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Well, who exactly did invent it then?

Quite recently, I came across something sheer incredible on the internet. Believe it or not, I read that wheat beer did not originally come from Bavaria. Excuse me, say that again!? Yes, I read the Bavarians’ cult symbol had actually been invented somewhere else, in Hamburg to be precise, where the first wheat beer was brewed way back in the 13th century, in a period that was in the south of Germany still heavily influenced by the Roman Empire, so people gulped down huge quantities of wine rather than drinking beer.

How does the saying go? You live and learn. But this has prompted me to wonder what I can still believe at all of my knowledge regarding beer styles. Therefore I embarked on a research tour, going back to the roots of a few well-known beer styles, and subjected some allegedly obvious beer-style origins to renewed scrutiny. Does pilsner beer really come from Pilsen? And what has IPA got to do with India? Read on, and you will find a brief history lesson that will definitely let you outshine your companions with some fun facts at the next beer tasting.

Does pilsner beer come from Pilsen?

Well, it’s true, that the first pilsner beer was in actual fact brewed in Pilsen. By a German, mind you! You see, in 1838 the Pilsen brewery most definitely needed some new style of beer – they’d had quite enough of dark, top-fermented beer and also wanted to brew here in Pilsen a lager, a beer type that had already found widespread acceptance in Bavaria. Josef Groll from Vilshofen in Lower Bavaria was chosen to try out a new brew. So this was how the first pilsner beer came into being: using a low-fermenting yeast Josef Groll brought with him, a pale barley malt developed in England, Saaz hops and Pilsen’s remarkably soft water. This pilsner beer was for the first time served on 11 November 1838, and was to evolve later on into the world’s most popular beer style.

Does Kölsch come from Cologne?

Yes. Or at least from the Cologne region. Kölsch initially stemmed from Keutebier (hopped beer) that was brewed from the High Middle Ages right through to the Renaissance, then from the Kölner Wieß (Cologne’s ‘white’) frequently brewed in the 19th century. So shortly before the end of the First World War Kölsch was brewed on this basis. In the meantime, the name has been a protected designation of origin throughout Europe. This means that only breweries from Cologne, and individual breweries from the surrounding region that had already been brewing Kölsch before the relevant law came into force, are permitted to sell their Kölsch as ‘Kölsch’. It would here even be prohibited to call it Kölsch if it doesn’t come from Cologne – so this clarifies the above question.

Does IPA come from India?

I have to admit it: before I became involved in the craft beer scene thanks to Krones, I used to think IPA stands for IndiaN Pale Ale. But that was wrong since the ‘India’ in India Pale Ale is not in fact a designation of origin. You see, the first IPA was brewed in the United Kingdom around 200 years ago, and its connection with India is based on a disputed legend, which says that this beer – so characteristic for the ongoing craft beer scene – was brewed for the British armed forces stationed in India, so had to be shipped from the UK to this country. This explains the huge amounts of hops and alcohol it contains that were originally intended to keep the beer stable and fresh over its long journey. But how much truth there is in this legend remains questionable – because it could very well be that the British just liked the brew, which was why it became so popular.

Does Münchner Helles (Munich-style Helles) come from Munich?

Yes, it actually does. But here, too, it’s quite interesting to take a look behind the scenes: during the 19th century, pilsner beer, a pale bottom-fermented lager, conquered Europe while Munich’s beer world was for the time being still dominated by dark beer. It goes without saying, though, that Munich’s brewers also wanted to jump on the pale-lager bandwagon – in best case with their own brew. And so it came to pass that the Munich-based Spaten Brewery brewed the first ‘Helles’ in the late 19th century. It had actually already reached market maturity at that time but to avoid a flop, the beer was first sent to the citizens of Hamburg to try it. Hamburg’s beer-drinkers liked it, and so this beer was also served in the city where it was born one year later.

What do we learn from all of this? The people from Munich and Hamburg have more in common than they probably ever thought. Well, and perhaps that it’s sometimes worthwhile to get to the bottom of allegedly obvious beer facts. But I’m sure there’s more of them than the few I’ve mentioned today. Do you know of some more beer facts? Then please write them down in the comments!

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