The a tour of the A. Le Coq brewery is like almost any other brewery tour, you learn how beer is made and get to look at a lot of gleaming stainless steel before sampling some beer, but what really sets A. Le Coq apart is their beer and brewing museum. The museum is housed in the old malt tower that was in use until 1998! I don’t know of a single brewery in the US that malts their own grain, or even one that used to recently so I was quite impressed by this.
The tower was originally built in 1898 and most nearly all of the original equipment was still in use 100 years later! The building itself is something of a Tartu icon.
The museum sprawls over 6 floors and covers topics ranging from the ancient brewing techniques of Egypt and Mesopotamia, to Estonian home brewing, to early industrial brewing.
There really is a wealth of information here and there is no way I can cover half of it even in 10 posts so what follows is just some of the highlights of what I learned from my time there.
Ancient Egyptian Brewing
- Ancient Egyptians had floating breweries! When Pharaohs or other important dignitaries traveled on the Nile they often had smaller boats dedicated to baking and brewing that would tag along to keep the entourage well feed and well imbibed.
- An ancient Egyptian beer mug could hold 3 liters of beer and the laborers who built the great pyramids of Giza were given up to 3 mugs of beer per day! Apparently beer for commoners was quite low in alcohol and maybe more similar to modern kvass otherwise there is no way that they could have built a single house let alone great monuments of stone.
- Ancient Egyptian nobility enjoyed a number of beer styles including some rather strong examples imported from modern day Syria and Turkey. In contrast to imported beers, Egyptian beers tend to be quite low strength and therefore did not keep well. Therefore beer was always made fresh, so Pharaohs were buried with slaves, ingredients, and equipment to make beer, but not beer itself.
Malt Tower and Malting Drums
- Up until very recently A. Le Coq malted its own barley. The basement of the museum houses the malt drums that are now well over 100 years old and the only example of such equipment that has preserved anywhere in Europe. Other floors contain portions of the kiln and the drying floors where the grain would have been dried.
Historic Brewing Equipment
- The museum also houses a large collection of historic brewing equipment ranging from a large medieval copper brew kettle, to early bottle fillers, corkers and beer filters.
Odds and Ends
The museum also houses a number of beer related collections including a large number of bottle caps, and bottle labels. One of the more unusual items is a bottle of A. Le Coq from the 1800s that was recovered from a shipwreck off the coast of Denmark
Estonian Brewing Traditions
The museum covers Estonian homebrewing techniques in great detail and also houses some nice examples of farmhouse brewing equipment, and a recipe for Finnish Sahti, which I will cover in a future post.