Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Through a Glass Darkly

According to one Dr Schulze, writing in 1890, "you shouldn't drink beer out of beer glasses". Schulze went on to state that the traditional German bierkrug was far superior as it protects the liquid from the deleterious effects of sunlight. This fact might seem fairly obvious to us here in the first quarter of the 21st century, but in late 19th century central Europe, this was cause for much concern and investigation.

It was in the decades following the creation of Pilsner Urquell, and the subsequent revolution in brewing as from the North Sea to the Black Sea, from the Baltics to the Balkans brewers turned their attention to mimicking Josef Groll's golden lager, that glass became a more common sight on the table of drinking dens across Europe. The industralisation of glassmaking, which resulted in a more affordable vessel, coupled with the sparkling bright transparent nature of the new fangled lagers, made being able to see you beer as you drank all the rage.

However, looks came at a price. If you didn't drink quick enough then the sunlight streaming through your golden pint, then your beer would start to "decompose" and the beer loses its condition "extremely quickly".

Step into the breach then one Wilhelm/Vilem Havlík, master brewer at the Kročehlav brewery near Kladno, about 19 miles/30km from Prague. According to an article in Der Böhmisches Bierbrauer from February 15, 1893, yes I have been browsing around the newspaper archive of the Austrian National Library again, Havlík invented "new, practical beer glasses".

The article claims that a "polish beer glass, in which the rays of light collect at certain points, is the least suitable beer container, since the harmful effects of the light are increased". The article goes on to suggest filling a ceramic krug and a transparent beer glass with beer, leaving them for 15 minutes before tasting. The ceramic is "still fresh and appetising", while the beer in the glass has "lost aroma and sharpness".

If I understand the article correctly, Havlík's glass was entirely opaque, other than for a clear base that would allow the drinker to check the clarity of the beer. The patent submitted by Havlík notes that the glass is entirely lead free and as such replaced the recommendation of a Director Schnitze to drink from gold or silver cups.

A fun element of the design is that these glasses had a "rough, etched plate or strip" upon which the drinker can write their name or some other note whilst at the pub to keep the same glass for the duration of their stay. Finishing off the piece, the editors of Der Böhmisches Bierbrauer hoped that the new glass would soon be available in drinking dens throughout Bohemia.

I couldn't find any definite examples of such glasses as I searching, whether on Ebay or Google, so if anyone knows of any out there it would be fascinating to see. However, it is clear (pun maybe intended), that the idea had very little long term impact as transparent glassware is the norm, though it does also show how little things change across the years, as even in the 1890s people were coming up with new and improved glassware.

1 comment:

  1. A nice historical nugget. The discussion makes sense being conducted by brewing experts, writers or brewers, but the layperson surely was less particular, then and now.

    Hence glass being almost universal for beer, even in the age of hazy.

    Conversely when stoneware ruled it was probably due to its cost benefits vs. glass, not the inherent advantage to shield from light.

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