|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.|
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.
The 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.
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 then accounted for more than a quarter of Europe’s beer production, it exported relatively little.
But his plan also backfired on his homeland quite literally. The breweries that Pasteur had 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.