Origins of lager pt 2

Two of the greatest brewers that ever lived, Gabriel Sedlmayr of the Spaten Brewery in Munich and Anton Dreher of the Klein Schwechat Brewery in Vienna, visited Great Britain as young men learning their profession.

They were struck by the gentler British means of drying malt by indirect heat which produced paler malt than they had ever seen, and also the fact that British brewers were more knowledgeable regarding the extraction of fermentable sugars during the mashing process than their Continental colleagues. Also, British brewers were using steam power and scientific techniques, such as the use of sacchrometers and thermometers, far in advance of Continental breweries. They were also able to control the temperature of beer and wort by the use of attemperators.

The world-famous beer writer, Michael Jackson, the Beer Hunter, wrote that, “I have heard it argued in Continental Europe that this British trip provided the foundation for the first methodological production of lager.” Certainly, Czech sources say that when lager was first brewed in Pilsen, in 1842, the pale malt used in the new brewery was produced using “anlickou technologi”, English technology.

Bass gave Sedlmayr a sacchrometer, but elsewhere the two friends discovered that brewers were not so keen to reveal trade secrets, so they engaged in perhaps the first recorded piece of systematic modern-style industrial espionage. They stole samples of beer, wort and yeast from several breweries using hollow walking sticks with valves fitted to the bottom and analysed them back in their rooms. Sedlmayr wrote that, “It always surprises me that we can get away with these thefts without being beaten up.” However, they were seldom left alone in important areas of the breweries such as the fermentation rooms, and Sedlmayr wrote to his father, “We have therefore to ourselves seek the information. For this purpose we always carry small flasks which we fill up furtively and then weigh with our sacchrometers at home. But the filling of flasks is often accompanied with great snags because they never leave you alone…..”

Both brewers put what they had learned in Britain to good use when they returned home.
With his father’s death in 1836, Sedlmayr took over the Spaten Brewery in Munich, and began a programme of modernisation, including the introduction of steam power in 1844 – the first use of steam power in any brewery outside Britain. Sedlmayr researched extensively into bottom fermentation and eventually perfected the Munich dark Dunkles lager.

Dreher took over the Klein Schwechat Brewery in Vienna in 1836, and began production in 1840 of bottom-fermented lager beer in the amber Vienna style. Through his modernising work and use of scientific techniques learned mainly in Britain, Klein Schwechat became the largest and most modern brewery anywhere in the world, outside of Britain.

Dreher and Sedlmayr used the modern brewing methods that they had seen and learned in Britain as a technical platform to give them the solid basis that they needed to develop systematic bottom fermentation, and the consistent production of lager on a far larger scale than had ever been attempted before. Largely through the efforts of these two men, lager went from being a rather obscure style of beer peculiar to Bavaria, to being by far the most popular beer in the world, a position it retains to this day.

The development of the style of beer that most of the world drinks most of the time owes quite a debt to the advanced British brewing techniques of the time.