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There is a lot of history in that beer you’re drinking (or thinking about drinking) right now. Some might dismiss your can of Pilsner or bottle of IPA as nothing more than a throwaway consumer item. But make no mistake. Beer is not only ubiquitous. It is ancient — the product of the mother of […]



Page space comes at a premium in a graphic novel. But here on the web? Not so much. As a valuable and evolving companion to the book itself, gives us the chance to give you some things that the physical book cannot. Like citations and annotations. Although The Comic Book Story of Beer is not some […]



Are you champing at the bit to understand why the ancient Roman physician Dioscorides claimed beer caused elephantitis? Will you be able to sleep tonight without knowing the name of the Irish saint whose pious breath could splinter casks of pagan brew into smithereens? Or which handy-dandy medieval medical reference prescribed a mix of beer […]




The Comic Book Story of Beer is the most drinkable yet comprehensive single-volume book on the 9,000+ year history of the world's favorite drink. Come 'round frequently to for fascinating new articles on brewing through the ages.

It was 1620 when the Pilgrims began to call these American shores their home. So here in the U.S., it will still be 104 years before we [white people] can legitimately celebrate the 500th anniversary of anything.

But in places like Germany, cinquecentennials are considerably less rarified. And one of those cinquecentennials is being celebrated today. It’s das Reinheitsgebot, a stringently conservative beer purity law that just may have kept Bavarian beers, for all these centuries, in their lofty heights of being counted among the world’s best.

Reinheitsgebot - OriginaltextLike we moderns who scrutinize ingredients labels in the grocery store for allergens, artificial preservatives, and sweeteners which happen not to be on the ever-changing approved list (is Stevia hot or not this year?), people in medieval times—or at least some of them—were concerned about what the heck was in their food and drink.

They had reason to worry. Iniquitous, penny-pinching brewers of “the world lit only by fire” were adulterating their beers with sawdust, ashes, darnel ryegrass (which is poisonous), even psychoactive fly agaric fungus. Some of the reasons for this was to stretch their supply or make stale beer more palatable (and sellable). Occasionally the adulterations were for dubiously “medical” purposes. We are talking Middle Ages technology, here, people.

Two Bavarian noblemen—Dukes Wilhelm IV and Ludwig X—decided to do something about it. They issued their brewing “purity command” on April 23, 1516, at a meeting in the city of Ingolstadt of the German Assembly of Estates. What the dukes put in writing and gave the force of law that day remains “one of the oldest examples of product regulation known to man.”

From that point forward, beer in Bavaria could only be legally made with water, barley (and not, for example, wheat), and hops. Well… Yeast was involved too. But nobody in 1516 quite had a handle on the world of microscopic organisms just yet. So that ingredient was left out.

The Reinheitsgrebot eventually spread to the other German states, and became Imperial law in 1906. It remains on the books today.

If, in Germany, you’re some craft-style brewer who would like to add tiny amounts of adjunct, a little lemon peel, or some invert sugar to your recipes to see what happens, you cannot label your end product “beer.” You are instead obligated to go to market with the highly compromised “mixed beer beverage” label instead.

Some have contended that the Reinheitsgebot is therefore keeping Germany stuck in the past and unable to take part in the creative, freewheeling, American-style brewing now taking much of the rest of the globe by storm.

To produce a Reinheitsgebot, you arguably already need to have a society where drinking and enjoying beer is a high priority. Butgermans_Fume the 1516 brewing code also had the effect of cementing Bavarian beer as a patriotism-infused cultural artifact. A beer locals could believe in, take pride in, and expect reliability from year in and year out.

Since beers like Cologne’s kolsches couldn’t contain preservatives or low-cost alternate ingredients, they accrued a positive reputation abroad. German beers could fetch premium prices on the export market.

And not only that. The Reinheitsgebot was also effectively a protectionist racket. Brews made without its exacting ingredients were legally banned from entering the country, which meant that the Czech, Danish, English, and American brews couldn’t be sold in Germany. Heck, Bavaria didn’t even allow beers from other parts of Germany until the 1950s.

When, beginning in that same decade, the EEC or European Economic Community began to integrate the economies of Western Europe, the Reinheitsgebot was in for a challenge. In the 1980s a French exporter took the German Federal Republic government to court, alleging that the Reinheitsgebot was an illegal impediment to free trade. The Germans put up a stiff fight. Their lawyers even argued that lifetimes of drinking the purest beer available would put Germans especially at risk of harm by an influx of foreign chemical preservatives and artificial flavors. But a 13-judge panel in Luxembourg was not sympathetic.

Domestic German beers today must still hew to the strictures of Duke Wilhelm IV. But the “bad guy” beers can be legally sold.

Not that it matters much. Imports still only make up less than 10 percent of beer consumed in Germany.



The Comic Book Story of Beer is the most drinkable yet comprehensive single-volume book on the 9,000+ year history of the world's favorite drink. Come 'round frequently to for fascinating new articles on brewing through the ages.

One hundred and ten years ago today, what was likely an earthquake of approximately 7.8 on the Richter Scale struck the San Francisco Bay Area. Although the temblor was actually centered in the San Francisco suburbs—with geological studies suggesting the exact epicenter was off the shore of adjacent San Mateo County’s rocky beaches—the quake was strong enough to be felt as far away as Oregon and Southern California.

Even more devastating than the earthquake were the many fires that broke out as the result of, among other causes, ruptured gas mains and the haphazard post-disaster cooking of survivors among the ruins. Even many architecturally “earthquake-proof” steel buildings, like the one housing the San Francisco Call newspaper, survived the natural disaster only to succumb to the manmade hazard of flames that burned for four straight days. At least 3,000 people died from causes ranging from collapsing buildings to burns and smoke inhalation.

jackson_brewery_1906_photo_capAs the preeminent center of shipping, banking, and trade in the entire Western United States, San Francisco had a robust brewing industry in 1906. And like many other local industries the makers of beer and suppliers of beer equipment and ingredients were dealt a jaw-breaking blow.

Theodore Rueger, a brewery employee and self-confessed “camera fiend” from the nearby city of Benicia, California, grabbed his photo gear and took a ferry into San Francisco proper immediately following the disaster. He wandered a 16-mile route all around the city, snapping pictures and taking notes to assess the state of his brewing industry comrades.

“Words cannot describe or picture show half the ruin and desolation wrought by the flames and earthquake,” was the shocked first impression recorded by the employee of the Benicia Brewery and Soda Works.

Breweries old and new, big and small, sustained harrowing damage. In North Beach, where many breweries were located, the Claus Wreden Brewery at Lombard and Taylor Streets—a newcomer to the city—was “a mass of wreckage and a total loss.”


The giant St. Louis Brewery at San Francisco and Powell was also badly damaged. And to add insult to injury, opportunistic looters would, in the weeks after, be caught attempting to spirit away a cartful of the St. Louis’s brewery’s expensive brass fittings.

The city’s Jackson Brewing Co. had been planning to move into a new facility. But in the aftermath, its principals were to discover that both the old facility and the new, under-construction upgrade had both been completely flattened.

The storied Anchor Brewery, whose later history and leading role in the Craft Brewing Movement are well chronicled in The Comic Book Story of Beer, was not among the lucky few spared by the earthquake and fire.

Rueger, after leaving the lowlands on San Francisco’s northeastern outskirts and plying into its central districts of steep elevation, wrote,

“…we saw a kettle standing on the side of a hill, the only thing to indicate that the Anchor Brewery had been there.”

All in all, 19 breweries and two malt houses were reported completely destroyed in April 1906 (including the Albion Brewery, later to serve as partial inspiration for Jack McAuliffe’s groundbreaking New Albion Brewing Company 70 years later). Only five—Jacob Adams’ Broadway Brewery, the California Brewing Company, Enterprise Brewing Company, North Star Brewing Company, and Willows Brewery, were left in functional condition. But even they were destined to serve an unsteady beer market in the immediate future, since tens of thousands had fled San Francisco for other parts of the state.

san_francisco_undauntedSome legitimate industry bigwigs also happened to be on hand to witness the earthquake and fire. This included Adolphus Busch himself, who had been visiting the city at the time in the comfort of his private rail car, and who evidently experienced “a narrow escape from death.” (Busch and his family lost all their personal luggage in the disaster, a loss reported to value at $20,000).

This jewel of the Golden State, however, would quickly rebound. By 1908, for example, the brand new, state of the art (and fireproof!) Bauer-Schweitzer malting plant—with a 1,000,000 bushel capacity—would be up and running on the site of the ruins of its predecessor. In fact, San Francisco rebounded so quickly and so fully from its setback that it proudly hosted the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition—with the city proudly calling itself “Undaunted.” The popular Rainier Beer, with quite the sizable production plant in San Francisco, was a key sponsor of the event.


"In Stricken Frisco: Description and Illustration of the Horror of Earthquake and Fire." American Brewers Review, Vol. XX, 1906. pp. 280-284

"Stole Brewery, Brass." San Francisco Chronicle, May 10, 1906.

Online Archive of California

Encyclopedia Cervecerium Esotericum: O. Vill's Beer

o_vill's_webThe Encyclopedia Cervecerium Esotericum will be an occasional feature here on The Comic Book Story of Beer website featuring rare and intriguing images and documents from brewing history, accompanied by short explanatory sketches.

This terrific example of beer advertising history dates from 1878, printed by the American Oleograph Company.

beer_summitI don't know what I like about it best: the cast of characters that is at once multiculturally diverse and smacking of contemporary racial bigotry; the quaffing Uncle Sam, another example of which we excerpted in our recent report on National Beer Day; or the almost inexplicable trio of gnomes struggling to restrain the mountain goat who has just butted some poor sonofabitch horizontal and making him spill his beer.

The long-defunct O. Vill's brewery was a father and son operation in the post-Civil War period. By 1950, former proprietor Oswald Vill was 81 years of age. He was locally celebrated as "the Mayor of Minnesota City" and known for "twinkling gray-blue eyes" and "an enormous bubbling laugh." Besides being a small-town brewer of some repute, Mr. Vill was a walking encapsulation of American history. His brother and sister were killed in the famous Sioux attack on the German settlement of New Ulm, Minnesota, in 1862, and his lungs were also permanently damaged by the 1918 flu epidemic. This apparently added up to plenty of reasons to take a drink.

Vill's lager was evidently of sufficient quality to receive a certificate of merit from the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair, stating, "[O. Vill's Brewery is] one of several in America whose product reaches a high degree of perfection in care, in preparation, freedom from adulteration, and purity of water used."

I don't know, is that damning with faint praise? Regardless, O. Vill's chugged along until Prohibition days, when it seems the property was purchased by one Nick Meyers. The hillside brewery, complete with two large largering cellars, became a posh restaurant and nightclub known as "The Oaks"—and at which Chicago gangsters were rumored to hang out.


Lumberton, Gretchen. "The Casual Observer." The Winona (MN) Republican Herald, May 22, 1950.

The Jay T. Last Collection of Graphic Arts and Social History, Huntington Digital Library

Christensen, Matt. "Winona during Prohibition was a hot spot with gangsters and residents." Winona Daily News website, March 14, 2010




emerald_city_2016The Comic Book Story of Beer's own artiste, Aaron McConnell, is at Emerald City ComicCon this weekend, April 7-10, 2016. And no, you don't have to hitch your house to a tornado and lob it over the rainbow to get there. You just have to be lucky enough to find yourself in the great city of Seattle.

Aaron will be around at Booth #1214 — that's in the well-defended territory of Portland-based Periscope Studio — for book signings, commissions, and robust displays of good taste in fermented malt beverages.

Don't forget to follow us on Twitter at @TheCBSOB for updates!