A Klatch of Brewers Descend on Chicago

s-l1600-2In 1911 as I’ve mentioned before, a stunning exposition of brewers was held at the Coliseum in Chicago, the formal name was Second International Brewers Congress.

Dr. Max Henius of the Wahl-Henius Institute of Fermentology and Henry E. O. Heinemann, editor of the American Brewers Review, were the organizers. I’d guess the indefatigable Henius took the lion’s part given the fulsome tribute the Congress gave him.

There is a tendency today to view brewing 100 years ago as some kind of toddling, artisan industry with a few large brewers here and there but all operating in silos which were suitable (finally) for the geographic, wide-screen treatment inaugurated by Michael Jackson in his landmark The World Guide To Beer (1977).

Nothing could be more untrue. The industry was highly sophisticated in all aspects: the plant science behind hop and grain cultivation; the sciences of fermentation and brewing; the design and variety of brewing equipment; the legal organization and financing of medium and larger companies; packaging, sales and distribution.  In addition, brewing and to a degree brewery ownership or financing were significantly international, a trend that has increased since but was well underway.

The origins, design and activities of the Congress were carefully recorded in another fat volume of Henius’s partial authorship,  called Report of the Proceedings, Volume 1. A Volume 2 clearly was planned although I don’t think it emerged, perhaps the onset of WW I precluded this.

The list of patrons, attendees, and those who sent regrets reads like a Who’s Who of the international brewing world at the end of the 1800s and early 1900s. Names like Sedlmayr, Whitbread, Tetley, Busch, Barclay, Schaefer, Ruppert, Rainhardt (Toronto), Lindner, appear in those lists and that’s nine names out of many hundreds. Everyone who was anyone was there or had been invited. No doubt the extensive network of contacts developed from Wahl & Henius’s graduating classes was essential to this endeavour. They had graduated 1200 brewers before looming Prohibition shut the school down in 1915.

The Congress accordingly had three official languages, English, French, German. Some presentations were also rendered in Spanish. Many of the speeches, not to mention the technical papers, are well worth reading for anecdotal interest and detailed information on hops, malting barleys and brewing equipment and technologies from around the world. A competition had been arranged for hops and barleys and they were judged and graded in ways still interesting today.

The public had access to the halls and the bier stubbe I discussed earlier, and were charged 50 cents admission. Thousands went through the Coliseum during the conclave.

The droll or witty style of many of the speakers speaks to an era I hope not lost. Businessmen and scientists knew their way around English or I presume one of the other official languages. Sample from Mr. William Walters Butler* from England (paraphrase): The only thing I dread more than a trans-Atlantic journey is giving a speech to a distinguished group on short notice. He proceeded to render a speech which today would probably require an M.A. in English.

As Henius stated in the event’s commemorative volume, it was a ringing success both as attested by friends and non-friends of the industry. One sees in that remark, as in many aspects of the Congress proceedings, the shadow of the Temperance campaigners.

There is no better way to indicate what the Congress was all about than to include extracts from the book. (It appears out of copyright and the pages are transferable as PDFs from the HathiTrust digital copies, here). The tremendous amount of work that went into its conception, design, and realization are well-explained in the pages that follow.

I’ll include further extracts in the next post.











Note re images: the first image, of the Chicago Coliseum before WW I, was sourced from Ebay here and is believed available for educational and historical purposes. The extracts from the Report of Proceedings of the 1911 Second International Brewers Congress held in Chicago were sourced from HathiTrust at the link given above. All intellectual property of or in the images belong to their lawful owners or authorized licensees. All feedback welcomed.


*An earlier version incorrectly stated the surname as Tetley, however I believe a Tetley was also in attendance from the U.K. Some information on Sir William: https://birminghamhistory.co.uk/forum/index.php?threads/sir-william-waters-butler-bart.14229/