Horst Dornbusch wrote the book on German beer, or more precisely a book, entitled Prost! The Story of German Beer, a history of German suds written for English-speaking readers. If there’s anyone more qualified to write such a work, I don’t know of him. Dornbusch was born in Düsseldorf, Germany, the home of altbier, a style which he brought with him to the United States. After earning a Masters Degree in politics at Brandeis University, Horst worked in journalism until he finally decided to pursue his true calling, brewing, in 1995. That was the year the Dornbusch Brewing Company originated in Massachusetts.
Horst was on a mission: to brew fine German-style beers in America. In keeping with this he brewed up a wonderful Dortmunder lager, and an authentic Dusseldorfer Alt. Alt in German means old, and in this usage refers to the days when all beers were ales because lager yeast had not yet been discovered. Dornbusch Alt was released in swing-top one-liter bottles at first, produced at Ipswich Brewing in Massachusetts, and six-packs contract brewed at Smuttynose Brewing in New Hampshire. I always preferred the Ipswich-brewed Alt (Horst supervised the process), and took these tasting notes on it:
Dornbusch Alt is deep russet in color with a firm, slightly sweet malt background that is quickly overpowered by the intensely fruity hop palate and spectacularly bitter finish. Some wheat is employed here giving the beer a slightly lighter body. Warm fermentation is followed by cold lagering, a process that is often used to reduce fruity ale esters and make a beer a bit smoother, but there is simply too much hop activity going on here to allow that. Not to be missed!
Famed Austrian beer writer Conrad Seidel once described Dornbusch Alt to me as “more authentic than current German versions”. Dornbusch is a friendly fellow, too, and a wonderful drinking companion. I had a grand time sharing beers with him at Coddington Brewpub in Middletown, Rhode Island, several years ago just before his book was released. We talked about German beer, the decoction versus infusion debate, and the state of brewing in New England.
OK, we’ve established that Horst Dornbusch can brew great beer, but can he write about? He certainly can, as you will discover after reading Prost! The Story of German Beer. Ever wonder why German beer tastes so darned good? Read Prost! and you’ll know why. You’ll also learn about more German beer styles than you knew existed. Horst covers:
Prost! The Story of German Beer starts out with the early history of beer in Sumeria and Egypt, and quickly moves on to the origins of beer in early German culture. One of the amazing things about Horst’s book is the way he weaves German social and cultural history into a context of beer and brewing. He shows us how most beer was originally homebrew, produced by housewives, or Hausfrauen.
As time goes by, the reader learns about the introduction of hops to beer, how the royal courts and religious authorities controlled the beer trade, how beer built the powerful Hansa trade league, how bock beer got its name, and how the first lagers were discovered empirically. The famous German Beer Purity Law, the Reinheitsgebot of 1516 is also covered and included in the original German.
Prost! The Story of German Beer is a quick read and can be polished off in an evening, preferably with a cold German brew. It is 148 pages long and includes many interesting photos, though they are in black and white. At the end of the book a helpful glossary of brewing terms and timeline of German brewing history is included.
Prost! The Story of German Beer is a must-read for the serious beer enthusiast, but it’s also recommended to history students who will appreciate its social-cultural aspects, and the way beer in Germany is such an integral part of them.