German Beer Cask Wood in Kaiser Wilhelm’s Era

From the same consular reports publication on the American stave trade I’ve referred to earlier, the position in countries other than Britain can be gleaned, not least Germany.

About a dozen German cities are represented through the reports of American consuls there, in 1891 again. It’s interesting reading. In Munich, the consul got very little cooperation from his trade contacts. It seems Munich brewers and merchants kept things close to the vest.

Perhaps the illustrious Munich beer tradition (and it was, I’m not being tongue-in-cheek) was in no mood to enlighten an American on their practices.

Yet, in other German cities the situation was quite different, with consuls getting good cooperation.

I’ll summarize the picture by saying, in this period almost no U.S. stave wood was used for German beer casks (or for much else it seems). The wood used was mainly from Hungary, Galicia, Serbia, Russia, depending on the town in question and local practices.

Some German oak was used, e.g. from the Rhine but it was generally not considered top grade due to excess porosity and brittleness. It seems to have been reserved for family and farm trade. Perhaps some small breweries used it that had a quick turnover where leakage was not an issue.

Some consuls, encouraged in some cases by the local cooperages, saw good opportunities for American stave exports.

The shining exception to no Ami wood was in Frankfurt. A personage no less important than German-American Budweiser major domo Adolphus Busch convinced a factory to use American oak for barrels and it seems the wood was found most acceptable. The taste issue, often mentioned in the consular reports from the U.K., does not arise here.

This may be due to the very limited reach of the American timber industry in Germany for beer casks, or perhaps (more probably I think) because German casks were usually coated with pitch, which prevented a wood-derived taste, or undue taste, affecting the beer.

Below is the first page of the Frankfurt report, read the next two pages from the link given. Bear in mind this city is the exception. The message from the other cities viz. American wood is, we don’t use it.

The Russian section is quite short. The consul states basically that Russian oak, and this would take in the Memel type, or that quality, was viewed as the best in the world and there was no chance for American oak to compete.

British brewers, with the main exception of Irish-based Guinness, could only agree when it came to their cask inventory.