Tag Archives: saaz

About Saazer Genossenschaftsbrauerei

As some of you may have noticed on my Twitter account, I am currently researching for a book about historic and contemporary Vienna Lager. As with my previous book, I want to lay out the history of the style as detailed as possible, and accompany it with historic recipes and authentic brewing instructions. On top of that, I want to describe how “modern” Vienna lager came to be as part of the craft beer revolution, and what the current state of the beer style is.

Why am I doing this? Because I think that, compared to the popularity of the style, very little is known is about the beer’s history, and in addition, a lot of misinformation and myths have been spread which I try to clear up and reset the narrative.

As part of my historic research, I stumbled upon several references of “Anton Dreher’s Export-Brauerei” in Saaz/Žatec, a city best known for the local hop variety grown in and around it. I found this strange, because historic sources talk about only four brewery locations that were bought and run by Anton Dreher father and son: the main brewery in Klein-Schwechat just outside of Vienna, a brewery in Steinbruch/Kőbánya near Pest (nowadays Budapest), a brewery and hop garden in Michelob/Měcholupy just outside Saaz/Žatec, and a brewery in Trieste, but none of them mention a fifth brewry directly in Saaz. So of course I had to find out more about this brewery.

The first traces of the brewery can be found in newspaper articles mentioning its foundation on either 23 or 25 May, 1898, under the name “Saazer Genossenschaftsbrauerei”, literally “Saaz cooperative brewery”, allegedly by a syndicate that had managed to raise 3 million Crowns, the equivalent of over 42 million Euros nowadays.

The building works took several years, and only in January 1902 the brewery was able to announce that they would start operations in spring of the same year. Already later that year, ads can be found of their beer named “Urstoff” (lit. “original stuff”).

The other brewery from Saaz/Žatec, Bürgerliches Brauhaus (burgher brewhouse) Saaz, was not happy about it, went to court, and obtained judgement prohibiting Genossenschaftsbrauerei from using the name “Urstoff” altogether, and instead earning the right to the “Saazer Urstoff” brand exclusively for Bürgerliches Brauhaus. The court decided that the name “Urstoff” was consumer deception, probably because it insinuated that it was the “original” beer from Saaz, especially since Bürgerliches Brauhaus had been around since 1801, while Genossenschaftsbrauerei had been founded very recently at that time.

In 1903, Genossenschaftsbrauerei went one step further and made the “Urstoff” part of the company name: “Saazer Genossenschaftsbrauerei” was renamed to “Urstoff-Genossenschaftsbrauerei in Saaz”. Bürgerliches Brauhaus complained about this as well, and saw this as an attempt to circumvent the court’s verdict, which was again confirmed by court.

When looking not at trademark court cases but at beer production volume, Genossenschaftsbrauerei was doing quite well for such a young brewery: in 1903/1904, the brewery produced 85000 hectolitres. This was relatively miniscule compared to the amounts other Austrian breweries around that time period were brewing (Klein-Schwechat 1896/97: 770536 hl, Bürgerliches Brauhaus Pilsen 1904: 808000 hl).

In 1905, the legal troubles came to an end, when it was finally decided by the Austrian trade ministry that the “Urstoff” brand registered by Genossenschaftsbrauerei had to be deleted.

In 1914 then, the brewery was converted from a cooperative to a limited liability company (GmbH) named “Exportbrauerei GmbH in Saaz”, with a nominal capital of 1,029,000 Crown, about 5.7 million Euros in today’s money.

During World War I, the Austrian government apparently regulated beer exports, and Exportbrauerei was a complainant about this: the regulation apparently based on OG of the beers, and assumed an average of 11% which – according to Exportbrauerei – severely disadvantaged breweries only brewing 12% beers but no 10% beers, and suggested to instead determine an actual average OG per brewery. It is not known what came of this, but it does tell us one thing about the food economy in Austria-Hungary during the World War: at least in 1916, enough grains must have still been available to brew full-strength beers.

After the breakup of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, Exportbrauerei was located in newly founded Czechoslovakia, and of course operated like before. It was not exactly a big player in the export business, though: Bürgerliches Brauhaus Pilsen, by then also known as “Pilsner Urquell”, was responsible for 209000 hl beer export in 1929. The total beer exports of all of Czechoslavakia in the same year were 271000 hl, but Exportbrauerei Saaz was responsible for only 5000 hl of those.

One blog claims that Exportbrauerei was renamed to “Anton Dreher’s Exportbrauerei” in 1926, but interestingly, I haven’t really been able to find any other sources about it. In any case this is an interesting year, because at that time, the Dreher family was not really involved with the Austrian brewing business anymore: Anton Dreher Jr. had died in 1921, his son Anton Eugen Dreher died at the age of 54 in 1925, his son Theodor had died in 1914 in a car accident, and his son Eugen had moved to Budapest and sold off his stocks. The inheritance went to Anton Eugen’s daughter Katharina “Kitty” Wünschek-Dreher.

Exportbrauerei Saaz nowadays (photo by SchiDD, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)

I have not been able to find out who had the idea to give Exportbrauerei Anton Dreher’s name, and more importantly, why, as there is no discernible direct connection between Anton Dreher, who made Klein-Schwechater brewery big and pale lager beer famous around the world, and this medium-sized Bohemian brewery. This is also the reason why I decided to tell the story of “Anton Dreher’s Exportbrauerei” in my blog instead of my upcoming book, as it does not touch the history of Vienna Lager itself.

Hops used in Vienna Lager

Two  years ago, I did some research to put together a recipe that was meant to closely match what a Vienna lager in the 19th century would have looked and tasted like.

About a year ago, I also discussed the state of Austrian hops and how the hop growing industry had changed over time. In that article, I mentioned that Kleinschwechater Brauerei used to own land in Michelob in Bohemia, close to Saaz, where the brewery grew barley and hops. Due to the geographical closeness, I made the point that most likely Saaz hops or a very closely related landrace would have been grown there.  But so far, I did not have any conclusive proof that Kleinschwechater (later Schwechater) Brauerei indeed brewed with Saaz hops.

That changed a bit when I visited the Schultze-Berndt library located at VLB and curated by the Gesellschaft für Geschichte des Brauwesens (society for the history of brewing technology) a few weeks. When doing some research for my English-language book on homebrewing historic beer styles, I stumbled upon a Festschrift regarding 100 years of brewing Vienna lager, aptly named “Schwechater Lager”. While not having that much content, it still had some bits and pieces that gave away some information, including the beautiful water colour illustrations.

One image in particular contained something very interesting: pictures of huge stacks of hop bales. 

These hop bales clearly show the marking “SAAZ”. Assuming that this picture accurately shows the hop storage facilities at Schwechater brewery, we now have a direct connection showing that Schwechater has been using Saaz hops. The text around it mentions that the brewery has been covering their demand using hops from Saaz, and praises Saaz as one of the best hop growing regions in the world. Unfortunately, no time frames are mentioned, so while all this information was certainly true for their brewing in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s, we cannot yet make the direct connection that Vienna lager in the 19th century must have used Saaz hops.

So let’s go a bit further, into the less colourful but more number-laden territory of raw statistics. In 1891 (that’s the earliest that I could find), Bohemia had 10317 hectares of hop growing land, producing an annual output of 77540 Zentner (1 Zentner = 50 kg in Germany, therefore 3877 tons). At that time, the total hop growing area of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy was 14850.5 hectares (divided into the regions of Bohemia, Galicia, Styria, Upper Austria, Moravia and Carinthia), and the total annual output was 117534 Zentner (5876 tons). So for the whole of the monarchy, Bohemia produced almost 66 % of all its hops, on almost 70 % of its acreage allocated to hop growing.

This trend of Bohemia being the dominant hop grower within the monarchy continued in the years after as late as 1918, and Bohemia’s dominance even grew larger as other hop growing areas declined further: in 1913, Bohemia’s hop output was 73.8 % of the monarchy’s total output, with 75.8 % of the total hop acreage, while in 1914 it was a staggering 87.7 % (85.2 % of the total hop acreage). The stark increase in share in 1914 is due to a complete failure in Galicia for that year, most likely due to World War 1 and Austria-Hungary losing the Battle of Galicia.

So, just by looking at the pure numbers, we can deduce that there was a very high likelihood that most breweries bought their hops from Saaz. Again, this is not definite proof, but it points even more towards the direction that hops from Saaz were used by Schwechater brewery, and possibly most other breweries at that time, especially since Saaz hops were the highest priced ones in Germany and Austria at that time.

On a side note, the hop production of Bohemia at that time up as late as the late 1930’s was so strong that Germany’s annexation of the Sudetenland in 1938 pretty much doubled Nazi Germany’s acreage and overall amount of hops produced.