There are still arguments in beer circles as to what Vienna Marzen actually looked like in its heyday. Or, say, whether the head of London porter was typically brownish vs. snow white.
A poster that shows 23 breweries’ beers available in Germany or Austria at the opening of the 20th century is shown below. It can be purchased or downloaded from the Etsy e-commerce site, here. The illustration shows with remarkable skill and unquestionable fidelity the colours of the beers and style of glassware or stoneware evidently associated with their consumption.
This poster assists greatly to answer some questions related to colour. Is it definitive? No, as it depicts one brewery’s beer, for one thing, but I think we can take it that the depictions show the colour of the style as often presented or something close to it. One way we know is, the colours of three Munich beers, presumably the main form sold by the brewers, Dunkel, are almost identical. (The Helles form had not emerged yet or not definitively).
The illustrator, A. Dressel, clearly took great pains to delineate shades of colour that differentiated beers only a little if at all to the casual eye. The publisher was a Berlin-based concern, Deutsches Verlagshaus Bong & Co.
By magnifying sections of the poster on your keyboard you can see the beers and other details in almost pointillist form.
The illustrations also depict in bar graph form the alcohol content and finishing gravity.
It isn’t the purpose here to go into detail on each beer and brewery, but I’ll make some observations as I go along. Suffice to say most of the styles are familiar to the craft world today. Many have come back, e.g. Gose-Bier, or Berliner Weisse, and many of the breweries still exist in one form or another.
Clearly some styles are “missing”, Alt-Bier, say. Why this is is hard to say. Still, a great deal of ground was covered and a bonus: two English beers are shown, Barclay Perkins’ porter and Bass Pale ale. In the mitteleuropa world then, these beers were part of the scene and sometimes local porter or pale ale was made in recognition of their importance and market.
No. 1: Pilsener Erste Actien Brauerie, Pilsen. Notably paler than its famous town-mate, Pilsner Urquell (see No. 2). Founded 1869, it merged into Urquell before WW II.
No. 2: Pilsner Urquell. Medium-gold, seemingly a touch darker than today.
No. 3: Wiener Marzenbier, none other than the famous Dreher’s. Clearly bronze, as Michael Jackson said it was and other evidence (imo as I’ve discussed before) shows.
No. 4: Lichtenhainer, the tangy Thuringian specialty that one 19th-century observer likened to a weak camomile cider.* Strikingly pale, yellow-greenish, like some absinthe.
No. 5: Gose, from Leipzig, so in fashion today. A shade darker than Urquell.
No. 6: Dortmunder Union. I just had one the other day. Same as it always was, medium-gold.
No. 7: Furstenberg Brau, not sure exactly about this one. Presumably the same brewery as the well-known brewery in the Black Forest. A couple of gold-coloured beers were made c.1900 (see company website), this might be the pilsner.
No. 8: Hochschulbrau: This was VLB’s (the national German malting and brewing institute’s) brewery that operated 1898-1981 although VLB still continues in Berlin. It made different styles, I’d guess this was pilsener. College beer, in other words.
No. 9: Marzenbier, Berlin. A German Marzen, a touch lighter in colour than Dreher’s.
No. 10: Berliner Weisse: look at that glass! Cupped with both hands it was mentioned in a couple of 19th century accounts but I’ve never seen one. A half-litre so not the bucket-size one reads about as well. Unlike the other beers the head has great development. No woodruff essence or other colouring added, clearly.
No. 11 Gratzer (Grodziskie): an elegant pale with tinges of red, from the smoking perhaps.
No. 12: Lagerbier from Breslau. Brownish-amber, not sure what this is actually.
No. 13: Bass Pale Ale! A beautiful orangey amber, just like we’ve seen in colour ads from early in the 20th century and if memory serves in some 19th century depictions. Pale meant not golden for the avatar of IPA.
No. 14: Siechen, from Berlin. This was a dark, rich style, perhaps a Dunkel variation but I don’t know for sure. The maker was later absorbed into Tucher, I believe.
No. 15: Braunschweiger Mumme. The famous malt-extract beer, non-alcoholic by this time (see the graph), sold in a one-kilo tin! Too thick to pour from kegs, and why risk glass bottles in sea transit? A riot of rich malt loaf, herbs, flowers, hops, and what not. The cut-away view shows an almost sludgy black. This can rocks, a star like the Weisse glass.
No. 16: Kulmbacher Candlerbrau. The famous near-black lager of Kulmbach in Bavaria.
No. 17. Tucher, Nuremberg. Not sure of this style, a bock or Dunkel?
No. 18. Pschorr – in pre-Hacker-Pschorr form of course. A good medium-brown, perhaps a touch lighter than its Munich competitors shown.
No. 19: Hofbrau’s beer from Munich, a little deeper in colour than Pschorr’s.
No. 20: Weihenstephan: the famous wheat beer. Evidently a standard deep brown through the 1800s.
No. 21: Spaten, a Munich Dunkel again, the golden Helles still in the future (or if it was available, it was still gaining legs, ditto for the other Munich lager breweries shown).
No. 22: Barclay Perkins Porter: deep, dark brown but not as black as modern Guinness, note how the light catches the corner which shows the difference. Guinness in deep light is translucent but is darker than this porter. And the head is a brownish colour too, in contrast say to No. 23.
No. 23 Braunbier. Another Berlin style, I remember Andreas Krennmair writing about it a few years ago, and others, but have no further recollection without checking. And brown it is, indeed.
The modern mumme shown below, sourced here from the City of Braunschweig’s (Brunswick) website, continues the old tradition, made as an extract (no alcohol). Other mummes have appeared in recent years carrying some ethanol, as they did centuries ago.
Note added 23/07/18: see in the comments a few emendations/clarifications viz descriptions above.
Please see a second part to this post, here.
Note re images: the images shown were sourced from the sites mentioned and linked in the text. All intellectual property in the sources belongs solely to the lawful owners, as applicable. Images are used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcome.
*See the English writer Henry Mayhew in his 1864 German Life and Manners, here.