Abstract: A Golden Flood: The Spread of the Pilsner in the Late Nineteenth Century

Malcolm Purinton


Nothing more strikingly exemplifies the wide influence of England all over the world than the way in which our national beverage, beer, finds its way to all quarters of the globe. This boast by the British Brewers' Journal in 1885 proved short-lived: within fifteen years consumers worldwide had turned overwhelmingly to drinking German-made Pilsner beer. How and why did this change in consumptive practices occur so rapidly and so thoroughly across the world? Pilsner-style beer today constitutes around three-quarters of all beer consumed and produced in the world, with the top four Pilsner-style brewers—Anheuser-Bush InBev, SABMiller, Heineken, and Carlsberg—accounting for over half the global market for beer. Yet no one has explained why this is the case. This paper begins to answer this question through examining the business practices of the brewers of the United Kingdom and the Continent. I argue that the British choice of competition negatively influenced their control of foreign markets. In contrast, a crucial reason for the success of the Continental brewers was their choice to collaborate in producing quality products for many different consumers across the globe.