Hamburg Brewing History

The first beers were produced in Hamburg over 1000 years ago. Women brewed them in the home, though that was only for their own use. As for how they tasted…they would hardly shine compared to today's beers.

The first real breweries (“Braxatores”) began to operate in the middle of the 13th century. The brewing industry developed into an important industry in Hamburg. In 1276, as many as 457 brewers were officially registered.

In the heyday of the Hanseatic League, Hamburg beer was a sought-after export item. This delicious and coveted drink was brewed in 527 private breweries (“Brauerben”). Fat-bellied sailing ships (Koggen) transported the beer barrels to Flanders, Holland and Zeeland, as well as to Scandinavia or the Baltic. In the 14th century, more than 100,000 hectolitres of beer were permitted to leave the city. No wonder that Hamburg immodestly referred to itself as “The brewery of the Hanseatic League”.

The decline of the Hanseatic League from the 15th century onwards was accompanied by a slackening of the Hamburg beer economy; former markets were lost. In addition, by the late 17th century, competing beverages like coffee and tea, but also quickly intoxicating schnapps gained favor. When Napoleon rudely pounded at Hamburg's gates in 1806, the glory of Hamburg's beer almost became something only of the past.

Hamburg brewing took decades to recover. One bright spot: In the mid-1830s, bottom-fermented beer arrived in the city from Bavaria. A handful of Hamburg brewers adopted this new style of brewing.

The introduction of free trade in 1865 didn't quite provide an immediate surge. But from the end of the 1870s, new large breweries sprang from the ground like mushrooms. Hamburg experienced a beer renaissance—also in export.

By 1900, beer was being brewed in 15 publicly traded breweries and a few smaller private companies. The First World War ended this positive development abruptly—a number of breweries closed their doors. After the Second World War, Hamburg's brewers started from scratch again. The brewing companies were often very badly damaged. In 1951, the first Ratsherrn Pilsner was served in a pub, brewed at the Elbschloss brewery.

At the beginning of the 1970s, three brewery sites shut down; in the 1980s and 90s, a few microbreweries opened; in 1995, the Elbschloss brewery shuttered its doors—and Ratsherrn softly and quietly withdrew from the beer market. Other breweries experienced a similar fate, meaning there are actually more then three active breweries in Hamburg today.

And yet in 2012, two new breweries opened: Block Bräu and Ratsherrn. Ratsherrn now has found a home in the brand new brewery in the Schanzenhöfen. We'll drink to that!

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