How Martin Luther Changed Our Beer, Too

Discussion in 'Beer News & Releases' started by cavedave, Oct 31, 2017.

  1. cavedave

    cavedave Poo-Bah (2,459) Mar 12, 2009 New York

    Interesting article from NPR about how the Church controlled gruit spices, and hops became the beer spice of choice for Luther's followers. And the world.

    "Every hip craft brewery today peddling expensive hoppy beers owes a debt of gratitude to Luther and his followers for promoting the use of hops as an act of rebellion against the Catholic Church. But why did Protestants decide to embrace this pretty flower, and what did it have to do with religious rebellion?"

    Read about it here
  2. frozyn

    frozyn Zealot (572) May 16, 2015 New York
    Premium Trader

    Was just coming over to post this same article. It's an interesting fact to share with people when they ask about hops in beer. I've had a few non-craft folks ask me in the past few months how hops got their place, something I did not know, and this answers that nicely. Also gives me a nice idea for a name for my next homebrew IPA!
  3. Ranbot

    Ranbot Zealot (545) Nov 27, 2006 Pennsylvania

    Interesting story. I wonder how the Catholic Church came to control all gruit spices, because as I understand things (granted I'm no historian) many many spices, some of which can be quite common, in many different combinations could be used to flavor gruit. Maybe they only controlled the rarer, more desired gruit spices, but couldn't do that for hops, because it basically grows like a weed. I don't know....just speculating.
    cjgiant and cavedave like this.
  4. Lorianneb

    Lorianneb Aspirant (270) Apr 27, 2012 New Jersey

    I'm even more proud to be a Lutheran and beer geek
    dj420, Dan_K, matthewp and 8 others like this.

    REVZEB Poo-Bah (3,483) Mar 28, 2013 Illinois

    Katie Luther: Homebrewing Champion of the Reformation
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  6. cjgiant

    cjgiant Poo-Bah (4,253) Jul 13, 2013 District of Columbia

    Haha-completely tongue in cheek:

    This was “news” 5 centuries ago.

    That quip aside, was a fun read. I too wondered like @Ranbot how (though taxes were mentioned) exactly they controlled the gruit spices, though I’d probably agree with his assessment mainly. Maybe they could control those that had to be “imported.” Though then again, it was a different time, so maybe growing gruit spices wasn’t easy to “hide” from the tax collector in a less private society??
  7. drtth

    drtth Poo-Bah (3,648) Nov 25, 2007 Pennsylvania

    It’s easy for us, here in the US, to underestimate the political and social power of a state religion, especially when there is only one and that one reveals the word of God through those who represent his divine authority and that speak on his behalf the doctrine to which all must adhere or wind up in Hell.

    There are powerful reasons for the idea of separation of church and state.

  8. Brolo75

    Brolo75 Initiate (0) Aug 10, 2013 California

    Just finished reading this prior to seeing it here, great article. I would have love to sit at the table with Luther and hear his theological insights as well as hear his witty jokes regarding the Roman Catholic church!
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  9. cjgiant

    cjgiant Poo-Bah (4,253) Jul 13, 2013 District of Columbia

    What I was thinking was more along the line of the church and/or state having the monopoly over a beverage I was mostly assuming was more of a household product, made with common ingredients. In this narrow (and perhaps wrong enough) thinking, where does the tax man learn of how much to tax, regardless of who the taxman works for?

    It would stand to reason as production grew beyond a household, it would be easier to figure out what was being used. Also, if the ingredients were not so common (the items listed in the article were taxed/monopolized, but I don’t know how “commonly” available they were to people). There are obvious gaps in my knowledge that led to my pondering out loud in this thread (vs doing any research), the distribution would be a key component.

    With that expansion, I will say that while I am glad for the current separation many countries now have, I do understand how church and state were one and the same. My intended question was independent of who did the monopolizing and taxing, but meant to be on how did they accomplish said result. Though I must admit I’d tend discount the social power you mention in your response more, at least in part due to my century 20/21 living in the US.
  10. SinBoldly

    SinBoldly Initiate (37) Apr 21, 2014 Illinois

    Would definitely love a seat at that session of Table Talk.

    He was famous for his love of regional brews, even to the point of writing a letter to Katy about how the local brew in one particular village had such wonderful laxative properties. (Edit: just read the article and see that was mentioned)
    #10 SinBoldly, Nov 1, 2017
    Last edited: Nov 1, 2017
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  11. cavedave

    cavedave Poo-Bah (2,459) Mar 12, 2009 New York

    I actually think it is closer to the reference author makes to the gruit containing active and psychoactive herbs and spices. Considering how those things are still taxed and regulated by govt. authoritarians who still try to endow themselves with blessing of a divine being I think it is beyond easy to see how it was done by reformation era fanatics who likely punished by execution :slight_smile:
    Squire likes this.
  12. cjgiant

    cjgiant Poo-Bah (4,253) Jul 13, 2013 District of Columbia

    So money or/and control, we have so far. Good thing we no longer have either in our governments or/and religions any more :rolling_eyes:

    Hadn’t thought of that. Though funny, I actually I considered using an analogy like, if I wanted to grow a couple pot plants for personal use, I probably could easily avoid being caught nowadays. How much easier would it be to catch (or tax) me in smaller communities back then? Similarly, as I started producing more, even for sale to friends, and beyond, chances grow I’d be found out by the authorities (or tax man) in either case.

    To restate my follow-up introspection to @drtth, keeping the parallel, I then realized I’m not sure how easy/common hop plants/seeds are to come by (and maybe the church/govt could control the supply of them).

    The other interesting part was the fact the Reinheitsgebot was just getting started as a standard/regulation (in Bavaria). There is a small part in the article that indicates the revolt against the church helped spread this more as a defiance than adherence to that separate “law.” Not sure if that’s speculation and actually tied to the reformation’s ideas or more economics-driven, as the article also points to.
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  13. drtth

    drtth Poo-Bah (3,648) Nov 25, 2007 Pennsylvania

    Hops grew wild and were prolific, more a weed than a cash crop. Why buy them? Brew a gruit without purchasing the requisite herbs and spices from the mandated source, who wouldn’t notice if you ran a tavern or brewpub in a town of 2000 people?
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  14. moshea

    moshea Devotee (463) Jul 16, 2007 Michigan

    The article is a nice story, nothing else, heck the article even admits it

    ".......Even before the Reformation, German princes had been moving toward hops — in 1516, for instance, a Bavarian law mandated that beer could be made only with hops, water and barley......."

    ".....Did Protestantism explicitly promote hops? I don't think so....."

    The article is filled with speculation.
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  15. drtth

    drtth Poo-Bah (3,648) Nov 25, 2007 Pennsylvania

    Re the RHG and the spread of the use of hops.

    Hops were in some degree of use before the Reformation (as the article points out). Similarly many of the ideas, etc. expressed in Luther's 95 Theses were not entirely new. But in Luther's work there was a single source codification that created a spark. You don't get any effect from the spark unless there is already tinder ready for ignition.

    So just as the Prohibition movement brought together many disparet groups, not all of whom were anti alcohol consumptiong per se, under a single flag that led to the creation of the 18th Amendment and the Volstead Act, Luther's work helped coalesce several different trends of dissatifaction with the madates and excesses of the Roman Catholic Church at that time.

    This rejection would have reinforced or added to the motivations that led to the creation of the RHG, e.g., desire for some control over ingredients, keeping the costs of grain down in the after effects of a major famine, etc.

    Malcom Gladwell has a book about whet he calls "Tipping Points," in which his point is that sometimes a single act can change the way things work but only after lots of other things have created the right conditions for the "Tipping" event to have an impact.
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  16. Ranbot

    Ranbot Zealot (545) Nov 27, 2006 Pennsylvania

    I agree to an extent. The article exaggerates Luther's role in adoption of hops. It also mentions that international trade was building and also supporting hops. However, when people protest the manner of the protest can manifest in many ways including their everyday food and drink. (See also "Freedom Fries" :grin:) For centuries beer has been a heavily taxed commodity, and governments, monarchs, and the Catholic Church have tried to control it, so it's not a stretch of the imagination that early Protestants would purposely avoid gruit beer spices not only as protest but to also to avoid paying the related taxes that would support authoritarian Church they opposed. And if larger winds of global change are blowing in the right direction, then the protest action becomes that much easier. So, of course the change is bigger than Luther and Protestantism, but there is a relationship.
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  17. hopfenunmaltz

    hopfenunmaltz Meyvn (1,386) Jun 8, 2005 Michigan

    Well, hops were in use in Bavaria before the date ferreted to in this article. If you don’t know, Bavaria has the highest % of Catholics in Germany.

    One of the first recorded uses of hops in beer was at a Benedictine monastery in Picardy France. Benedictines are Catholic.

    Nice article about Martin Luther and his wife, but the beer and hops part doesn’t pass the sniff test for me.
    herrburgess, TongoRad and FBarber like this.
  18. BeerPugz

    BeerPugz Initiate (84) Dec 4, 2016 Wisconsin

    Enjoyed the article and learned something new. Perhaps BA needs a History forum so people can contribute more historical articles in one place. Thanks for sharing @cavedave
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  19. Crusader

    Crusader Aspirant (242) Feb 4, 2011 Sweden

    In the Swedish law of the land from 1442 (by which time of course Sweden was a Catholic country, and briefly had a Catholic Bavarian king) it is stipulated that each farmer and tenant farmer had to have and maintain a hop yard with 40 poles worth of hop bines or they would pay a yearly fine (which had to be paid in hops, not money), a similar requirement was maintained until 1860.
  20. captaincoffee

    captaincoffee Meyvn (1,385) Jul 10, 2011 Virginia

    Rather than use my brain and research this stuff, I feel it is best to make Ron Pattinson (@patto1ro) do this stuff for us. However, I believe hops were indeed gaining popularity well prior to the reformation.
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  21. cavedave

    cavedave Poo-Bah (2,459) Mar 12, 2009 New York

    Great commentary from the BA collective beer encyclopedia. One way or another, whether the article is all right, partly right, or completely wrong, we all are gonna be smarter about hops
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  22. TongoRad

    TongoRad Poo-Bah (2,504) Jun 3, 2004 New Jersey
    Premium Trader

    I can only wonder what the pagan revolution will bring :smile:.
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  23. JohnnyChicago

    JohnnyChicago Crusader (795) Sep 3, 2010 Illinois

    Pretty good article and pretty well-researched.
    I wouldn’t say “the Church didn’t like hops” considering Benedictine monks were farming them nearly 1000 years before Luther nailed his 95 thesis on the door.

    I always liked this part of beer history, because it seems like one of the few times beer was influenced by something other than taxes.:grin:
    Anyone who found this interesting should read, “Beer in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance” by Richard Unger. Great read!
  24. herrburgess

    herrburgess Meyvn (1,075) Nov 4, 2009 South Carolina

    Not sure I agree here. The precursor 1489 Reinheitsgebot from Bamberg -- which stipulated beer must be brewed using only malt (yes...just malted barley), water, and hops) was issued by the Prince Bishop, i.e. a member of the Catholic clergy. As you and I have discussed before, I don't think the Reinheitsgebot (or better, plural Reinheitsgebote) can be understood in such pat ways.

    Like @hopfenunmaltz says above, a lot of this article doesn't pass the sniff test.
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  25. drtth

    drtth Poo-Bah (3,648) Nov 25, 2007 Pennsylvania

    I agree that the article has flaws, but I’m curious as to what might be wrong about the idea that the embracing of hops by the growing number of Lutherans might have been a contributing or accelerating factor in the eventual widespread transition from Gruit to hops?

    Or is it a concern over the idea that growing availability and acceptance of hops in brewing was one of the ways purity could be ensured, monitored and controlled, thereby becoming an additional factor leading to the spread or embracing of the ideas of the RHG at a political level?

    Or perhaps it is the idea that a famine/grain shortage may have been a factor in the passage of the RHG from a few isolated precursor local rulings into the law of the land?

    One or more alternative explanations or some edits could be beneficial here since it was not my intention to suggest the flipping of a light switch type event, or a single monolithic event, but rather a coming together of several things contributing to a transition.

    #25 drtth, Nov 5, 2017
    Last edited: Nov 5, 2017
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  26. Immortale25

    Immortale25 Poo-Bah (3,011) May 13, 2011 North Carolina

    I've been thinking the same thing lately
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  27. herrburgess

    herrburgess Meyvn (1,075) Nov 4, 2009 South Carolina

    I think both of those could be the case to a degree. But it would seemingly undercut the article's point that the adoption by Lutherans was a poke-in-the-eye to Catholics (since Catholics were already using hops throughout the various prince-bishoprics in the south). Less so than on a political or religious level, why not see it on a brewing or consumer level: more and more beer drinkers liked beer made with hops than all manner of spices and stuff?

    I could see this, too. Again, however, it would seem to upset some of the "scholarship" that claims the original RHG(s) were developed by the nobles in order to control grain price increases. I know we have talked about potential famine/grain shortage around 1516 when the most famous RHG was adopted, but I don't know if we checked on all the other RHGs (Bamberg, Regensburg, Nueremberg, etc). Seems like a longshot that each of these would have followed a famine. To me, again, it seems like the answer might simply be that drinkers and brewers liked beer brewed according to the RHG more than beer with all kinds of stuff in it.
    #27 herrburgess, Nov 5, 2017
    Last edited: Nov 5, 2017
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  28. drtth

    drtth Poo-Bah (3,648) Nov 25, 2007 Pennsylvania

    Well, that’s good then since what I was arguing for does indeed, as intended, undercut some of what the author had to say or how he said it.

    My point about the grain shortage was related to one of the motivations the Duke would have in making the RHG the law of the land for the entire State of Bavaria. Wouldn’t be the first time a law maker had multiple motivations for putting a law in place. Especially when there are prior popular local laws in place for part of what the legislation is about.
    herrburgess likes this.
  29. herrburgess

    herrburgess Meyvn (1,075) Nov 4, 2009 South Carolina

    I could definitely see the Bavarians lifting the idea for their RHG from the existing ones (as a way to justify a power grab...while further justifying it with famine conditions). I haven't read anything to support this, but I could also imagine that something like that contributed to some of the centuries-long animosity between places like Franconia and Bavaria. Wish I had the time to dive into it in more depth. Unfortunately have to get a new fermentation tank in rotation. Seems Columbians like RHG-compliant beer, too! :wink:
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  30. drtth

    drtth Poo-Bah (3,648) Nov 25, 2007 Pennsylvania

    Good luck with the expanded rotation.

    As for the grain shortage we do have a few things to go on. There were severe damaging storms that year that could be expected to have curtailed the harvest creating at least a reduction of normal supplies. During that era there would have been little or no grain imported given the limitations of transport that existed at that time. Also there was the intitial hard line between using only barley malt and using no wheat at all in brewing, which, IIRC, wasn't redrawn for Ducal benefit and brewery until several years later and that would have been enough time for some degree or normalcy in supplies to resume.
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