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How did they make beer 1000's of years ago without sanitizer

If you look at all the old pictures of breweries and brewers they looked dirty like shit house rats…how did they do it without sanitizer?

A lot of them made sour beer.

They didn’t even understand what yeast was so it was good that they didn’t understand sanitation.

Exactly. Beer back then certainly didn’t taste like it does today. But it’s true that with minimal careful handling, the process pretty much takes care of itself; mother nature does the work. So they made beer that was more than palatable to the tastes of the day.

As to sourness: that acid tang was considered to be a desireable thing, the hallmark of an fine aged, vatted beer. The old, sour stuff was actually sold at a premium. “Stale” was their descriptive for it, and it was considered a positive selling point.
Pasteur’s work likely eventually helped to shift the tide.

“Mild” was fresh beer that had not yet soured (and the term “mild” had nothing whatsoever to do with the ABV or IBUs…historically, “mild” was apparently most often highly hopped and quite strong.
How times have changed.

To add on to what others have said you also have the simple aspect everyone knew you had to boil the water and wort to make beer. The science of it all aside except this fact that they understood, boiled beer water was safe to drink. They did not understand why common water made everyone sick. While you can do most things with out a great deal of sanitizer or bleach or what have you as the biggest risk of infection before the yeast take over is the wort itself typically speaking. And another thing you don’t hear a lot about is how often they -did- have infections. It is reasonable to assume you did not hear about commercial breweries or brew houses talk or even mention they had undesirable beer as it scared folks away.

Yep, I say good sir we sure had a batch of beer that molded and got rotten, or that last vat we bottled sure blew the corks out of every one of them! Lets tell the public!

I suspect they did have occasional wild infections that lead to undesirable things in beer before it properly fermented out. We just don’t know about it or they may have attributed these things to other processes or things going on around them.

Yup, they made sours… That annoying sour green apple taste and smell from a stuck fermentation was par for the course back then. They didn’t have the luxury of a yeast selection like we have, nor did they even know what yeast properly is back then. Just remember, beer was invented as bread in a liquid form that was storable in cool conditions without getting stale and hard when grains weren’t available during the Winter. This was the birth of lagering! Making bread with the same ingredients with a lot of water mixed in, it magically turned into alcohol, and it’s been love ever since. They did however know they had to boil it or people got sick. They had no idea why, but they knew they had to boil it. A few wise fellows (mainly monks) started taking meticulous notes for beers that actually tasted really good. They figured out temperature had something to do with it, and realized they could use that white stuff in the bottom of the keg again to make a similar good beer, and found it was rather sweet. One of them chucked in a bitter tasting wild flowering vine bud to offset the sweetness, and discovered the magic that we know as hops.

When you boil your wort, you’ve got a pretty good shot at making decent beer. The rest of the contamination process is a crap shoot as we all know. I personally have never had a ruined batch of beer. Theirs probably turned out okay most of the time even with no sanitation as long as they boiled it. It obviously worked!

Beer protects itself pretty well because of the yeast, so beer without sanitization doesn’t really surprise me. I’ve always wondered how did people with no knowledge of yeast made beer (or bread). No one knew yeast was even there until the 17th century. No one knew it was alive until Pasteur in the 1850s; and even then I’m sure it took a long time for the word to get out.

In something I read, brewers needed a “magic spoon” (wooden) to stir the wort. They had no idea why, but when a proper magic spoon was used the wort became beer. It allegedly worked because the wood spoon was saturated with yeast and inoculated the batch. – sounds like BS to me.

I know the German Beer Purity law did not include yeast because it hadn’t been discovered. In something else I read, the brewers would add sediment from the previous batch, which was considered compliant with the law. That would obviously get the job done; it’s just yeast harvesting without washing.

Beer is full of awesomeness.

In beer circles, the word got out pretty fast. It took only another couple decades before brewers developed techniques isolating pure strains of yeast to use for fermentation. By that point we were more-or-less up to modern brewing’s state of the art, at least as far as yeast is concerned. The propagation equipment that first brewery developed (Carlsberg flask) is what commercial breweries still use.

It’s probably also a major factor in lager’s takeover of the world, since that first pure culture was lager yeast and the brewery that did it was a lager brewery.

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