Friday, July 04, 2014

Beer Blogging Friday. The Session #89: Why Beer History?

The Session #89 - Beer in History The Session is a monthly event for the beer blogging community, begun in March of 2007 by Stan Hieronymus of Appellation Beer and Jay Brooks of the Brookston Beer Bulletin.

On the first Friday of every month, a pre-determined beer blogger hosts The Session: Beer Blogging Friday. He or she chooses a specific, beer-related topic, invites all bloggers to write on it, and later posts a roundup of all the responses received. For more information, view the archive page.

Bill Kostkas —at the blog Pittsburgh Beer Snob— was the host of the 89th iteration of The Session. For July 2014, his topic was "Beer in History"
I love history. There's just something about it. It's fun. It's interesting. It even gives me goosebumps. So, I only saw it to be fitting that I choose the topic of Beer in History. <...>

At many points in history you can look back and find alcohol intertwined. A lot of times that form of alcohol is beer. Beer is something that connects us with the past, our forefathers as well as some of our ancestors. I want this topic to be a really open-ended one. So, it should be fairly easy to come up with something and participate.<...>

Friday July 4 is the date I will look forward to reading all of your posts on the topic of Beer in History.


Beer in history; beer and history. What better person to address those topics than a historian herself, a historian of beer? Which is why I asked Baltimore, Maryland, historian Maureen O'Prey 1 —author of Brewing in Baltimore— to offer her thoughts on this 4th of July Beer Blogging Friday. She graciously accepted.

Why Beer History?

Asking why beer holds such a place of import to humans seems rhetorical, but it most certainly is not.

For millennia, beer has woven its way through the tapestry of civilization from ancient Egypt to America. Beer has long been a staple of the diet, whether used as a nutritional supplement when grain was lacking or compromised, as a curative treatment, or often in place of water that was almost always tainted. Historically, people don’t consume something for nutritional value alone; it must also possess a component of flavor, or at least something pleasurable to the palate, which beer provides. The brewing of beer has witnessed various incarnations over time, but the fundamentals remained the same, even when styles changed.

The reason beer has such great significance to humanity has as much to do with the brewers as it does the countless benefits beer offers. Brewing was a fixture of home life from the ancient world to the middle ages, and the duties usually fell to the wife.

A notable example was Katerina Von Bora, wife of Martin Luther. Her brewing prowess was known throughout Wittenberg, and her brews were some of the most sought after. The mother of the Reformation had an impact due not only to her brewing ability, but her care for the infirmed. Her recipe, a closely guarded secret, is held by the one brewery that still produces her beer 500 years later. 2

As the shift from home brewing to industrial brewing took hold in Europe, America followed suit. By the early 19th century, a smattering of industrial breweries had been established, many by German brewers who immigrated for greater freedoms and opportunities. Some founded entire towns, pivotal agents fomenting the growth of their communities. Brewery owners and their employees lived, worked, played, and worshiped together.

Gunther Brewry advertisement: Baltimore, Maryland, 1877
Gunther Brewery, 1877 3

Many founded the earliest churches, like the Barnitz family that emigrated from Falkenstein, Germany to Baltimore. John Leonard Barnitz established Baltimore’s first brewery and built Zion Lutheran Church, affectionately known as the ‘Brewer’s Church’ where myriad brewers worshiped for more than 250 years. Barnitz’s great grandson Michael would help found the town and city of Westminster, Maryland, as a brewer, a judge, and the founder of a preparatory school. There are countless examples of brewers developing the communities they brewed within. It was more than building an economy; it was a partnership intertwining the fortunes of the breweries and the towns they served.

As a historian, my mandate is to unearth the accounts of these brewers and share them with the world. Every brewer’s story should be documented, however grand, or seemingly inconsequential.

Today, breweries are just as vital to the neighborhoods they operate in as their predecessors were. Many modern brewers not only help grow the economy, they engage in philanthropic endeavors, from oyster recovery to supporting veterans, fostering a sense of ownership in their communities. Their legacies should be recorded and preserved for the future so all may know their contributions.

  • 1 "Maureen O’Prey is a practicing historian in Baltimore, Maryland. O’Prey holds a Master’s Degree in Historical Studies from University of Maryland Baltimore Campus (UMBC). She has been teaching history at the collegiate level in Baltimore since 2004. She is active in the historical community with local museums and historical societies, organizing history programs and events, and as a historical lecturer throughout the state. In addition, O’Prey works fervently within the community documenting and compiling individual histories so they are not lost to future generations.

    O'Prey from a screenshot of Brewmore Baltimore

    O’Prey has completed extensive research on the history of the brewing industry in Baltimore and throughout Maryland. The research has translated into her publication “Brewing in Baltimore”, which highlights the history of the first industry in the city and county of Baltimore, and in a recent historical documentary movie “Brewmore Baltimore”, where she provides the historical framework for the film’s narrative journey through the brewing industry in Baltimore.

    Currently, O’Prey is writing her next work examining the history of brewing in the state of Maryland, from its humble and rustic origins, to the modern era of craft brewing. Her interest in the origins and history of brewing was piqued by the resurgence of craft brewing in Maryland and the nation. This passionate line of study into the history of Maryland beer married beautifully with the abundant yet heretofore hidden photographic and documentary evidence she painstakingly unearthed, revealing a critical aspect of Mid Atlantic economic and social history."
  • Follow O'Prey on Twitter @BrewBalt; on Facebook at Brewing in Baltimore.

  • 2 Katharinenbier is available at the Museum of Luther, in Wittenberg, Germany, at the Lutherstadt Wittenberg Hotel/Restaurant, produced by the 14th generation brewer, a direct descendant of Katharina von Bora.
  • 3 The illustration above is a print advertisment, from 1877, for the Gunther Brewery, which operated in Baltimore, Maryland, from the 1870s until Prohibition, and thereafter until the 1960s.
  • What everyone wrote: the roundup of posts for The Session #89: here.

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