Back to the Future (Part II)

In a posting yesterday, I discussed how a book in the 1870s forecast the “beer of the future” for France and Belgium. By extension the predictions applied more broadly, given how brewing was quickly becoming an international business, not in ownership but exchange of knowledge and methods. The book itself canvassed methods in the main brewing countries then (France, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Britain).

Indeed the author, Auguste Laurent, wasn’t so far off from the mass market lager we have today.

Craft brewing is not the story here, in other words. It is important, but largely as a reaction to the trend these experts forecast.

The book promoted English top-fermentation and long storage as the way forward. This may sound odd, given most beer today is lager (bottom-fermented) and not long aged. However, in its essentials modern lager is similar to what the book argued was the ideal beer: at circa 5% ABV, not too weak, not too satiating or bitter, not sour like vinegar (as much Belgian and some French beer was), and otherwise stable.

The author solicited the opinions of subscribers to his trade magazine Moniteur de la Brasserie on the ideal beer of the future. He printed the responses in the book.

One of the most interesting was from Georges Muller in Lierre, Belgium. I could be wrong, but the name suggests a displaced Alsatian, a brewer who departed for greener pastures after the France lost Alsace-Lorraine in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. Laurent notes in the book that brewers had left Alsace for this reason.

Muller made an argument not so different from Laurent’s. He stated the beer of the future would efface “local” styles (so lambic, faro, saison, white beer, etc.); would be pale; around 4% ABV (similar to modern light beer, which is very popular); not perishable; and again not too bitter or sweet.

Also, he forecast as did Laurent that breweries would become much larger and malting would become a separate business. At the time, many brewers still did their own malting.

Muller made an interesting statement in regard to fermentation. He states, it doesn’t matter whether the beer of the future will be bottom-fermented or top-fermented, provided it will be possible to, a) lower the temperature at will of top-fermenting beer, and b) maintain cold temperatures in the cellar. This is exactly what happened, he was prescient in this, and in most of his predictions. He even forecast the wide use of adjuncts in brewing. See pg. 153 in the link provided.

The distinction between top and bottom fermentation subsists, a complex story unto itself. However, due to modern temperature control, and I should add the cylindro-conical fermenter that gathers yeast sediment in its cone-shape base, the distinctions formerly evident between the two forms of beer have been significantly reduced.

One way to tell this is, India Pale Lager tastes rather similar to India Pale Ale. Kolsch Bier in Germany is lager-like, as is Labatt 50 Ale, and so on. It is more malt and hop types that enable to distinguish the two forms today. This is because certain hops and malts have become associated with specific lagers and ales. Very pale malt for lager, say. The Cascade hop to flavour and give aroma to IPA, and so on.

I don’t say there is no difference due to the yeast type used, but the importance is greatly reduced from formerly.

Muller was smart, he knew that precise temperature control was the key to brewing’s future. In the result other technical advances contributed, but he mentioned the most important one.

Hence, Laurent’s focus on top-fermentation is even less important when viewed in this light, and he got the rest of it pretty right.

These experts, in sum, saw the future well. It took in many cases generations for world brewing to do the job they forecast, but by the 1970s it was all in place. Then writer Michael Jackson came and rolled it back, partly.*


*Jackson was U.K.-born, active from the 1970s until his death at 65 in 2007. The Campaign for Real Ale, Roger Protz (the dean of world beer writers), Charlie Papazian and American home brewers, the first craft brewers on the West Coast, and many others were also influential in this change.






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