Wednesday, February 2, 2022

19th Century Bohemian Beer Brewer

It all started by reading Andreas Krennmair's book of homebrew recipes for historic German and Austrian beers. Andreas includes in the book a recipe from 1834 for "Prague Beer" which I am thinking about brewing in the near future. I wanted to get a more contemporaneous handle on "Prague Beer" and so I started digging around in various online archives, like you do. My digging led me once again to the newspaper archives of the Austrian National Library.

It is sometimes easy to forget that for a thousand years Bohemia was very much in the German sphere of influence, whether as part of the Holy Roman Empire until 1806, or as a kingdom within the Austro-Hungarian Empire up to the end of World War 1. In the mountains and marches of much of western Bohemia there was, for centuries, a large German majority. I don't want to get into the fraught, complicated politics of Bohemia, but rather to point out that it makes sense to go looking for information about the Bohemian brewing world in the Austrian National Library.

The first publication I stumbled upon was "Der Böhmische Bierbrauer", a brewing trade journal that was published in Prague from 1874 to 1916. At the height of World War 1 it was renamed "Der Österreiche Bierbrauer", having relocated to Vienna, after a year of just being "Der Bierbrauer" and being published jointly in Prague and Vienna. In the few issues that I browsed through, I didn't find any descriptions of "Prague Beer" but that is mainly because I starting delving into the ads section of the journal.

Adverts are fascinating pieces of social history and tell us more about the reality of what was going on in a society than lengthy technical treatises about brewing processes and the like. Take, for example, this advert from the January 1st 1891 issue.

A rough translation would be:

"Best clarifying agent! American isinglass, made from thornback ray (ray skin)

Imported directly, only prime quality, cheapest offered to brewers and dealers"

I find it fascinating that there was a business in 1891 selling Isinglass finings, imported from America, to breweries in Bohemia. The address of said business, "Tuchmachergasse 9", would show up time and time again in adverts from this journal, so naturally I looked up a period map to find out where it was...and it is just a few doors down from Pivovarská Nalévárna on modern day Soukenická.

Talking about brewing businesses on streets I know well, I discovered that on the same street as my last apartment in Prague was a malting company:

Leopold Schmied was a malt manufacturer at an address that is today the address of the Autoklub České Republiký. It is fun to think that less than a five minute walk from where I lived, malt was being made. A dark malt for Munich beer, a Bavarian style black malt to be used with the dark Patentmalz for Bock. The pale Patentmalz made for full bodied beers with good foam retention apparently, and there was roast malt for brown beer, porter, and so on and so forth. Hmm...malt being sold for specifically for porter brewing in late 19th century Bohemia? There's a whole world of intrigue right there, what was Bohemian Porter, bottom fermented like Baltic Porter or top fermented as U Fleků's legendary dark beer still was at this time? Schmied could also provide you with caramel malt to meet all your brewing colour and flavour needs. Being locating right opposite a major railway station, they had logistics right on their doorstep - fun fact, the railway station opposite Leopold Schmied Malzfabrik was not the hauptbahnhof of the day, that was the station known today as Masarykovo Nádraží. Today's Hlavní Nádraží was named Franz Josef Station until 1919.

Talking about railway stations, they are the natural place for a brewery to pick up the seed yeast they need to turn lovely sweet wort into even lovelier beer, but who would be selling seed yeast in 19th century Bohemia?

Bürgerliches Brauhaus in Pilsen obviously, though these days they are better known as Pilsner Urquell. For just a single Krone, you could purchase a kilogram (2.2lb), of "excellent and pure" seed yeast. What you didn't get for your money though was packaging and delivery from the railway station in Plzeň, which if I have the right station is this somewhat ornate pile.

I am sure that there will be far more to come as I trawl my way through the digitised newspapers available through the Austrian National Library. I am focusing on the adverts for the time being as they give a sense of the reality of the Bohemian brewing industry at the time, the products available, the names in the business, and where such brewing adjacent businesses were located.

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