The Westphalian town of Dortmund brews more beer than almost any other city in the world - second only to Milwaukee. This has always been so. Already in the 13th century, when Milwaukee was still a barren swamp and Munich a deserted abbey, when wheat beer, stout, and pale ale had not yet been invented, and pilsners and lagers roamed the earth like gods, when beer production was still largely a home-based affair, and the beer purity laws were a mere glimmer in the eyes of alcoholic bureaucrats, King Adolf of Nassau passed a royal decree to Dortmund, a wealthy and influential member of the Hanseatic League, giving it a local monopoly on production.
But let's step back a bit into the history of brewing, if we want to understand the terrible wars which followed this edict. Beer is basically a preparation of grains first washed and cooked, then left to ferment with an admixture of malt, hops, and yeast. This was already the basic recipe known to the Sumerians and Egyptians. Early beer, of course, was home-brewed in (relatively) small batches, and so the easiest way to ensure the preparation of the next batch was to save a small amount of the malt and yeast mash for next time. Without the malt and yeast cultures, you just get a pot of grains covered in warm water - may as well call it porridge. Beer brewed in Dortmund in the late 13th century was fermented with a mash called Grut, made of malt, resin, bay leaves, and a type of wild rosemary, ledum palustre (a nerve toxin and mild hallucinogen, which is why it was replaced by hops officially in 1681...but that's another story), among other herbs. The royal edict of 1296 in effect stated that the city and merchants of Dortmund had a monopoly on this sour mash, thenceforth to be bought and sold only by officially licensed dealers. Emperor Ludwig IV confirmed this exclusive right on the 25th of August, 1332, in the proclamation of the so-called ius grutae. Dortmund had managed to control all beer production and consumption - at least officially - in Westphalia..
Of course, it wasn't long until the local cities revolted. In, the towns of Münster, Bielefeld, Hamm, and Minden joined together to protest all shipments of beer from Dortmund. Deliveries from Dortmund were seized by patriots in the employ of these four towns and poured out - a Münster beer party. Things began to escalate. Dortmund put all shipments under heavy escort, hiring cohorts of armed thugs to accompany every delivery. The rebel alliance turned to guerilla tactics - snipers were sent out to hide along the trade routes and shoot holes into any kegs before fleeing for safety into the dense woods. If they were caught, the punishment according to Dortmund law was death by drowning in a full keg. Beer and blood flowed in the streets of Westphalia..
The war found its end with the story of the great hero and rebel sniper, Jochen Beutelmann of Münster. Wanted for the destruction of countless kegs and with a heavy bounty on his head, he was finally captured and sentenced to death on the gallows. Why the town of Dortmund spared his life, we don't know. In his place, they hanged a thief who had already been sentenced, but, under the impression that Beutelmann was dead, the combined forces of Münster, Bielefeld, Hamm, and Minden marched against Dortmund, hoping to stop the horrible oppression at last. As they drew near the city, the people of Dortmund sent out a last envoy under a flag of truce to plead a settlement. And whom did they send? Jochen Beutelmann, of course..
The records of the end are rather vague. We know that Dortmund still stands, and the rebel alliance didn't burn the city to the ground. We know that they finally reached a settlement, and the beer monopoly of Dortmund was curbed, leading to the eventual democratization of brewing. We also know that in celebration of the settlement, the combined five cities threw a party, and much beer was consumed that day..
And this is where the story ends...