Beer through History

Discussion in 'Beer Talk' started by Troutbeerbum, Dec 13, 2016.

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  1. Troutbeerbum

    Troutbeerbum Initiate (0) Dec 5, 2016 Maine

    I'm a history geek. Wondering if any of you what beer out there today is being brewed with what was available say 100-200 years ago, or with the same recipes?
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  2. zid

    zid Grand Pooh-Bah (3,058) Feb 15, 2010 New York
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    The ingredients have changed too much. You'll probably be interested in following the writings of people like Ron Pattinson. When a commercial "historic" beer is brewed (with serious intent) it's often done with his input or simply taken from his work. He sometimes posts here as @patto1ro . Unfortunately, Pretty Things has pretty much stopped. People will probably suggest certain Dogfish Head brews, but in my opinion that stuff is more historical fantasy and scientific muscle than actual recreation and brewing research.
  3. PapaGoose03

    PapaGoose03 Grand Pooh-Bah (5,303) May 30, 2005 Michigan
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  4. MostlyNorwegian

    MostlyNorwegian Pooh-Bah (1,922) Feb 5, 2013 Illinois
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    Short answer. No. Ingredients will have changed. Longer answer. Yes. You will have access to that many more people trying.
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  5. Troutbeerbum

    Troutbeerbum Initiate (0) Dec 5, 2016 Maine

    Thanks for pointing me in the right direction.
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  6. Troutbeerbum

    Troutbeerbum Initiate (0) Dec 5, 2016 Maine

    Is that because the ingredients aren't available, used or not palatable?
  7. marquis

    marquis Pooh-Bah (2,301) Nov 20, 2005 England
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    Varieties of barley and hops are not the same now as in the past. Chevallier barley has been grown again on a small scale. Goldings hops may date back to the 1700s (and IMO remain unmatched to this day) and Fuggles to the late 1800s.
    Recipes from the past in the UK are fully available because all commercial brews were overseen by HM Customs and Excise and records had to be kept for legal and tax reasons.Ron Pattinson's blog is a must read for an aspiring beer historian.
  8. matcris

    matcris Pooh-Bah (2,071) Sep 17, 2015 Arizona
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    Weihenstephaner claims they are the oldest brewery in the world. They make some of my favorite brews, without a doubt. You might contact them directly to find out how their ingredients have evolved over the last thousand years.
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  9. MostlyNorwegian

    MostlyNorwegian Pooh-Bah (1,922) Feb 5, 2013 Illinois
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    I third reading some Ron Pattinson.
    The recipe's have not really changed terribly much. Well. Actually. They all have. But. That's why the history gets so much more interesting to read. There is a lot going on with beer and its history.
    For us on the other side of it. The 'quality' of the ingredients will have changed. Various operational efficiencies will also have changed on account of that scientific meddling and its modifying ways.
    Part of the pilot system from that really old brewery lives in Chicago these days, and the brewery she is at makes some dead on interpretations of old beer.
    #9 MostlyNorwegian, Dec 13, 2016
    Last edited: Dec 13, 2016
  10. drtth

    drtth Initiate (0) Nov 25, 2007 Pennsylvania
    In Memoriam

    Combination of multiple factors. Barley comes in different varieties, some of which are no longer grown, some of which have been hybridized to improve crop reliability. Hops come in different varieties some of which are no longer around, some of which weren't even developed. In addition both sets of ingredients can differ from year to year, and even from neighboring fields, depending on weather, soil, etc.

    Then there's the yeast....
    #10 drtth, Dec 13, 2016
    Last edited: Dec 13, 2016
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  11. Troutbeerbum

    Troutbeerbum Initiate (0) Dec 5, 2016 Maine

    Interesting stuff,keep it coming.
  12. hopfenunmaltz

    hopfenunmaltz Pooh-Bah (2,623) Jun 8, 2005 Michigan
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    Much has been covered, @marquis covered a lot of it.

    My first question for you is "What is a recipe?". The definition is a list of ingredients and the process to assemble the ingredients. Most overlook the process part, which can include the equipment and brewing procedures. There have been developments on the equipment side that influence the beer. Copper vs. Stainless steel brewhouses, shallow open fermenters (wooden if you go back far enough) vs. tall unitanks, steam heated kettles vs. direct fired, and so on.

    There are readily available barleys that are considered heritage strains. One is Maris Otter which was released in the mid 1960s in England, another is Barke which was released in the mid 90s in Germany. Barley varieties have a production life of about 20 years, then newer strains with higher yeild and disease resistance are released, and those are more attractive to the farmer. In Michigan there is some beers being made with a nearly forgotten barley named Spartan, which was developed by MSU around 100 years ago. Oh, and malting technology has advanced, and modern malt is much different from not so long ago.

    Hops have the same story. Some of the European varieties are the original landrace varieties (Saaz, Hallertau Mittelfrüh, etc). In the US cluster is still around. Tastes have changed, and new varieties are developed for agronomics (yeild and so on), and the fruity and tropical flavors that are in vogue.

    Yeast? Pasteur changed the use and maintainance of yeast in breweries. Yeast has been selected and banked for a long time so that a brewery will have a secure supply of the house strain. There is a lot of activity now to map yeast genetics. Many breweries and yeast suppliers are actively capturing wild yeast and selecting strains for unique flavors, or from a certain place.

    Water? Brewers are no longer tied to the local water chemistry.

    I toured the Pilsner Urquell brewery last summer. The guide was always talking about how they make the beer the same as they did back in the 1800s. Well they have a copper brewhouse from 1999, so it has some new tech. They use unitanks. They only use 1 strain of yeast now, where they used to use 5 strains. At the end of the tour, you get to taste a beer that was open fermented in wood, and layered in 4000 liter wooden barrels. It was unfiltered, unpasteurized, and was one of the best beers I have ever had.

    Hope this helps.
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  13. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Grand Pooh-Bah (3,351) Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania
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    The best you can do today is a reconstruction of a 100+ year old beer. It has been discussed previously but the most critical ingredient aspect is the barley malt.

    Are you a subscriber to BYO magazine (or know somebody who is)?

    I wrote an article about the original Michelob beer of 1896 and how one could go about brewing that beer.

  14. Ranbot

    Ranbot Pooh-Bah (2,389) Nov 27, 2006 Pennsylvania
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    @zid and @hopfenunmaltz summed things up well. I would only add that improvements in raw material storage, refrigeration, and transportation are also a factor because we can keep raw materials and final beer product fresher now than 100+ years ago, which will certainly impact beer flavor. If you really want to dive deep into the history of beer then Ron Pattinson's (@patto1ro ) blog and books are where you want to be.
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  15. hopfenunmaltz

    hopfenunmaltz Pooh-Bah (2,623) Jun 8, 2005 Michigan
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  16. patto1ro

    patto1ro Pooh-Bah (2,010) Apr 26, 2004 Netherlands
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    Harvey's Imperial Stout is the closest regularly brewed commercial beer to one from the 19th century you'll find. It's brewed to an old-style recipe and they have a brewhouse that hasn't changed much in the last 100 years, open fermenters and all.

    As has been mentioned, I've been involved directly or indirectly in a stack of old recipe recreations. They are never going to be clones of the original, but give a general idea of what a beer would have been like.

    As for ingredients, hops are a piece of piss. The several varieties sold as EKG have been around for more than 200 years. And before you start talking about alpha acid levels, I've analyses from the 1920's with Goldings at over 7%.

    Malt is more tricky. It is possible - if you try hard - to get old barley varieties. Chevallier is coming back, as I'm sure other varities will. If you get it floor malted, as Crisp did, then it's going to be pretty damn close to late 19th-century malt.

    For the first couple of Past Masters beers Fullers brewed they used Plumage-Archer barley, one from before WW I.

    Carlsberg also grew up a 19th-century barley for their rebrew project. And got it floor malted.
  17. ctylinebeer

    ctylinebeer Initiate (0) Jun 22, 2015 Pennsylvania

    I attended a DFH Ancient Ales tasting at the Penn Museum this past spring. Sam collaborated with Dr. Pat McGovern of the Penn Museum to recreate archaeological samplings of alcoholic beverages found in excavations of various locations. Midas Touch is obviously one of them and I feel like that is the closest of the few they make to what was actually available during that time.
  18. NeroFiddled

    NeroFiddled Grand High Pooh-Bah (7,122) Jul 8, 2002 Pennsylvania
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    Not to hijack this thread, but if I might turn it around a bit, I'd like some input.

    I agree with everything said, without doubt, but to play devil's advocate, what is the answer if we turn it around and ask: in general for the common man, how different REALLY are these beers from just 100-200 years ago?

    They would have still tasted like beer, yes? There would have been no outstanding differences across the board, meaning all beers wouldn't have been sour; or smoky because of the way the grains were dried, etc. We were way past using heated rocks in wooden vessels to make 'stein beer" (although we didn't really isolate yeast until the mid 1800's), but we're still talking 1816 to 1916, not 816 to 916! Munich malts would have tasted like Munich malts, Vienna malts would have tasted like Vienna malts, and so on. As to specific varieties of grain or hops, how many people can taste a beer and point out "Oh, that's Maris Otter"? Especially if it's been used in a dark beer. And I'd say the same thing for most of the classic, basic hops. Ask 100 people what a beer you hand them tastes like and at least 50 will say "Uhhhh,... ... beer".

    So, yes, these beers have changed, particularly due to technological advance, but within 100-200 years ago - which historically speaking is not long at all - weren't most beers, and even some specific examples, roughly the same? I can't imagine that a man enjoying a London porter at the end of WW I would look at one brewed today and find it substantially different.
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  19. Troutbeerbum

    Troutbeerbum Initiate (0) Dec 5, 2016 Maine

    Thank you all for the incredible wealth of knowledge here, great reading. NeroFiddled, I would say I'm in the percentage that can't distinguish hops, barley etc. I just like good beer so I understand your point.
    As far as heritage grains, I did a little research at the end of this summer as to whether or not it would be worth growing and trading a local Homebrewer for some beer. Never went any further than an idea.
  20. Crusader

    Crusader Pooh-Bah (1,651) Feb 4, 2011 Sweden
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    I have yet to have an historical recreation of an old recipe but I'm very much interested in beer history and historical recipes. What matters to me is that the brewery is open about the process and the ingredients, and is knowledgable about the history of the beer they are purporting to recreate. I want to know as much as possible about the recreated recipe. Alot of times it seems like a brewery is counting on the consumer to take the brewery's word for it that the beer is brewed according to an old recipe/proces. Instead of providing an opportunity to learn about the process and recipe, which is supposedly based on historic research, the consumer is left with marketing speak. Transparancy and learning should be the guiding principles when recreating an old recipe in my opinion, otherwise it just seems pointless.
    #20 Crusader, Dec 13, 2016
    Last edited: Dec 13, 2016
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