Iconic Beers in Flying Colours

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.





14 thoughts on “Iconic Beers in Flying Colours”

  1. Gary, the blue strip is the alcohol content. It is absent or nearly absent on the can because the alcohol content of Mumme is so low.

  2. Andreas is of course correct that Braunbier is a very generic term. However, there is a clue in that the alcohol and extract of each beer is marked on the vessel and in the key. We can see that the Braunbier is very low in alcohol and residual sugar. The extract is much less than the Dunkel type beers next to it, and about the same as the IPA and Berliner Weisse, which we know are both very dry beers. We can therefore say with some confidence that it is indeed a similar type of beer to the top-fermenting Braunbier brewed in Berlin in the 19th century, that Groterjan was still brewing in the 1930s.

  3. Just a few notes that I quickly posted on Twitter, here in a more thorough version:

    As others have noted here, Siechen-Bier was a brand from Nuremberg, and that’s also what it says in the chart. There existed a Bierhaus Siechen in Berlin though that was run by a Franz Siechen who served beer from Reif brewery from Nuremberg, the brewery that had the Siechen-Bier brand.

    Beer number 16 should read “Sandlerbräu”, noch “Candlerbräu”. That font is hard to read if you’re not used to it.

    Also, as others have mentioned here, number 20 is most likely the Weihenstephan dark lager, not the wheat beer. The brewery is most famous for their wheat beer nowadays, but their range of beers covers all the traditional Bavarian beer styles.

    Braunbier, as shown in number 23, is a very generic historic term that covers pretty much all beer made from kilned malts, to differentiate them from beers made from air-dried malt, which would have been called Weissbier. Unless it specifically says that it’s Berliner Braunbier, it could have been any local Braunbier brewed anywhere in Bavaria or the rest of Germany.

  4. A question about No. 20. You identify the beer as being a wheat beer, and yet it is pictured between two Munich dunkels and served in the same sort of vessel. Weihenstephan is famous for its wheat beer, but produces other styles as well.

    (Also, on No.14, I think you meant to write Nuremberg but it says Berlin).

    • Fair points, thanks. Re the Berlin reference in #14, I had checked and meant to write Nurnberg, e.g., I did state that Tucher bought the brewery later and it of course is in Nuremberg. But when I wrote that part I mis-recollected.

      The Weihenstephan may have been a Dunkel, or Bock perhaps, and the tankard style of service perhaps suggests it, and placement as you said. The brewery always, or to my knowledge, mainly produced wheat beer, hence I assumed the brown contents was wheat beer, but it could be something else. The colour is similar to that for Spaten, Pschorr, and HB, so all birds of a feather possibly.


  5. Great find, Mr Gillman! This is very interesting.

    For some reason one commenter seems to think it extremely important that the Barclay beer is a stout, not a porter. Only a sad beer geek would obsess over the difference.

    • Glad that you enjoyed the post, thanks for your comment.

      On the point of porter vs. stout, Ron Pattinson was not disputing that porter and stout are the same type of beer. He was saying simply that Barclay Perkins made (at least) two forms of porter in this period. One was weaker than the other and called by the brewery “porter”, and the other was stronger and called “stout” or some variant on that term. He was saying further that the beer in the colour plate was properly speaking the stout, the stronger, not the weaker in the line, termed porter by the brewery in London.

      I simply used the term in the colour plate, porter, which was sufficient for my purposes. He was just adding further detail of a footnote nature, but useful as far as it goes.

      Putting it a different way, all brown stout is, historically speaking, porter, but not all porter is necessarily stout, if you see what I mean!

      I hope that clarifies it, and thanks again for pitching in.


  6. Gary,

    that isn’t a Porter, as I mentioned above, but a Stout. London Porter was usually paler than London Stout, mostly because they were parti-gyled together.

  7. I just noticed in the top-left the reference to Hans Kraemer and a volume, some details of which are here.

    The publication year is 1906 so that must be the date of the colour plate/poster/postcard, which is also a watercolour rendering according to another inscription on the border. I think the title means “Of Man and the Earth”, but cannot say further given my very limited German.

    Checking the name of Hans Kraemer in Google Books, one reference relating to the period states he wrote illustrated housekeeping books, which kind of ties in to the present subject matter.


  8. That’s clearly Barclay Perkins Stout, not Porter, seeing as it has the most alcohol of any beer in the poster. There was a tendency in europe to call all Porter-type beers Porter, even ones that were called Stout in the UK. (The same is true of Baltic Porter, which is really a type of Stout.)

  9. Examining no. 22 again, I believe no translucent corner is shown, in fact. Each container is depicted with a green, tan, and blue strip on the side except for the mumme can, for some reason the blue part seems absent there, save perhaps in the form of a seal on the top flat portion.

    I think this is for added contrast to appreciate fully the shade and type of colour of each beer and the contrast with the other vessels.

    There is nonetheless in the porter a dark brown that to me seems different to modern Guinness, more in keeping with the understanding that porter could be a very dark brown beer, not black or almost black.

    Some very light beers show the coloured strip as well so I don’t think the tan part at the base of the porter meant its colour under strong illumination.


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