Situation of the brewery in Europe at the dawn of the 20th century.


The brewing ingredients are very varied and freely used. Among the oldest starchy materials are barley, wheat, rye, buckwheat and oats. But also potato, corn or rice introduced in Europe from America and more recently used in brewing as supplements. Among the sweeteners: fruit, European beetroot, cane sugar from the British and French colonies. The list of aromatics/preservatives is very long and varies from one country to another, from one region to another, from one tradition to another.

  • aniseed, myrtle, oak leaves, ivy (toxic), autumn flowers, raspberries, elderberry, caraway
  • lavender, dandelion leaves, balm, mint, nutmeg
  • leaves of cherry, plum rose leaves, wild rosemary
  • juniper berries and other berries
  • even some weeds

In Europe, the brewery of Scandinavian countries is not fully converted to the addition of hops. This allows farmers to brew their own beer in and for their villages. Their beers are aromatized, or not, with local wild plants often collected by gathering or picking, and not cultivated like the hop. This is the case for the bog myrtle, the juniper, the blueberry or the blackcurrent.

Reinheitsgebot für Bier 450 anniversary


Only a few regions, states or duchies with authoritative fiscal or professional regulations compel/prohibit the use of such brewing cereals and such flavorings or antiseptical plants. The Duke of Bavaria in 1516 imposed a regulation entitled " How beer should be served and brewed in summer and winter in our lands " (later known as Reinheitsgebot). After been encompassed into the German Empire in 1871, the Duchy confirms its attachment to its historical regulation of the beer, applicable only in Bavaria. But in Europe, most of political authorities, whether cities, regions or ancient independant states, accept to merge their own brewing tradition into broad national and uniform regulations.

The brewing processes used in Europe by male and female brewers during the 19th century are very open. The many books written by engineers and learned societies in the 19th century are promoting methods and "industrial" processes deemed reliable, profitable and healthy. They hide or denigrate the artisanal and domestic processes considered archaic or conservative, and hostile to the "progress of science", demonstrating their existence and economic weight. Although negative, such publicity reveals the wide variety of brewing patterns and their traditional techniques. Nevertheless, because of this bias, the professional studies written by scientists of brewer-engineers do not help the historian to measure the variety of methods used in all fields of the brewery. We must draw on the literature, newspapers, and business reports to unveil a piece of reality about all the ways of brewing at that time.

The breweries do not follow a uniform pattern of production. The suburbs of London, Berlin and Prague are home to large beer factories supplying both the highly concentrated markets of the major urban centers created by the Industrial Revolution, and the overseas markets controled by the French, Dutch, British, and soon German colonial empires.

Besides these giants of the time, most of the breweries are essentially part of the craft brewing sector. They sell their beer on a local or regional scale. The farms-breweries producing barley, hops and beer also sell them on site or locally. This agro-brewing economy develops in regions where barley and hops are grown (Kent, Belgian and French Flanders, North Alsace-Lorraine, northern Germany, Bavaria, Czechoslovakia, etc.).

On the other side of the economic circuit of the beer, breweries-taverns-bars are brewing themselves the beer tapped from barrel and sold on the spot, saving packaging and shipping[1]. This method of beer production and distribution can be found in all European countries, except those around the Mediterranean. Finally, the domestic brewing is very lively. The brewery-bakery synergy works perfectly, as long as a family can obtain all the ingredients needed to make its beer at a lower cost and in less time. The agro-food industry has not yet interposed itself between the agricultural world and the urban world.

Still another tradition exists : that of seasonal brews. In many areas, the beer is not produced and drunk throughout the year, but only in spring and fall, when grain prices are at their lowest, and the season is favorable to the fermentation and storage of the beer. In summer, the agricultural lean season, the beer becomes acidic and winter grains cannot be "wasted" in a brew. These guidelines vary. In Scandinavia and Northern Europe, farmers used to brew also in winter (September-October) after the later harvest of the Northern Europe. In Central Europe, a warmer climate favors the brewing in spring.


This is an essential feature for all the brewing traditions in Europe in the 19thcentury. The production and consumption of beer remained strongly linked to the agricultural cycle, its constraints and seasonal rhythms. The large brewery rooted in the big cities is an exception in the European brewing landscape of that time, even if it symbolises the industrial revolution and prefigures the general trend of the brewery during the 20th century.



[1] The brewpub or the microbrewery are not new concepts !

08/10/2015  Christian Berger