Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Brewing in Denmark in WW I (part three)

Now the end is near, and the curtain is about to fall on Danish brewing during WW I. I hope you've enjoyed the series as much as I have. You can never learn too much about WW I.

I've been promising you something about Danish beer styles and here you are. First the sad tale of a discontinued style:

"The brewing  of the stronger "Lager beer" was stopped in Feb., 1918, and export trade brought to a complete standstill, and despite the renewed freedom of the seas, freights still prevent more than a partial resumption."
Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Volume 27, Issue 1, January 1921, page 27.
What was that lost Lager beer like? According to the table we saw earlier, it had a gravity of 1052º in 1914, while Pilsner was 1044º. Here's a little more description of  the style:

"Bottled beers during recent years have been mainly of two types "Pilsener," a pale beer, and "Lager," a darker and rather stronger beer. The Lager is no longer brewed on account of the restrictions on gravity, and alcohol, and with the exception of old stocks which at the time of writing are approaching exhaustion, the only bottled beer in consumption in Denmark is of a gravity of 1038 or less. At the Carlsberg and Tuborg breweries the 1038 beers are of the Pilsener type, sparkling and palatable light beers, but not equal in point of flavour or character to their pre-war prototypes of 11° Balling or 1044º. At the smaller breweries at other places darker beers of the same maximum gravity are brewed. The old top fermentation beers peculiar to the country are being gradually displaced by these finer bottom fermentation beers, and of late the national beverage Schnapps is also being ousted by bottled Pilsener on account of its greatly enhanced price."
Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Volume 27, Issue 1, January 1921, page 27.
How dark was "rather darker"? Probably not properly dark, as there was also Munich beer at 1056º. That would have been properly dark. As in most countries where Lager took off early, the first bottom-fermenting brews were in the dark Munich style. When I first visited Copenhagen in the 1980's, both Tuborg and Carlsberg had beers sort of in the Munich style. I suspect this Lager beer was still pale, but a rather more golden shade than the Pilsner.

The author clearly views the 1038º Plisner as inferior to the stronger version. Though the drop in gravity is tiny compared to that in Britain. Mild had its gravity halved between 1914 and 1919. And never got back to its pre-war level. Whitbread's for example, that had been 1055º in 1914, was only 1042º in the 1920's. Whereas in Denmark Pilsner went back to its pre-war strength:

Danish Pilsener in the 1930's
Year Brewer Beer package Acidity OG FG colour ABV App. Atten-uation
1936 Carlsberg Pilsner bottled 0.06 1044.8 1011.1 4.38 75.22%
1939 Carlsberg Pilsenser bottled 0.04 1044.5 1009.9 9 4.50 77.75%
1934 Tuborg Pilsenser bottled 0.06 1044.7 1013.4 4.05 70.02%
1939 Tuborg Pilsenser bottled 0.04 1044.6 1011.5 8 4.30 74.22%
Whitbread Gravity book held at the London Metropolitan Archives, document number LMA/4453/D/02/001

Interesting that the smaller breweries made a dark beer at the maximum gravity of 1038º. Was that a sort of Munich Lager? According to the table we saw earlier, proper Munich beer disappeared in 1917.

Unsurprisingly, top-fermenting beers were under pressure from the fancy new, industrially-brewed Lagers. I guess he means low-gravity things like Hvidtøl and Skibsøl. The tradition never totally died out and Refsvindinge still brews a top-fermenting Hvidtøl.It's a shame the author didn't write a little more about these.

I've just noticed something that doesn't tally. The author says that a maximum gravity of 1038º was introduced in 1918, but the table of beer gravities shows Stout at 1055º in 1918 and 1056º in 1919. Bit of a mystery, that one.

The proportion of bottled to draught beer was a big difference between the British and Danish brewing industries.
"Despite all these difficulties, increased prices, and lower gravities, the trade has recently gone ahead until the breweries are entirely unable to cope with the demands. Table II shows the strides made at the Carlsberg Brewery alone, and the increases are paralleled by those at the Tuborg Brewery.

Table II.

Beer Sales (Carlsberg Brewery) in Barrels.

Bottled. Cask. Total.
1914-15 250,300 19,200 269,500
1915-16 270,100 19,200 289,800
1916-17 281,300 40,000*  321,300
1917-18 182,000 13,900 195,900
1918-19 254,800 17,600 272,400
1919-20 406,400 21,400 427,800
* Including 25,000 hectl. Pilsener at 18 Balling exported to Germany.      

It will be noticed that whereas before the war the proportion of bottled beer to cask was as 14 to 1, it is now 20 to 1, a most remarkable development."
Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Volume 27, Issue 1, January 1921, pages 27 - 28.
25,000 hl of Pilsner at 18 Balling sent to Germany? A beer of  that strength isn't a Pilsner, it's a Doppelbock with an ABV north of 7%. It seems really odd to have exported a beer that strong to Germany in the middle of the war. By that time the stuff brewed in Germany was pretty watery. In 1916, gravities were typically in the range 8-8.5º Balling**.

During the war bottled beer, already wildly popular, strengthened its hold on the market. By the end of the war it accounted for 95% of sales. I'd be failing my duty if I didn't come up with similar figures for a British brewery. And guess what? I have just the numbers:

Whitbread Draught and Bottled sales 1901 – 1919
total draught Bottling Burton
Year barrels % barrels % barrels % Total
1914 418,402 49.38% 427,455 50.45% 1,415 0.17% 847,272
1915 374,682 51.79% 347,489 48.03% 1,253 0.17% 723,424
1916 359,215 48.44% 381,397 51.43% 980 0.13% 741,592
1917 281,549 50.15% 278,976 49.69% 924 0.16% 561,449
1918 246,665 63.10% 143,902 36.81% 367 0.09% 390,934
1919 369,845 69.08% 165,000 30.82% 527 0.10% 535,372
1920 400,605 57.14% 298,873 42.63% 1,660 0.24% 701,138
Whitbread archive document number LMA/4453/D/02/16
Year ending July

I'm not sure what the Burton column refers to but, as it concerns tiny amounts of beer, I don't think we need to worry about that.

I'm truly staggered that just over half of Whitbread's sales were in bottled format in 1914. I'd have guessed a much lower percentage. But the fall in the share of bottled during the war is exactly what I'd expect. Bottled beer takes more resources and energy to produce compared to draught beer. Which makes the increase at Carlsberg even more striking.

I did intend to finish my look at Danish wartime brewing here. But there's still some stuff I haven't covered. Looks like there will be one more instalment.

** Bayerisches Brauer-Journal 1919, page 249.


Bryan the Beerviking said...

My guess is the Lager would have been an amber Vienna at 5%-ish, rather than a Munich - some Danish breweries still do a Vienna, often labelled "Classic" or somesuch.

Refsvendinge still does Skibsøl, I've a couple of bottles in the cellar. But it also does a stack more these days, including porters, stouts and the fairly widely distributed (I can even get it in Germany!) No.16 Ale.

Lars Marius Garshol said...

I'm kind of disappointed now. I was hoping for more of an idea of how the traditional beer styles were doing at this time. Such as skibsøl, hvidtøl, and others.

You don't happen to have information on that somewhere else?

Fisker said...

I assume the lager must be something like Rød Tuborg. According to Carlsbergs homepage, it dates back to 1875 and is still brewed to the same recipe as back then. These days, however, it's a seasonal beer, only being distributed in May.

Ron Pattinson said...


I don't think I do.

I was disappointed, too, that the article concentrated solely on bottom-fermenting beers.

Ron Pattinson said...


yes, something like Rød Tuborg. The label image I've used was the Carlsberg equivalent. First time I visited Copenhagen, both were still regular products.

I don't eblieve for a minute that it's brewed to the same recipe as in 1875. No beer is.

Anonymous said...

I recall reading this article in a brewing publication about Danish hvidtöl and its history which I thought was rather interesting.

Lars Marius Garshol said...

Anonymous: Thanks a lot for that! Have put the article aside for proper reading later.