Something’s Brewing in Special Collections…

June 4, 2014

It’s not too late to sign up for Lager for Libraries, a beer tasting and fundraiser for the LSU Libraries that will be held tomorrow, June 5, from 6-8 p.m. at Tin Roof Brewing Co. in Baton Rouge. And if you’re interested in beer’s history as well as sampling some new brews, here are a few things from Special Collections you should have a look at…

Sehr nützlicher Tractat von Bier-Brau-Recht (“A Very Useful Tract on the Laws of Beer Brewing”) was published in the German city of Regensburg in 1722. Its author, Johann Otto Tabor, was a law professor who wrote about regulations regarding the production and selling of beer. He also included an interesting chapter on beer’s history and its consumption by the Egyptians and Romans. (Special Collections also owns a Babylonian cuneiform tablet from ca. 4,500 B.C., which is possibly a receipt for grain used to make beer.)

Hops were being used to add flavor to beer at least as early as the eleventh century. They were first imported to England around 1400, but it wasn’t until the sixteenth century that they were grown there. John Ray, in his Herball, or Generall Historie of Plantes (1597), wrote that “The flowers [of hops] are used to season Beere or Ale with, and overmany do cause bitternes thereof, and are ill for the head.” However, he also noted that “The manifold vertues in Hops do manifestly argue the holesomnesse of Beere above Ale; for the Hops rather make it a Phisicall drinke to keepe the body in health, then an ordinarie drinke for the quenching of our thirst.”

And yet rather than “keeping the body in health,” beer sometimes made people very sick. The French scientist Louis Pasteur looked into this problem in the 1860s, discovering that bacteria in beer, wine, and milk was what caused it to spoil. His Études sur la Bière, published in 1876, contains his findings, as well as recommendations for a better brewing process.

Special Collections also has a few unusual items related to the history of beer in Louisiana. One is a recipe for “bière creole.” Written in French and probably dating from the early nineteenth century, it claims to be a cure for syphilis.

Another item is an advertisement card for New Orleans Mead, a form of root beer that “is free from all injurious substances” (i.e., alcohol). Made with spices, herbs, roots, and honey, such drinks were popular in the nineteenth century when temperance activists blamed beer and other alcoholic beverages for all kinds of social problems from poverty to domestic abuse.

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Special Collections is in the early stages of building a collection of materials related to beer and brewing, with a focus on the history and culture of brewing in Louisiana. Stay tuned for more, and if you have suggestions for materials to collect, let us know!