The Most European Beer, Probably?

Nationalism and Beer at the Heart of Europe

Geronimus Hatt rented a cellar and brewed his first beer in Zür Kanone in Strasbourg in 1664. At the time, Strasbourg was located in the Holy Roman Empire, which Voltaire famously quipped wasn’t holy, wasn’t Roman and wasn’t an Empire. It was one of several proudly independent Free Imperial Cities, a number of which were then found in the Rhineland. This is one of history’s great frontlines and particularly so in Early Modern Europe where it featured frequently in the long running wars between anxious French monarchs and the Hapsburgs whose marital strategy of JVs had effectively encircled them.

In Hatt’s time, the wars were going in favour of the French, where under the leadership of its great Cardinals and their protégé, Louis XIV, France was gradually edging eastwards into the upper and lower Rhine with the objective of consolidating its borders. The long years of war had been good for the Alsatian beer business and armies from all over Europe had visited Strasbourg for a spot of R&R: ravage and refreshment.

 By the 1660s, there were now over 20 breweries. But as Hatt, the cooper’s son who’d married the baker’s daughter, built his business, the French were getting ever closer and in 1681 The Sun King’s army marched into Strasbourg. Overnight Herr Hatt became Monsieur Jérôme Hatt, the first of a long line of brewers to bear the name and build the business throughout France.

By the nineteenth century, the growing population in French cities and the coming of the railroads which could transport barrels of beer into the heart of Paris boulevards provided the opportunity for the Hatt family to further expand production and they opened a new brewery in the Faubourg Kronenbourg, which would of course later impact on how the beer is known today.

But meanwhile there remained some major unfinished business in the Rhineland, and in 1871, the Prussian army returned to Strasbourg, and this time it was not for beer tourism. They arrived again in 1914, and just in case a third time might be luckier, they came again in 1940. It wasn’t until 1945 that the Alsace question was finally(?) answered. But by then, Hatt’s beer was perhaps just un peu Frallemand.

It was just after the end of Second World War that another Jérôme Hatt made Kronenbourg (with a K, an interwar Frenchified Cronenbourg was dropped) the main brand focus of the concern, and with its familiar and ubiquitous Rot and Wiss label, it quickly became one of the leading beers of France. After its merger with Kanterbräu in 1986, Brasseries Kronenbourg looked safely dominant but then a familiar pattern in the narrative re-appeared. BSN, wanting to focus on well-being (aka yoghurt and water) sold Brasseries Kronenbourg to Scottish and Newcastle – there had in fact been a long-standing special relationship with the UK, and in 1952, a brand called 1664 had been brewed in honour of Queen Elizabeth’s accession.

But barely had the dust settled on this deal before in the great Game of Brewopoly, Kronenbourg was sold on to Carlsberg.

It was shortly this in 2010 that the Brand Historian received his dream commission. He was invited to organise a piss-up-in-a-brewery. In the Request for Proposal, this event was referred to as a strategic brainstorming, and the brewery concerned was to be the old Kronenbourg brewery in Strasbourg. Three hundred years since Bière Hatte Luxe was first brewed, the French, Germans, Brits, Danes and Russians were back in the heart of Europe for a spot of R&R.

Party like it’s 1664: 

Miserere Jean Baptiste Lully

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