Friday, 7 May 2010

Anton Dreher's empire

In the last few decades of its existence the Austro-Hungarian Empire housed another empire. Dreher's brewing empire. The largest brewing company in Europe, excluding the UK. Which still had the four or five largest breweries in the world.

The break-up of Austria-Hungary in the aftermath of WW I didn't do Dreher's legacy any favours. His breweries suddenly found themselves in different countries. And the market they had served was fragmented across the nation states carved out of the empire. No wonder every one has forgotten about Dreher.

"The largest beer-establishment of the continent is also one of the oldest in Austria, for the Dreher brewery in Klein-Schwechat (near Vienna), as is shown in documents, has existed since 1632. The huge upswing of the enterprise dates since 1836. Up to this time has been brewed in the brewery, the then customary Schwechater top-fermenting beer, which in the undeveloped state of the beer production was sufficient for the low requirements of the then small circle of consumers.

When on 1 April 1836 Anton Dreher took over the Schwechat brewery, this practical genius began a sweeping reform of the existing operation, and he built great storage cellars and began large-scale production of bottom-fermenting lager beer, which, taken to Vienna, won the general recognition of the public. In the year of the takeover of the Schwechat brewery, so from the first April 1836 to 1 April 1837 26,560 Eimer [15,034 hl]of beer were brewed in the then very limited premises.

Today, through the efforts of Dreher's, the Schwechat brewery is the largest establishment of the continent, and in its extent is not even surpassed by English breweries, since even the largest British establishment does not have the gigantic underground buildings for malting and beer storage at its disposal, that the Schwechat brewery has. Some figures, which are taken partly from the Austrian catalog, partly from other communications, best illustrate the magnificence of this company with its two branches.

The Schwechat brewery including maltings covers an area of 15 Joch [8.63 hectares] or 24,000 Quadratklafter [86,320 square metres], of which 16,000 Quadratklafter [57,546 square metres] are vaulted rooms. The production of the malt during the winter months, when the brewery is in operation, is 1500 bushels daily, for which Tennen with a surface area of 7200 Quadratklafter [25,896 square metres] and a storage area of 18,000 bushels of raw barley are needed. To dry the malt there is a a kiln of 600 Quadratklafter [2,158 square metres] is required. The storehouse for the storage of malt can contain 60,000 bushels. The dried malt is moved mechanically from here to the brew house, which contains six tuns, the largest containing 500 Eimer [283 hl]. In the months of operation, 3800 Eimer [2,151 hl] of beer are produced daily and the majority of the necessary work is performed by machines. The cooling is done in extremely well ventilated cooling rooms by means of 23 copper and coolships, which together occupy an area of 550 Quadratklafter [1,978 square metres]. In the fermentation buildings there are 1236 fermenting vessels, which occupy a surface area 1700 Quadratklafter [6,114 square metres] and take 52,550 Eimer [29,718 hl] of beer. In the underground cellars, which are in total 4200 Quadratklafter [15,106 square metres], there are 4,317 barrels containing between 50-200 Eimer [28 to 113 hl]. So 414,195 Eimer [234,456 hl] of beer can be lagered. In addition to these cellars, and closely connected with them, are ice pits of 2400 Quadratklafter [8,632 square metres], in which are stored in 800,000 Zollcentners of ice. Three steam engines, a Locomobile and a waterwheel, with a combined force of 80 horse-power, service the operation. This establishment employs 350 Brauburschen, 250 carters and day labourers. The movement of material and transfort of beer takes place on railways, which run through the whole establishment and are connected with the state railway. On these railways every year about one million cwt are transported. For the road transport, the spacious stables house 72 horses and 240 oxen. Its own gas works produces the gas needed for lighting and feeds the 500 burners, which are mounted in different rooms.

The operation is such that only the winter months from October to April are used for brewing. The product of this brewery is renowned not only in Austria, but also far beyond its borders. At all the exhibitions in which the enterprise took part it won the highest prizes: the gold medal in Vienna in 1857, the bronze medal in London in 1862 . Not so large, but certainly significant are the two other above-named breweries of the same company.

The following figures demonstrate best the scale of the Dreher companies. They concern beer production from the 1st January 1866 to 1st January 1867:

In Schwechat 480,670 Eimer [272,084 hl]
  „ Steinbruch 145,240     „      [82,213 hl]
  „ Micholup     55,080     „      [31,178 hl]
Total     ....     680,990 Eimer [385,476 hl]

The total production is about the one 17th of the beer production of the whole empire of Austria. The Dreher companies paid taxes of:

Beer tax paid in Schwechat 618.956 fl.
           „             Steinbruch 159.352 fl
           „                Micholup 58.677 fl
Total                                  836.985 fl.

In addition in consumption taxes::

In Wien 356.927 fl.
     „ Pest 63.801 fl
Total  1,257.713 fl.

"Bericht über die Welt-Ausstellung zu Paris im Jahre 1864", 1865, pages 122 - 124.

Micholup. Can anyone guess which American beer took its name from this brewery? Come on. It isn't hard.

I wonder if I've finished with Austrian beer yet? 


Pivní Filosof said...

Michelob, of course...

This is the Czech Měcholupy, I assume. No brewery there now. What a pity...

Any idea what sort of stuff they brewed in there?

Gary Gillman said...

Oddly enough just last night I drank a Czechvar (Budweiser Budvar in most markets) and - I am not making this up - the flavour of Michelob as I knew it in the 1970's came to me. The 1970's Michelob was not as good but still you could see the connection to the Bohemian inspiration behind the original Budweiser and Michelob beers from Anheuser-Busch. Michelob today doesn't remind me of the 1970's one, it has evolved but I still like it (the regular one not the Light).

Here is something I've been thinking about for a while. All these stories, some evidently contemporary, of the great strides of the 1800's lager brewers and the innovations they introduced - can it be the history has been romanticized to onscure something more basic at work, the march of technology and industrializing of beer production? Is it true that the beers the bottom-fermented lagers replaced were inferior? (Perhaps some were but then not all lager was, or is, great either).

All societies have a tendency, quite naturally, to rationalize and ennoble their history including their brewing and other business history. Something along these lines has been suggested with regard to the traditional accounts of porter's origin.

I am not sure though this applies to lager in part because so many contemporary observers, including many brewers, seemed genuinely convinced of its superiority, but I sometimes wonder.


Alistair Reece said...

This probably heresy as they are an Ab-InBev company but some Michelob beers aren't all that bad - I had a couple of bottles of their Lager, as opposed to their Light or Ultra, last night and they went down very well.

Ok they aren't a Kout na Sumave, or a Svijany, but they beat the crap out of Gambrinus, Staropramen, Starobrno, Kozel the other major brands in the Czech Republic.

Ron Pattinson said...

Pivni, unfortunately, I've not tracked down any analyses of beers from the brewery in Michulop. Even though I've ones for quite a few other Czech breweries.

Ron Pattinson said...

Gary, technological advance is what brewing's been all about for the last 250 years. Do people see it more romantically? I certainly don't.

As to everyone thinking Lager was superior - I've got a good quote about that. Sort of. I'll post it next week.

Alistair Reece said...

"All societies have a tendency, quite naturally, to rationalize and ennoble their history including their brewing and other business history."

That's certainly true! The Czech will tell you that Pilsner Urquell is 100% Czech because it was born in Plzen, despite the fact that the brewer was Bavarian, the techniques he used were Bavarian, the yeast he used was Bavarian and until the early 20th century on Bavarian brewers were employed by the overwhelmingly ethnic German company - other than the ingredients growing in multi-ethnic Bohemia, there really was very little input from Czechs in to their premium brand.

Gary Gillman said...

Well, the storied tales of the early pioneers, carrying yeast from Europe to America, or developing an unusually light-coloured malt, etc., all these things are true but can look too simple to explain the origins of methodical lagering in the 1800's. I think concurrent developments in transport, mechanical sciences, deployment of capital and industrial growth had to explain as much or more. In the popular histories, the focus usually is on the people, which tends to romanticizing, but there has to be so much more to the story.

This has been shown (IMO) of the traditional porter-origin story, of Ralph Harwood, he cannot account for the whole story in other words.

I find it interesting too that greatness in beer today is mostly associated with top-fermenting brewing. Even in England lager took over, but ales survived. They did not elsewhere (or hardly at all). I think industrial forces/technology largely explains lager's world conquest whereas particular social factors prevented it from happening in England, or to the same degree.


Velky Al said...


I think if you look at the explosion in lager brewing in the second half of the 19th century and then parallel that with what was happening in English brewing at the time there is an interesting thing going on, which may explain why lager brewing didn't take off in England for a time afterward.

Think about the ingredients in the dominant pilsner style lager: water, a very pale malt, hops and yeast; now think about the ingredients in pale ale; water, pale malt, hops and yeast.

With the industrialisation of glassware and consumers wanting to see a bright and sparkling beer rather than something murky and brown, pale ale can almost be regarded as the British cousin of pilsner style lagers, hence it takes longer for lager brewing to really catch on in England, though of course due to the cooler climate, Scotland was making lager before England.

Just a thought really, but intriguing.

Martyn Cornell said...

Velky Al - and some Czech sources, at least, say that the “svetlejsímu”,
pale or blond malt, used at the new brewery in Plzen in 1842 was made using “anglickou technologií” – English technology. So if that's right, Pilsner Urquell was the "original" Anglo-Bavarian brewery!

Ron Pattinson said...

Velky Al, in a few days you'll see one very good reason why British brewers stuck with top fermentation.

But no, not the one about Pale Ale taking off with the introduction of glassware. Or Pale Lager for that matter.

All British beers, with the exception of Porter and Stout, were pale between about 1800 and 1870 or so. When glassware was introduced, many types of British beer got darker, not paler.

The vast majority of bottom-fermenting beer brewed before 1900 was of the dark Munich type. Pale Pilsner beer only really got popular in the 20th century.

Alistair Reece said...


Looking forward it!

I didn't realise that British beers got darker, the received "wisdom" seems to be that when glassware was widely available people wanted lighter, in colour, beers.

Also, I was under the impression that pilsner style lager was hugely popular, at leat on continental Europe, in the latter years of the 20th century - obviously not all lager is pilsner, something people tend to forget I guess. Is there a reliable timeline for the decimation of older beers as they succumbed to Pilsner's relentless march?

Ron Pattinson said...

Velky Al, lager started to spread across Europe in the 1850's. But that was the Munich type.

Pilsner wasn't really brewed in Germany until the 1880's and only then in tiny quantities.

Heineken and Carlsberg both initially brewed dark lager. Dark lager was the most popular style in Munich up until WW II and in Norway until the 1950's.

Everyone seems to assume that as soon as Pilsner was brewed, everyone went crazy for it. Not true at all. Like Pale Ale, it was a posh beer drunk by the better off. And many didn't like the very bitter taste of Pilsner.

One day I may get around to writing a history of Lager. No-one ever seems to have written on the topic even vaguely seriously.

I've several hundred analyses of continental Lagers from the 19th century. I just haven't had time to put them all into a spreadsheet.

Rod said...

"The Czech will tell you that Pilsner Urquell is 100% Czech because it was born in Plzen, despite the fact that the brewer was Bavarian, the techniques he used were Bavarian, the yeast he used was Bavarian and until the early 20th century on Bavarian brewers were employed by the overwhelmingly ethnic German company - other than the ingredients growing in multi-ethnic Bohemia, there really was very little input from Czechs in to their premium brand."

All very true, and let's also not forget that in 1842 Pilsen was in Austria ,where it remained for over half a century more, and where it had been for a very long time.

"One day I may get around to writing a history of Lager" - Ron, that's a book I would buy in a heartbeat, so get on with it!

Velky Al said...

Was the thing about the history of Budweis I sent you any use to you?

Ron Pattinson said...

Velky Al, yes. Very handy. I've just been trying not to get distracted from my main theme of British beer.

Rod said...

Ron - I'm glad you have been getting a bit distracted by Austrian beer, Anton Dreher and early lager history. It's a fascinating theme, relatively unexplored as you say, and with lots of little (and not so little) gaps that need to be filled if possible.
The Pilsner Urquell story alone has interesting questions that I at least don't know the answers to -
Where and/or with whom did Josef Grohl study and acquire his knowledge of bottom fermentation?
Where did his bottom fermenting yeast come from? (Don't give me that story about the monk smuggling it from somewhere)
How and why was the to make a very pale beer made?

The history of Bavarian, Austrian and Austro/Czech brewing, together with random elements like Jacobsen and Carlsberg make a fascinating story and I hope you will continue to mine this rich seam.

Alistair Reece said...


If I remember rightly, Josef Groll was part of a brewing family, his father was a brewer and had a brewery in Vilshofen, which if memory serves, Josef took over after his father's death.

Given that his father had a brewery which was experimenting with bottom fermentation, I wouldn't be overly surprised if Groll brought yeast from his father's operation in Vilshofen. Though the monk smuggling story is so much more fun if true!

Gary Gillman said...

The Pilsner style of beer had a significant influence, together with Munich dunkel beer and Vienna maerzen, on international brewing in the 1800's and drew serious attention in England (and elsewhere) early on. Here in 1878 we see that the Anglo-Bavarian Brewing company, which attempted (as is well known) to brew lager-style beer in England, was issuing (or planned to) four types of lager, including "Pilsen". By the description, one can see that its light colour was appreciated and considered different to the dark Munich style. That this company planned the launch of a local rival to lager beer from Pilsen suggests its influence had spread far and wide only 30 years after its inception.

Charles Graham a few years later gives significant attention to Pilsner beer in his 1882 article considered here a number of times.

That there may be an English antecedent to pilsner malt is very interesting, Ben McFarland also notes a possible connection in his excellent survey (2009), World's Best Beers. I always felt that Pilsner Urquell was much akin to an English bitter ale in quality and stylistically to a point - it would be gratifying if there indeed was a connection.

Graham makes clear in his 1882 article that Urquell wasn't the only well-hopped Continental lager, he refers to "Vienna beer" together with Pilsner beer when referring to the amount of hops you can save, using refrigeration, as compared to English pale ale.

Pilsner beer is a sub-set of the new wave of Continental bottom-fermenting beers in the mid-1800's. All were attracting attention all over, but Pilsner holds a special place in this history in my opinion. In part it is because it was exported very early on (1873), McFarland calls it the first "truly international beer". Also, its light colour and the quality of its hopping from very fine varieties received early notice.

True, it did not become the predominant style in Europe for a time still to come, but it set the stage early on.


Martyn Cornell said...

Here in 1878 we see that the Anglo-Bavarian Brewing company, which attempted (as is well known) to brew lager-style beer in England, was issuing (or planned to) four types of lager, including "Pilsen".

Gary, I would be very interested to see that reference: I have never found any evidence that the Anglo-Bavarian did, or aimed to, make any sort of lager, only lighter styles of English beer.

Gary Gillman said...

Yes, sorry, I meant to link it but must have forgotten. The source is above, see page 81, and actually this is from 1884.

The company, established at Tottenham, is called here Austro-Bavarian, not Anglo-Bavarian (I mis-recollected or was reading too fast) so now I am not sure if the error was The Lancet's or there were two ventures seeking to brew a lager-type beer in England.

But my point is, someone was trying to make a Pilsen-style beer in England circa-1880...


Knut Albert said...

The only present day Dreher beer I've really enjoyed wat the Hungarian Dreher Bock. The sorries of the lot are the Italian discount pilsners!

Gary Gillman said...

Interesting that there is still a beer called Dreher available.

The true name of the Tottenham Road concern seems clearly to have been "Austro-Bavarian Lager Beer Brewery and Crystal Ice Factory". By 1884 it was producing, here is a price list, showing the same 4 beers mentioned in the Lancet piece:

By the early 1900's, it was gone.


Gary Gillman said...

Above is a more complete link to that ad.