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Historic Beer Birthday: Leopold Nathan

Today is the birthday of Leopold Nathan (July 30, 1864- December 24, 1937). He was born in Laupheim, in Württemberg, Germany, in 1864. “He studied chemistry in Frankfurt am Main and became a leading expert in wine and beer processing. In 1912 he founded the Nathan-Institut, or Nathan-Institute AG.” He developed the Nathan Brewing System, the closed system using conical-cylindrical fermenters that are ubiquitous today.

This is his biography, translated from Dutch, from his page on the BeerWiki:

Leopold Nathan (Laupheim, July 30, 1864 – Berlin-Dahlem , December 24, 1937) was a German scientist, brewer and inventor. He was born at Schloss Laupheim. This slot had the disposal of a brewery, so early did not only his interest in fermentation measure that also to nature in general. Due to poor health, after doctoral education he did not go to the gymnasium, but in the doctrine of an uncle, where he could transform his love for flowers and plants into the open air into theoretical knowledge. Before his 18th he studied fruit and wine studies at Geisenheim University College. For some time he had been the assistant of Hermann Müller, better known as Hermann Müller-Thurgau, the breeder of the Müller-Thurgau grape breeder.

Nathan dedicated himself to making wine from berries and paid close attention to the yeast types used. In winter of 1888, Nathan again contacted brewing when he studied the yeast reindeer culture for three months in the famous laboratory of the Carlsberg Brewery, where Emil Christian Hansen performed groundbreaking work for the brewing industry.

In the years thereafter he made more and more of fermentation, first of berries, later also the preparation of champagne and schaumwein and sekt – the German version of champagne.

Nathan Institute

Nathan develops a new way of producing and riping beer under substantially sterile conditions, the [Nathan_Brouwerij | Nathan System]. Around the turn of the century, Leopold Nathan came to Switzerland, where he would later receive citizenship. In 1912, in Zurich, together with Ing. Gille, Bonenblust and Einstein founded the Nathan Institute. From this institute, the process and components of the brewing facilities are further improved and the commercial activities supported. The chemical department of the Technical University of Munich, Nathan, awarded his title in 1923 the title ‘Doctor ing.’.

Just a few of his patents, as filed in the U.S., include the Manufacture of vessels (1906), a Process for sterilizing closed vessels (1907), the Art of brewing beer (1918), a Process and apparatus for the filtration of beer wort for further treatment, and for the filtration of beer and other foaming liquids (1930), a Process for the elimination of the immature odoriferous constituents in brewing (1935).

The Walkerville Co-operative Brewing Company Ltd of Adelaide signed an agreement with the Nathan Institute of Zurich in November 1925 for the installation of its plant at the company’s brewery at Southwark, and this became the first Nathan system to be installed in Australia. It was a major project for the brewery, requiring the erection of additional buildings to accommodate the new equipment. Beer production commenced in the Nathan plant late in 1927, and a formal opening ceremony was held in January 1928.

Nathan Bitter was the first beer brewed and was instantly popular, being sold around Australia. The South Australian Brewing Company was becoming the more dominant brewery in the 1930’s and by the end of the decade they had purchased the Walkerville Brewery. Since the Nathan Beers were so popular they continued to make the beer at the Southwark Brewery, the brewery wanted to remove the Walkerville branding so they renamed the brewery to the Nathan Brewery.

This is Nathan’s obituary, written by H. Lloyd Hind, from the Journal of the Institute of Brewing in March of 1938:

Members will have heard with regret of the sudden death of Dr. Leopold Nathan, at Berlin. To many he was personally known through his visit to Edinburgh and London in 1930, when he addressed both Sections. His name stood very high in the brewing world on account of the great technical advances he introduced. These may possibly have overshadowed his scientific attainments, which were of no mean order. Though he lived to the age of 73, he was rather delicate in his youth, but overcame this and developed the remarkable energy which characterised him in later years. He had a varied career. Engaged first at a distillery in Erfurt, he passed on to the study of viniculture and, finally worked under Hanson at Copenhagen. Returning to Germany he was engaged in the preservation of vegetables by drying and drew attention to the possibilities of canning.

During this early stage of his career he also worked on the manufacture of fruit juices and was the first to apply pure yeast culture to wines, and was one of the earliest protagonists of the collection of fermentation gas. This work led him to study brewing, and ultimately to the rapid brewing process, with which his name is associated. The object of the Nathan process is to produce a lager beer in much shorter time than is usual. It is based on the principle of pure yeast in sterile wort. In 1900, Nathan moved to Zurich, and in 1912 founded the Nathan Institute and from there directed many installations all over the world. The output of beer brewed by his process now amounts to more than 1,500,000 barrels a year. He drew attention many years ago to the necessity of using air-free CO, and to the advantages of bottling under CO2. The University of Munich recognized the value of his scientific and technical work by conferring on him the honorary degree of doctor.

The Nathan Brewery

But it’s his brewing system that he invented and improved upon throughout his life that he’s remembered for, so let’s take a look at the Nathan System.

This description is from the page on the Nathan Brewery, translated from Dutch, on the BeerWiki

In the early twentieth century, in climatic conditions, it was virtually impossible to brew a good beer in areas with a tropical climate. The German but Swiss resident Brewer and inventor Leopold Nathan developed a new type of brewery with a brewing method in that time. The method was aimed at not contacting the wort with direct outdoor air and significantly reducing the bearing time. Several breweries were already in use in Germany who used a Nathan installation and the results were hopeful. During this time, conventional fermenters used conventional breweries, and after a storage period of up to six months, the beer was suitable for consumption.

The tight, technically well-equipped interior of a Nathan brewery.

As with the classic method, the malt is scraped and mixed with water. This mixture is then heated in steps to convert the starch into sugars during the germination. The next step is filtering out the grain residues and the remaining liquid (the wort) is boiled and hops are added. In this process the wort becomes sterile.

With the method of Nathan, the wort is removed in a special barrel of all hop and malt residues and then cooled to 5 ° C as soon as possible by means of a surface cooler. This cooler is located in a space where filtered and sterile air is blown. The chilled wort goes slowly from below into the vessel and is pumped so until the liquid is clear.


Unlike the usual open fermentation bins, aluminum barrels were used in a Nathan brewery. These cylinder conical tanks were an essential part of the Nathan Breweries. This type of tank was patented by Nathan in 1927 and are still used in many breweries. The tanks were fitted with a jacket that allowed cooling to the right temperature. The yeast – a cultured, clean culture – was added from below and kept in motion by sterile air or carbon dioxide so that the yeast process could be accurately controlled. In six to nine days, depending on the type of beer, the fermentation was completed. Because it was a closed system all carbon dioxide generated at the fermentation could be collected and reused after purification. Before use, the used material was sterilized with alcohol.

The Nathan Institute also provided “loose” yeast cultivation plants. Such an installation was placed at the Hürlimann brewery based in Zurich. At this brewery a lot of research was done on yeast and its functioning. Hürlimann brought “Birell” one of the first truly successful alcohol-free beers on the market.

The storage that took place in a classic brewery in those days was accelerated in the Nathan method by a few days a lot of small bubbles of carbonated acid (collected at the fermentation) by pumping the young beer.

Schematic drawing of a Nathan brewery on the back of a French-language brochure.

This is a report on a talk Nathan gave in Chicago at a meeting of the American Society of Brewing Technology in 1914:

This is one of his earlier patents.

And this history is from Ian Spencer Hornsey’s “A History of Beer and Brewing:”

There are also several other online accounts of Leopold Nathan. See, for example, Gary Gillman’s two posts, Leopold Nathan – Unsung Hero of Modern Brewing and Some Bio On Dr. Leopold Nathan. Then there’s also Brewing Vessels Reviewed: Cylindroconical fermenters remain a craft beer staple, The Nathan System in Australia, and Improvements in the Fermentation and Maturation of Beers.

And this is one of his later patents.

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