Beer, brewing and the first scientific age in Europe.



Since the 18th century, beer has been the catalyst for numerous scientific works in Europe and has served as the basis for important discoveries. On the other hand, the brewery, as a workplace and economic organisation for beer brewing, packaging and transport, is among the most innovative activities in the realms of instrumentation, measurement, and control of the complex processes for foods and beverages manufacturing.


The brewery plays a leading role in the European industrial revolution, and thanks to it, is achieving a technological leap forward. It is a new chapter in a long and eventful history of the beer brewing. The brewing techniques have never stood still or frozen in a few primitive brewing processes. From the very first Sumerian, Chinese, African or Amerindian brews, its techniques have continued to evolve at an ever faster pace. On a global scale and since its origins, the brewery has diversified its raw materials, ingredients and processes, according to the economic constraints and social logics specific to each brewing basin (The intelligence and work of humans). The evolution of European brewing in the 19th century is only one episode in the very long and ever shifting global history of beer.


The 19th century creates a new production method: the industrial brewery, the result of three overpowering forces. The capital which invests in increasingly colossal breweries, the technology which controlled the driving energy and soon the biochemistry, and finally the human mass which absorb huge volumes of fermented beverages. The capital comes from the enormous profits accumulated in the 18th century by colonial traffic and private firms, after the disappearance or dissolution of the Spanish, Portuguese, English, Dutch or French royal trading companies. In Western Europe, inumberable and miserable human masses are concentrated in the big cities and ports, after their leave out the countryside. We have emphasized the role of the urban phenomenon in the evolution of beer brewing, within the kingdoms in antiquity (Granaries, brewery and political power) or the first great empires in the world (Brewery serving the great empires). In the European Middle Ages, the brewing workshops and the beer industries (for exemple the Hanseatic League breweries) already worked and developed in the very center of the European cities. However, in the 19th century, the size of the breweries, the volumes of beer brewed and the rhythms of production surpass everything that Europe had known before. Only the Chinese breweries had until then achieved such a beer manufacturing concentrated in the cities of the southern coastal provinces in the 18thth century. Consequently, the water pollution reached a paroxysm in the European cities. The industrial brewery is first of all an urban creation. It is born and has grown to supply millions of hectolitres of thick beer to the working masses of London, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Berlin, Hamburg, Vienna, Prague, Paris or Marseille to mention just a few of them.


During the 19th century, technology and science will solve one by one all the complex problems involved in producing beer on a large scale while remaining profitable and without major health risks for millions. The first dynasties of brewers were born at this time. This onward march of the industrial brewery is known thanks to the numerous publications it has prompted on technical or economic topics. Learned Societies, Academies, Professional Brewers' Organisations of all countries collaborate and publish their technical or economic achievements in specialised periodicals, founded for this purpose. What is discovered in Glasgow or Copenhagen is soon known to scientists and brewers all over Europe. Never before have so many brewing and malting manuals been published as in the 19th century, in so many European languages.

The national states and their administrations closely monitor their mass industries, their economic and social impacts. This is the beginning of statistics and economic calculation. New tax systems are enforced by each national administrations eager for financial incomes. The emerging nation-states foster more and more efficient professional brewery organisations, a policy soon followed by the state administrations that are being set up.


This vast European movement of scientific and technical cooperation will lead to the foundation of national scientific and technical research institutes dedicated to the beer industry at the end of the century. Each country has its own, financed by the industrialists of this new agri-food sector. Specialised publications and periodicals follow. The techniques of malting - brewing - fermentation/storage - packaging are the subject of numerous patent applications. They bear witness to the vertical segmentation of this activity. Malting and brewing are two complementary sectors. The brewery now provides a livelihood for many industrialists specialised in the design and supply of equipment (crushers, tanks, filters, coolers, boilers, pumps, pipes, chillers, and so on). This streamlined production is reflected in the introduction of the laboratory within the walls of the brewery, with its microscope, chemical dyes, test tubes, measuring equipments, scientific conversion tables. The former traditional father-son brewer gives way to the school-educated brewer-engineer to manage all operations inside and outside the brewery.


These developments are not happening everywhere in the same way or at the same pace. The growing cities lead the dance, but many rural areas in Europe remain loyal to the village brewer-tavernkeeper, or even the farmer-brewer who converts its own grains into beer to be sold locally. The relative standardisation of industrial beers must face the personality of the regional or local beer specialities. Finally, within the professional organisations themselves, the march towards ever larger or modernised breweries arouses resistance from family breweries unable to invest. The European brewing landscape is therefore still very contrasted at the dawn of the 20th century. The First World War will radically overturn this brewing landscape.



30/11/2020  Christian Berger