Friday, 7 November 2014

The free list of the Pilsener beer

Here's another result of my random sweep of the newspaper archives for "pilsener".

This is a really weird one. Especially when you learn a little more about Sir William Harcourt.

"Sir William Harcourt stands a good chance of being put on the free list of the Pilsener beer manufacturers for the rest his days. In the course of the debate on the second reading of the Pure Beer Bill, Sir William extolled the good qualities of Pilsener, mentioning that it was the only beer he-himself consumed! There has been quite, a boom in Pilsener since Sir William made this interesting revelation, and as there are innocent people who are under the impression that Pilsener-beer, being made from rice, is a harmless decoction like Apollinaris or lager beer, it is time..the point was cleared up. It is quite a delusion to suppose that Pilsener is a temperance drink. Pilsener is much more intoxicating than the bottled beers sold in this country, and hence, perhaps, the favour it has found in the eyes, or rather with the palate, of the Squire of Malwood. At all events, it is well to know that the beer which Sir William has ostentatiously extolled is not the innocent decoction that some people have imagined; and as we have an abundance of potent beers of home-manufacture already on the market, there is really no reason why encouragement should be given to this North-German product."
Aberdeen Journal - Wednesday 03 April 1901, page 4.

We'll get onto Sir William Harcourt in a minute. First let's look at those claims about Pilsener. Claiming it was made from rice is a bit weird. Especially as it's also being called North German. While there had been beer brewed with rice in North German in the 19th century, by 1909 the Reinheitsgebot had been extended to all Germany. Brewing with rice was illegal.

The claim that Pilsener was much more alcoholic than British bottled beers is just total bollocks. I recently published a table of fifteen German Pilseners brewed between 1878 and 1900. The average gravity was 1049.8 and the average ABV 4.83%. By pre-WW I British standards that's weak. The strongest sample was 5.21% ABV - lower than the average strength of British beer. To claim that it was much stronger is just completely wrong.

And finally Sir William Harcourt. He was a Liberal politician who served under Gladstone. In 1893 and 1895, while serving as Chancellor of the Exchequer, he introduced a Local Veto Bill. This was what temperance campaigners dreamed of. It would have allowed parishes to vote for the elimination or limitation of licensed premises. How weird that such a man would sing the praises of a type of beer.

1 comment:

Barm said...

People will believe the strangest things, no matter how easily disproven they are. E.g. that vodka is made from potatoes (most is made from wheat or rye), or that wheat beer is lower in alcohol than Pils (it is in fact slightly stronger).