Sunday, 17 May 2009

Brewing in Prague in the 1830's

You guessed it. I'm still working my way through David Booth's "The Art of Brewing" The section on continental brewing really is fascinating. It's taught me loads. Assuming it's accurate, of course.

Today it's the turn of Prague. I remember reading years ago in a piece by, I think, Michael Jackson, that the dark beer of Prague had been top-fermented until the 1890's. Don't know how true that is. But it's no surprise that 60 years earlier, a decade before the first Pilsener was brewed, that Prague beer was top-fermented. What did come as more of a surprise was that they employed a decoction mash. I'd always assumed that was something else Groll The first brewer at Pilsner Urquell) brought with him from Bavaria. Assumptions. What dangerous things they are. I should have learned by now never to assume anything.

The lagering in ice cellars. That was a surprise, too. Prague beer was made by a strange hybrid of top- and bottom-fermentation brewing techniques. A bit like Alt, I suppose. Yet another oddity I'm sure someone will try to recreate sometime.


The city of Prague has been famed for its breweries from time immemorial. These constitute the chief support of a great proportion of its inhabitants; and the beer, next to that of Bavaria, is accounted to be the best in Germany. The mode of brewing is very similar to that which is practised at Munich, except in the fermentation, which is of the opposite kind. The Brewers in the city draw one hundred gallons of beer from the quarter of malt, while those of the suburbs make ten to twelve gallons more; and, notwithstanding, the beer of the latter has a more agreeable taste than that of the former. The mash-tun and the copper are each square, or nearly so, like those at Munich; and the following is the general mode of manipulation : —

The liquor being first boiled in the copper, a certain quantity is let down into the mash-tun, where it stands until it is cooled down to 115 degrees. Others think it sufficiently low at 117 or even at' 122 degrees; and some add cold water, to accelerate the cooling. When judged at the proper heat, 14.2 quarters of ground malt are put into the tun; and immediately the mashing commences, which is continued nearly an hour. During the mashing, as much boiling liquor is turned on from the copper as raises the heat of the mash to 138 degrees with some brewers, and from 142 to 147 degrees with others.

Instantly after mashing, the copper, being emptied, is filled, with goods from the mash-tun; of which, it being so small as to contain only about one half, the remainder is allowed to stand in the tun. As soon as the goods in the copper begin to boil, they are returned upon the mash-tun, and well mixed, raising the tun to the heat of 153 or 154 degrees.

After this second mash, they proceed, in the same way, to fill the copper again with goods ; which when brought to the boiling heat, are also turned over upon the goods in the tun to be again mashed, which third mashing leaves the goods in the tun at the heat of 165 degrees. The copper is now charged with goods for the last time, allowed to boil for a quarter of an hour, and turned on and mashed as before. The heat of the tun is now 176 degrees.

The goods are now allowed to stand an hour; and the copper is charged with liquor, part of which is used in washing casks and other utensils. The tap-tree (which passes through the false, and plugs a hole in the real, bottom) is then loosened, and the wort is allowed to run, what we should call full cock, into the under-back, for the purpose of getting out any goods that may have found their way between the bottoms. After the worts begin to run pure, the tap is again shut, and the thick worts that have been drawn off are carried to the copper, and added to a portion of liquor which the copper had been allowed to retain. When this mixture has boiled for a quarter of an hour, it is turned upon the goods still standing in the mash-tun; but, in doing so, great care is taken that the goods be not stirred, lest they should be rendered turbid. By this new addition, the heat at the fluid surface of the mash-tun, for the under part is not disturbed, is increased to 183 degrees.

A small quantity of worts, about two-thirds of a barrel, the remnant of the runnings above mentioned, stands in the under-back. This is now put into the emptied copper, along with 35 pounds of good hops. When these hops have boiled, in this small portion of worts, for three quarters of an hour, half of them are taken out, and set aside for the second copper of worts; the remaining half being left for the first: for the copper is so small, that it cannot boil more than half of the worts standing in the mash-tun.

The worts are now drained from the tun ; and the first and second copper being boiled, each an hour, are taken to the coolers. When the second copper is cast, liquor is again heated, and turned, boiling, over the goods, without mashing. After draining from the mash-tun, this sparge is boiled, along with the hops of the two preceding worts, for an hour and a half, and then cast into a separate cooler. Another sparge is sometimes put on the goods, which is made into vinegar.

After being cooled down to 68 degrees (in some breweries only to 72), all the three worts are mixed together in a large gyle-tun, with 24 pounds of good yeast. Immediately after the addition of the yeast, the whole, being thoroughly roused, is drawn off into separate casks, each containing about 48 gallons, in which the wort ferments, and throws out yeast from the bung-holes. This tumultuary fermentation continues three or four days; and in three or four days more it becomes bright, and fitted for removal to the store-cellars of the retailers.

The beer-vaults of Prague, of which every publican Las one, are of the very best kind. The floor of each is covered with a deep mass of ice, which never melts; and upon this mass the beer is placed, when received from the brewer. After it has lain from four to six weeks on its icy bed, it is fit for drinking, and is served out to the customers in that chilly state."
"The Art of Brewing", by David Booth, 1834, Part III pages 31-33.

There's loads more of this stuff in case you think I'm nearly done. Hope. That would probably have been a more accurate verb to use than think.


Pivní Filosof said...

Amazing stuff!!!
There are still many hospody in Prague that have rather large cellars with much cooler temperatures that at street level. I've always assumed that such was the temperature beers was dispensed back then, you know, the 7th step thing. This is a lot more interesting and fun, though.

Gary Gillman said...

Some information from a recent business history which suggests that Booth's information on Continental brewing methods was sound (see pp.189-190):,M1