouraged them to become "burghers" (from the German "Burg" for fort). With this act, Henry had not only created a new word, but an entirely new class. As he built defensive bastions in the frontier regions, he ordered its inhabitants to lay in stores of food for emergencies and to train for combat in marching formations and on horseback. On these burghers, the king also conferred the right to brew beer and to sell it within a mile from the fortifications. These military centers soon became the hubs of judicial, commercial and social activity for the surrounding areas. In these settlements, the new class, the middle class, was, in time, to tear asunder the very foundations of the social order that had evolved in Germany after the collapse of the Roman Empire some five hundred years earlier.
Initially, city brewing, like country brewing, took place only in the home, where it would have stayed had it not been for one problem: In those days, all buildings except for churches, forts and castles were made of wood, and occasionally an entire town would burn down merely because a hausfrau had forgotten to tend the fire under the brew kettle or the bake oven. Many city fathers, therefore, out of concern for public safety, simply forbade home brewing and home baking. They erected communal stone bake-and-brew-houses in which every household had to take turns making its daily bread and beer. Such communal bake and brew facilities created the physical conditions for both the commercialization and the regulation and taxation of city brewing.
As these early city breweries began to hire staff, bakers often doubled as brewers. They already had all the required ingredients on hand. A warm medieval bakehouse was an ideal habitat for airborne yeast cells performing their daily work both as leveners of bread and as fermenters of brew. More often than not, certain yeast strains became dominant in such an environment, as still happens in the rafters and cobwebs of some Belgian lambic houses today, and medieval bakers' beers were usually of consistently good quality. Thus it was only natural that bakers became the local source of both solid and liquid bread and many a city authority gladly granted its bakers the exclusive right to make beer. One fabled such baker-brewer even made it into the Grimm Brothers' early 19th century collection of folk tales (Jacob Grimm 1785-1863; Wilhelm Grimm 1786-1859). Sings Rumpelstiltskin, while he dances around the fire in gleeful anticipation of his blackmail prize, "Today I bake, tomorrow I brew, the day after tomorrow I'll fetch the queen's child." .
It was inevitable that, sooner or later, many communal brewhouses evolved into real businesses, with inns attached, where artisans and servants could forget the toil of the day over a mug of ale, and where enterprising burghers could congregate to hatch their profitable little deals. Like the monasteries in the countryside, the burgher breweries in the city became thriving businesses, as many a brewpub is today. In time, the interests of the more successful burghers, the patricians of wealth, would collide with those of the feudal holders of power and privilege, including the beer privilege. The feudal lords, whose only claim to fame was that they had been born into the right families, were not part of the cash economy of the entrepreneurs and were eventually reduced to relying on the generosity of the cities for the financing of their wars and their luxurious life style.
One such successful band of medieval burgher entrepreneurs was the Fugger family of Augsburg. The Fuggers had amassed such wealth through banking and trading in real estate, copper, silver, and mercury that, by the 15th century, they were by far the richest family in Europe. Emperor Maximilian I (1459 - 1519) relied on immense Fugger loans to finance his foreign wars, and in 1519, when it was time to choose Maximilian's successor, the Fuggers secured the election of their man, Charles V, as emperor by bribing the electors. It was Charles V (1500 - 1558), ruler of most of Europe, including Austria and Germany as well as Spain and her colonies around the globe, who could claim, as the first monarch in history, that in his empire "the sun never set," but it was the rising sun of the merchant class that had put him on the throne in the first place. For such support, of course, the titled rulers had to pay a hefty price. They were forced to grant the cities virtual self-government and an ever increasing share in the government of the realm. In 1521, at the Diet of Worms, Charles conferred upon the city of Augsburg the right to mint its own coins. It is hard to imagine that such favors were not in repayment to the Fugger family of Augsburg to whom he owed so much.
Cities, in effect, became "free". In their charters, they received the right to make laws, mint coins, levy taxes and run their own commercial and political affairs without interference from the nobles. "Stadtluft macht frei" (city air liberates) was the slogan of the burghers, and it enticed many a serf to slip away by night and escape feudal oppression. Where he came from, the serf was owned, literally, by the feudal master, who gave him no other reward for his labors but the rations needed for his family's subsistence. Once in the city, a serf became a free person, who could hire himself out in exchange for wages. He could finally make something of himself.
The burghers made good use of the growing labor pool that was fed from the country side. They organized manufactures, employed the serfs as free craftsmen, established trading networks, and built store houses and retail outlets. Their commercial activities brought ever more wealth and power to the cities, until the might of the cities surpassed that of the official feudal system and its agrarian-based economy. As no-nonsense merchants, the city burghers plied any trade that offered up the promise of profit. And, as the monks and nuns had demonstrated before, one could get rich on beer, especially on top-quality beer. Thus the most consequential challenge to the brew monopoly of the medieval church came ultimately not from the nobles, but from the rising class of patrician city burghers, especially in northern Germany.
To be sure, there were plenty
of arrogant aristocrats and pampered bishops in northern Germany, as there
were many enterprising merchant burghers, like the Fugger family, in southern
Germany, but, as a general rule, the northerners pursued their aim of civil
and economic freedom more aggressively, sometimes even by force of arms,
than did their southern counterparts, and, between the 13th and the 16th
century, while beer production and beer quality declined in the south, beer
became mostly a northern German affair.
The city burghers and their councils had gained virtual control over the brewing industry within their walls by the end of the 12th century. Like the nobles before them, city governments often declared that they alone owned the exclusive right to brew. The nobles, harkening back to a world order that was no more, were powerless to stop them.
A Trading Empire Built on Beer
By the 13th century, many merchants had fully understood that the feudal state could no longer adequately protect their interests at home or abroad. Especially in the towns involved in trade with the Baltic lands, civic associations and merchant guilds joined forces to form trading eagues. The merchants of Bremen and Hamburg, for instance, set up a joint representation in Novgorod, Russia, to deal with the Czar.
In London, King Henry II granted German city merchants special licenses and privileges as early as 1157. He even gave them a special residence, a guild hall, later to be called the Steelyard House on the Thames. In 1194, King Richard I granted the Steelyard merchants from Cologne freedom from all tolls and customs in London and the right to trade at fairs throughout England. These rights were later extended to the other members of the Steelyard. Soon, the Steelyard became a whole, walled-in community, with its own warehouses, weighhouse, church, offices and residential quarters. It spawned affiliated houses in many other English ports.
Political impotence within the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation as well as difficulties experienced by its seafaring merchants from pirates, feudal regulations against foreign trade, and excessive customs, fostered an ever closer union among the leading German trading cities. In 1241, Lübeck and Hamburg, on either side of the Danish Peninsula, concluded a treaty of mutual protection, a patrician alliance. In 1266, King Henry III of England gave the Steelyard merchants of Hamburg and Lübeck their own, separate charter, making them the most powerful merchant colony in London.
Other German cities soon joined the protective association of Hamburg and Lübeck, and a strong formal alliance, the Hanseatic League, grew up among them, with Lübeck, the center of the Baltic trade, as its hub. The League eventually included some 200 cities. It fought and won its own wars, as, for instance, in 1368 - 1369, against the Danish King Waldemar IV, whose countrymen, reminiscent of Viking times, had taken to piracy and helped themselves regularly to "free" beer from the League's freighters. The League signed its own peace treaties with foreign governments. One such was the Treaty of Stralsund (1370), which gave it a virtual trade monopoly in all of Scandinavia. Henceforth, no Danish king could be crowned without the League's formal approval.
The League traded in almost any type of commodity, including wine, oil, grain, leather, cloth, copper, iron, salt and beer. Thanks to the League, a consumer could buy Polish mustard in England, Turkish raisins in Flanders, Italian figs in Norway, and German beer in Russia. By cutting out the feudals, the League had created, in effect, the first European common market, free of tariffs and artificial trade restrictions.
Not just port cities like Bremen, Hamburg and Lübeck were part of the Hanseatic League. Cities further inland, such as Einbeck, Brunswick, Breslau, Magdeburg, Dortmund, and Cologne, too, were eager to join the new network and supply the growing trading empire with goods, of which beer became one of the more important export commodities.
Soon wagon loads of export ales would rumble down the dusty northern highways on their way to the harbor storehouses of the Hanseatic merchants. Bremen took the early lead in beer exports sending casks of German ale as far as Flanders, England and Scandinavia. The Brunswick Mumme, a brown, very hoppy barley ale was so strong that it remained palatable almost for ever and made its way on sailing ships around to globe, even to the hot East Indies. The golden age of the beer trade was made possible not only by the ever increasing keeping qualities of the northern beers, but also by momentous advances in animal traction and harness. Improvements in these fields were first reported in the ninth century, but came into wider use only around the 13th century.
Before that time, a horse was hitched to its dray by traces fastened to a yoke on its withers and anchored by a strap around the breast. The harder the horse pulled, the more the strap choked it. The rigid collar changed all that. It put the strain on the horse's shoulders instead on its windpipe, thus increasing the animal's "horsepower" almost fivefold. Only then became the transport of heavy casks of beer over rutty roads possible.Horses employed in freight hauling were also susceptible to slipping, hoof breakage and foot injuries. Because of frequent breakdowns of the hey burners, delivery schedules for trading goods were notoriously unreliable. It was not until the arrival of the nailed-on, iron horseshoe, which kept the animals sound and sure-footed, that trade, especially in semi-perishable goods, could be conducted on anything resembling a time table.
How the Bock Got
Another Hanseatic city that had
been thriving on beer since the middle of the 13th century was Einbeck.
Early users of hops instead of gruit, Einbecker brewers made a strong, cold-conditioned
brown ale from barley and wheat, not unlike today's Alt, with excellent
keeping properties. Eventually, there would be several hundred breweries
in Einbeck, all strictly regulated--and taxed--by the city fathers. Einbeckers
shipped their brew by wagon trains to Hamburg, Bremen and Lübeck, from
where it sailed in the holds of Hanseatic ketches to places like Amsterdam
to the west and Reval to the east, and even to Jerusalem, where it may have
quenched the thirst of a crusading knight.
Perhaps the most important destination of Einbecker beer, at least from hindsight, was Munich. Bavarians who could afford it--especially the nobles--would drink the ale from Einbeck before they would swig the lower-quality local brew.
The Bavarian answer to the competition
was twofold. They issued the Reinheitsgebot and started to imitate the northern
brews locally, but, at first, to no avail. The imports from the north kept
on coming. They remained the most popular drink in Munich, and, by 1569,
there were still only 53 small breweries in the entire city.
The beers from the north were good, but expensive and a constant drain on Bavaria's money supply, much to the chagrin of Duke Wilhelm V. He ran his own brewhouse in Landshut, where, in 1590, he had a new beer brewed, a strong brown to red lager, which he hoped would finally recapture the market lost to the northern brewers. A year later, he completed a new brewhouse in Munich, on the site of the now famous Hofbräuhaus. By 1610, that Munich court brewhouse made its first deliveries to local innkeepers and private households.
But it was Wilhelm V's successor,
Maximilian I, who landed a grand coup that finally spelled an end to the
dominance of northern beers in Munich. In 1612, he enticed one Einbecker
brewmaster, Elias Pichler, to come to Munich and create an authentic copy
of the famous original Einbecker beer. Once there, poor Elias was not allowed
to leave town for purpose or pleasure. He had become too valuable a state
asset to be let run free. The Bavarian dialect soon mangled the name Einbeck
to ayn pock and, eventually, to ein Bock. The beer itself metamorphosed,
under Bavarian influence, from a strong ale into a strong lager, which is
what we know as Bock beer today.
The popularity of Elias' beer became so great that Maximilian was able to finance most of his military expenditures during the Thirty Year's War out of the revenues from the brown lager made by this transplanted brewmaster. Bavaria was finally on its way to becoming the beer stronghold it is today..
The Cool North, a
Hot-Bed of Brewing
As more and more beer passed
through the Hanseatic port city of Bremen, its merchant burghers soon figured
that they could make more money by making the beer themselves instead of
just buying it from others and trading in it. By the end of the 13th century,
thanks to the skills of Bremer brewers and to the sheer size of the markets
of the Hanseatic League, no beer was more popular and plentiful in Europe
than that brewed in Bremen.
The Hamburgers, too, soon entered the international beer business and, during the 14th century, started to eclipse their rivals from Bremen. Hamburg emerged as the brewing city of the League, though Bremen continued to be the premier export harbor for beers from Einbeck, Göttingen and Brunswick. By 1376, Hamburg recorded 457 burgher-owned breweries, by 1526 there were 531. Together, they brewed almost 25 million liters per year (more than 200,000 barrels) and employed almost half the city's wage earning population. Their most famous brew was Keutebier, a hopped, reddish to dark-brown wheat beer with an up-front sweetness and a viniferous aftertaste.
One of the more ardent lovers
of Hamburg beer was Luther's reformer cohort and confidant, Philipp Melanchton.
Even on his death bed, in Wittenberg, in 1560, Philipp asked for a bowl
of beer soup. Knowing that it would be his last meal, he specified that
it be made with Hamburg suds. How is that for brand loyalty?
The Hannoverians developed their own version of a wheat ale, the Broyhan beer, so-named after Cord Broyhan, a Hannoverian native who had left his home town to apprentice with a Hamburg brewer. There he learned the secrets of Hamburger beer. When he returned home, in 1526, he started his own brewery and made his variation on the Hamburg theme, a well-hopped, light brown ale, mashed from one third wheat and two thirds barley.
Soon other entrepreneurs jumped on the Broyhan bandwagon. In 1609, the city council of Hannover regulated the quality and brew techniques of the local Broyhan beer, limited the number of brewer burghers to 317, combined all of them into one guild, and incorporated the guild as a company. The guild brewery still exists today as a stock holders' company and is the oldest enterprise in Hannover.
It was the Thirty Year's War that was the death knell of the Hanseatic League and, with it, the glory of northern brewing. After the war's disruptive turmoil, which pitted the Protestant against the Catholic countries of Europe, Germany was devastated. Its cities were plundered, its fields lay fallow, its soil was blood-soaked, its commerce was at a standstill, and the Holy Roman Empire was reduced to a mere shell of its former greatness. Many monasteries and feudal castles lay in ruin as did their breweries, never to be rebuilt. Germany was split into 370 semi-autonomous states and statelets, all with their own trade restrictions and with borders and customs duties that made trade well neigh impossible.
The Hanseatic League formally dissolved in 1669, but its lasting legacy was a change in the economic balance of power in Europe away from the landed feudals to the city-dwelling bourgeoisie. In its wake, the war left behind a vacuum waiting to be filled by new social organizations and a new, more liberated mindset with an openness to new ideas that would bring progress in all facets of life. .
Wheat Ales: an Upper
Crust Quaff Makes a Flip-Flop
The old feudal rulers of the Dutchy of Bavaria, the House of Wittelsbach, came to power in 1180. Whatever their political fortunes, as guardians of their subjects' beer, they have a lot to answer for. For the first 300 years of their reign, they tried to keep the brewing of ales and lagers--and the profits that came with it--out of the hands of the monks and the burghers and reserved it for themselves and their cronies. Then, for the next 100 years or so, they almost wiped out ale brewing by passing regulations that favored lager making in general and strengthened the market position of their own court breweries in particular. In the end, though, they reinstated ale making, but only as wheat beer--and monopolized it completely, after it became clear how much money they could make from it.
Today, when we think of ales, we picture in our mind a beer that is hearty, full bodied, satisfying, nourishing and substantial. When we think of lagers, by comparison, we picture a beer that is delicate, subtle, dainty and gentile. Not so in the Bavaria of the 16th century. After the beer purity law of 1516 (the Reinheitsgebot) and the summer brew prohibition of 1553, barley-based lagers were brown and smoky, while wheat-based ales were "white beers" (Weissbier) that were crisp and delicious..
Wheat Beer Is a Useless
In Bavaria, as in the rest of
Germany, any grain was acceptable for beer brewing, until our buddies, the
Wittelsbacher co-dukes Wilhelm IV and Ludwig X, proclaimed that wheat would
not make "pure" beer. That assertion must have been a kick in
the teeth for the Degenberg clan, a noble family from the village of Schwarzach,
near Munich, which had been brewing wheat ales for decades. The Degenbergers
considered themselves the sole owners of the privilege to make and sell
the brew in Bavaria.
The notable omission by the dukes of wheat as a legitimate raw material for beer in the original Reinheitsgebot is probably no accident, but a combination of vanity, paternalism, politics and fiscal avarice. The dukes considered Weissbier too gentile a beverage for the vulgar masses, for whom the brown lagers of the time were deemed good enough, especially, after the dukes had decreed that they be pure.
Also, there were frequent wheat shortages in medieval Bavaria, and the dukes, well-acquainted with their subjects' nefarious habits, feared that the good Bavarians would rather forego their daily bread than not have their daily brew. Since it was the God-given duty of the feudal lords to look after the welfare of their subjects, they held, in their paternal wisdom, that wheat would best serve the common good if it were consumed in solid rather than liquid form. The dukes considered wheat beer "a useless drink that neither nourishes nor provides strength and power, but only encourages drunkenness"--unless, of course, it was destined to slacken a noble thirst! (Lohberg, no date) By 1566, fifty years after the Reinheitsgebot, wheat beer making by the ordinary brewer was outlawed altogether..
Wheat Ale Becomes
a Political Football
On the political side, the dukes had to respect the inherited monopoly of wheat beer brewing enjoyed by the House of Degenberg. Blatant revocation of a feudal privilege was unthinkable in an era when the power of the state to make war depended on the willingness of the landed gentry to supply the infantry with serfs. The local lords, who owned the serfs, traded the military services of their subjects for rights and privileges. They usually drove a hard bargain, exacting advantages for themselves in perpetuity.
While Wilhelm IV confirmed and even extended the Degenbergers' right to brew and sell Weissbier, his successor, Duke Abrecht V, however, was not so generous. He tried to make life and business as difficult as possible for the Degenbergers by putting a sales tax on their suds, thus provoking a feud between the two houses, the Wittelsbachers and the Degenbergers, that lasted until 1602. In that auspicious year, happily for the dukes, the line of Degenbergers became extinct, when its last progeny, Baron Hans Sigmund of Degenberg, died without leaving an heir. By the rules of the day, the wheat beer privilege automatically reverted to the house of the Bavarian dukes.
Now that the dukes, instead of the Degenbergers, could make money from wheat beer, there was a sudden reversal of official Bavarian policy. Duke Maximilian I, great-grandson of Wilhelm IV, of Reinheitsgebot fame, built a new court brewhouse in Munich, right next to the brown lager brewery built by his father Wilhelm V. Both breweries were, incidentally, on the site of the now-famous Munich Hofbräuhaus at Am Platzl Square.
Maximilian I brought the Schwarzach brewmaster to Munich and dedicated the new brewery exclusively to Weissbier making. Over the years, he added more and more wheat beer breweries to his brew conglomerate. He also continued to prevent anybody else from brewing wheat beers and, thus, granted to the line of Wittelsbachers the only exception from the barley-only provisions of the Reinheitsgebot. Do as I say, not as I do ...!
Not only was wheat beer now permitted to be dispensed to the masses, in fact, every innkeeper had to pour it, next to the standard brown lager, and purchase it directly from the crown! If he refused, he lost his license. This new twist in Bavarian beer policy not only kept the wheat beer flowing in the land but also the coffers swelling in the ducal treasury. .
A Useless Drink Earns
The Weissbier monopoly remained with the Wittelsbachers until well into the 19th century, by which time the Bavarian rulers had earned sheer astronomical sums from the sale to the humble masses of the erstwhile upper crust quaff. They even issued a wheat beer quality ordinance, in 1803, in which they specified that the brew should "be bubbly and foamy, contain the bitterness of the hops, leave a cooling and refreshing sensation on the palate, and impart its prickly flavor to its bouquet as well." Thus, in spite of the Reinheitsgebot, which put lagers on the map, Bavaria became also the cradle of German wheat ales, by decree from above, not by democratic market forces from below ... simply because there was money in it for the nobles..
Wheat Beer's Death
Eventually, though, the brown lager of Bavaria improved and made a comeback. By 1808, the ducal brown beer brewery incorporated the adjacent wheat beer brewery into its operations. By the mid 1800s, wheat beers had become just a curiosity from the past. In 1872, the Wittelsbachers sold the Weissbier privilege to a private brewing company and thus ended two-and-a-half centuries of the ducal wheat beer monopoly. In the decades that followed, wheat beer sales stabilized..
Though the Reinheitsgebot has changed in modern times and now allows for malted wheat in certain beers, the Weissbier has not. It's still an ale. There is no lager wheat beer in Germany. It would be against the law! All beers called Weizen or Weissbier must be made with top-fermenting yeast and at least 50 percent malted wheat. Furthermore, the addition of unmalted wheat--or unmalted anything, for that matter--is verboten.
Today, dozens of private breweries turn out wheat ales in all shades of color and alcoholic strength--from clear, blond, filtered Kristallweizen, to pale, unfiltered Hefeweizen, to dark Dunkelweizen, to strong Weizenbock and even Weizendoppelbock. Ales made from wheat now comprise a some 10 percent of German beer consumption and are available in stores and pubs across the country from Hamburg to Munich, from Düsseldorf to Dresden..
Here Come 'de Yeast
...and Modern Brewing
Even after the demise of the Hanseatic League and the stagnation of the brew industry in the north, free brewing continued in Germany. In Bavaria, monastery and court breweries were being replaced by commercial ones. While between the 12th and 16th century, much of the top-quality brew consumed in Bavaria had to be imported from northern Germany, by 1750, some 4,000--mostly very small--commercial breweries had sprung up in Bavaria, all making excellent, mostly lager, beer. Every little village and hamlet had its own brewery, usually protected by local monopoly ordinances and supplying its tiny patch of the universe with brew. In some areas in Bavaria, the prohibition against drinking beer from another town remained in force until about 200 years ago.
The political and economic victory of the bourgeoisie ultimately proved lasting, even in Bavaria. After the French Revolution (1789), rumblings of freedom were heard even in the most staunchly conservative and reactionary regions of Europe. In 1797, the French, imbued with democratic fervor, occupied the Rhineland, including Düsseldorf and Cologne. By 1806, Napoleon Bonaparte ruled most of Europe. In that year, the German Emperor, Francis II, who was also the king of Austria, resigned, and the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, which Otto I had founded in 962, was formally dissolved. According to Francis II, it was no longer worth governing..
The French Revolution:
Vive la biére libre
In an effort to maintain social control of the conquered Rhineland, the newly-instated governor and brother-in-law to Napoleon, Joaquim Murat, forbade all trade and professional associations. This was the end of the brewers guilds in Düsseldorf, Cologne and most anywhere else in Germany.
Even in Bavaria, in the year 1800, local beer sale monopolies were abolished and every subject was allowed to drink whichever beer he wanted, even if it was from the next town instead of the local brewery. After 1805, country breweries were allowed to brew as much beer as their city competitors, and all breweries could own and operate brewpubs.
After the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo (1815) and the peace treaty hammered out during the Vienna Congress that same year, the Rhineland became a province of Prussia. The Prussian rulers confirmed the abolition of the guilds, arguing that their rules of admission had been too restrictive. Henceforth, there was to be Gewerbefreiheit, the freedom of every Prussian subject to choose his own profession or trade, unhampered by the closed-shop restrictions of the guilds. In the early 19th century, protectionism in the beer business slowly fell by the wayside and competition became the rule. Brewing in most parts of Germany had become unshackled from its traditional limitations--except taxes, of course--and had been tossed into the treacherous waters of the open market. In Munich, for instance, in 1790, there were 60 breweries supplying the city's 40,000 inhabitants. By 1819, there were only 35 left, and by 1865, no more than 15. The market place eliminated inefficient enterprises, but those that survived the shake-out became bigger..
Brewing Turns Science
Freed from the constraints of religious dogma and feudal backwardness, critical free thought and scientific inquiry also took off. The changes in the intellectual world had started in the 17th century, after the Thirty Years' War, and had a profound impact on beer and brewing.
Since Sumerian and Egyptian times, beer had been made by spontaneous, uncontrolled fermentation. The ancients dropped a loaf of half-baked bread into a jar filled with water. They waited a few days, then took a straw and imbibed.
The monks, nuns, vassals, housewives and craftsmen of the Middle Ages refined the techniques, but still had no clue which processes they actually set in motion. The result of their efforts was, more often than not, an ale, rarely a lager, but always chancy. Only with the rise of commercial freedom, intellectual enlightenment, and science and technology could beer making reach new heights. It was not until the 19th century that beer began to taste reliably and ubiquitously good.
To reach the level of proficiency of a modern brewer, man had to figure out what actually happened in the fermenter. Man needed to see, to understand and to control.
That development took roughly from the start of the 17th to the end of the 19th century. It was driven by discovery and innovation, and, within the span of a scant 250 years, man moved from brewing by the seats of his pants to a scientific understanding and to technological control of the processes required for beer quality and consistency. .
Until the 16th century, government regulations like the Reinheitsgebot and the summer brewing prohibition were the driving forces behind the changes in brewing practices, particularly in Bavaria. But even after 1516, when only barley, hops and water were used, the result of the brewing process was still a matter of luck. Fermentation was commonly regarded as a mystical and spontaneous process, a form of putrefaction. The milky substance that settled out at the bottom of the fermenter or formed a flocculent layer at the top of the brew was not recognized for what it was (yeast). Instead, it was considered an impurity, a by-product of putrefaction that better be discarded. It was not known that this very "by-product" made alcoholic fermentation happen.
In practice, any number of airborne yeast strains, from lager yeasts (saccharomyces uvarum) to ale yeasts (saccharomyces cerevisiae) to wild yeasts, could be--and probably were present in any given brew and, most likely, all were infected with bacteria. Which yeast became dominant and defined the character of the beer depended largely on the ambient temperature. The warmer the cellar, the more likely the beer would be an ale. Off-flavors in beer and a short shelf life were probably the rule rather than the exception, especially for beers brewed during the hot summer months.
A theoretical understanding of the metabolism of yeast, of the differences between warm and cold fermenting yeasts--and of the differences between the beers they produce--had to wait until the late 19th century.
It was the German physician and chemist Andreas Libau, a.k.a. Libavius (around 1560 - 1616), who was the first to point out that fermentation and putrefaction were different processes. He knew about carbon dioxide (CO2) and was the first to describe a method of distilling alcohol. It is doubtful that any brewer of Libavius' time read his heavy tome, Alchymia (published in Latin, in 1606), which was the first systematic text book of chemistry, but later scientists did. Libavius laid the conceptual foundation for all subsequent discoveries about the true nature of fermentation..
I Can See Clearly
The Thirty Years' War had not only devastated central Europe physically, it also had brought most scientific work to a halt. Progress started to pick up only towards the 18th century, when the Age of Reason ushered in a new wave of intellectual, political, social and economic change and propelled the Western world towards democracy, industrialization and a secular lifestyle.
Although Antony van Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723) appears to have had no interest in brewing, he was, without realizing it, the instrument for the research that would ultimately solve the mystery of fermentation. Van Leeuwenhoek was a draper-turned-natural-scientist-and-microscope-maker. As a draper apprentice in Amsterdam, in 1648, young Antony often had to check the quality of cloth under a lens. This helped spark his interest in optics. By 1871, he had constructed his first microscope. He assembled at least 242 of them in his lifetime, some with a magnification of as great as 270 times.
We know that Zacharias Janssen,
a Dutch spectacle maker, had theorized about magnification before van Leeuwenhoek
and had made a primitive model of the microscope around 1590 (as had Galileo
in 1610), but van Leeuwenhoek's was the first truly usable device. In 1674,
it helped him to see yeast cells, bacteria, and other protozoa (single-cell
animals) as well as red blood cells for the very first time. He also described
the reproduction of microorganisms and thus refuted the theory of spontaneous
generation, which, thus far, had furnished the accepted explanation for
the cause of fermentation and putrefaction.
Finally, there was the yeast! .
Have you ever thought what brewing
would be like without a thermometer or even a clock? The invention of the
first mechanical clock is credited to a learned monk, Gerbert, who later
became Pope Sylvester II. His contraption dates from around 996, but mechanical
clocks did not come into wider use until the late Middle Ages. Imagine controlling
the mashing time or the boil in the brew kettle by keeping a watchful eye
on an hourglass or maybe a sundial. Great variation in extract efficiency
and beer quality must have been the order of the day, when time was more
a matter of guesswork than measurement.
The thermometer was not invented until a mere 250 years ago. The first usable thermometers were developed by a German named Gabriel Daniel Fahrenheit, in 1714, by a Frenchman named René Antoine Ferchault de Réaumur, in 1731, and by a Swede named Anders Celsius, in 1742. This new little gadget finally allowed brewers to control mash temperatures without having to mix fixed volumes of grain and water at either well water temperature or at a boil. .
Ethanol and CO2
The French chemist Antoine Laurent Lavoisier (1743 - 1794) made the next giant leap forward in fermentation knowledge. In 1789, he discovered that CO2 and ethanol are the products of alcoholic fermentation. He also explained the role of oxygen in the respiration of both plants and animals (see highlight) and thus contributed to our understanding of the carbon cycle that turns the barley on the stalk into the brew in our glass..
New Kiln - Clean
After 1818, the taste of beer improved greatly as indirect hot-air kilning of malted grain gradually replaced the traditional direct-smoke kilning. Instead of sending hot, dirty smoke over the moist bed of malted grain, in an indirect system, the fuel heated a stream of clean air that was blown through the grain. Thus the grain no longer picked up smoky residues from coal or wood, flavors that used to be passed on to the beer. The new kilns also allowed for more precise temperature control of the drying grain and thus gave the brewer for the first time dependable pale malt as well as malt with predictable mashing qualities..
At the Beginning
There Was Ale
Who Done It? The Sugar Fungus!
By the beginning of the 19th century brewers knew that fermentation had nothing to do with rot, that yeast played an important role, and--thanks to Lavoisier--that fermentation produced alcohol and CO2. Now it was time for someone to put it all together and to explain the mechanisms at work in detail. Along came the German physiologist and histologist Theodor Schwann (1810 - 1882). Schwann discovered that the cell is the building block of all plant and animal tissue. He was also the first to recognize, in 1837, that the yeast cell, which was first seen by van Leeuwenhoek under his microscope, is a living organism. Noting that the little critter had a sweet tooth, he called it "sugar fungus", hence the Latin name saccharomyces. Schwann also discovered that the munching of sugars by saccharomyces, which we call fermentation, occurs only when there is no air, i.e., that fermentation is an anaerobic process.
Wort - How Sweet It Is
In 1843, only one year after the first Pilsner Urquell was brewed, the Bohemian chemist Carl Joseph Napoleon Balling invented the hydrometer. His gravity spindle measured the amount of dissolved substances in the wort--mostly sugars, but also proteins, minerals, vitamins and aromatics--and thus allowed for the quantitative determination of extract strength and of the progress of fermentation (which brewers call attenuation).
Brewing science was finally getting somewhere! The milky by-product of medieval putrefaction had by now become firmly established as a living, single-cell creature that converted sugars into alcohol and carbon dioxide and thus turns the brewer's wort into beer. Brewers could control the color of the grain that they fed the yeast, they could measure the yeast's temperature while it was at work in order to predict if they were producing a lager or an ale, and they could check the progress of the yeast's labors with a hydrometer. But if they wanted to tame the yeast, they had to find out what made it tick. The French chemist Louis Pasteur was the one to furnish that answer..
At the Beginning
There Was Ale
Aerobic and Anaerobic--The Double
Life of Yeast
Louis Pasteur (1822 - 1895) became interested in the fermentation of wine, vinegar and beer while he was a professor at universities in Dijon, Strasbourg and Lille. By 1862, we find him at the École normale in Paris, where he is poised to finished off the myth of spontaneous fermentation for good. He discovered that heating liquids to about 145°F for 30 minutes kills any bacteria or other organisms that it may contain (pasteurization), and that, if the liquid is left hermetically sealed, no microbial activity--spontaneous or otherwise--recurs. Always eager to increase the shelf life of their beers, breweries were among the first industries to pasteurize their products.
Since infectants cannot suddenly appear in a sterile environment, but must be introduced from the outside, Pasteur also admonished brewers to examine yeast cells under the microscope before adding them to the beer (pitching) in order to determine whether the yeast was infected or healthy.
In 1868, Pasteur moved to the Sorbonne. Two years later, he was commissioned by the French government to investigate how French brewers could make a beer that could compete effectively against the rising flood of imports from Germany. Eight years later, he spelled out his findings in his study Études sur la bière, which did not rescue the French beer market from domination by the neighboring Teutonic brew, but did provide the most comprehensive explanation yet of the fermentation processes and the products that result from the yeast's metabolism.
He discovered that yeast metabolizes glucose (a type of sugar) under the presence of oxygen and that it uses energy gained from the sugar to grow and reproduce furiously. Under anaerobic conditions, yeast does not grow much, but, as Schwann had already observed, commences vigorous fermentation. This rule is now known as the Pasteur effect: Oxygen suppresses fermentation, its absence stimulates it.
Since Pasteur, we can manage the metabolic life of yeast through wort aeration after pitching and through subsequent oxygen starvation. We also know that, if we start out with sterile wort and control the microbes we pitch into the brew, we can control the result and make good beer. Thanks to Pasteur, hygiene has become one of the most important tools in the brewer's repertoire. .
Pure Beer From Pure
What was still needed was a practical way to segregate the different yeast strains and breed them pure. This problem was solved by the Danish botanist Emil Christian Hansen (1842 - 1909), a recognized authority on fungi (myces). From 1879, Hansen worked as head of the laboratory of the Carlsberg Brewing Company in Copenhagen. He was the first, in 1881, to classify brewer's yeast into cold, bottom-fermenting lager strains (saccharomyces uvarum) and warm, top fermenting ale strains (saccharomyces cerevisiae). All other yeasts are called "wild" in beer making and produce nasty off-flavors. Saccharomyces uvarum, incidentally, is also known as saccharomyces Carlsbergensis. It is not difficult to figure out where that name comes from.
Hansen also noted that, within the two broad classes of beer-friendly top and bottom fermenting yeasts, there are many variations, each with their own properties that affect the ultimate taste of the beer they ferment. Already in 1882, he demanded that yeast not only be free from bacteria, as Pasteur had insisted, but also free from "wild" yeast, if we want to make good beer. By 1890, he had developed a practical technique for the cultivation of pure yeast strains from a single cell. Pitching was never to be the same again..
... And Enzymes,
The British chemist Cornelius O'Sullivan was the first to figure out how enzymes work. As biochemical catalysts, enzymes convert, under the influence of moisture and warmth, unfermentable starches into fermentable sugars. O'Sullivan published his findings in 1890 and, thus, demystified the riddle of the mash. He supplied us with the last missing link in our understanding of the carbon chain from the carbon dioxide in the air, to the starch in the grain, to the sugar in the wort, to the alcohol in the fermented beer (see highlight on Lavoisier)..
There Is a Chill
in the Wort
We now had the biochemistry of both lager and ale fermentation under control. But its practical application year-round still required a better way of controlling fermentation temperatures. By the middle of the 19th century, it was clearly understood that yeast works best only in a very narrow temperature range. Only then does it make beer with a good flavor. It was the invention of a German engineer, Carl von Linde, that finally allowed brewers to replace the traditional ice houses with mechanical refrigeration. The breakthrough came in 1873, when Linde, with the financial backing of Gabriel Sedlmayr, brewmaster at the Munich Spaten Brewery, completed his first working model of what was then called an ammonia cold machine.
Linde recognized that a compressed gas when it is permitted to expand, or a solid when it is liquefied, absorbs heat from its surroundings. Ammonia, CO2, freon, or several other volatile chemicals can be used as refrigerants, as long as they lend themselves to alternating condensation and evaporation in a closed system. Linde used an electromotor to compress gaseous ammonia into a liquid. He then released it into the coils of a refrigeration compartment. There the ammonia reverted to its gaseous form and, in the process, drew heat from its environment. The motor then repeated the cycle by converting the ammonia gas back into a liquid, and so on and so on. Compression is best done away from the refrigerated area, because compression gives off heat.
Depending on the sources, different people, including Linde, have been credited with the invention of refrigeration, but it was Linde's work with the new technology and the enthusiastic support of brewmaster Sedlmayr that led to the universal embrace of refrigeration by the brewing industry. To this day, the compressors and evaporators in a modern brewery still work according to the same principles that Linde used in his first cold machine..
Filtration and Air-Free
In 1878, Lorenz Enzinger, a Bavarian living in Worms, on the banks of the Rhine river, brought a filtration device on the market that took yeast and other suspended solids out of the beer before it was packaged. This gave beer clarity and a longer shelf life. Two years later, the first patented machine for dispensing beer with CO2 instead of air appeared. Now even draft beer stayed fresh to the last drop..
Advances in such areas as water chemistry, grain and hops botany, metallurgy, thermodynamics and packaging technology all contributed to enhancements in the quality of beer. Grain botany gave us laboratory-bred barley of high enzymatic power, low levels of protein, and a minimum of resinous and phenolic off-flavors. Hop breeders developed varieties with specific bittering (alpha-acid) ranges and aroma oils. Improved malting techniques gave us better control over beer color and flavor, and the enzymatic properties of brewing grains. New mash tun, brew kettle and fermenter designs allowed for perfect temperature control, high extract efficiency, and wort sterility..
Finally: Modern Beer!
While most of the developments described above benefited the quality of both ales and lagers, it was Hansen's and Linde's pioneering work, which occurred only a little more than a hundred years ago, that made the modern lager revolution possible. As we have seen in previous chapters, brewers certainly had made lager beers before then. However, since fermentation was carried out by mixed yeast cultures and--without refrigeration--at relatively high temperatures, the "default" beer made by most of our forefathers had usually been an ale. The best lagers were made mostly during the winter months and then only in cooler regions, when and where nature was cooperative. Thanks to science and technology, by the end of the 19th century, man was able to brew both ales and lagers anywhere and of predictable quality.
Within a scant two decades from von Linde's invention of refrigeration, the conversion of German breweries from top fermentation to bottom fermentation was complete--except in the Rhineland. But even there, the commercial production of modern ales is plainly unthinkable without the use of pure, laboratory-managed, bacteria-free saccharomyces cerevisiae or without rigid temperature control of the mash and the fermenting wort.
Advances in technology, especially steam generation and refrigeration, also made brewing more capital-intensive and many small breweries folded or were taken over in Germany (and in the rest of the world) as industrialization with its large-scale factory breweries arrived in the 19th century. Breweries could expand their markets beyond the local horizon as the railway quickly replaced the horse-drawn dray for beer transport. In fact, the very first freight ever transported by a German railway were two casks of beer brewed by the Lederer Brewery of Nürnberg! The casks traveled to Fürth on July 11, 1836, on the first German rail link, a mere seven months after it had been opened.
To be sure, there are even today
small local breweries owned by nobles, convents, monasteries or private
individuals, but these do not account for a large share of the output of
the German beer industry. Munich, for instance, boasted some 67 breweries
in 1750. Within a century and a half, this number shrank to just a few large
ones, such as Augustiner, Hacker-Pschorr, Löwenbräu, Paulaner-Salvator-Thomasbräu,
Spaten-Franziskanerbräu, Staatliches Hofbräuhaus. More than half
the beer brewed in Bavaria now comes from a handful of these large corporations.
In Cologne, there were still about 120, mostly small, ale breweries, in 1860. There were about 100 in Düsseldorf. By the end of the First World War, however, only about half of them remained in the two cities, and of those, fewer than half were small craft brewpubs. By the end of the Second World War, only 21 breweries survived in Cologne, incidentally the same number that started Cologne's Fraternity of Brewers in 1438. Today, the number of Kölsch breweries has rebounded slightly to 24. In Düsseldorf, 18 breweries survived the destruction of the Second World War. Of those, only two large ones and four brewpubs have weathered the mergers of the last few decades.
According to a Boston Globe report of October, 1996, there are about 1,200 breweries left in Germany, but their numbers are declining. More than 130 have closed between 1990 and 1995 alone.
However, the Germans' love affair with beer is far from over. German breweries still produce a staggering 115 million hectoliters (almost 100 million barrels) a year and each German still drinks about 140 liters (about 37 gallons) of the stuff each year (statistical average for 1995). By comparison, Americans manage to down about 85 liters (22 gallons) a year.
Beer is still the anchor of popular culture in Germany. There is hardly a country in the world with so many drinking songs. And they are still being sung! Just visit a German pub during Mardigras, which is called Fasching in the south, Fassenacht in Hesse and Karneval in the north, and you can watch the otherwise so serious and reserved Germans loosen up over a mug of suds. In the beer halls of the land, it is quite customary for strangers to share long tables, to join arms and to sway in unison, from side to side, in a jovial sing-along.
When entering a German pub or restaurant, you do not wait to be seated, as you would in North America. Germans are--perhaps surprisingly--social eaters and drinkers. While in North America, restaurant patrons expect to be seated separately, every "party of one" or "party of two" with its own table that might actually seat four, Germans pick their own seating in restaurants, often preferring vacant seats at an already occupied table to the solitude of single dining.
Among the younger crowd, you
may still encounter the custom of Stiefeltrinken ("boot drinking").
A glass boot, containing one or two liters of beer, makes the rounds at
a large table, non-stop,
from one occupant to another. Each drinker takes turns placing the tip of
the boot in the air and taking a
careful sip. As the beer level gets closer and closer to the boot's ankle,
eventually, air would be sucked into the tip, displacing the beer that is
there and splattering the drinker's face. The object of the game, however,
is to avoid getting splashed by quickly twisting the tip of the boot downwards
as soon as the air begins to rush in--without taking your mouth off the
rim of the boot. Anybody who misses the moment and does get splashed, has
to order (and pay for) the next boot. Obviously, those who are clever at
this game, can imbibe with their friends all night without spending a penny.
Indeed, if you watch carefully, you can still detect in modern Germans, assembled in a pub or beer hall, a bit of the tribal frolicker that the Roman historian Tacitus described so well some 2,000 years ago.