In the vast realm of beer literature, there are a small handful of books that have made a true impact on brewing. Among the first was Michael Combrune’s 1762 work, The Theory and Practice of Brewing. Combrune is generally conceded to have been the first to use a thermometer in the brewery, and certainly the first to demonstrate the tremendous value of the new instrument in beermaking. Virtually overnight, Combrune’s book plunged brewing into its first scientific revolution.
More than a century later, Louis Pasteur’s experiments with fermentation had a like effect. In 1876, he published Études sur la Bière (Studies on Beer) and enlightened an entire generation of brewers on the effects of bacteria on brewing. The book was soon translated into English as Studies on Fermentation: The Diseases of Beer, Their Causes, and the Means of Preventing Them. The translation was performed by brewing scholar Frank Faulkner, who wrote in his preface, “The debt which we English brewers owe to M. Pasteur can hardly be over-estimated.” Pasteur himself remained modest. “I need not hazard any prediction concerning the advantages likely to accrue to the brewing industry,” he said. “An industrial discovery rarely produces all its fruits in the hands of its first inventor.”
Pasteur’s breakthroughs, though pivotal, represented only one of the many aspects in which brewing was making enormous scientific advances during the late 19th century. Taking note of the unprecedented scientific and technological development, the editors of The Western Brewer—the leading brewing industry trade journal of the day—decided to pay tribute to the industry’s coming-of-age. In 1903, they published a 714-page volume entitled One-Hundred Years of Brewing, and subtitled A Complete History of the Progress Made in the Art, Science and Industry of Brewing in the World, Particularly During the Late Nineteenth Century. The monster book—with its 800 illustrations, its intensive examination of brewing science and technology and its historical vignettes of thousands of breweries—stands today as perhaps the most comprehensive study of brewing ever undertaken.
The good news for brewers and beer enthusiasts of this century is that many of history’s most important beer books have been reprinted and are available at affordable prices. Take a look at www.beerbooks.com/classics/ and www.raudins.com/brewbooks/.