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A refreshing looking glass of lager.	Source: Anastasiia/Adobe Stock

Study Shows How A Duke’s Jealousy Birthed Lager In 1602


Scientists scoured through old brewing documents searching for the origins of lager yeast. They discovered it was created in 1602 AD, when a jealous duke raided a brewery, after its childless owner's death.

Previous research had determined that lager was born after two types of yeast were mixed, but when this occurred, and why, has always been a brewing mystery. But now, a new study published in the journal “FEMS Yeast Research” claims the city of Munich, in the southern part of Germany, in the state of Bavaria, was “the official birthplace of lager in 1602 AD”.

The team of scientists discovered evidence suggesting lager was actually created “by chance.” Their study shows how a bottom-feeding yeast type, that was used in Bavaria since the 14th century, “was inadvertently mixed” with Bohemian top-feeding wheat beer yeast. And the story the scientists give surrounding this accidental mixing of yeasts, tells of a powerful duke’s jealousy of a master brewer.

Pilsner-style lager. (John Morrissey/ FEMS Yeast Research)

Pilsner-style lager. (John Morrissey/ FEMS Yeast Research)

The Ancient Origins of Lager

Any story claiming to have found the “origins” of lager or beer stands upon the discovery of “13,000-year-old wheat-and-barley-based alcohol (beer)” in a prehistoric burial cave near Haifa, in modern-day Israel. A 2014 “New York Times” article titled “ How Beer Gave Us Civilization” said this discovery suggests the consumption of alcohol “predated agriculture,” and that it was perhaps a thirst for suds that inspired agriculture, if not civilization.

In an Ancient Origins news article last year I wrote about another team of scientists claiming the “official starting point of lager brewing” was in the Weihenstephan Abbey (Kloster Weihenstephan) Benedictine monastery in Weihenstephan, in Bavaria. The “Brauerei Weihenstephan” has operated at this monastery since at least 1040 AD, and is considered the oldest wheat beer manufacturer in the world. Therefore, this latest paper presents what can be called the origins of “modern” lager, as we know it today.

Tracking The Origins of Modern Lager

Prof John Morrissey, a yeast evolution expert at University College Cork, told The Telegraph that lager yeast developed in three stages. The yeast strain ‘Saccharomyces cerevisiae’ was taken from Bohemia to Munich, and in 1602 AD it mixed with the ‘Saccharomyces eubayanus’ to make ‘Saccharomyces pastorianus,’ which produced brown ale.

Even though 16th century laws stated that all Bavarian brewers must use bottom fermenting yeast, Hans VI von Degenberg was granted special permission to set up a wheat beer brewery in the small border town of Schwarzach, Bavaria. According to lead author of the new research, Mathias Hutzler, when Von Degenberg's grandson died without an heir in 1602 AD the brewery was seized by Maximilian the Great, Duke of Bavaria, who later became Prince-Elector of the Holy Roman Empire. The researchers said, “the duke was jealous of the economic success that the von Degenberg's had with their wheat beer.”

Bottle of light Hofbräu Munchner Weiss Beer and a full glass. Court brewery of the Bavarian dukes, founded on September 27, 1589 by Duke William V the Pious in Munich. (Sergey Chayko/Adobe Stock)

Bottle of light Hofbräu Munchner Weiss Beer and a full glass. Court brewery of the Bavarian dukes, founded on September 27, 1589 by Duke William V the Pious in Munich. (Sergey Chayko/Adobe Stock)

Cross-Contaminating Created Fun-Bubbles

The new research determines that yeast was transported from Schwarzach in Bavaria, to Maximilian’s court brewery in Hofbräühaus, in Munich. Over the next five years the duke's brewery manufactured both bottom fermented brown ale and top fermented wheat beer. It was at this time the two yeasts were mixed, resulting in Saccharomyces pastorianus, and the birth of modern lager.

Prof. Hutzler added that “a certain irony” exists in that the inability of Hans VIII von Degenberg to produce a son triggered the events that led to the creation of lager yeast. He added that as one lineage died out, another began. “No heir, but what a legacy he left for the world”!

The researchers wrote that this crossing of yeasts in Munich, in 1601 AD, led to the extraction and isolation of Saccharomyces pastorianus in 1847, by J.C. Jacobsen, who founded the Carlsberg brewery in Copenhagen, Denmark. So, while “Carlsberg Lager” is renowned as the world’s first “lager beer,” it has an origin story based on a duke’s jealousy of a master brewer in 1602 AD.

Top image: A refreshing looking glass of lager. Source: Anastasiia/Adobe Stock

By Ashley Cowie



Pete Wagner's picture

That’s bogus.  All ancient aboriginal brewers would just ‘pitch’ the yeast.  Pitch was pine cones, which carried the natural airborne yeasts that delivered what they delivered, based on what you put in the wort pot.  You knew to throw in some hops vines to keep it smelling good.  But then gov’t and money stepped in.  Later labs stepped in to have fun giving names to certain strains, collecting and selling them.

Nobody gets paid to tell the truth.

ashley cowie's picture


Ashley is a Scottish historian, author, and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems in accessible and exciting ways.

He was raised in Wick, a small fishing village in the county of Caithness on the north east coast of... Read More

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