A short history of beer in Germany

A short history of beer in Germany

Man cannot live by bread alone - so that's why he created beer!

"Beer turns thirst into a beautiful thing," goes an old German saying, as shown by the German Beer Institute's website, and it is hard to dispute a country whose beer making history spans centuries, being one of the oldest beer traditions in the world, with the largest number of varieties.

With more than 1,200 breweries producing more than 5,000 brands of beer, more than two dozen beer styles are produced and exported throughout the world. How did Germany come to be the leader in the art of beer making - and why?

History of beer in Germany

It started with ale, not lager, despite the preponderance of lagers today, which until the 8th century was brewed primarily at home by hausfraus, using ingredients like barley because it was not considered good for much else. However, by the 11th century, the tradition became under the control of the Benedictine monks and nuns. The beverage was a money-making proposition, and the religious authorities retained control over the art and funds as long as they could. However, by the 12th century feudal lords attempted to regain control over the highly lucrative breweries. As their struggles continued, the urban burghers eased into the fray quietly using new technology and innovation to build breweries of their own and cut into the profits of the two conflicting factions. Within a few centuries, the burghers had created monopolies on the beverage while retaining high quality brew recipes.

Food, beer or both

Originally, the brewing and baking was done together in a communal brew-bake-house in the cities. Families had to take turns to use the facility for their home's bread and beer. This method was created out of a health and safety issue; in those days, cities were primarily built of wood, and many a home would catch fire due to a hausfrau forgetting to tend the brew fire. City fathers determined communal brew-bakeries to be the answer, and henceforth, the system of commercialization and taxation of city brews came into being. Eventually, the brew-bake houses evolved into a real business, with staff hired and the city granted exclusive rights to the baker to be the brew master. The ingredients were already at hand - yeast being used for both bread and ale.

The first European Union?

The Hanzeatic League was formed in 1241 which controlled importing and exporting of many goods, including ales and beer, with some 200 cities participating. In this way, the control of goods coming in and going out of the area meant Polish mustard could be had in England while Norway could enjoy Italian figs! This new concept of trading between countries was the beginnings of the first European Common Market, and beer was one of the most important commodities traded.

By 1750, every little hamlet had it's own brewery, and in some areas there was a prohibition against drinking beer from elsewhere in order to protect a monopoly of the brewery in that area. Until 200 years ago, some of these laws were still in force!

French Revolution leads to free trade

With the advent of the French Revolution, the conquered Rhineland was forced by Napoleon's brother-in-law Joaquim Murat, to abolish local monopolies, and beer was available to everyone from every area. After Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo in 1815, Rhineland became under the control of Prussia, whose ruling bodies confirmed that their subjects could belong to any trade they chose and brewing remained an unshackled business - with the exception of taxes!

By the mid 1800s, big strides were being made in beer production, refining its ingredients and recipes and discovering precisely how best to produce a high quality beverage. Over time, yeasts were bred to be purer and cleaner, and other elements such as enzymes and even temperature control were discovered as being tantamount to controlling fermentation and creating a more refined flavor.

Today, no country has as many drinking songs as Germany, and beer is still the drink of choice, as smaller, artisanal breweries perfect specific recipes. Some might say "beer is the new wine."

And that, they say, is a short history of beer in Germany! The history of beer is mired in the history of the world.