Sunday, 5 October 2014

German Pilsner

I tumbled over this lode-bearing rock when looking for something for Adrian Tierney-Jones. For some reason he thought I might be the sort of person who owned a bound edition of the 1933 Berwers' Journal. Of course I do.

I was really pleased to be able pick up good run of years between the wars from an Institute of Brewing and Distilling auction. Brewing journals are as good as non-existent in the normal second hand book market.

But I'm rambling. The article in question is about the use of the word Pilsner to describe German beer. Before the Czechs (or Bohemian-Austrians as they were back then) knew it, brewers all over Europe were calling their beers Pilsner. They never really had a chance of regaining control of the term. Especially when they were still part of a larger empire. I've noticed that breweries in what is now Austria were some of the first to be guilty of this.

The German Law Courts have had before them the suit of the brewers of Pilsen, who sought to have German brewers forbidden the use of the designation "Pilsner." The Reich Supreme Court first ruled in 1912 that German brewers were entitled to market beer brewed elsewhere than in Pilsen, Bohemia, but in the Pilsner manner under such names as "Radeberger Pilsner."

Since then the issue has been complicated by the fact that Pilsen is no longer an Austrian but a Czechoslovak town. All ingenious argument of the German breweries was that, as the Czech Government insists on the use of the Czech name for all towns within its territory, "Pilsner" beer could in future only be brewed in Germany. The Reich Supreme Court has confirmed recent judgments of Hamburg and Cologne courts based on its own 1912 ruling, and reversed the judgment of a Berlin court which had ruled that German breweries might only sell beer under such names as "Gottesberger Pilsner"  if the two words were printed in type of equal size and were followed by the words "Beer in the Pilsner manner."
"Brewers' Journal 1933', page 87.

How odd that they should have picked Radeberger Pilsner as their example, a beer that a couple of decades later was a flag-ship beer of the DDR. (I never cared for it much myself. There were much better Pilsners in Thüringen.) Though it was one of the first German breweries to really concentrate on the style.

I'm trying to think of a case where a brewery won this sort of action, clawing back exclusive use of what had become the general name of a type of beer. I can only think of one example: Zacherl (later Paulaner) with Salvator.

It's clever the way they tried to use Czech nationalism - using the Czech names for towns - against the brewers from Pilsen. Of coursew, a few years later, there would be far worse conficts between the two countries than the name of a type of beer.


The Beer Nut said...

I suppose "Hoegaarden" doesn't count because it only won out by default. Camden Town have threatened Redwell with legal action if they don't stop making a beer called "Hells". Redwell claims (wrongly, I think) that Hells is a generic German beer term. So that may become an example if the threat is followed through on.

A-B InBev did manage to stop Budějovický Měšťanský Pivovar from making "Budweiser", but only by buying the name from them. You certainly can't go making a Budweiser beer these days and claim it's generic, so does that count?

Elektrolurch said...

What about the Kölsch-Convention, seems like a similar case to Salvator to me, though it was not a single brewer, but a regional group of brewers.

Ron Pattinson said...

Beer Nut,

no-one has a monopoly on the use of the word Budweiser and in the Czech Republic you can use the name, if your brewery is in Ceské Budejovice.

Rod said...

"Hells" is ungrammatical in German. A pale beer should be referred to as "Helles". "Helles" would be a generic word, and I don't think anyone could claim a copyright, as many German breweries brew one.
In the UK, Meantime brewed a Helles for several years before Camden was founded.

The Beer Nut said...

That's exactly it, Rod. Because "Hells" is a made-up word I think Camden have a legitimate claim to exclusivity. If I produced a black beer called "Stowt" I would take exception to anyone else releasing a stout called "Stowt".

Ron Pattinson said...

Beer Nut,

I would if I were a Danish brewer.