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This week we had a very important day with regard to beer, dragons, authors and a singing cow called Uddele (not to be confused with Adele). The day was 23rd April. Let me start by explaining its significance for beer.
On 23rd April 1516 the Bier Reinheitsgebot or German Beer Purity Law was passed in the Bavarian town of Ingolstadt (this law was originally proposed in 1487 but they need a bit of time to think about it). The law stipulated that German beer could only be made from water, barley and hops and must be priced between 1-2 Pfennig per Mass (if you have been to the Munich Beer festival you will appreciate that a mass is a rather large glass – and the price has gone up!).
In those days people didn’t realise that yeast was essential to the fermentation process. We had to wait until 1860 for Louis Pasteur to prove that fermentation was caused by living micro-organisms. Prior to his discovery brewers knew that a successful brew benefited by adding the sediment from a previous fermentation to the new batch. The yeast organisms were transferred in this sediment and quickly reproduced, causing the new batch to ferment. Yeast could find itself into the beer mix even if it wasn’t added through the ‘old’ sediment when the brewer exposed the vats to the surrounding air. This would allow natural yeast and bacteria from the atmosphere to fall into the mix, start replicating and ferment the ingredients.
The Beer Purity Law was introduced in Bavaria to stop brewers competing with bakers for wheat and rye in order to ensure that bread remained affordable for the common folk. When the States which now make up Germany became unified in 1871 the Bavarian State insisted that the Beer Purity Law must be applied throughout the country as a precondition of their membership. This led to the dominance in Germany of Pilsner type beers and some of the more exotic local beers like the northern spiced or cherry beers became extinct (although they flourished over the border in places like Belgium). Needless to say there were some brewers who refused to be pushed around by the Bavarians. As a result you can still enjoy a Koelner Koelsch or a Duesseldorfer Altbier if you visit Cologne or Duesseldorf. Long live beer diversity!
The original beer purity law was later succeeded by the Provisional German Beer Law which allowed additional ingredients to be added like yeast, wheat malt and cane sugar (but prohibits the use of unmalted barley). The German Beer Law still applies to all domestically produced beers although under EU legislation it is now possible to import beers made from other ingredients.
So next time you visit the Munich Beer Festival (the Oktoberfest which confusingly starts in September) just remember that the 23rd April 1516 was when the brewing rules where first laid down (and also remember to book your hotel rooms well in advance for the 500th birthday of beer in 2016!).
Today when I came down from taking RISKKO for his afternoon mountain walk I noticed a painting on the wall of one of the houses which reminded me of another reason to celebrate 23rd April. It is St George’s day and the painting was of a soldier on a horse fighting with a dragon. In the year 303 George, an imperial guard of the Roman Emperor Diocletian, was decapitated in the city of Nicomedia for refusing to renounce his Christian faith. His body was then returned to Lydda in the Holy Land, the country of his birthplace where the Christian community honoured him as a martyr.
During the reign of Constantine (AD 306-337 the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity) a church was build in Lydda and was consecrated to a man of the highest distinction. This was almost certainly George (or Georgius – in Latin). In AD 494 George was canonised as a saint by the Pope (Gelasius 1). The church in Lydda was destroyed in 1010 but was rebuilt and dedicated to St. George by the Crusaders. This was again destroyed in during the 3rd Crusade (1189-1192 – yes the crusade fought by Richard the Lionheart, and perhaps even supported in some small way by Sir Henry Duggleby, our dear ancestor who was born around 1115 in Yorkshire, England: See the Duggleby History page using the link here).
At the time of the Crusades the Christian martyr St George became famous across Europe. In 1190 the City of London adopted the St. George’s flag (a red cross on a white background) for their ships entering the Mediterranean. This allowed them during the crusades to benefit from the protection of the Genoese fleet (for which the English Monarch paid an annual tribute to the Doge of Genoa). The English Synod of Oxford declared St. George’s day a feast day in the Kingdom of England in 1222. Although the Reformation in England dramatically reduced the number of saint’s days in the church calendar, the day of St. George, 23rd April, was one that continued to be observed as a holiday.
And what about the dragon I hear you asking? This part of the legend of Saint George, in which he fought with a dragon, was brought back to Europe from the Holy Land by the Crusaders. Although St George was depicted before this time as a soldier the true origins of the dragon legend are unknown. It is thought by some that this was a way of depicting the fight between the Christians and the devil or perhaps the fight against the Roman Empire (or both). Whatever the true origin of the legend, it would appear that George was one of the most courageous early Christians who died painfully for his beliefs at the hands of the Romans.
Now, let me move to the third important reason to celebrate the 23rd April. This is the day when, in 1564, William Shakespeare was born. Interestingly it is also the day when, in 1616, he died. As the research into the Duggleby family tree highlighted it was much easier to be clear about dates of deaths hundreds of years ago than about dates of births. There were no birth records at that time, whereas the dates of deaths were usually written on gravestones and were also included on official documents like those confirming the reading of the last will and testament.
Therefore although 23rd of April was certainly the date when Shakespeare died, his date of birth was deduced in the main from two pieces of evidence. We know he was Baptized in the Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon on April 26th. According to the English Prayer Book at that time a baptism must occur no later than the Sunday, or other Holy day, after the birth. On his tomb it states he died on 23rd April 1616 aged 53. Since he was born in 1564 the presumption was made that he died on his birthday (if he had died before his birthday he should have been 52).
Whatever debate exists about his birth date the date of Shakespeare death is unquestionably 23rd April 1616. So get booking your 2016 hotel rooms in Stratford-upon-Avon and near the Globe theatre in London early. You may have noticed that the 500th anniversary of both Shakespeare’s death and the German Beer Purity Law fall on the same day? This will also be St George’s day. Anticipate some pretty ‘fluid’ celebrations.
Moving on now to a less historical subject but one that is nevertheless very important those around me: this week RISKKO, my faithful guard dog, replied to an advertisement in the famous doggy music magazine the ‘Rolling Bone’. Uddele, the famous English singing cow, had placed an advertisement for a Rapper to join her in her next musical adventure. RISKKO is prolific when it comes to wrapping so he asked me to help him to reply. Low and behold within a couple of days Uddele turned up at our Alpine pad in her convertible BMW to interview RISKKO and carry out some sound trials in our music studio. There will be more on this exciting development in RISKKO’s music career next week but for now here is a picture of the two of them having fun in Uddele’s convertible (for once it was sunny!).
I bet you can’t wait until next week!
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