Thursday, 3 July 2008


Zythophile has just posted on the shortcomings of Wikipedia beer articles. It shouldn't come as a great surprise. When so many books use only third-hand sources, what do you expect?

I used to actively contribute to wikipedia. For a while. Then I started getting my edits "corrected" by other contributors. Mostly they were using things like the BJCP guidelines and ratings sites as their sources. After a couple of quite nasty arguments, like Zythophile, I decided it was a complete waste of my time. If you look you can probably spot my contributions. There are still a couple sizeable sections of my text.

It was the Märzen article that made me renounce wikipedia and its evil ways. Take time to look at the wikipedia Märzen article now . . . . . .

What do you think of it? That's right, it's almost total bollocks. Scarcely a word of what little content it has is true. The shit that was thrown my way when I tried to correct some of its glaring inaccuracies would have blocked the Incredible Hulk's toilet.

Why do I bring this up now? Apart from the fact that I hate losing arguments. Just something I stumbled upon this morning when I was searching for a description of mashing in an ancient German book. (I get up early enough to leave an hour for doing this stuff before setting off for work. Dilligent, aren't I?) One section listed the main types of Bavarian "Byer" (I told you it was ancient). The very first was Merzen or Sommer Byer. According to the Wikipedia article, Märzen was "invented" by Anton Dreher in Vienna in the 1830's. My new source pushes that date back just a tad. Any guesses as to how much further back? 1800? 1750? 1700? No, much further. The book was published in 1581.

Thanks to Kristen for sending the link to the 1581 book. It's full of fascinating stuff. For people like me. Now all I have to do is read it. In addition to the usual obstacle of gothic typeface, it also uses idiosyncratic spellings. And weird grammar. Be patient.

And, for those who think yeast was unknown before Pasteur, it also mentions "Heffe".


Kristen England said...


Thats the reason I sent that one to you. Great stuff and its great age really shows what 'they' knew about way back in the day. I got turned on to this reading a few manuals from the 1800's and figured it had to go back much further.


Jim Johanssen said...

I think it just goes to show you that there where some very smart people long ago and just when you think you know the history, something pops out of the wood work to prove you incorrect! It's hard to nail down just when something is first discoverd long ago, because many sources are lost, forgotten, destroyed and just very hard to find.
Wiki is cannot re-write history if you have real sources they must have real sources to counter your claims. BJCP IS NOT THE LAST WORD ON BEER!

Lars Marius Garshol said...

Ron, the trick is to get your book written and published. Once that's done, Wikipedia can be corrected with the book as a source...

Kristen England said...

Kinda off topic but along the same lines. What do you guys know about the Theresienwiese biers at Oktoberbest? I had a few beers with in Munich that said they were higher gravity Ofests and had that name.

Ron Pattinson said...

I thought the beers at the festival were Helles Märzen.

Anonymous said...

About yeast and Pasteur : indeed, long before Pasteur, people involved in brewing and baking knew about yeast, and many had no doubt understood that it was the vector to perpetuate fermentation.

By the way, if "levure" in french is semantically linked to fermentation (through "lever", which designates the dough gaining volume during fermentation => levain or in english, leavening), "Hefe" in german and "yeast" in english are not. So speaking of "yeast" or "Hefe", just means they had recognised the stuff as a matter / ingredient, but not how far they understood its action.

What Pasteur did bring is nevertheless major : the breakthrough on understanding how yeast worked in the fermentation process. And how to extend the shelf-life of wine through controlled heating, which was apparently quickly used for beer too.
Pasteur's studies on beer appear to have been a political move, into which pasteur had more or less been cornered aginst his will, so that the French, defeated in 1870 by Prussia/Germany, could retaliate on the beer front by producting "les bières de la revanche nationale", which were to be superior to German beers simply because of Pasteur's input in mastering production processes. Yeah right. ;o)

Ron Pattinson said...

LAurent, I realise Pasteur mad e a huge contribtion to understanding fermentation. It's just irritating that the exact nature of it is often misunderstood.

Though brewers and bakers didn't know what yeast was, they did understand how it worked. Empiricial knowledge usually precedes a scientific explanation. God I'm incoherent tonight. It's Friday and the end of the working week. Why am I typing this in rather than falling asleep watching Eastenders? You know what I mean. They'd observed how yeast behaved and brewed accordingly.n

Anonymous said...

Yeah well, problem is people with a half-decent historical background seem to be a rarity, and the way history still is often taught in schools doesn't help... ;o)

BTW the bits I contributed to the "Gruit" wikipedia article, pretty much my only serious wikipedia contribution (the bits denying the link between switch to hops and protestant reformation), seem to have withstood the Wikipedia environment rather well... could be because the argument is based on chronology, which any idiot can grasp. ;o(