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Orly Borges Personal Collection


Hops make the scene

Ale was considered a blessing from God and monasteries became large-scale breweries (in the early days beer was even used in the communion though this was later banned). Nearly all European breweries were operated as craft enterprises by the monasteries. And we have to thank the Bavarian monks for the first use of hops which stopped it from going off.

This charming little plant, humulus lupus by precise appellation, bears flowers in coned-shaped clusters (photo on the left) which, when dried and ripened, are used to impart that piquant-bitter flavor to beer.

The Lager Revolution  
There's a problem with brewing beer: in summer the bacteria involved in fermentation can get too active and spoil the beer. To get round this, Bavarian monks tried storing the beer in cool cellars. At these lower temperatures the yeast sank to the bottom and fermented much more slowly. This bottom-fermented beer was named after the German word for storage: lager. Malt was transported around but beer had a relatively low value for its weight and roads were bad and perilous

All this changed with the industrial revolution. Railways and canals enabled the cheap transportation of large quantities of beer from one region to another and eventually across borders. At this time Pils lager appeared... by accident. Around 1840 Bavarian brewer Josef Groll was hired by the local authorities in Pilsen (in the modern Czech Republic) to take over their new brewery. Local barley (see photo above) as low in protein and local water contained very little calcium; both factors meant that the beer wasn't dark brown like all other beers around at that time but pallid and clear.  

No one would have noticed this less-than­nutritious beverage if it hadn't been for another invention: beer glasses. In the mid-Nineteenth Century, Bohemia began to mass-produce glasses for drinking beer. Before this time beer had been drunk out of wooden, ceramic and metal tankards.  


From that moment on, a new mass-produced product had appeared. Pils lagers were not brewed for their taste and aroma but rather for their pretty golden colour. Countries with no tradition of brewing all over the world soon began to imitate the Czech drink. The invention of refrigeration in the 1870s further distanced this new drink from its origins.

The development of a standard cold Pilsner - inspired lager was in direct contrast to local production with subtle differences in variety reflecting local barley, wheat, hops and water (collectively called the "signature"). After the Second World War the logic of this situation took over and there was a huge concentration in the international beer market. Monster companies like Carlsberg and Heineken appeared, producing widely­acceptable but characterless lagers.

Marketing took over as the driving force behind beer production. The slogans of the giant beer companies became an essential part of the collective subconscious of English speaking peoples: "I'm only here for the beer" (Double Diamond), "Refreshes the parts other beers cannot reach
" (Heineken), "Australians wouldn't give a XXXX for anything else" (Castlemaine XXXX lager) became part of popular folklore. Just then beer began to be drunk by beer-bellied lager louts for its alcohol content instead of its taste.  

Candid CAMRA
In 1971 a revolutionary organisation was founded in England by two journalists. These subversives wanted to reverse the "rationalisation" of the beer industry by the forces of capitalism and re-introduce the dangerous idea of quality into brewing. The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) now has 50,000 members in Britain and has generated sister organisations across the traditional beer-producing countries of Europe (grouped together in the European Beer Consumers Union - EBCU).  

Interest in real ale has mushroomed over the past thirty years. Even in the United States small-scale brewing has seen a revival. In 1970 there were only forty US brewing companies, now there are nearly a thousand. CAMRA has done an incalculable service to human civilisation however, beware: members of CAMRA are usually slightly deranged, obsessed about beer and boring as hell, therefore avoid them at all costs!

blessing: gift, present, favour, (literally) benediction
craft: art, ability  
to ban: prohibit
to go off: become putrid, putrefy  
ripened: maturated
to spoil
: ruin 
to get round
: avoid, prevent, solve indirectly
to store
: keep, preserve, conserve 
cool cellar
: underground room which is colder than above ground 
: fungus (= simple organism) which is used for making beer, wine and bread (levadura)
to sink (sink-sank-sunk): descend through a liquid 
bottom: lowest part, the "floor" of the fermenting container 
barley grains which are kiln-dried after having been germinated by soaking in water 
perilous: dangerous, risky
: frontier, dividing line between countries  
to hire
: employ
the Czech Republic
: the western half of what was Czechoslovakia 
to take over
: take control of  
barley: tall grass-like plant whose grains are used to make beer and whisky
(literally) specific way s.o. writes his/her name, autograph (in this context) distinguishing characteristics
-bellied lager lout: aggressive man who has a fat belly (= stomach) from drinking too much beer to mushroom: increase exponentially, grow quickly 
: almost, just under 
beware!: be careful, take care!
slightly deranged: a little mad, crazy 
boring as hell
: very uninteresting

Sources: Falstaff's Beer Book - Think in English