Hermann Muender, Lager Missionary

Harp lager beer mat (detail)

From the 1950s to the 1970s several new lager brewing plants were set up in Britain and Ireland, usually under the management of, or at least with guidance from, Continental lager-brewing experts.

We’re fascinated by the stories of these people who left great European cities to live in places like Northampton or, in the case of today’s case study, Dundalk, Ireland, pop. 37,000.

We had read about Dr Hermann Muender before but our interest was renewed when we came across this picture of him (photographer uncredited) in the Autumn 1968 edition of Guinness Time, the staff magazine for Guinness’s London brewery at Park Royal:

Dr Hermann Muender.

It accompanies a lengthy article on the development of the Harp Lager brand from 1958 onwards which says:

For the technical expertise which would be required at the top Guinness decided to look to the Continent for a brewer and Dr. Hermann Muender, a distinguished Braumeister, was engaged to produce a lager which would as excellent in its own way as their stout. Eminently qualified, he had worked with the scientific research department of the Institute of Fermentation in Berlin, an din Cologne where he directed the rehabilitation of the war damaged breweries in the Ruhr. He had been the large managing director of a large brewery in Cologne.

So, an interesting bloke, and perhaps someone who deserves some credit for the revival (or re-invention) of Kölsch in the 20th Century?

Anyway, we wanted to know more. Fortunately, just as we started looking into Dr Muender, the Dundalk local newspaper, The Argus, reprinted a 1985 interview with him. You can find it online via Pressreader.com, behind a fairly reasonably-priced firewall. From it, we learned the following.

As a student, Hermann Muender was destined to go into the family brewing business but, instead, when World War II began, was sent to fight first in Poland, and then in Russia. His wife, Gerda, and their daughter went to Vienna and he barely saw them for the duration of the war. After the war, he spent six months looking for them, pinning messages to trees in the hope word would get to them. At one point, he avoided being shipped to Siberia by the occupying Russian forces by feigning appendicitis. Once he was reunited with his family, to avoid being stuck in Communist East Germany, they walked West, all the way to Cologne. He was a university lecturer for a time before going back into brewing.

Guinness approached him in 1958 with an offer of a five-year contract and a promise of a brewing job elsewhere if Harp Lager didn’t work out. He moved to Ireland knowing next to nothing about it — he ‘did not even know that English was spoken in the country’ — and was unhappy with the state of the Great Northern Brewery on first arrival. He and his team overhauled the brewery along German lines before brewing a pilot batch of c.70 gallons which they tested on drinkers at the nearby Kennedy’s pub. Harp went on to be a colossal commercial success and Dr Muender stayed in Dundalk for 20 years before retiring to Canada.

Of course, we’d like to know more — he seems like the kind of chap who might have kept thorough notebooks — but that’s not a bad start.

7 thoughts on “Hermann Muender, Lager Missionary”

  1. This was a period in which German technology and expertise were considered unrivalled in the brewing arts, even by British and Americans. This explains a frequent reliance, not just on executives such as you profiled to assist the domestic industry, but on German hops for the top quality (for lager certainly) and, often, German-made equipment.

    This is in contrast to the mid-1800’s when pale ale expertise was envied and closely studied by German and Austrian experts.

    And today, the pendulum swings back, with craft beer developments making some inroads in Germany and a recognition by some in the country that their brewing culture needs a fillip.

    Gary

  2. “He moved to Ireland knowing next to nothing about it — he ‘did not even know that English was spoken in the country’ ” – that does not match with the information given by Muender himself in The Guinness Book of Guinness (p281), where he says he was approached by “Herr Krauss” of the Schmidding Werke in Cologne on behalf of Guinness and asked “whether I would like to take a position in an English speaking country in Europe but not GB”. He certainly doesn’t seem to have been impressed with the Dundalk brewery – according to Edward Guinness, Muender described it as “an achemist’s kitchen”.

    If you’re looking for more on Muender and Harp, The Guinness Book of Guinness has masses, and it’s available for around £20 via ABE Books … Ron Pattinson link, one of the first places to brew Harp in England was the old Barclay Perkins brewery in Southwark …

    1. Thanks, Martyn. Will add it to the shopping list.

      I reckon the version of the story in the paper from 1985 and the one from the book sound compatible, though, based on what you’ve quoted. (But he was probably also aiming for a bit of a flourish while talking to a journo and/or the journo span it that way in the writing up.)

  3. Hello,
    My name is Mark, I am Herman’s grandson. I remember visiting the brewery in the late 60’s and early 70’s. A fascinating place.

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