The five schools that forever changed the history of beer

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Taking into account that beer is one of the oldest fermented beverages known to mankind, it is not surprising that it was chosen by the National Museum of Anthropology to star in a workshop on the occasion of the Gastrofestival that is held these days in Madrid.

As explained by Raimon Cooper, coordinator of the Specialization Courses in Craft Beer and Microbreweries organized by the University of Alicante, and host of the workshop, today we take for granted that beer must necessarily include four ingredients: water, cereal, yeast and hops. But these last two have been unknown for most of its history.

Raimon Cooper during his talk at the National Museum of Anthropology.

Yeast has always been present in brewing, but its presence was unknown until Louis Pasteur discovered its role in fermentation processes. Hops, however, are not necessary as such to make beer - although today it is, in fact, mandatory to qualify as such, at least in Spain.

As Cooper points out, until hops were discovered to be the perfect plant to flavor beer, around the 11th century, the drink was made with many other herbs, such as rosemary, myrtle, coriander, or yarrow. In fact, in England, herbal and hop beers coexisted for a long time, which was seen as something foreign.

If we were to try one of the beers that were made in the Middle Ages today, we probably would not have recognized it as such. It was not until the 16th century when beer acquired its current appearance. And it was a laborious process. As Cooper explains, the history of the drink has several milestones, achieved by different national schools, which interacted with each other to shape the pints, bottles and reeds that we all enjoy today.

1. Germany and its Purity Law

On April 23, 1516, William IV of Bavaria promulgated what is considered one of the first food regulations in history. His Law of Purity established that beer could only be made from three ingredients: water, malted barley and hops. It did not allow the use of herbs or other grains other than barley. Yeast is not mentioned because it was not known to exist.

"There were two reasons for the regulation," explains Cooper. “First of all, the herbal beers, which were made everywhere, were out of control, and some were intoxicating. Secondly, they wanted to avoid that the wheat was used to make beer, since they wanted to reserve it for the manufacture of bread ”.

In 1539 the prohibition of brewing beer from April to September was established, since in these warmer months the beer was spoiled. As Cooper points out, the first beer refrigeration system did not arrive until 1873. The last beer served was Märzenbier, which was made in March to last all summer and was drunk in October, when the ban was lifted. Not surprisingly, it is the traditional Oktoberfest beer.

2. Belgium and its spontaneous fermentation

These are the only Trappist beers in the world.

The other great power of the origins of beer was Belgium, where they invented a particular method of fermentation. “In the Belgian tradition, you put the beer wort in a pool, to cool it down, and when the right temperature is reached the factory roof is opened to let all kinds of things go in,” explains Cooper. “They are known as spontaneously fermented beers, and all kinds of bacteria and yeasts are involved. They are acidic and very complex beers, as they provide many nuances ”. As the beer expert points out, the tricky thing about this beer is to reproduce it outside of each specific factory.

Also in Belgium were the Trappist and abbey beers, which were brewed in monasteries. Today, Cooper notes, Trappist beers can only be labeled as such when they are brewed by the Cistercian Order of Strict Observance - the Trappist monks - and are only made in eleven of the Order's 171 monasteries.

3. UK and beer porter

La Meux's Brewery, one of the largest breweries in history.

"From the seventeenth century to the mid-nineteenth century it was the queen beer," says Cooper. "Everybody drank porter, it was the most famous beer in the UK and everyone wanted to make it. " This ale It was already made from hops and roasted malt and became tremendously popular in the Georgian period among porters working in the London markets, from which it acquired its name. It is the direct predecessor of the stout (which were, in fact, the porter strongest) whose greatest commercial exponent today is the classic Guiness.

It was the first type of beer to be made industrially, in huge factories, bigger even than those that exist today. They used to make two versions of the drink, one porter young, slightly carbonated, and a porter aged, more aromatic due to its greater maturation. Both versions were mixed in the pubs to the taste of the consumer.

One of the characteristics of the porter is that it was made in huge wooden vats, which allowed better control of the temperature. Large factories had tanks that could hold up to three million liters. It is not surprising, therefore, that an accident occurred.

On October 17, 1814, a vat of the Meux’s Brewery, which in those days was the largest brewery in the world, burst. The explosion caused a domino effect in the rest of the vats, the spilled beer washed away a wall of the factory. In total, a million and a half liters of beer broke like a tsunami through the streets of London. Eight people drowned in beer died.

4. The Czech Republic and its pilsner

"Beer of sorts pilsner It comes from Pilsen, from the Czech Republic ”, explains Cooper. "This city has a very soft water, which is better for making light beers, but traditionally wheat beers were made, dense and somewhat dark, nothing to do with those of now".

It was the Bavarian master Josef Groll who first began to make beers of the lager in Pilsen. “He took the low-fermenting yeast he had in Germany and in England he learned how to make light malts,” says Cooper. "Putting these two things together he managed to make this beer."

He introduced his first drink design on October 5, 1842, made from Moravian malts, local low-purity water, and Czech Zatec hops. It was the first Pilsner Urquell, which swept Europe. "It became so popular that they invaded Germany and they started making it too," Cooper explains. “It got to the point where they wanted to ban the making of clear beers. In England it was the same, beer lager ousted the porter, which was discontinued ”.

5. USA and the revival of craft beer

The first pioneers of North America already made beer, but it is in recent decades that Americans have made history in brewing beer.

“From the 80s there was a revival of beer and they are the ones that have set the standards for craft beers,” explains Cooper. "They don't have their own styles, but they have reinvented many traditional European styles, using a particularly aromatic type of hops."

Americans have resurrected great beers like Indian Pale Ale, the English beer as it was drunk in India, with the characteristics acquired from maturing in the hold of a ship. While in Spain the market share of craft beer is less than 1% in the US it is 10%.

Images | Wood; Mensing & Stecher / Deutsche Bundespost / Philip Rowlands / Pixabay
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