International Collaboration in the 19th Century

History by the Glass by | Mar 2016 | Issue #110

It’s very much in vogue for brewers from different countries to come together for a collaboration brew. There’s nothing new, however, about such international meetings of brewing minds. It’s been going on for almost 200 years.

The 19th century saw rapid advances in brewing, but not all in one location. How were these developments communicated to the rest of the world? There were four principal mechanisms: apprenticeships, literature, study trips and technological exchange.

In Britain, the scions of brewing dynasties typically apprenticed at another brewery, usually somewhat distant from their own. And when Britain led the world in brewing technology, it attracted brewers’ sons from other lands, keen to learn its secrets.

Carl Jacobsen, son of the founder of Carlsberg, is a great example. He spent several years in Britain, between 1867 and 1870, working at William Younger in Edinburgh and Evershed in Burton. At the time, they were two of the world’s most important brewing centers, especially for Pale Ale, the age’s leading edge style.

The only son of Anton Dreher, the great Austrian brewer, apprenticed at Barclay Perkins in London. It may seem odd that someone from a firm that popularised lager around Europe should go to a Porter brewery to learn his trade. But, looked at another way, it makes perfect sense. Dreher was the largest brewery in Continental Europe. Only Britain had breweries of a similar scale.

Plus, old man Dreher had spent considerable time in Britain during his own youth. As part of one of the most important study trips of all time, Dreher, Gabriel Sedlmayr and Christian Lederer made a grand tour of European brewing in the 1830s, spurring the rise of lager from a regional Bavarian oddity to the beer that dominates the world.

110FermentedCulture2That same trip also prompted one of the greatest technology transfers of all time: the spread of bottom-fermenting yeast. Sedlmayr sent his Bavarian yeast to a brewer called Muir he befriended in Edinburgh. But more importantly, he also gave some to his travelling companion Dreher, kicking off the chain of events that eventually led to Pilsner, the ultimate international collaboration beer.

Pilsner was born when British and Bavarian brewing technology intersected with Bohemian raw materials. Pilsner Urquell used Bavarian bottom-fermenting yeast and lagering, but the beer’s pale color wouldn’t have been possible without British malting technology.

Industrial-scale lager brewing was a turning point. After more than a century of leading the pack, Britain’s brewers were now on the receiving end of technological change. First Germany and then the US had steamed ahead with new technology and techniques. It was Britain’s turn to study and learn:

“In the mechanical arrangements of their breweries, and in the introduction of the best labour-saving machinery and appliances, the Americans are unquestionably far ahead of us, and the remarkably ready manner in which they can adapt their processes to the changing requirements of a community must strike all who have seen anything of their manufactories, a great contrast to the painful slowness with which any new idea is turned to practical account with us.”
“Journal of the Federated Institutes of Brewing”, Volume 3, Issue 6, November-December 1897, page 468.

In particular, British brewers were keen to learn about new bottling techniques that had been developed in the US. What they learned—how to make artificially-carbonated, non-deposit beers—transformed British bottled beer and hugely increased its popularity. Soon the public expected and demanded crystal clear bottled beer.

Given the increasingly dynamic nature of brewing, I can’t see international collaboration ending any time soon.