The history of beermaking is a story of invention, dedication and pride.
Innovation throughout the Old World
Though winemaking is a very old art - perhaps beginning with the Phoenicians 2,600 years ago - beermaking is older than farming. As far back as 8000 BC, women gathered wild grain and used it to make beer, depending on spontaneous, air-borne yeast for fermentation.
With the birth of civilization came the birth of controlled brewing. The Sumerians developed several varieties around 4000 BC, soaking barley bread in water, the Babylonians many more two thousand years later.
The beer made was thick, flat and bitter. But it was also healthy, much more so than the water from most sources. Fortunately for us, the practice survived.
Winemaking dominated regions of southern Europe for centuries, but in the northern and some eastern regions, the weather was too cold for growing grapes. Any region that could grow barley grain, though, was ripe for beermaking. Germany, blessed with both climates, could do both. England's climate is too cool, though, for vineyards and the country developed brewing instead.
The beginning of the 12th century saw the first big expansion of breweries, where the monks turned to investigating ways to supplement food rations and income. Largely protected by royal patrons, the monasteries developed the use of hops, first for preservation and later for flavoring.
Beginning in 1397, the Spaten brewery in Munich expanded greatly the art and science of brewing. But it was the mid-19th century, with the introduction of both steam power and refrigeration, that brewing came to a head. Gabriel Sedlmayr, and later his son, introduced techniques that are still used today by his descendants in the production of fine lagers.
The famous Carlsberg in Copenhagen, for example, was a direct outgrowth of the work done at Spaten. Its founder was a student of Sedlmayr's and began his brewery using Spaten yeast.
Pasteur's work on the process that later came to be named after him, added immeasurably to this progress. His studies, in fact, weren't oriented toward food or milk preservation, but centered on yeast and the improvement of beer.
In the 1870s, thanks to innovations in Pils in the Czech Republic, golden lagers began to emerge. They quickly spread to Vienna, Austria and Dortmund, Germany and soon after all of Europe. With the great immigration of the late 19th century, America adopted the style not long after.
In the far north of Europe, the Finns developed their own distinctive brew, called sahti. Using predominately juniper, with only minor amounts of hops, gives the brew its unique flavor. The 18th century saw the rising popularity of this distinctive, fruity brew, then stored in cool stone cellars, where it would keep for long periods. Still made today, the drink is one of Finland's national treasures enjoyed by natives and visitors alike.
Wherever you visit in Europe you'll find evidence of the long history of efforts to perfect this brew. Efforts that have enjoyed great success, thanks to the dedication of thousands of tireless brewers. Their pride in the results is well deserved.