Thursday, March 4, 2010

Of beer and revenge

Things I didn't know before reading this article:
  • Louis Pasteur deeply hated the Germans. The Franco-Prussian war interrupted his research; his son contracted typhoid in the French army.
  • Pasteur's hatred of the Germans led him to research yeast and beer, hoping to brew a "beer of revenge" that would displace one of Germany's main exports. [article claims beer was Germany's main export at the time, not sure if that's true]
  • Pasteur's work on yeast and the organisms that infected beer in brewing helped lead to the germ theory of disease.
  • Pasteur toured non-German breweries extensively, showing them how to improve their yeast strains; Carlsberg was a notable beneficiary.
  • Pasteur wrote a book on beer, "Studies on Beer", which he demanded never be published in German. (English online edition here.
  • It's called microbiology rather than bacteriology because Pasteur thought the latter too Teutonic.
  • One claim for which I'd need to see further proof:
    His ‘beer of revenge’ was so successful that to this day, very little German beer is exported, even though some are widely regarded as being among the best in the world. The irony is that the German breweries rendered idle by Pasteur’s strategy were eventually adapted to manufacture acetone for cordite production. So, Pasteur’s vengeance indirectly helped to equip Germany for their attack on France in the First World War.
    I'm pretty sure that German beer is widely exported, and if the proposed causal model is "other beer gets better relative to German", then it's odd that they're still "among the best in the world". Maybe some kind of path dependence model where a temporary technological advantage persists for more than a century, but I wouldn't believe it.
Neat story though.

Hatred of the Germans --> desire to hurt their exports --> beer research to be shared with all non-Germans --> germ theory of disease --> vaccines and good stuff. Not sure I put much weight on it beyond story, but as an esteemed colleague here once said "It doesn't matter if it's true, it's still a great story."

HT: Malthouse.

1 comment:

  1. Thankfully, the Germans export Aventinus:

    http://www.ratebeer.com/beer/schneider-aventinus/2224/

    ReplyDelete

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