Note to self: it’s only beer history, must stop getting so upset by other people’s errors

Interesting piece I stumbled across from the Washington Post last week about an “abbey” beer project in the heart of the American capital: not actually brewing beer in an abbey, but a homebrewer’s bid to make beers off-site that use ingredients from the grounds of the 113-year-old Mount St Sepulchre Franciscan Monastery in north-east Washington. But ach! Ach! There in the third paragraph, a repetition of the old canard that “as early as the ninth century, the Abbey of St Gall in Switzerland had three breweries in full operation.”

Nobody else probably gives a sh!te about this, I know, and I shouldn’t be such a nerd, but it’s WRONG and when you get this parsecs-from-the-facts stuff repeated in respected organs such as the Washington Post you end up with utter crap like the following:

“Europe’s first big businesses were three breweries owned by the Monastery of St Gall in Switzerland during the dark ages.”

Who is making this stuff up? What are they reading (or drinking) that makes them draw this kind of utterly ludicrous, unjustified conclusion? This is bollocks on so many different levels (mind, the same press release from last year says in the preceding sentence that “Hildegard Von Bingen, the Abbess of the Convent of Bingen in Northern Germany, is credited with introducing hops to beer around 1067AD,” which is even more wrong, at four gross errors in just 19 words).

Must calm down. Time for another entry on the list of False Ale Quotes: for the real facts about the “three breweries of St Gall abbey” click here.

19 thoughts on “Note to self: it’s only beer history, must stop getting so upset by other people’s errors

  1. Posting a history piece today, please go easy on us if any points are inaccurate! (we used quite old books to check the facts so fingers crossed…) Although definitely do let us know if we get anything wrong, we agree, it is important.

  2. Well, Sir, I for one give a sh*t about that particular one, because, as as Swiss beer consumer activist, I’m regularly confronted to it sprouting up whenever Swiss beer history is discussed, and most people don’t seem to grasp the fact that debunking the mistake about the map does not mean no beer was produced at the abbey at the time, just that the historical proof usually put forward isn’t a valid one… but I’ve read some serious sources suggesting that in the 11th to 13th Centuries beer was delivered at St Gallen abbey by the local population, monks later having gradually more wine delivered than beer, which seems to open a dark age lasting until the 18th C, when some breweries open in Switzerland, apparently through “seepage” across the border with Germany (rather than demand from English tourists, which is usually mentioned), before the sudden burst of brewery openings in the 1860s to 1880s linked to phylloxera all but wiping out vines, causing a vacuum which new breweries filled…

      1. Well, re. St Gallen Abbey, I’m referring to a book in German that’s one of the few serious bits of beery history published about Switzerland : ‘Bier in St. Gallen: 1250 Jahren St Galler Brautradition, Von der Klosterbrauerei zum “Schützengarten”‘, by Théo Buff, Lorenz Hollenstein and Ernst Ziegler, published in 2004 by Brauerei Schützengarten AG in St Gallen (ISBN 3-907928-45-8)

        BTW, having checked, my memory screwed up above : the move beer to wine in deliveries at the abbey happens around the year 1000, two centuries earlier than I remembered…

  3. No way, Martyn! Don’t ever give up getting disgusted by the media propagating misinformation, and, I might add, being very vocal about it. We need the voice of knowledge and experience and not the laziness of some journalists to take the easy way out and just copy information from who knows where without really digging to see if it is actually true. If you ever find me passing on bad information, please chastise me!

  4. The Hildegard factoid is widespread on the internet, but I have also read of this in “Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers” by Stephen Harrod Buhner which claims she mentions hops in beer in her “Physica Sacra.”

    1. She did, but the problem is that most people seem to get the years she was active wrong by a century, and credit her with being the first person to talk about hops in connection with beer, which she wasn’t …

  5. Fantastic! I’ve spent my entire life just drinking the stuff, not giving too much of a shit about it* – I mean I’m aware enough that I don’t bother with Greene King nowadays – but it’s great to know that people care enough about it like I care about who played what guitar on which song (and what strings were used) and let’s forchrissake get the year right – so please continue to care and write so eloquently and learned about the stuff. More power to your elbow.

    * okay so you know I’m being disingenuous about it given the amount we’ve quaffed together – I remember doing a yard of ale with you.

    As an English teacher I spend most of my time getting apoplectic about people’s poor grammar. I’m not even that good at it myself (1970s lack of grammar education). So, please Martyn, keep up the good work. It shows you are passionate about your subject. There seems precious little of that in our brave new world.

  6. Just throw caution to the wind and go for it – we each seem to have an audience, no matter how few or many we communicate with. You have a lot of supporters who trust you. Presumably it’s because you write eloquently and so learnedly (can’t get the accent on that last e in comment boxes).

    Mind you, that gives you carte blanche to make anything up and we’ll probably believe you.

  7. You can get upset about the historical accuracy, I’m more upset by this guy besmirching the abbey name. Just because you intend to make beer with hops grown at the abbey doesn’t put your beer anywhere in the tradition of abbey beer.

    1. Three great rules of American craft breweries:

      1. They see no reason why they shouldn’t brew and sell beers based on any style there has ever been anywhere in the world.
      2. Some of the time it’s all in the marketing, and you end up tasting a decent light ale while looking at a label that says you’re drinking a Trappist-style witbier or an 80/- lambic. (This, of course, is annoying.)
      3. Some of the time they know exactly what they’re doing and produce something that genuinely stands comparison with the originals. (This, of course, is not annoying at all.)

  8. Exercise is good for you. I get a fair amount of exercise jumping up and down when I read completely incorrect beer lore in perfectly respectable sources. It just shows that editors have gone the way of the passenger pigeons, only I mourn them more. On the plus side, it makes me do my research to see exactly how far off base they were. It is marvelous how it motivates me to write it up, necessarily taking deep, cleansing breaths and occasionally exclaiming “Ha!” and “Oh no you don’t!” .

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