Durable and delicious beer

First indication about the quality of the old beer is given by the equivalent of one barrel of beer from Bremen early 13th century. A Frisian farmer or tradesman just wouldn't trade a fat cow for a barrel of beer if he didn't know it to contain something really good (1).

Export trade
Before the beginning of the 14th century the Hanseatic beer was durable enough to be transported over large distances. The fact that despite heavy taxation the Hoppenbier sold very well proves it must have been worth the money and the effort. In this respect the chart with purchases by the court of Holland is also significant (2, 3). The nobles in this court, refined folk, also bought selected French wines by the barrel.

Quality and skills
The knowledge and method to make this beer was part of the Hanseatic system in which initiates taught their colleagues the best and latest practice.

Tax rules about 'Hamburg' beer, 'Seabeer' and 'double Koyt' 1482

Rich and poor
Especially Hamburg is known to have had distinction between local and export beer and had an independent last quality control.
Huge differences between rich and poor, nobility and common folk, were reflected in various kinds of beer and as many quality levels. In regular trade durability was only one aspect to be considered. Price was another important factor. Because hops were taxed it was lucrative to use as few as possible.

The workings of hops in beer were known, as we can read in 1581 (4) they were used for flavoring as well as to increase durability. But of course this was known much longer (5). The cultivation of hops in the Netherlands goes back at least to before 1380 (6). The ever longer sea voyages especially in the early 17th century brought about an extra focus on durability.

Frederik Ruis

Die Hanse und ihr Bier
Christine von Blanckenburg

bestand die Gegenwert einer Tonne Tafelbiers in einer fetten Kuh.

'was the equivalent of one barrel of tablebeer one fat cow'

Geschiedenis van de dorst (History of thirst)
Raymond van Uytven

Table 6: Beer purchases for the Holland court


Table 7: Beer purchases by the Holland shire (and army procurement)


('History of thirst' by the eminent Belgian historian van Uytven was never translated in English as far as I know. This is a shame because this is a 'must read' for anyone interested in the history of beer.)


Die Hanse und ihr Bier

Christine von Blanckenburg

Von der bekannten Hansischen Bierexportstädten mag es also allein im sächsischen Bremen, das schon zur Karolingerzeit gegründet worden war, anfangs Grutbier gegeben haben. Spätestens seit der zweiten Hälfte des 13. Jahrhunderts, wurde aber auch dort mit Hopfen gebraut. Aus dieser Zeit stammen nämlich die ersten Nachrichten über Bremer Bier als Fernhandelsgut, und die Ausfuhr zur See ist nicht denkbar, ohne dass dem Sud Hopfen zugegeben wurde

'Of the known Hanseatic beer exporting cities only the saxon Bremen, that was founded in Carolingian times, might have had Grutbeer. At the very latest in de second half of the 13th century the beer was made with hops, because from those days are the first notes on Bremer beer as export beer in trade, and those exports are unthinkable without the use of hops.'

sie brauten ein helles, weil aus weitgehend luftgetrocknetem Malz gewonnens, Hopfenbier

'they brewed a blond hopped beer, because most malt was air-dried'



Kruydtboeck oft beschryvinghe van allerleye ghewassen, kruyderen, hesteren
Matthias L'Obel

De hoppe wordt om tweederley oorƒaeken ghedaen int Bier oft inden Ael/eenƒdeels om den ƒmaek/ende dat hem te beter houden ƒoude.

'Hops are used in beer for two reasons, one part is for its taste, and one for it should be kept better.'

Die Hanse und ihr Bier
Christine von Blanckenburg

p.196 - 197
Aus Stadtbüchern, die seit dem 13. Jahrhundert überliefert sind, wissen wir, dass es in und um die Brauerstädte Hamburg, Kiel, Braunschweig, Lübeck, Bremen, Rostock und Wismar Hopfengärten gegeben hat.

'From the Town-books, that date back to the 13th century, we know there were hop gardens in and around the brewers cities Hamburg, Kiel, Braunschweig, Lübeck, Bremen, Rostock and Wismar.'

Perkament Register van de Charterkamer van Hollandt, lib IIII, Aelbrecht
Aelbrecht van Beijeren, ruwaard van Holland (1336-1404)

(Hop culture crop in Heusden, the Netherlands before 1380)


Beer in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance
Richard W. Unger

At Deventer in the eastern Netherlands in the 1340s, there was a gruithuis for the sale of gruit, but hops were already grown in the area in 1325 and imported from as far away as Thuringia in 1348. By 1421, and probably well before that date, the men selling gruit also sold hops