P is for Louis Pasteur

This is my contribution to Round Eleven of ABC Wednesday and again I am focusing on people, some famous, some infamous and some half-forgotten.
Louis Pasteur

Louis Pasteur

French chemist and microbiologist Louis Pasteur is best remembered for his germ theory of disease, his vaccines for rabies and anthrax, not to mention the pasteurisation method for treating milk.

But he also made a major contribution to the production of beer and all because of his deep-seated hatred of all things German following the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 which simultaneously interrupted his work and humiliated his country.

Germany’s principal export at the time was beer, so Pasteur set about a plan to destroy their market by developing the world’s best beer in France, a brew he was to dub ‘the beer of revenge’.

Prior to the 1860s, all beers were dark and heavy, like porter and stout, but then the Germans changed this by developing new strains of yeast that fermented the beer from the bottom, rather than floating on the top.

Lager BeerThe yeast also continued to work at very low temperatures and the beer would be  matured in cellars for months, rather than just weeks. This ‘lagering’ produced beers that were pale straw coloured, light in flavour and body and which kept extraordinarily well.

Pasteur’s aim was to perfect this process by eliminating the strains of yeast likely to cause spoilage and by developing new strains that were heat-stable and acted more quickly than the German yeast without affecting the flavour of the final product.

He perfected his commercial brewing methods at the Ecole Normale and then demonstrated his approach to brewers across Europe. Whitbread in England and Carlsberg in Denmark still attribute their success to visits by Pasteur in the 1870s.

Studies on Fermentation

An even greater influence was his book ‘Studies on Fermentation‘, which immediately became the essential brewer’s manual and it was this publication that was to be the ultimate snub to his nation’s enemy because Pasteur positively forbade that it should ever be translated into German.

Pasteur’s strategy was a success and though Germany accounts for more than a quarter of Europe’s beer production, it exports relatively little.

But his plan also backfired on his homeland quite literally. The breweries that Pasteur made idle were adapted to manufacture acetone used in cordite production so he inadvertently helped arm Germany for their attack on France in World War One.

Nobody’s prefect. If you find any spelling mistakes or other errors in this post, please let me know by highlighting the text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

20 comments… Add yours
  • Roger Green 31st October 2012

    hoist by his own acetone!
    ROG, ABC Wednesday team

    Reply
  • Cul-de-Sac Pudding 31st October 2012

    If Pasteur had got sloshed on Tetley’s, he’d not have had the time or inclination to cock a snook at the Germans. The landlord would have been yelling “Wake up Louis! Haven’t you got a home to go to?”

    Reply
    • Mr Parrot 31st October 2012

      The Tetleys were early disciples of Pasteur’s techniques. From Wikipedia: ‘A progressive company, Tetley was quicker to innovate to supply the new pale ales that were becoming popular before the giant London brewers such as Whitbread and Barclay Perkins did so.’

      Reply
      • Cul-de-Sac Pudding 31st October 2012

        Thank heavens you haven’t given me lines as punishment for my stupidity.

        Reply
        • Mr Parrot 31st October 2012

          Then you must write out a thousand time: ‘When it comes to beer nothing beats a pint of Boddingtons.’

          Reply
          • Cul-de-Sac Pudding 31st October 2012

            I humbly request formal expulsion from The Saint Parrots Inner City Academy and shall henceforth pursue my education at Gasworks Secondary Modern down by the canal. Never shall vile Boddingtons pass over these parched lips. I would as sooner drink from a tap room spitoon!

  • Rinkly Rimes 31st October 2012

    What an interesting piece of history. This is what blogging’s all about.

    Reply
  • Francisca 31st October 2012

    I can always count on picking up something to pique my interest and perk me up here, Mr P. Pasteur was positively profound! I must try a pint of Boddington, can’t say I have… is it popular? It certainly looks like a perfectly brewed pub ale and pleasing to the eye! (I googled it.) I personally prefer the dark beers… 🙂

    Reply
    • Mr Parrot 31st October 2012

      Boddingtons is a Manchester beer dating back to 1778 when the Strangeways Brewery was founded just north of the city centre. Its beer was very popular first with the cotton workers and then with the Real Ale fans in more recent years.

      The brewery lost its independence in 1989 when it was sold to Whitbread. The new owners promoted it as ‘The Cream of Manchester’ and it was the biggest selling canned bitter in the UK up until 2000.

      Boddingtons, like Tetleys and other regional beers, have been subject to takeovers by the big brewing conglomerates which now produce the beer elsewhere. Sadly the Strangeways Brewery closed in 2006 and was demolished the following year despite strong local opposition.

      Reply
      • Francisca 1st November 2012

        So do I understand correctly, Mr P, Boddingtons was a nice local micro-brewery that got swallowed by the big players? I could be mistaken, but my impression is that in the USA – where the monster brewers make some yellow piss in a can they dare to call beer – in the past couple of decades there’s been a resurgence of microbreweries, and these, specially those brewing the organic kind, put out some mighty tasty brews. I see the same in Canada.

        Reply
        • Mr Parrot 1st November 2012

          Boddingtons wasn’t a micro-brewery as such, but quite a large concern. However, it was independent. As with many other breweries it had grown and become strong in a regional area, in this case Manchester. The main reason being the cost of transporting beer further afield and how well the beer travelled.

          Brewers in the UK guaranteed their market by buying the pubs, so the landlords were mostly tenants tied to selling their products. This resulted in a lot of brand loyalty, ie some people would only drink in Boddingtons pubs etc.

          Things began to change in the 1970s as the big conglomerates began to swallow up the independents, mostly to secure more outlets for their national brands.

          There were all sorts of monopoly issues with companies owning both production and retail arms of the business, but as far as the likes of Boddingtons were concerned, they held out for a long time before market forces made them sell out.

          Fortunately, some small brewers remain and micro-breweries are filling the gap for quality beers. If you like dark beer and you’re ever in this area, I’d definitely recommend one of our dark milds, especially Thaite’s.

          Reply
          • Francisca 1st November 2012

            I’ll be right over… 🙂

  • Leslie 31st October 2012

    Wow! and I only thought he was famous for pasteurization! Beer lovers must love him! lol

    Leslie
    abcw team

    Reply
  • Wanda 31st October 2012

    I call your ABC Wednesday, my History Channel. Thanks again for inlightenment!

    Reply
    • Mr Parrot 31st October 2012

      Thanks Wanda – you’ve given me something to live up to!

      Reply
  • Lotusleaf 1st November 2012

    A very interesting post.

    Reply
  • Reader Wil 1st November 2012

    Although I am no beerdrinker, I think this a very interesting post!
    Actually anything you post is interesting, like your comment on Halloween. Thanks!

    Reply
  • Trevor Rowley 1st November 2012

    Francisca shows an unusual amount of interest in beer (nowt wrong with that in my book) and Mr P does a fine job at retracing the vibrant history of, arguably, Manchester’s most famous brewery. It’s certainly been “dog eat dog” in the brewery world during the last twenty or thirty years in this part of the north of England. The writing was clearly on the wall in the early 1980s when Boddingtons bought out the Oldham Brewery who were noted for their “OB” Ales and were very much a local brewery with their beers rarely seen outside the Oldham area. If we come full circle, once Boddingtons were bought out, their beers were still being manufactured in all sorts of strange locations like Luton and Holland. The name was still there (as we all still refer to it as a pint of “Boddies”) but the link with Manchester was well and truly over no matter how much we might want to convince ourselves differently. In the meantime, the Whitbread Brewery in Salford has ceased to produce beer as did the Chesters Brewery before that (sold to the Mancunians as “Chester’s Fighting Ales”) as did Wilson’s Brewery (on Oldham Road?) I could go on all night but it would sound like an obituary so let’s call it quits. I’m going up to the bar, anyone fancy a top up?

    Reply
    • Mr Parrot 1st November 2012

      I remember Wilsons well as I worked there for a few years, along with Websters in Halifax. Wilsons was just off Oldham Road on Monsall Lane. There is still a bit of the brewery building to be seen there, although most of it has long gone.

      And I was always a fan of Chester’s Dark Mild which was one of the best beers of its type in my opinion. Cheers!

      Reply
    • Francisca 2nd November 2012

      My interest in beer pales by comparison to my interest in wine, full-bodied red wine… but let’s not go there… LOL! Seriously, what’s happened to the beer industry in your parts is a sad micro study of what has happened to so many – if not all – consumer industries in western countries, especially N.A. Over the past decade or so, the Big Boxes went around like Pacman, gobbling up all the independents (although mostly by just killing product categories through price warfare) and basically gutted the smaller privately-held retailers, mom-n-pop stores. Consumers are the biggest losers, as their choices have been limited to homogenized products, all same, same. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the tentative signs of a resurgence in providing creative, unique, special products grows… whether that be micro-brewery beer, small-house fashion, one-of-a-kind decor… and so on. So Trevor, did that top up support a local business? 🙂

      Reply

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