Saturday, November 14, 2009

A history of countries and beer, part 1

Nobody is entirely sure when beer was invented. In all likelihood, several thousand years ago, some grains probably got saturated by water and accidentally left to stew for a week or so. A caveman or a farmer or the dweller of a shanty town then tried this concoction and, shortly after ingestion, noticed that he felt pretty good, and suddenly wasn't so damn worried about everything. Reproductions of the experiment yielded the same results. Suddenly, we had societies full of hunters, gatherers, and, of course, brewers.

And so it went for thousands of years. Different flavors and styles were invented, but it was always the same general idea. Add water to grains, and wait. In a few weeks, some magic (actually, it was naturally occurring yeast, but the original name for yeast was "Godisgood". This is not a joke) made the mixture into beer. But the basic process was always the same.

That is, until 1845. In a region near Plzen, Germany, a farmer inadvertently left his beer fermenting in a cool, underground cave rather than in the farmhouse, which was the custom of the time. When he went to sample his beer, he discovered that he accidentally came up with a new style. This style was colder, more crisp, and more refreshing than the thicker ales that were customary. Naming the beer "Pilsner" after his home region, the beer quickly took off in popularity.

To properly envision the storm of unchecked popularity that the pilsner enjoyed, imagine this: What if, in the 1960's, when the Beatles rose to popularity, every form of music besides The Beatles was destroyed. This is what happened in Germany. The pilsner was so wildly popular that regions abandoned centuries-old styles in order to brew up the cold, refreshing beer. If you were German after 1845 you would be brewing up a pilsner. All you needed were some nice, cool caves to mix up a batch. The good news was that Germany had plenty of caves like this to go around. The bad news: in just three years, in 1848, the country was embroiled in a bitter civil war.

German idealists, fed up with their country, left in droves, seeking a new, better life. Some went to Canada, but around 6 million came to the United States. They brought their national principles and culture, including their brewing techniques and their zeal for the pilsner. All they needed were the right grains, and some nice, cool caves for the beer to rest in.

Exactly the kind of caves you can find underneath St. Louis, Missouri.

This made it the perfect location for a pilsner brewer, like Eberhard Anheuser to set up shop in 1852.



  1. When does the Duff family get into brewing?

  2. Nitpickyness. Plzen is in El Republico del Czech.

  3. Bring your 2-litre stein and ask for free samples...

  4. So when did the Germans settle in Jamaica and brew beer that teaches white people how to dance?

  5. Did your money run out or something?