Saturday, 9 July 2016

Where they drank Dunkles in Bavaria in the 1930’s

Did I mention I have several hundred beer-related books? I reckon around 700, but I’m not sure. Too many for me to remember them all.

I was making a quick search for duplicates amongst my German books – I know there are some – when I chanced upon a book I forgot that I owned. "Die Besteuerung des Haus-Brauwesens in Bayern" by Otto Rizzi, published in 1933. I think I bought on one of my trips to Bavaria, but I’m not 100% certain.

As soon as I opened it, I could see why I bought it. Certainly not for the typeface, a hard to read Gothic. No, for the tables. Of which there are lots. I love a good table, me. The topic – the taxation of house brewers in Bavaria – is pretty dry. But it’s packed with data about both communal and commercial breweries. Dead, dead handy. Why have I never used any of it? Because I’m overwhelmed with data. I can’t collect it all. There’s just too much of it.

A couple of the smaller tables particularly attracted my attention. Like the one we’ll be looking at today. It shows percentage sales of Helles and Dunkles in the different regions of Bavaria. Not something I’ve seen before. And not at all what I expected.

Let me explain. One of the best books ever written about German beer in general is "Die Biere Deutschlands" by Wolfgang Kaul & Dietrich Höllhuber, published in 1988. I can remember ordering a copy when I lived in Rotterdam. It’s where I first learned of Gose, something that started a quest to track down the style.

But they also wrote a series of walking guides to Franconia for the beer drinker ("Fränkische Schweiz. Ein Wanderführer für Biertrinker", for example). Their photos and descriptions of rural beer gardens made my mouth literally water. What particularly struck me was how many of the places they covered only sold Dunkles. It sounded like heaven.

When I finally got to Fränkische Schweiz, I saw plenty of Dunkles. One of my favourite places, Kathi-Bräu, brews nothing else. And most of the small breweries had one available. That’s why these numbers shocked me so much:

Output of beer in Bavaria by colour 1930-1931
pale dark
Oberbayern 25.8 74.2
Niederbayern 55 45
Schwaben 56 44
Oberfranken 96 4
Mittelfranken 90 10
Unerfranken 90 10
Oberpfalz 78.2 21.8
Pfalz 96.7 3.3
"Die Besteuerung des Haus-Brauwesens in Bayern" by Otto Rizzi, 1933, page 197.

Fränkische Schweiz is in Oberbayern Oberfranken, where just 4% of beer was Dunkles in the 1930’s. I would never in a million years have guessed that. All the Dunkles was drunk in the southern half of Bavaria. Oberbayern ( Munich and surroundings), Niederbayern (Passau and the Bavarian Forest) and Schwaben (The area bordering Baden Württemberg).

I’m amazed at how dramatic the split is between the north and south of the state. Though, thinking more carefully, it shouldn’t be such a surprise that Franconia had a different beer tradition. It only became part of Bavaria during the Napoleonic Wars.

Here’s a map of Bavaria to make things clearer:

German beer classes in the 1930’s next.


Jeff Renner said...

I wonder how much of this was due to regional water chemistry differences dating to before the ability to manipulate water to style was developed in the late 19th century.

Ron Pattinson said...


I doubt it. People tended to just brew whatever drinkers wanted regardless of water chemistry. In my opinion the role of water has been grossly exaggerated in the development of beer styles. Burton is a great example. It was originally famous for sweet, strong, dark Ales which aren't particularly suited to its water.

I'd put it down to regional cultural differences.

John Hein said...

Think you've got your bayerns and frankens mixed up there...

Erlangernick said...

Just to clear up a typo to avoid potentially confusing anyone, the Fränkische Schweiz lies in Oberfranken, though your mention of the 4% should make any confusion brief. Quite surprising in any case, yes. I mean, certainly "most" of the beer in Oberfranken today "seems" to me to be pale rather than dark, but that figure is something else.

The Dunkel of that region is also so rich and full of character, I've often thought people should be talking about "Franconian Dunkel" rather than "Münchner Dunkel". Meister Bräu, Hohenschwärzer, Held Bräu, Krug Bräu...


Jeff Renner said...

Just spotted a typo, "Fränkische Schweiz is in Oberbayern, where just 4% of beer was Dunkles in the 1930’s."

Gerrit said...

Fränkische Schweiz is in Ober*franken*, I’ll think you’ll find. (And indeed, have found, as you quote the number of dark beer in Oberfranken.)