Historical Tidbits: Beer Styles and the Law, 1913

In 1913, the editors of the brewing trade magazine American Brewer contacted the U. S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Inspection Board in hopes that someone there would clarify the meaning of the (still relatively new) pure food and drug laws. Under what conditions, asked the magazine’s staff, could a brewer use the term “Pilsen” or “Bohemian” on his labels?

The inspection board’s chair responded reported that brewers could avoid paying fines (or worse) for violations of the laws by sticking to beer beers “of the true style after which they are named.” Otherwise, the government would consider them to be “misbranded.”

If, for example, a brewer wanted to use a label or trademark containing the words “Pilsen Style” or Wuerzburger Style,” he must “use the same materials and process of manufacture” as used in the country where those beers originated.

He thought it unlikely that any American brewer would be able to comply. As he pointed out, for decades brewers had added  corn and rice to  their beers because “the people of the United States did not desire a heavy type of beer made from malt.”

“It therefore seems to me. . . that we are not producing in this country beers of the Wuerzburger or Culmbacher types” but rather an American beer with a foreign name.

“I think that the sooner the brewers of this country get away from the use of foreign names on their beers and sell their products on their merits, letting the consumer know that they are an American type of beer different in quality from foreign beers, the better it will be for the whole industry.”

The editors at AB disagreed. There was “no guarantee,” they pointed out, that a German brewer making, say, Bohemian or Wuerzburger beer was not also using adjuncts.

Moreover, brewing processes were not set in stone: A brewer could create a Bohemian type beer using any number of processes and materials. Still, the editors agreed that brewers should stop using foreign names because it was clear that the Department of Agriculture intended to enforce the law: A year earlier, the U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of Georgia had seized a shipment of bottled beer whose labels read “Special Export Extra Pale Beer. Brewed from the very best malt and hops.”

The attorney claimed that the beer contained “little if any malt” and plenty of “other grains.” (The brewer paid a one hundred dollar fine.)


Source: “The Pure Food Law in Relation to the Brewing Industry,” American Brewer 46, no. 5 (May 1913): 230-231.