Beer Culture

Stories about great beer from the countries that invented it.

Tag: wheat beers

From the Archives: On Balling, Mozart, and Oat Beers Where the Sun Don’t Shine


When exactly did Pilsner-style pale lagers conquer central Europe, replacing the earlier styles that had existed here for centuries? Where did they get their foothold, when, and for what reasons? I don’t have the answers yet, but I’ve recently been working in the archives of the Czech National Library, reading a bit more about eighteenth- and nineteenth-century brewing in the region. And just yesterday I found an interesting quote in Carl Balling’s Die Gährungschemie (3rd ed., 1865), regarding beers made from oats.

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Pre-Lager Brewing in Bohemia


Almost exclusively, Czech brewing means lagers, beers produced with bottom-fermenting lager yeasts at colder temperatures and over longer periods of time. Today, some 95% of Czech production is composed of golden lagers, while about 5% is dark lager. The few beers made with top-fermenting yeasts — ales and wheat beers, brewed at warmer temperatures and usually over shorter periods of time — now make up less than one half of one percent of Czech production. And yet just a little over 140 years ago, ales and wheat beers were still the standard here.

But then came a change in Czech brewing which was so sudden and so severe that it counted as news even on the other side of the world. An article in the New York Times of December 3, 1876, detailed the “complete revolution” in brewing that was then taking place in Bohemia, the western half of today’s Czech Republic, noting the shift away from what it calls “high fermentation” breweries (meaning ales) to the new, “low fermentation” breweries (producing lagers). As the article shows, the arrival of lagers was swift and merciless, killing off more than 260 ale breweries between 1860 and 1870 in Bohemia alone.

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The Salesian Beer Museum


Today’s trash is tomorrow’s treasure, and nowhere is this truism more applicable than in the field of culinary anthropology: if you don’t take your bottles out quickly, they’ll soon form a big, stinking mess. But if you wait long enough, that pile of recycling could become a priceless collection of art, as well as a storehouse of historical information about the way we live and what we consume. This, effectively, is what happened at the Salesian Beer Museum in Prague.

Properly known as the Salesians of Don Bosco, the Salesians are a Roman Catholic religious order known for their work with young people, running community centers and outreach programs around the world. In Prague, they have a youth center at Kobyliské náměstí, a beautiful functionalist complex housing a theater, soccer fields, basketball courts, a climbing wall and rehearsal spaces for young musicians. In the middle of all this is the Salesian Beer Museum, an almost accidental collection of historic bottles, labels, openers, cans and beermats from the Czech Republic and around the world.

Due to a growing interest in breweriana, I made an appointment to visit the collection last week. I was shown around by Brother Antonín Nevola, the center’s director and the founder of the museum.

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