Czechs in History – František Ondřej Poupě

A commemorative wall plaque to Poupě in Brno.
A commemorative wall plaque to Poupě in Brno.

The Great Man Behind Great Beer

The Czech Republic’s worldwide reputation for high quality beer is certainly no secret. Beer has been made in the Czech lands since before years had four numbers and Czech brew masters have made many innovations to the “Amber nectar” over the centuries.

František Ondřej Poupě (1753-1805) is one of the most important figures in not only Czech brewing, but also beer manufacture in general. He is credited with elevating beer making from an unregulated craft often resembling medieval alchemy to a fully credible industry and science.

Born the son of a blacksmith in the Central Bohemian town of Český Šternberk, Poupě was sent to Velká Biteš in South Moravia after completing his basic education to learn brewing from his brother. From there, he moved on to other breweries in both the Czech lands and abroad.

Much of what Poupě knew about brewing was self taught and it was through his explorations of applying science to brewing that the way was paved for other brew masters after him to standardise beer as a beverage.

Former site of the municipal brewery in Brno, where Poupě once worked, as it appears today.
Former site of the municipal brewery in Brno, where Poupě once worked, as it appears today.

Adding Science to Suds

Prior to the reforms which Poupě spearheaded, brewing was a haphazard affair with inconsistent results. Brewers would use a variety of grains in the malting process and top fermenting was a preferred method.

Brewing was also a very conservative business run by a few people and not easy to break into; accordingly, this led to a great deal of complacency and lack of innovation among existing breweries.

The brewing industry in Poupě’s time was, to a degree, opening its doors wider to newcomers. His innovations paved the way for greater liberalisation of brewing in the years after his passing in 1805.

Poupě is credited with being the first to use a thermometer and hydrometer in the brewing process. He carefully measured temperature at every stage of malting and brewing and used the hydrometer to measure potential alcohol levels and specific gravity of his product; doing so, he was able to assure consistent results from one batch to another. Prior to this, such details had been left completely to guesswork and empirical reasoning.

He also promoted the use of only barley for the malting process as well as cultivated varieties of hops as opposed to wild ones.

Perhaps his greatest contribution to brewing was the promotion of bottom fermentation as opposed to top fermentation, the preferred method of the day. This assured a clear finished product of good shelf life and consistent flavour which top fermentation could not guarantee.

Crystal clear and refreshing Czech beer. I raise my glass to you, Mr. Poupě!
Crystal clear and refreshing Czech beer. I raise my glass to you, Mr. Poupě!

Poupě’s Legacy

While Poupě was only the first in a long line of innovators; he was the pioneer who took brewing out of the dark ages and started its transformation into a properly regulated industry with standards and scientific methods to assure quality.

Late in his life, Poupě wrote two extensive volumes on the art and science of brewing. The methods he outlined in them would light the way for brew masters after him to further refine beer, the brewing industry, and to lay the foundations for formal education of brew masters.

Visiting these two sites will tell you more about Poupě and his work as well as give you a clear idea of where he fits into the history and development of beer:

http://www.beerresearch.cz/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=231&Itemid=129&lang=en

http://morebeer.com/brewingtechniques/library/backissues/issue5.3/urquell.html

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