Chapter VII. The Rise of Lager Beer

Lager beer, as a product of American industry, although introduced, as has been intimated, about the year 1842, did not gain popular favor until the decade following its introduction; nevertheless, all authorities agree that it tended even at that time to impart a strong impetus to brewing. As to the exact date of its introduction, and the person by whom it was first introduced, there still exists so much uncertainty that no writer on the subject has ventured to go beyond mere hypothetical assertions. Did we not live in an enlightened age, the mystery in which the origin of American lager beer is shrouded might add another legend to the many mythical tales which, variously colored by different nations, are current concerning the father of real beer. We say real beer, for, although the use of a wine like beverage, extracted from barley, extends far into the pre-historic ages, real beer (that is, the drink known to us by that name) is of more recent origin; yet, as to the place and date of the latter, nothing definite can be known.

While some attribute the invention of hopped malt beer to Jan Primus (John I), a scion of the stock of Burgundy princes, who lived about the year 1251, others ascribe it to Jean Sans Peur (1371-1419), otherwise known as Ganbrivius. A corruption of either name may plausibly be shown to have resulted in the present name of the King of Beer, viz., Gambrinus, whom we are accustomed to see represented in the habit of a knight of the middle ages, with the occasional addition of a crown. Popular imagination, it seems, attached so much importance to beer that in according the honor of its invention, it could not be satisfied with anything less than a king; just as the Egyptians, in remote antiquity, ascribed the invention of their barley drink to their benevolent god Osiris, while the ancient Germans conceived of a brew house in Walhalla, under the supervision of a presiding deity. As a bit of amusing anachronism, it may be mentioned that there is a poetical apotheosis of Gambrinus, which elevates that personage to the dignity of a heathen god, alongside Bacchus.

This slight digression from our subject, although showing how much mystery has at all times clouded the origins and the originator of beer, may not be regarded by our readers as a sufficient excuse for our inability to supply the needed information; but, much as we may regret this, we cannot help it. According to the testimony of the late Mr. Frederick Lauer, who himself brewed lager beer in 1844, the honor of having first brewed the famous drink of today belongs to one Wagner, of whom it is said, that, shortly after his arrival in America, in 1842, he set up a lager beer brewery in a small building situated in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Lauer enjoyed the reputation of a walking encyclopedia of American brewing; as a matter of fact, he took a prominent part in organizing the National Brewers' Association and bringing about concerted action by the brewers in all matters relating to their trade, and kept himself well posted in all that concerned his colleagues. In 1885,l a few years after his demise, the United States Brewers' Association erected a monument to his memory in a public square in Reading, Pennsylvania, the city in which he had spent the greater part of his life. If lager beer had been introduced before the date here given, Lauer certainly would have known it.

We may take it for granted, then, on Lauer's authority, that lager beer was introduced in 1842. Within six years from that date, German immigration began to assume unprecedented proportions; the hospitable shores of our country became the refuge of a great number of highly educated men, of skilled artisans and comparatively well-to-do tradesmen. The total foreign population increased from 1850 to 1860 at the rate of ninety percent, and we may infer from the following figures to what extent this great influx of beer drinkers accelerated the growth of brewing, and helped to increase the production of hops and barley:

Year PopulationProduction of Hops (pounds) Production of Barley (bushels) Number of Brewers Value of Malt Liquors
185023,191,8763,497,029 5,167,015431$5,728,568
186031,443,32110,991,996 15,825,8901,269$21,310,933

Brewing had its earliest Western outposts on the Ohio and Mississippi and along the shores of Lakes Erie and Michigan. Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Buffalo, Cleveland, Detroit, St. Louis, Chicago, Milwaukee---this is probably the order in which brewing spread out westward, closely following the German immigrants from about the middle of the thirties. In the fifties Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Cincinnati had already begun their shipping trade, extending their operations as far South as New Orleans. Even thus early that polyglot city had a few local breweries which supplied their customers with a kind of small beer, a beverage that had to be consumed immediately, lest it spoil between delivery and dinner time. It is not to be wondered at then, that the New Orleans Germans hailed with delight the first consignments of lager beer that reached them in the year 1851 from Pittsburgh and St. Louis. The late J. Hanno Deiler, for many years professor of the Tulane University and a local historian of enviable reputation, refers to this in his "History of the German Press of New Orleans" in these words:

"As this consignment proved to be the first movement towards a great transformation, leading to a change in the habits of the population, inasmuch as it affected extensive commercial interests, abolishing numerous small businesses, and in their place calling into existence great industrial undertakings, employing millions of dollars as capital, the circumstances of its introduction, unimportant in itself as it may appear, assumes the significance of an epoch in the history of culture that brings the past into direct relation with present conditions, and is consequently entitled to more exhaustive consideration."

It was at about this time that the old praise of beer was again sounded with great vigor by many reformers. The third American temperance movement (the first being that of the early Colonials and the second the great agitation inaugurated by Rush) had again brought out the old arguments in favor of fermented drinks. Those who signed the pledge between 1810 and 1840 vowed to drink beer and cider only---and even prohibition, which up to 1855 had been rashly adopted in seventeen states, but as quickly revoked or annulled in all but four of them---stopped short of cider and domestic wine and in many instances of beer. Now that the sobriety of the great mass of German beer drinkers again challenged such comparisons as we have before quoted from Rush's and Coxe's writings, brewing again found many able advocates in the ranks of the foremost reformers.

Great as must have been the moral effect of these temperance preachments, they could not, nor did they, affect the consumption of beer which was then and really remained confined to the Germans until after the enactment of the revenue law. Even so, however, the territorial expansion of brewing within the decade preceding the Civil War was truly wonderful. In 1863 there were 2,004 breweries in operation, distributed over 31 states and territories, and producing over two million barrels of beer; a great part of which quantity was retailed by the brewers themselves.

Then, as now, New York stood at the head of the list in point of production, followed, in the order given, by Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Jersey, Illinois, Missouri, Massachusetts, California, Maryland, Wisconsin, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, New Hampshire, Iowa, Connecticut, Virginia, Minnesota, Rhode Island, Kansas, District of Columbia, etc. Brewing was then still carried on in Maine and Vermont, and breweries existed even in Utah and New Mexico.

During the next twenty-five years brewing developed without the least hindrance and attained to an economic importance second to but few American industries. True, prohibition loomed up again and had to be met at the polls; but although it gained a firm footing in two states, it was defeated in fourteen others. It killed brewing in these states, but its immediate results only helped to accelerate the growth of brewing throughout the country. In many states beer had by this time become the common drink of the people and even in the southern states the people welcomed the establishment of local breweries, rendered possible by artificial refrigeration and the great improvements in the process of manufacture.

Just about this time, however, the prohibitionists seemed to have realized that in so far as the consumption of beer was recommended by the best minds as a measure of temperance, calculated to decrease the use of spirits, in just so far did it help to counteract their movement. From this time onward their whole agitation actually became a fight against beer. But a majority of the newspapers and of rational reformers still continued to advocate the use of the fermented drinks.

Growth of True Temperance

In 1881, Dr. Thos. Dunn English, the famous literary man, scientists and physician, published a remarkable pamphlet in which he advocated and justified the moderate use of beer. The eminence of Dr. English as a writer and his unchallenged integrity as a public man, procured the widest hearing for his views. The book was universally discussed and, of course, called forth a storm of adverse criticism. But it made a deep impression and in the light of the progress since achieved along the line of true temperance, this modest little treatise by Dr. English has prophetic as well as historical value. The following paragraph has never been surpassed for terse wisdom and philosophical truth, in all the literature of the subject:

"The assumption by extremists that beer represses the finer emotions, retards intellectual activity, destroys the physical power of the race, leads to crime and pauperism, and does many other terrible things, is simply absurd. Nothing can be farther from the truth. Certainly the Germans compare favorably on these points with the Mussulmans, who are claimed as water drinkers. The latter have sadly degenerated since the days when their victorious hordes overran Europe, and threatened to place the crescent in triumph over the cross. I am aware that the followers of Mohammed are not the abstinents they are supposed to be. The Turks not only indulge in opium and tobacco, but in brandy---brandy is not wine---the Eastern tribes in lagmi, and the strictest believers in various alcoholic stimulants not coming from the grape, and so outside the letter of the prophet's prohibition. But the Mussulmans do not drink beer, and the Germans certainly do. The Anglo-Saxon race rose to greatness under the consumption of vast amounts of ale, and with indulgence in that stimulant kept up the steady vigor and intellectual power of a race that has imposed its ideas and language over a larger share of earth than any other people. In this country, where the consumption of malt liquors has risen in seventeen years from less than a million and three-quarters barrels to over thirteen and three-quarter millions, have we degenerated as a people? Las year over fourteen millions. Have we not manifestly gained by the partial substitution of a beverage containing a small portion of alcohol and a larger portion of nutritive matter for one containing fourteen times as much stimulation and no nutritive element at all? If you could create man over again, and make him other than his maker has made him, you might constitute him without a craving for stimulants or for heat food in its most concentrated form. As it is, the best you can do is to lead his instinct and direct his habits into the safest channel for both, and keep him in that as in all other things, within the bounds of moderation."

Time has but strengthened the force of Dr. English's argument, while the production of beer has risen to over fifty-eight million barrels and the consumption of whiskey has markedly decreased. This extraordinary increase of production has been accompanied by a pronounced gain in temperance and general well being on the part of the working classes, the chief consumers of beer.

Dr. English's conclusions as to the comparative virtue of malt liquors, so furiously disputed on the publication of his little book, would challenge very little controversy today. We have been making progress in the interval, as witness these figures of beer production in the United States:


A Revolution in Drinking Habits

The lesson conveyed by these figures is irresistible and as such is accepted by all impartial students of the drink question. Prof. Henry W. Farnam says in his preface to "Economic Aspects of the Liquor Control Problem," published under the auspices of the Committee of Fifty:

"Since 1840 there has been a steady substitution of malt liquors for distilled liquors in the consumption of the people. While there has been an increase in the total quantity consumed, the substitution of light drinks for strong drinks has brought about a diminution in the amount of alcohol consumed per capita. Moreover, though the per capita consumption of malt liquors has been nearly stationary since 1890, the consumption of distilled liquors has fallen by nearly one-third in that time. How far modern methods of production have influenced this change, how far it is due to German immigration or other causes, cannot be stated with certainty. The fact remains that our progress has been in the direction of moderation."

Although the statement that the per capita consumption of beer has been nearly stationary since 1890 is no longer correct, we have nevertheless quoted these words because they reflect the views of unbiased students as to the role of beer.

A comparison between the consumption of beer and spirits shows at a glance that, as a nation, we have progressed in the direction of true temperance at a a rate and to an extent unequaled in history. Instead of being at the head of the list of hard-drinking nations---as we undoubtedly were fifty years ago---we now rank foremost among temperate peoples. By a singular coincidence, our Department of Commerce and Labor lately published comparative liquor statistics almost simultaneously with several official and private publications of foreign origin, dealing with the same question. In all these documents one important fact stands out in bold relief, and that is, as the Department of Commerce and Labor expresses it, that "this country is well night at the end of the list of spirit drinking countries." We may be permitted to quote the official table:

CountrySpirits (gallons) Beer (gallons)Wine (gallons)
United Kingdom1.3835.420.39
United States1.3318.040.48

Leaving out Italy, our country should really stand at the very foot of the list, for the Russian figures, notoriously incorrect, are not ordinarily accepted at their face value. In fact, this is the only official publication in which they appear without some explanatory note casting doubt upon their correctness. The true significance of this official table, so far as our country is concerned, will only be fully appreciated, if it be borne in mind that the per capita consumption of beer in Bavaria, where distilled liquors are rarely used, amounts to about fifty-nine gallons and that alcoholism is practically unknown in that kingdom.

Commenting on the marvelously increased consumption of beer in this country and the coincident falling off in the quantity of spirituous liquors consumed, the New York "Sun" in a striking editorial (August 22, 1905) reaches the conclusion that "Beer Drives Out Hard Drink." The Sun also notes the fact that public drunkenness is comparatively rare in all the cities of America today, among all classes of society.

Mr. James Dalrymple, Glasgow's commissioner of municipal railways who was recently in this country, was constantly struck by the same fact as contrasted with conditions abroad. Drunken workingmen are rarely seen in any American community.

Yet the time is not so far back when a different state of affairs prevailed in this country. Hardly a generation since, whiskey was the common drink and drunkenness the national vice. The change has come through the substitution of malt liquors for ardent stimulants. As the Sun says, beer drives out hard drink. Moderation and temperance are supplanting excess in the use of liquors. The American people owe their sobriety to the brewing industry.

The Perfected Product

Up to 1845, brewing was confined exclusively to ale and porter, and the manipulations of the brewer were of the simplest and most primitive kind, as compared with present day methods. What would be regarded as a very small establishment now was then looked upon as a large brewery. Concurrently with the growing popularity of lager beer came the almost countless mechanical improvements in both brewing and malting; the utilization of the scientific researches of a host of such eminent men as Pasteur, Hansen, Delbrueck, Van Laer, Morris, Joergensen, and many others; the practical application of the many thorough investigations in to and the works on, fermentation, yeast culture, bacteriology, etc., and finally, the employment of artificial refrigeration; and it may be said that brewing entered upon a new era. These improvements did not, of course, reach the climax of their perfection at once; decades elapsed before the new methods became an indispensable requirement of success, and only in recent years have they overcome the conservatism of ale brewers, with the happy result of adding to the desirable qualities of ale some of the best characteristics of lager beer; among others, a low alcohol percentage, effervescence without deposit, and brightness under low temperature. Since then the American brewhouse has become a model of perfection not equaled in Bavaria, the "land of beer," as has readily been admitted by distinguished foreign authorities, such as, for example, Professors Delbrueck and Van Laer, who not long ago visited a number of eastern and western breweries. In this respect the brewers of America stand in the front rank of the most progressive manufacturers, their establishments being equipped with the modern and costly appliances which have taxed and rewarded human ingenuity in this particular field for years past.

In the table of production last quoted the reader will notice remarkable increases in the years 1906 and 1907, amounting respectively to 5,129,607 and 3,970,362 barrels, and a very insignificant increase of 192,031 in 1908. In the succeeding fiscal ending June 30th 1909, there was a decrease exceeding in the number of barrels the average increase of the two first-named years. The greater part of this loss is doubtless due to the panic, but it is quite certain that a considerable proportion of the decrease was caused directly by prohibition of one form or another. It is difficult to localize these losses with mathematical accuracy, but there can be no doubt that brewing has suffered in all parts of the country where the Anti-Saloon movement has succeeded. From present indications it is safe to infer that in the South the industry will in the end suffer more than anywhere else; it is equally certain, however, that, unless the adverse movement should develop greater strength than appears probably at the present time, brewing throughout the country will rapidly recover from its recent setback and resume its former rate of development, acquiring new markets and new customers as has been the case during the fifty years.

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