Beer Culture

Stories about great beer from the countries that invented it.

Beer Books You Need From Google Books

We seem to be entering a great time for beer writing (and reading), with wonderful work being done by Ron Pattinson at Shut Up About Barclay Perkins and by Martyn Cornell at Zythophile, two writers who are sharpening our understanding of beer’s lengthy history, and correcting a lot of inaccuracies and misunderstandings along the way, especially in the field of British brewing.

Over at A Good Beer Blog, Alan McLeod is knocking out whimsical investigations of Albany Ale (what’s that?) and 19th-century brewing in Canada and America.

But at the moment, Central Europe’s storied brewing history seems to be getting less attention in this regard, at least in English beer writing — a pity, because our beer culture suffers from at least as many inaccuracies, misunderstandings and made-up backstories as those northwest of here. (I’m not convinced, for example, that Prague’s traditional beer style is the U-Fleků-style dark lager, or even that “the standard medieval Czech brew was decidedly dark, not blond,” as Horst Dornbusch has written. That clearly wasn’t the case by 1672, when Bohuslav Balbín wrote that “Pražskému pšeničnému, jemuž se říká světlé, se může máloco rovnat, pokud jde o blahodárné účinky,” or, roughly, “There may be little equal to Prague wheat beer, which is called ‘pale’, in terms of its beneficial effects.”)

If you’re interested in things like Grodziskie, Lichtenhainer, Horner Bier or pre-lager brewing in Bohemia, you don’t have to travel to the Czech National Library or the Österreichisches Staatsarchiv to start your research. In fact, Google Books has a bunch of electronic books — “free” as in “beer” — that desperately need curious readers and writers to share their wealth of information. Best of all, they’re in the public domain, so you don’t have to pay for them. And because they’re digitized, you can easily search for interesting terms like “sauer” or “Grätzer.”

To start, get J. C. Leuchs’ Brau-Lexikon from 1867. Nice stuff here on all kinds of older Central European beers and how they were made.

Move along to the Allgemeine Hopfen-Zeitung, Volume 10, Issues 1-74. The chemical analysis of Grodziskie on page 259 tells you exactly how much alcohol that beer had in 1870: just 1.923% by weight.

If you were really interested in Czech hops, you’d probably want to sneak a peek at Böhmens Hopfenbau (1846), by Johann Wenzel Hocke.

And the big one, of course, is the 1854 edition of Karl J. N. Balling’s Die Gährungschemie, which notes that “The well-known Horner Bier near Vienna is an oat beer: it is very fizzy and refreshing, but it is cloudy.” With all the interest in historical beers and sour brewing, someone has got to make an authentic Horner Bier one of these days soon.

I don’t know everything that’s in these volumes, only that much of what is in there isn’t widely known, so please dig around and see what you find. Perhaps you’ll bust some myths, misconceptions and made-up histories of your own. And if you come across other public-domain brewing books that deserve a wider audience, send me a link and I’ll update this list.


New Beers from Žatec


Changes to Czech Brewing Regulations


  1. Oat beer? That does sound interesting! I think some research is in order with a view to an experimental brew!!

  2. Evan Rail

    Oat beer, and sour. A fave of Mozart’s. And extinct.

  3. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Google Books is jam-packed with old books like this.

  4. Evan Rail

    Indeed. Can we have some nice posts on historic beers from Central Europe? And if you have favorite Google Books you think need reading, send them along.

  5. Sour you say? Sounds like an oat version of Berliner Weisse almost.

  6. Evan Rail

    Exactly, Horner Bier was said to be like Broyhan, Berliner Weiße, and many of the other sour beers that were once popular in parts further north. As noted in the comments on the earlier post:

    From Der Scheidekünstler im Brau- und Brennhause (Frankfurt am Main, 1816): “Das Resultat dieser Arbeit ist nun ein weißes hopfenloses Bier, ein wahrer Broihan, wie es im Hannövrischen, in allen den Ländern von Nordheim bis nach Hamburg, in Berlin, und selbst in Wien unter dem Nahmen Horner-Bier so vielen Beyfall findet.”

    From Neuestes Conversations-Lexikon (Wien, 1829): “das weiße und säuerliche, in Wien beliebte, Horner Bier wird aus Hafer und Weinstein gebraut.”

  7. Thanks for the pointer to those Allgemeine Hopfen-Zeitung issues. They’re full of lovely statistics. And that Grätzer analysis. I can never get enough of Grätzer.

  8. My initial thought when it comes to oat beer is would it have been 100% malted oats? If so, I imagine a ton of rice hulls would be needed to keep the mash from getting stuck.

  9. Evan Rail

    Glad to be of service, Ron. While you’re at it, you should also look up Grätzer in the Brau-Lexikon. It’s surprising the importance accorded to willow bark in terms of how Grätzer tasted ca. 1867:

    “Es soll seine Eigenheiten der Anwendung von Weidenrinde verdanken. […] Die Weidenrinde enthält bekanntlich Gerbsäure und einen bitterschmeckenden Stoff, den man als Ersatzmittel der China empfohlen und Salicin genannt hat.”

  10. Craig

    In response to the “what’s that?” of Albany Ale—Be careful what you ask for, as Alan knows, I’ll be more than happy to explain the significance of Albany Ale; the brewing industry in Albany, NY (my hometown); and how it affected brewing in the U.S. for sixty some odd years!

    Although, If someone knows the water chemisty of Albany city water in the 1830s—letting me know would be greatly appreciated!

  11. Whoa, Evan still blogs?

    One post a year and yet still more annual value than most.

  12. Evan, I simply couldn’t agree with you more about the need to research further into Central Europe’s (and Eastern Europe’s) brewing history. It takes a lot of time, and, of course, for us monolinguists it needs you chaps who speak Czech and/or German (and Polish, and Hungarian, and Latvian, and so on) to make sense of it for us, but if more archives are going up on the web, that’s excellent news.

    Willow bark … that would have put salicylic acid into the beer, with, presumably, anti-bacterial effects, thus aiding the beer’s preservation – meadowsweet, which also contains salicylic acid, was one of the pre-hop flavouring herbs in ale, and to quote myself, “Experiments with brewing ale with meadowsweet by the Manchester University archaeologist Merryn Dineley show the plant will preserve the drink for several months.”

  13. Atis

    Always keep in mind that during the 19th century current countries of Finland, Russia, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Belarus, Ukraine and partly Poland (Warsaw was included) were a part of the Russian Empire. So most literature will be in Russian.

    On the state of the beer industry in 1865, this is a good one – Обзор различных отраслей мануфактурной промышленности Россіи ( It also has comprehensive stats of beer imports from England during the most of the 19th century.

  14. Evan Rail

    Atis, thanks, that’s awesome. Unfortunately, I have no Russian (at least not yet). But I suppose Google Translate must have been invented for some reason.

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