Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Bohemian Brewing Industry 1898

Again this week we go time travelling into the newspaper archives of the Austrian National Library, and once more we return to Bohemia and the German language publication "Der Böhmische Bierbrauer" in the year 1900.

In the June 15th issue that year, "Der Böhmische Bierbrauer" presented a snapshot of the brewing industry in Bohemia in the year 1898, based on the work of one Dr Bernat, Director of the Prague Brewing School. Now, maybe I am weird, but the numbers and stats presented by Dr Bernat are fascinating. Let's start at the beginning....

Apparently in the year 1898, a total of 8.7 million hectolitres of beer was brewed in Bohemia, which equates to 7.3 million US barrels, or a little less than five Sierra Nevada Brewing Companies, but also less than the modern production of Pilsner Urquell of about 10 million hectolitres. All of that beer was brewed by just 673 breweries, which was 21 brewers fewer than in 1897, when about 8.5 million hectolitres was produced. As such, the average Bohemian brewery in 1898 produced just 12,865 hectolitres, or 10,789 barrels. Production topped out in June, with 808,000 hl brewed, with October being the lowest month, when only 651,000 hl were produced.

Let's take a quick look at the districts where this beer was being produced

No real surprise that the leading areas were Prague and Plzeň, with about 3.8 million hectolitres brewed between them. Obviously it stood out that Leitmeritz was such a prominent player at the end of the 19th century. Leitmeritz is today known by the Czech name Litoměřice in the north west of modern day Czechia, which includes the Žatec area, perhaps better known in the brewing world as Saaz. Interesting side fact, Saaz in this time period was not just known for the quality of it's hops for brewing, but also for spruce pitch for lining barrels. Perhaps most interesting here though is the case of the Budweis district, which brewed the 3rd lowest amount, but this next picture fills out that story a little...

The table above shows the growth, or otherwise, of beer production in several Bohemian regions in 1878, 1888, and then finally in 1898. Clearly there has been major growth in Budweis between 1888 and 1898, and the elephant in the room here is that in 1895 the Czech population of Budweis decided to merge several breweries to compete with the larger, established, and German owned, Bürgerliches Brauerei Budweis. The Czech company would eventually become Budvar, and spuriously lay claim to being the "original Budweiser" despite being 100 years younger than Bürgerliches Brauerei. It seems clear though that beer production in that part of Bohemia had stagnated prior to Budvar being incorporated. It is also clear that brewing between 1888 and 1898 was becoming truly industrialised as production overall increased 36.7% in that decade, compared to 16.4% the decade before, for an impressive 59% increase in just 20 years.

Despite this increase, and the obvious ramping up of industrial production, only 200 of the 673 breweries operating in Bohemia in 1898 brewed more than 10,000 hl, and remember the average was just over 12,000 hl per year. The 200 biggest breweries in 1898 were further broken down as follows:

Just 9 breweries in Bohemia made more than 100,000 hl of beer in 1898. That list contains several names, in brackets, that would be familiar to modern day drinkers, though several a long gone:

  1. Bürgerliches Bräuhaus Pilsen (Pilsner Urquell) - 486,700
  2. Smichov Actiengesellschaft (Staropramen) - 397,000
  3. Actienbrauerei Pilsen (Gambrinus) - 266,800
  4. Protivín - 138,936
  5. Genossenschaft Brauerei Pilsen - 135,100
  6. Maffersdorf (Konrad) - 122,522
  7. Prag-Holešovic (Holešovický měšťanský pivovar) - 112,273
  8. Bürgerliches Brauerei Budweis (Samson) - 109,485
  9. Wittingau (Bohemia Regent) - 109,306
Of the 9 biggest breweries in 1898 Bohemia, 2 are no longer in business. Genossenschaft Brauerei, from what I have found out so far, was a co-operative brewery that at least as late as 1909 was reputed to be a leading import beer in the US, according to the American Beer Review. Holešovický měšťanský pivovar closed down just before I moved to Prague in 1999, with production moved from Holešovice to Staropramen in Smichov.

What though was being brewed by these 673 businesses? Well, Dr Bernat has given us a handy breakdown by strength...

99.5% of beer brewed in Bohemia in 1898 had a starting gravity of less than 12° Plato. That is staggering, though not surprising in the slightest really, just desítka accounted for 73.9% of all beer brewed that year. Unfortunately Dr Bernat doesn't go on to tell us what kinds of beer were being produced, but I imagine the majority of beer being made then was a variation on the theme of pale lager.

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