Max Henius, Star of American Brewing Science


It’s Chicago, November 16, 1935, a Saturday. Daily Trib on the table. Paging through leisurely – it’s a weekend – the obituaries appear. A compact article, with photo, announces the death of Dr. Max Henius, at 76. He died on a visit to Denmark, his homeland. He had lived in America since his early 20s and had a notable career there. Once past 40 he took an increasing interest in the country of his birth. He did much to foster Danish-American relations. With others, he bought land and deeded it to the Danish government. Save during the two world wars, a celebration is held there each 4th of July to commemorate the amity of Denmark and America.

Max Henius was probably America’s greatest brewing scientist, in any era. Yet he is virtually unknown to most beer and brewing fans, even those with some historical knowledge.

He co-authored in 1902 the American Handy-Book of the Brewing, Malting, and Auxiliary Trades. The other writer was Dr. Robert Wahl, an American Henius had studied with in Marburg, Germany. The book was a stupendous achievement, a fat tome of 1200 pages covering every conceivable aspect of brewing operations. Many questions of science and theory were addressed but in a way accessible to practical brewing people.

Henius had studied under Professor Emil Hansen, a legend in world brewing science for his work on pure yeast cultures. Henius extended the work of Hansen in America.


Anyone who investigates American brewing history runs into the book sooner or later. The modern beer writer, Michael Jackson, who developed the basic stylistic schema of craft brewing, almost certainly read the book. Jackson’s basic classification seems based on Wahl & Henius’ work, not just the “ur” distinction between bottom-fermentation, top-fermentation, and spontaneous fermentation but the main beer types under each of those heads.

Even with Wahl’s participation, Henius must have written a good part of the book himself, and the English is always impeccable. English was perhaps Henius’ third language, after Danish and German, and maybe his fourth or fifth. European scientists then could easily work in four or five languages. I’d guess he knew French as well, for example.

But who really was Max Henius?  How did he get to the United States? The obituaries I’ve been able to find are relatively short and don’t hint at his background. The Wikipedia entry on Max Henius has proved more helpful.

He was born in Aalborg, Denmark of a Jewish family originally from Poland. Beeretseq finds this of interest as there were relatively few Jews in the various branches of brewing, and this despite the German and Czech “brewing star” which looks rather like the Star of David, I may discuss that topic soon. Brewing and its auxiliary areas were a German and Anglo-Saxon business, for the most part. (Distilling is a different story, at least in North America).

But there are always exceptions, and at least one noted brewery in Alsace was Jewish-owned. There was a prominent one in Vienna too (Ottakringer), and one or two in Germany. In the U.S., the Rheingold brand of the Jewish Liebmann family in Brooklyn, NY was renowned for decades.

Henius Sr. had moved to Denmark in the 1830s and established an acquavits business, now owned by Pernod-Ricard. After acquiring a doctorate in chemistry from Germany, Max emigrated to the U.S. I’d assume the family funded the move since his father sold the distillery around this time. Max’s brother stayed in Denmark and later headed up an export trade association.

Max took up residence in Chicago. At first he owned a drugstore, you see him in the image above on the left. The other figure is probably Wahl. They are the picture of the young ambitious entrepreneurs.

Later, Max founded with Wahl a brewing school. It was called by different names in different periods, one was the Wahl-Henius Institute of Fermentology. With the Siebel Institute of Brewing established earlier in Chicago, and the Brewing Academy in New York, the Wahl-Henius Institute was a premier, pioneering centre for brewing studies, indeed internationally.

Henius married a fellow Dane who was related to notable figures in its history. Some of their distant progeny have distinguished themselves in a rather different endeavour: acting. Perhaps you have heard of Robert and Keith Carradine, their mother was a Henius. (Their late half-brother through the paternal line, David, was not a Henius descendant I believe)*.

The Siebel Institute is still going strong but Henius’s venture did not outlast Prohibition. It merged with a school of baking studies, as fermentation of course is vital both to bread and beer. Henius worked patiently in this allied field, but with the glimmer of Repeal in the bibulous skies of 1932, he opened classes again to brewing students. A newspaper account, somewhat arch in tone, describes the effort and shows a picture of grey-haired Henius at work again with younger men. Don’t worry, it told readers, your sons and daughters won’t be frosh in Max’s new classes. The curriculum was reserved for those intent on practical brewing post-Repeal – a different demographic, to use our vernacular.

Maybe the classes continued after beer came back but as Henius died in 1935, the school likely ended unless perhaps the family continued it for a time. Henius did have a son, Henry, later a brewmaster and executive with Lucky Lager in San Francisco. Perhaps he continued the teaching work for a while.Picture.aspxSomewhat improbably, Henius was something of a Prohibitionist. He wrote a number of works advocating tight controls on alcohol. Of course, he decried the t-total solution of the Volstead Act but certainly was firmly anti-saloon. The beer he taught his new students to brew in 1932 was maximum 3% abw, what we would call light beer today, or 4% abv.

In the 1902 Handy-Book, Henius described non-judgmentally beers which were much stronger than that, especially English types. But he plumped for relatively weak beer in his heart evidently, and argued for restricted distribution. German and American lager of the 1800s was generally 4-5% abv. Perhaps this struck him as the perfect form of beer. Even in England in this time, the German product achieved a strange power over brewing technologists although I think in part growing Prohibitionist sentiment was behind it, unconsciously in most cases. This may be the case too with Henius, as the best way to bring back beer was to reconcile with those who worried over strong potations.

The patrons in the pub paid no mind to all this, probably a good thing, else we’d have no double stout, or saison, or Burton Ale today.

In the 1932 article on restoration of Henius’ brewing classes (“dusting off old recipes”), Henius was quoted that beer should be sold in supermarkets and drugstores, no doubt recalling his youth of retailing liquor in a relatively controlled environment. He hoped the beer he was training his students to make would not appear in saloons with swinging doors, as he put it.

Well, the bars did return, with beer and yet harder stuff, if not quite the saloon in its old glory (?). You can’t have one without the other, really. But Henius’s idealism is understandable. Ever the international academic and man of affairs, he knew alcohol should be treated with caution. Probably he felt ambivalence about devoting his professional life to it. I think some professionals in the business today would be the same although few would acknowledge it publicly.

Note re images: The first image above is from this Danish website. The second, from this website. The third, from historicalimages com. All are believed available for educational and historical purposes. All images or intellectual property therein belong to their lawful owners or authorized users. All feedback welcomed.


*An earlier version of this post misstated the names of the Carradine acting descendants in part, I believe I have it correct now. Also, I stated earlier Keith had passed, that is not so, it is David who passed away some years ago. Apologies for the slip.




4 thoughts on “Max Henius, Star of American Brewing Science”

  1. Thank you for mentioning my grandfather and great grandfather. I’m one .. actually the only non acting Carradine, I am an architect. A little more information to complete your article

    Henry Henius, son of Max and Johann Ludwig was himself a significant force in American and during prohibition, Canadian brewing. He was trained by his father Max at Wahl-Henius at the turn of the century. Max not only had a remarkable interest in beer and brewing, he also used the knowledge of fermentation techniques, to advance food safety, long before “The Jungle”. Henry learned the art of brew mastering well enough that when the Schmidt family considered founding the Olympia brewery in Tumwater Washington, Henry R Henius began his career in brewing designing the recipe for the famous “Its the Water” Olympia ‘banquet lager’. This was in about 1906-1907 and he married my grandmother Lillian Fuess in 1912. He remained at Tumwater until forced to hopscotch dry states as prohibition took hold. With ratification of the Volstead act, he settled in Detroit, crossing the river south to Windsor Ontario to brew for the Bronfmans. That lasted until he grew weary of the hazardous night crossing back to the USA, his launch used for smuggling Seagrams 7. Grandpa Henius wasn’t a distiller, although his grandfather Isidore was, the Henius you mention as an Aquavit distiller. That complex is still operating making Aalborg Aquavit and contains the 6 pointed star in one gable of the distillery. This was mistaken by the nazi era Germans as a Jewish symbol. It was the old symbol of quality used by distillers and had nothing to do with judaism, although Isidor was a Jew, by 1940 the Aalborg distillery was no longer Jewish owned.

    Henry R Henius rejoined the ranks of American brewers in 1935, assuming the brew master position at the newly organized Heneral Brewing Company, adding his Max-Taught skills to the famous Lucky Lager banquet lager. Lucky of course became not only California’s top seller but went on to be a major brand nationwide.

    The rapid expansion of General Brewing led to additions to the South San Francisco facilities, but also the new breweries in Vancouver Washington, Azusa and Salt Lake City. Henry Henius was not only a brew master but was also s leading consultant in large scale brewery processes, and as such had much to do with the development of modern high volume brewing.

    As did his father Max, Henry passed away in Denmark in July 1962, sitting on the dais with other dignitaries and danish royalty. He gave a heartfelt speech in Danish and English before returning to his seat and suffering a fatal heart attack.

    His father Max, a cofounder of the Rebild festival also passed during the festival in 1936, a victim of a car accident.

    Keith gave the keynote address for the 100th anniversary of Rebild, promising not to follow his grandfathers.

    One last mention: Max was a staunch advocate of danish style family Beer Gardens as an alternative to men’s saloons. This he believed could alleviate widespread drunkenness and render T-Totalism unnecessary. He pushed hard against the temperance movement but ultimately failed.

    Henry left brewing in 1924 after his brother Emil was murdered in Chicago. Emil had been dabbling in a string of stores that sold bathtub brewing equipment and supplies. For the next decade grandpa Henius tried owning a Chevrolet dealership, a vacuum cleaner distributorship and other negligible careers. When the miracle of 1933 occurred, he and his father Max celebrated and went right back to it.

    Until the establishment of the UC Davis brewing and oenology curricula in 1954, the only training for brew mastering was Wahl Henius in Chicago. Generations of Bud, Pabst, Olympia, Hamms, Miller, Coors and the rest all owe their expertise to the Wahl Henius Institute of Fermentology. The Davis program was spirited by one of Grandpa Henius’s protégés, Reuben Schneider who stayed with Lucky after Grandpa’s passing.

    A side note to brewing quality and purity was the novel filtration technology developed at General and by grandpa and partners. The now common diatomaceous earth filtration system, most familiar in backyard swimming pools was tried by the brewing community. It eventually found its way to National Lead, the makers of Ditch Boh paint. Tansul Corporation was acquired by National Lead just before the big environmental movement banning casual lead products (paint).

    • Dear Christopher:

      This is absolutely wonderful, thanks so much for generously sharing it here.

      I’ll mention soon your Comment via my Twitter account (@beeretseq) so that those who follow this site, many internationally-based, are aware of your remarks.

      I will post a second comment soon in regard to a couple of things you noted, that may be of interest.

      All best wishes.

      Gary Gillman, Toronto

    • Dear Christopher:

      With regard to the origins of the star on many European (and some North American) brewing and distilling buildings, please see this post I wrote recently:

      In a nutshell, the distant origin of it may be Jewish. This was put forth by a German brewer who gained a doctorate studying the question, see the post for more details.

      In regard to Windsor in Canada during Prohibition, to my knowledge the Bronfman family did not operate a brewery or distillery there, but they did own warehouses filled with liquor shipped from their plant in Waterloo, ON (about 70 miles west of Toronto, Windsor is much further away). Liquor was brought one way or another by purchasers to the U.S. from export docking facilities in Windsor until the Canadian government closed that route a few years before Repeal. Hiram Walker, another Canadian distiller and makers of the the well-known Canadian Club brand, were and are based in Windsor, and also, ran a brewery there after WW I that operated until (I believe) the 1950s.

      This is more by the by, but I was granted a personal tour of the Hiram Walker plant recently and wrote it up here, which may interest you: It has been there since 1858, built by Hiram Walker who was an American of birth. The plant is owned now by Pernod-Ricard of France. Seagram was broken up when a descendant took the business in a different direction about 30 years ago. Crown Royal is the best known brand today and is now owned by Diageo/Guinness, a huge U.K.-based firm.

      That was very interesting especially about Henry and the technical innovations he introduced. High volume brewing sounds like high-gravity brewing, where beer is brewed to a high alcohol level and reduced by water to the typical drinking strength of the market. It may have been that, or possibly was a way to accelerate fermentation and aging. The kind of beer you mentioned, American light lager, was an inheritance of the 19th century and owes a lot to the work of Max Henius and some others I have written about who supported that type of manufacture for American conditions.

      Since the 1970s the craft brewing movement has brought back older styles, including all-barley malt malt lager (no corn or rice adjuncts) which Max Henius would have remembered well from his days in Germany and Denmark. I did later read his book on the Danish beer gardens and could see he appreciated that tradition of sipping lager of no great strength in pleasant surroundings, vs. that is the dubious saloon with its old image of whiskey-drinking. In a way, his vision was finally realized by the craft brewing movement as it favours beer gardens and informal places where families are welcome and food is served. The circle came round, in an interesting way. There are many such places in California, you may have heard of Stone Brewing in Escondido, for example, growing fast and now an international but still privately-owned presence.

      Nonetheless the old brands like Lucky Lager, also the steam beer still made in San Francisco, are well-remembered by beer historians and it was great to read of the important contributions made by your Henius descendants to American brewing.

      Best regards.


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