#BeeryLongReads2018: Revisiting Brewing Methods

More than two years ago, I wrote an article discerning accounts from 1834 about various brewing methods as they were practiced in Germany and Austria, in particular Munich, Augsburg, Prague and Vienna, as part of #BeeryLongReads. I even won great prizes for it:

A lot has happened since then, not only did I gain more experience in blogging, I also published a book about historic beer stuff. So this time, I want to follow up on the theme and discuss the specific differences in decoction mashing from a late 19th century point of view.

Franz Cassian published a book named “Die Dampf-Brauerei. Eine Darstellung des gesammten Brauwesens nach dem neuesten Stande des Gewerbes.” in 1887 in which he talks about the state of the art of brewing at that time. I only came across this book recently, and found it particularly interesting because it contains a whole section with nothing but detailed descriptions of various types of decoction mashing and their differences.

Now, if you’ve never heard of decoction mashing before, let me just quickly describe it to you: when brewing a beer, the brewer uses the enzymes in the malt combined with hot water to convert the starches in the malt to sugar. In order for the enzymes to work under optimal conditions, this needs to happen at certain temperatures. Different enzymes do their stuff at different temperatures, so if you wanted to activate the enzymes to do their thing, you’d go through these different temperature steps so that each of them can work under optimal conditions. There are essentially three different ways of doing this:

  1. by adding more hot or boiling water (which can make the mash very thin)
  2. by heating up the mash until the right temperature is reached (which can be tricky if you don’t have exact temperature control)
  3. by taking a part of the mash, boiling it, and mixing it back (which takes a long time and uses up a lot of energy and fuel)

Some brewing traditions even just keep a single temperature, but in some ways, they’re just a simplification of methods (1) and (2), which nowadays are called infusion mashing. Method (3) on the other hand is called decoction mashing and is very traditional in Bavaria, Bohemia and Austria to a certain extent, and only used to be practiced there. At the time, brewers swore by it and exclaimed that decoction mashing was absolutely essential for their local beer style. Even today, decoction mashing is necessary in the Czech Republic if a brewer wants to call their beer a Czech beer.

Modern German breweries have gone off it for various reasons though: energy efficiency is one of them, as infusion mashing doesn’t use up nearly as much energy. Another reason is the perceived lack of impact on quality. This is relatively controversial, but there exist studies that claim that the difference of decoction mashing and infusion mashing cannot be smelled or tasted by your average Joe beer consumer, while some brewers still swear by it. An experiment at Brulosophy that compared whether people could taste a difference between triple-decocted beer and one produced by single infusion mash failed to gain significance. Upon closer analytical examination, differences between worts and beers produced through infusion mashing resp. single, double and triple decoction mashing can be measured.

Decoction mashing nowadays is mostly distinguished by how many decoctions are pulled (1, 2 or 3), the consistency of the decoctions (thick or thin), and which temperature steps you’re going through. With modern brewing science as a helpful tool, we exactly know what’s happening at each temperature step and which enzymes will be the most active, and we know about the destructive force boiling a decoction wields on the diastatic power (the ability to convert starches to sugar) of the partial mash. Even though brewing science in the late 19th century had already made great progress, brewing as such was still a craft and findings of brewing science were not necessarily immediately incorporated into the knowledge and toolset of a brewer.

With this context, let’s look at what Franz Cassian wrote about the specific styles of decoction mashing. He distinguishes three main methods, the Munich method, the Viennese method, and the Bohemian method. He identifies two main differences between those three methods: first, the type of malt that is used in mashing, and second, the way the mash is treated in relation to temperature, the number and consistency of individual decoctions, as well as boiling durations. The rest of the operation, like boiling and chilling the wort as well as fermenting and lagering the beer, he says, are essentially the same.

He then goes on to describe the different malts that are used for each of these methods: for the Munich method, highly kilned malts are being used, while for the Viennese method, the malt used produces a beer with reddish-brown colour that is lighter than Munich beers. The malt itself is very aromatic. The typical malt for Bohemian beers, he writes, is very pale, leading to an almost wine-like colour of the beer. The malt is kilned as such low temperatures that the author describes them more as dried than kilned. He also mentions an interesting detail: some Munich breweries at that time had started kilning their malt to a lower temperature, and then adjusted the colour of the beer with Farbebier.

Farbebier, literally “colouring beer”, is an extremely dark beer made from large amounts of debittered roasted malt that can be used to adjust the colour of beer without imparting the beer with too much roasted aroma and flavour. Since it’s just beer, mixing Farbebier with pale beer was compliant with the Bavarian prohibition on adulterating beer or substituting its ingredients. It was the only legal food colouring for beer at that time, and still is to this day if you want to advertise your beer as being compliant to the Reinheitsgebot.

Kilning at lower temperatures has a good technical reason: it destroys fewer of the enzymes that are required for starch conversion, and makes the malt more convertible, which in turn makes it easier for brewers to work with it. Using Farbebier was really just for matching customer expectations. This is what some Munich breweries allegedly still do nowadays: American beer consumers expect an Oktoberfest beer to be amber-coloured instead of the golden colour of modern Festbier, so Farbebier is used to adjust the colour for the American exports without impacting the flavour.

This description with Bohemian malt being the palest, Munich malt being the darkest and Viennese malt being in-between these two also reflects modern base malts: many maltings in Germany will produce and trade at most three base malts: Munich malt, Vienna malt and Pilsner malt. Only a few specialty malt producers offer a wider range of base malts, from extra-pale malt even paler than Pilsner malt, to Pale Ale malts more suitable for British and American styles, to proprietary malt blends for producing wort with a distinct red hue.

Besides the malt, the even more important distinction in brewing methods was the mashing itself. For Bavarian mashing, the author distinguishes four types: the old Munich or old Bavarian method, the new Munich method, the Augsburg method, and the Franconian method.

Old Bavarian Method

At the time of the publication of this book, this method was barely in use anymore. It used to be common for primitive breweries with not a whole lot of equipment, so most of the work was manual labour: mashing and lautering was done in the same vessel, so mash tuns had a false bottom, stirring was only done by hand, and hot water was added through simple tubes attached on the side of the mash tun going underneath the false bottom. Underneath the mash/lauter tun, another vessel, the “Grand”, was installed, which was large enough to contain all the collected wort.

The brewing process worked like this: for every unit of malt (by weight), 8 times that amount in water was required. One third of the water is added to the mash tun, while the rest is slowly brought to a boil. While the water heats up, the malt is doughed in. Bringing the water to a boil could take 3 to 4 hours, so that’s how long the malt was doughed in at a cool temperature. When the water is boiling, it is added very slowly to the mash, and mixed thoroughly, so that when all the boiling water is mixed in, the mash is at a temperature of about 37 to 38 °C.

Immediately, one third of the volume (as a thick mash) is put back into the copper, and quickly brought to a boil, where it is boiled for half an hour and then slowly mixed back into the main mash while constantly stirring. The resulting temperature of the mash should then be at about 45 to 50 °C, and will be mashed (stirred) for another 15 minutes to liquefy the mash. Then again, a third of the volume (again a thick mash) is put into the copper, and boiled for 45 minutes, and again slowly mixed back to reach a mash temperature of 60 to 63 °C. More stirring happens for 15 minutes, until the the third decoction can happen:

A third of the mash, this time a thin mash, is put into the copper, boiled for 15 minutes, and – you should know the drill by now – slowly mix it back under constant stirring to reach 73 to 75 °C. With that, the mash boiling is concluded, but not the mash itself: it gets stirred until the mash is fully converted. Nowadays, this would be verified with an iodine test (an iodine solution turns from brown to blue if the mash still contains unconverted starches), but back then it was determined by how quickly the hard matter in a sample of the mash sinks down the bottom of the vessel.

When mashing is concluded, it rests so that the grains can sink to the bottom of the vessel, which usually takes 30 minutes. Then the tap of the lauter tun is opened and the first wort is drawn into buckets. The wort is poured back onto the mash until it runs clear, then the wort is collected in the Grand, from where it is transferred to the copper. The grains are then further rinsed by pouring hot water on top: 30 liters per 100 kg of malt. The resulting wort is added to the wort. More hot water is then poured on top of the grains, at 50 to 60 liters per 100 kg of malt, and the resulting wort is used to brew a weak beer called “Schöps”. The final runnings, at 30 to 40 liters per 100 kg of malt, are called the Glattwasser and are used for distilling.

New Munich Method

Unlike the old Bavarian method, the new Munich method employs more sophisticated equipment and a certain degree of automation using steam engines. Mash and lauter tuns are separate, and no full-sized Grand is used anymore. Doughing in happens with a pre-masher, and the initial mash temperature is reached by using water from a hot liquor tank. The Mash tun is set higher than other equipment so that decoctions can be transported using gravity, and mixed back using pumps. Like the old method, the new method still employs three decoctions, two thick ones and a final thin one. But due to the high degree of automation, exact timing, and a hot liquor tank that can be used for quick temperature corrections, the whole process is meant to be quicker and more precise and therefore more reproducible and repeatable.

The temperature steps are slightly different: the first decoction is drawn at 30 °C and boiled for 15 to 45 minutes to bring the mash to 55 °C. The second decoction is boiled for 15 to 45 minutes to bring the mash to 65 °C, and the final thin decoction is boiled for 30 to 45 minutes to bring the mash to 75 °C. The amount of sparge water that is used is two thirds of the initial water volume.

Augsburg Method

The typical method for Augsburg is “auf Satz brauen”, which is pretty unique and quite different from the class Bavarian or Munich decoction. The ratio of malt to water is 1:6 by weight. The mash tun has a false bottom, which gets covered with hop leafs to help prevent the mash from getting sour through lactic acid fermentation. Doughing in is done with so much cold water that the resulting mash is quite thin and easy to stir, and then rested for 4 to 5 hours. Then the cold malt extract (you probably can’t call it wort yet), called “kalter Satz”, is then drawn off and put aside. The rest of the water is brought to a boil, and then a few liters (unfortunately, the author is not very clear here) of the kalter Satz are added to the boiling water which makes the proteins in it coagulate. The proteins are removed, then the hot water is slowly mixed into the drained main mash that has been hacked up before. After all the hot water has been added, the kalter Satz is also mixed back into the main mash, after which it should have a temperature of 60 to 65 °C.

Then the mash is stirred until it has properly liquefied, only to rest 15 minutes before the “warmer Satz” is drawn off. This is just like lautering: first, wort is drawn off and poured back into the mash until it runs clear. Of all the wort, two thirds go into the copper, while one third is put aside. The wort in the copper is brought to a boil as slowly as possible to maximize the amount of hot break for a clearer wort. The boiling wort is poured back into the main mash, which again should have a temperature of about 65 °C. At that point, the mash shall be stirred to continue starch conversion.

Then, the thick portion of the mash is drawn off into the copper and boiled for up to 2 hours, until no more hot break appears on the surface. It is then mixed back into the main mash to get it up to 70 °C. Then, the wort that was set aside is added to the copper, hops are added, and the main mash is lautered and also added to the copper. This wort is then slowly brought to a boil.

In the late 19th century, this method was considered to be completely outdated, and only practiced in Augsburg. It was hard to scale it up to larger amounts, and suffered greatly from issues of the mash getting sour during the whole process. Beer made using it was described to be very full-bodied and less perishable than other Bavarian beers.

Franconian Method

The Franconian method, as described by Franz Cassian, is a single step decoction mash. The malt to wort ratio (by weight) is 1:6 to 1:7. Hot water of 80 to 85 °C is thoroughly mixed with the malt to reach about 60 to 65 °C and then rested until all hard matter has sunk to the bottom of the mash tun. Then, all the wort is drawn off and brought to a boil. All hot break is thoroughly removed, and the wort is boiled for 45 minutes. After that, it is mixed back into the mash to bring it up to 75 °C, and then thoroughly stirred and rested for an hour to continue conversion. Then a small amount of wort, about one tenth of the whole volume, is drawn off and used to boil the hops for about 30 minutes, then the rest of the wort is drawn off, added to the wort and hops, and boiled even longer (the author doesn’t specify how long, though).

Both beers brewed after the Augsburg and the Franconian method are sparged, but the resulting second runnings aren’t added to the first runnings, but rather made into a small beer called “Hansle” (if you’ve read my book, other sources also call this “Heinzele”).

Viennese Method

According to the author, this method may actually be used to produce more beer than with the Munich method, as it has been in use not only in Austria and Germany, but also in France, Norway, Russia, as well as breweries in North and South America. The method is described in very specific numbers:

To produce 100 liters of beer, 20 to 22 kg of malt are used. The total water amount is 200 liters, split up into the mash water (125 to 166 liters) and the sparge water (34 to 75 liters).

To malt is doughed in with 2/3 of the cold mash water, while 1/3 of the mash water is brought to a boil. It is stirred until it is completely smooth, and only then the boiling water is added to bring the mash to a temperature of 36 to 38 °C. The rest of the mash is done in a triple decoction fashion, with two thick decoctions and a thin decoction.

The first decoction is heated up, but not immediately brought to a boil: instead, it is rested at 70 to 75 °C for 10 to 35 minutes. After that, it is quickly brought to a boil, and boiled for 5 to 15 minutes. The boiling mash is then mixed back while thoroughly stirring to bring it to a temperature of 45 to 50 °C. After a rest of a few minutes, another third of the mash, again a thick mash, is drawn off and boiled for 20 to 50 minutes. It is then again mixed back. Unfortunately, the author doesn’t mention the expected temperature, but we can guess it to be in the range of 60 to 65 °C. For the final decoction, a larger amount of the whole mash, 40 to 50 %, is drawn off and brought to a boil so that the protein coagulates and the hot break settles. It is then mixed back into the main mash which should then have a temperature of about 75 °C. After some more stirring, the mash process is considered finished.

The mash is then lautered and sparged, and the wort is boiled with the hops. The stronger the beer, the more hops are used. Unfortunately, it doesn’t provide any specific hopping rates. Original gravities are mentioned, though: lager beers are generally at around 13 °P, while low-gravity draught beers are at 10 °P.

Bohemian Method

The Bohemian beers at that time are characterized as less malty, but rather more hop-aromatic. With every 100 kg of malt, 700 liters of water were used: 562 liters in the mash, 188 for sparging. 435 liters of water are used for doughing in at a temperature of 40 °C in winter, or 30 °C in summer. After doughing in is completed, 108 liters of boiling water are added to raise temperature. After a few minutes of rest, about one quarter of the thick mash are removed and very slowly heated up to 55 to 60 °C so that the enzymes can convert starches into sugar. After that, the decoction is brought to a boil, while the hot break gets skimmed. After 30 minutes of mashing, it is mixed back into the main mash, and stirred thoroughly to ensure a consistent temperature throughout the mash. After that, a second and third decoction are drawn and conducted exactly like the first thick decoction. After the third decoction has been mixed back, the overall temperature of the mash should be at 70 to 75 °C, and the mash is rested.

Wort is then drawn off until it is clear. The turbid part of the wort is boiled together with about 19 liters of water for a few minutes, and poured back into the mash. The mash is then moved to the lauter tan, and lautered and sparged with the sparge water that was set aside. The resulting wort is boiled with relatively large amounts of hops. Some of the hops are kept back and only added at the end of the boil to increase the amount of volatile hop aromas. This is what the author considered to be very specific for Bohemian beers and what gives them their typical hoppy aroma and flavour.

Discussion

While I’ve been working with lots of different sources when I was writing my book about historic German and Austrian beers, finding such a detailed description and comparison of various types of decoction mashing was quite refreshing. The Old Bavarian method is closest to what I’ve seen in plenty of other sources. I would describe it as the most classic method, pretty much fully based on manual labour, and done with an approach that employs volume measurements so that when done properly, no temperature measurements would be necessary. The ratio of malt to water is crazy high, though. For decoction brewing, today’s literature recommends ratios of 1:4 to 1:5. The text is not totally clear in all details, and might mean the total amount of water needed for the brew, i.e. including sparge water.

The Augsburg method, “Satz brauen” is truly odd. I’ve actually seen several different ways of how this is done, and the description as summarized above is actually the clearest one I’ve seen so far. It is possible to see why this method works and how it gets all starch converted, but it seems horribly inefficient, even in comparison to classic decoction mashing.

The Franconian method is closest to modern brewing. Any lower temperatures are skipped, and the main temperature is right at saccharification temperature. Other descriptions of the method that I’ve read don’t even employ a final thin decoction, but this might probably just be a local historic Bamberg variation.

The Viennese method on the other hand can be considered to be very modern: the specific method of resting the first decoction at about 70 °C for a while to let starches convert before the diastatic power is destroyed in the boil is a technique that even modern literature recommends, e.g. Narziß, though his recommended temperature is closer to 65 °C. And that’s what differentiates it from the classic Bavarian method: while it follows the same general pattern, it is more intricate, more detailed, more informed. It is built on top of the information that enzymes (though the book only says “diastase” without knowing what exactly enzymes are) break down starches to sugars at certain temperatures, and in the Viennese method, this is used to maximize fermentability of the wort. It is what I would call a modern method, this modernity would also be a good explanation for its success that is indicated by the author’s comment how internationally widespread the Viennese method has become.

The Bohemian method does seem a little bit more rustic, and differentiates itself by only using thick decoctions. It already builds upon the knowledge that starch conversion happens at certain temperatures, and leverages this knowledge to facilitate conversion when heating up individual decoctions. The specific mention of certain amounts of water does show that this has been thought through more and indicates that it closely follows a tried and tested recipe.

While not strictly related to the mash, the author discusses what distinguished Bohemian beers from other lager beers: the pale colour as well as the unique hopping method. I am not surprised that the author points out the use of late hopping techniques to introduce a brighter and more intense hop aroma. While we nowadays know that it’s the way of producing hop-aromatic beers, it is not a technique commonly seen in old brewing literature, where hops were only added for their preservative qualities as well as their bitterness.

All in all, this historic comparison of various mashing techniques from Bavaria, Bohemia and Austria was a great find. It gives a good insight into the shift from brewing as a craft involving manual labour (Old Bavarian method) to the industrialization of beer production supported by automation (New Munich method) and scientific methods (Viennese method). It also gives a good explanation what made Bohemian beer so unique and special in the late 19th century, which was also a reason why pale lager beers became the most widespread and successful type of beer in the world. And last but not least, it is also a good lesson for homebrewers how the decoction mashing process can be varied, in a form that’s even usable on a relatively small scale.

If you’re a homebrewer and you’ve never done a decoction: try it out. It may seem scary, but after brewing several beers with decoction mashing, I can safely say that it’s really hard to screw things up if you just follow the principle of doughing in, heating it up to about 40 °C, and then repeatedly taking out roughly a third of the mash, boiling it, and mixing it back. The mash goes through saccharification temperatures multiple times, and especially with enzyme-rich, “hot” malt that we have available nowadays, most of the conversion happens fast. I am a proponent of decoction mashing, because conceptually, it is really hard to screw up.

Historic Vienna Lager: More Findings

During my preparations for #BeeryLongReads2018, I found more information regarding my historic Vienna lager. In particular, I found more information about one topic that has been quite difficult to find anything out about: hopping rates. I blogged about the hops used in Vienna lager previously.

In the book “Die Theorie und Praxis der Malzbereitung und Bierfabrikation“, published by Julius Thausing in 1888 (previous, less comprehensive editions, e.g. from 1877, are available), the author lists typical hopping rates for Vienna lager beers. The amount of hops varied depending on the original gravity:

  • 10.5%: 1.8 – 2.2 – 2.5 g/l
  • 11.5%: 2.5 – 2.8 – 3.0 g/l
  • 12.5%: 3.0 – 3.3 – 3.6 g/l
  • 13.5%: 3.3 – 3.6 – 3.8 g/l
  • 14.5%: 3.6 – 3.8 – 4.0 g/l
  • 15.5%: 4.0 – 5.0 – 6.0 g/l

Low-gravity beer was generally brewed with an OG of about 10% and sold after 6 to 8 weeks, while the regular Lagerbier was brewed with 13% OG and lagered for 4 to 8, sometimes even 10 months or more. This hopping rate is a bit lower than what I had found in other sources before, which prescribed a hopping rate of 4 g/l for Vienna lager.

Of course, with the absence of any information regarding alpha acid, the actual bitterness still remains a big miracle.

In the years 2006 to 2015, the alpha acid content of Saazer hops varied between 2.1% (2015) and 4.0% (2011); the average 3.15%, the median 2.9%. At a hopping rate of 3.6 g/l in a 13°P wort and 90 minute boil time, this can mean a bitterness between 19 IBU and 37 IBU! Most likely, the answer lies somewhere in-between, so for hops with 3.15% alpha acid, this would mean 29 IBU, which seems absolutely reasonable and is close enough to some of my previous estimations of 27 IBU. I take this as a confirmation that a hopping rate to achieve a bitterness of around 27 IBU to 30 IBU seems appropriate for Vienna lager, at least from a historical point of view.

My latest project

After publishing my book about historic German and Austrian beer styles (including a print version produced on a very short notice!), I went on holidays and decided not to write so much about beer for a few weeks. Instead, I just enjoyed the local New Zealand beer scene, which was absolutely lovely and totally unique. Not so much outrageous stuff, but all just really good, sessionable, local beers of various styles.

Of course, I couldn’t go without my beer history for more than a few weeks. I’m not working on my next book (yet!), simply because I don’t have a good next topic that I want to research. Instead, I decided to do some homework and bring some order into the historic sources that I’ve been working with to put together my latest book. For that, I decided to compile a literature list of historic brewing books, not necessarily limited to only Austria or Germany. For the last week or so, I’ve been gradually going over all the digital archives of public libraries that I knew of and that I could access, and searched for all and any literature related to beer and brewing.

The outcome so far is a list of 144 books, ranging from 1710 to 1947, but mostly from the 19th century and early 20th century, from Germany, Austria-Hungary, the UK and the US. Since I absolutely hate knowledge being kept secret and eventually getting lost (just think of a late relative’s “secret recipe” for some dish you loved that was lost and that you’ve tried to recreate so many times but could never get it quite right), I decided to make this list public under a Creative Commons license. You can access the list directly on GitHub: https://github.com/akrennmair/historic-beer-literature-list/blob/master/historic-beer-literature-list.md

If you want to contribute additional records, just send me an email or – if you know how to use GitHub – submit a pull request with your changes.

The format in which I keep it is quite primitive for the moment, but I’m trying to come up with a better technical solution to make it better viewable, searchable and usable in bibliographic software. I really want to make this a hub and starting point for explorations of publicly available historic brewing literature. I will certainly use it as my starting point for my next big project.

My new book

As I had previously mentioned here, I’ve been working on a book about historic German and Austrian beer styles and how to brew them at home. Finally, today was the big day: the book is finally published! It’s called “Historic German and Austrian Beers for the Home Brewer” and can be purchased on Amazon as an e-book. You can get it here on Amazon.com, here on Amazon UK, and here on Amazon Germany. If you’re from another country, just search for the book title on your country’s Amazon website.

I decided to go the route of self-publishing, and went for exclusively publishing it for Amazon Kindle. You don’t need a Kindle e-book reader to read it, there are also mobile apps and desktop apps for Windows and Mac available for download. While this locks the book into the Amazon platform for the next 3 months, it also gives me, the author, more options to earn royalties. Not that I expect to earn a lot of money from this…

Work on the book started in November 2016, shortly after I had released my previous book which is shorter, in German and has a broader focus. The overwhelming feedback back then was that there was a huge interest in historic beer recipes from non-German speakers, so there was really no other option than to prepare the content in English, but very quickly turned into just focusing on German and Austrian beer styles and researching them much more in detail.

Due to a change in jobs in the middle of 2017, I didn’t put much effort into the project for several months, and only picked up work on it again towards the end of last year. So, part of my new year’s resolution for 2018 was to release this book within the first quarter of the year, which I’ve successfully managed. In the end, it was quite a bit of work to clean things up and get everything right. Thanks to everyone who was willing to proof-read the book beforehand and give me some feedback!

To give you a few insights into my nerdy ways of creating the e-book, let me describe my workflow. Just skip this paragraph if you’re not into geeky e-book software for programmers. Essentially, I used the Markdown format to write my book, with one file per section. It’s a simple text-based file format for documents which can then be converted into a number of other file formats by using various different tools. One of them is called pandoc, and is probably the most powerful converter of text file formats. It does a pretty good job converting a bunch of Markdown files to e-books, in particular the epub format. I also used it to produce a PDF file for easier reviewing, and used a tool named kindlegen to convert the epub file to .mobi, which I ultimately uploaded to Amazon for publishing. To build all these files, I used an old-fashioned Makefile, so whenever I edited any of the Markdown files, a simple “make” command rebuilt all files (.epub, .mobi, .pdf). To create the cover design, I used gimp. The cover image was painted by Eduard Grützner in 1912 and in the public domain. I downloaded it from Wikimedia Commons.

All in all, it was a great experience to work on the book. I learned a lot myself, discovered lots of interesting and exciting details about German beers, and I hope this e-book helps me get the word out that there is a side about German beer culture that goes way beyond the typical association of pale lager beers, Pilsner, and Bavarian wheat beer. That side has long been neglected, and was mostly replaced by modern lager brewing, but just that the fact that historically, there has been a beer tradition that is entirely different from modern German beer, is worth celebrating and worth spreading the word about. And my book is just a glimpse, there were literally hundreds of local beer styles around, while my book can only cover those for which specific recipes were preserved and documented. Unless more historic sources are uncovered, many old German beer styles may be lost.

So, if you’re a homebrewer, or a craft brewer, and you’re interested in exploring something new that is actually old, read my book, brew these beers, and help these styles have a revival. It worked for Gose, a beer style that was functionally extinct for several decades, and is now one of the most popular beer styles of the international craft beer scene, so I think it can work for other German beer styles, as well.

What will my next project be? I don’t know yet. I haven’t really thought about it. But I’m pretty sure something will come up, some topic that I will eventually find interesting enough to write about. Until then… read my book, and if you like it, spread the word. 😉

Why homebrewing made me appreciate beer even more


This is my contribution to Session 132 (aka Beer Blogging Friday).

My homebrewing “career” started in December 2012, when my girlfriend (now wife) and I decided to just try out brewing with an electric preserving cooker and a mash bag. The first beer was not great. I got a terrible recipe from a German homebrewing website which was described as a Bass clone. In retrospect, now that I know more about beer, it was completely misguided, as it used Vienna malt as base malt and German caramel malt, didn’t prescribe a specific hop variety nor a specific yeast. Luckily, I bought East Kent Goldings, not that I had heard about the variety before, but because the name sounded good to me, and Wyeast 1318 “London Ale III” yeast because hey, it was advertised as an English strain. We bottled the beer way too early, so it turned out way overcarbonated. I may have also overdone it with the hops, so it was very bitter, but in a pleasant way. In total, there was something about it that reminded of a typical German brewpub beer. My wife usually mentions this early period as the time when all our beers had “this homebrew taste”.

Despite these issues, we didn’t give up brewing, but continued with a stout (bought as an all-grain kit) and a Hefeweizen (also an all-grain kit), both of which turned out okay. The fourth beer was a special one, though. I was confident enough to somehow come up with a recipe myself, and I wanted to brew an IPA: not for us, but as a wedding present for a friend of mine who had spent three months in San Diego just a few months earlier. I read up on which hop varieties and which malts would be alright for an IPA, and the end result was actually pretty tasty. I even documented the recipe a few years ago in this blog, and looking back, I didn’t do too bad of a job.

Putting together my own recipes actually got me even more interested in homebrewing, because I suddenly realized how much of a potential for creative freedom there was in brewing: so many different techniques, ingredients, and beer styles, you could brew anything you wanted. Also around that time, I got a copy of Graham Wheeler’s Brew Your Own British Real Ale, a collection of over 100 clone recipes of more or less well-known British ales. Reading through it and comparing the recipes gave me a feeling for how recipes could be designed. From there on, with very few exceptions, practically every recipe was something I had put together myself (I think the only exceptions were a Black Sheep Best Bitter clone from said book with a weird diacetyl note, and a Heidenpeters Thirsty Lady clone), not all of them were great, but most of them taught me something new about brewing.

Besides the brewing itself, we also started going regularly to a Berlin craft beer meetup organized by Rory, who had an extensive knowledge about the Berlin beer scene and beer itself, and regularly organized visits to various breweries, craft beer bars, as well as beer tastings of different sorts. Anybody who has been involved with beer in Berlin within the last few years knows Rory, that’s how tightly he held the Berlin craft beer scene together. At some point, he organized a meetup of people from that craft beer meetup that were brewing at home, and a spin-off homebrewing meetup was started. While there had been occasional homebrewer-organized events in Berlin before, they were very irregular, usually German-speaking only, and more focused on just visiting bars. Rory’s homebrew meetup was different: very international, mostly English-speaking but not excluding German speakers, very open-minded, and very beer-focused. Everybody could just bring their own beer, and we would just taste one after the other, discuss them, and give feedback. It was well-structured, and very enjoyable at the same time. From these tasting, both guided tastings of commercial beers, and relatively unguided tastings of homebrewed beers, opened up a horizon of flavours (and off-flavours) that I otherwise probably wouldn’t have been able to experience. For some time, we even had themed tastings, where we’d e.g. all brew a Belgian style beer, or a Porter, or the same base recipe but everybody used a different hop variety. These themes made the meetups something that you could look forward to and work towards.

I think only in retrospect I realized how much of a nucleus of the emerging Berlin craft beer scene this homebrew meetup was: Thomas Wiestner who later co-founded Braukunst Wiestner was a regular participant who brought a lot of great and creative beers to the meetups. The two founders of Pirate Brew were there quite a few times, giving us crazy stuff to sample. The founder of The Mash Pit, Christian, helped organize the homebrew meetup, and usually provided us with the space to meet. A few people who I met there did beer sommelier trainings, and are now running beer tastings and homebrewing courses. It was a forum that inspired and encouraged people to do creative things, and to brew more exciting beer.

All these impressions had an impact on me as well: not only did I understand beer and its nuances better (or so I’d think, at least), it made me appreciate the craft of beer brewing more, because the close contact with all the processes (even just on a small scale at home) made me realize the complexity behind brewing as such. Don’t get me wrong, I think homebrewing is a hobby that is easy to get into as long as you can make porridge, read a thermometer, follow general instructions, and prepare well enough in advance to have all the necessary equipment and ingredients ready to go. But beyond that simplicity lie so many details, and the phenomenal thing about homebrewing is that you can explore all these details: you can just work on perfecting your single favourite recipe, you can experiment with different hop varieties, you can brew all the beer styles you’d like, you can use the most outlandish ingredients beyond just hops, malt, hops and yeast (as long as it’s not beetroot; I’m serious). You can do lager brewing, or explore decoction mashing, or strife towards the perfectly juicy double-dry-hopped NEIPA. Or, what I’ve been doing, explore historic beers both in theory and practice.

For me, beer is an ongoing journey, and the hobby of homebrewing, for the last few years, has been a reliable companion. I think it improved my understanding of beer as a whole, and for sure it will for the next coming years, if not decades. There’s still so much more to explore, so much more to try out, so much more to document and write about. I met and learned to know people that I otherwise would have never ever met in my life, and I looked into subjects of which I would have never ever thought that I’d be even remotely interested in them. And because of my rather positive and pleasant experience that homebrewing has been to me, I can only recommend to everyone who tries to understand beer better or get a different view on it: do get into homebrewing. At least try it out once. It’s an interesting hobby, one that is incredibly satisfying and rewarding, where you can learn about all the ins and outs of a drink that at its core is incredibly simple and yet can be totally complex.

Styrian Hops in the 1920’s

Recently, I came across “Handbuch der Brauerei und Mälzerei”, published as three books from 1930 to 1935 by author Franz Schönfeld, who some of you may know as the author of “Die Herstellung obergähriger Biere” from 1902 and its updated version “Obergärige Biere und ihre Herstellung” from 1939.

This “manual of brewing and malting” is more technical, and focuses on beer ingredients (first book, published in 1930), malting (second book, published in 1932), and brewing (third book, published in 1935). When going through all three, I found a list of common hop varieties and their distinction which I think reflects hop varieties around that time quite well.

What particularly caught my eye was the list of hop varieties that were derived from Saazer hops, which in this book is described as one of the finest hops, what is nowadays known as “Saazer Formenkreis”. According to these list, it includes the following hops:

  • Schwetzinger (from Schwetzingen in Baden-Württemberg)
  • Tettnanger (from Tettnang at Lake Constance)
  • Neutomischler (from Nowy Tomyśl in Poland)
  • Auschaer Rothopfen (from Úštěk/Auscha in Bohemia)
  • Steirer (from Styria, in particular Lower Styria in Slovenia)

The last one was particularly interesting, because it solved a big question that I asked in 2016, what hop varieties used to be grown in Austria (and formerly Austrian lands) before Styrian hops were replaced with Styrian Goldings due to an issue with hop disease, and before Upper Austrian hops were uprooted.  As it turns out, the hops grown in Styria were simply Saazer with local terroir!

There’s still another question surrounding Styrian hops, and that is when the change from Saaz-derived Styrian hops to Fuggles-derived Styrian Goldings due to an alleged hop disease issue happened. Many source say in the 1930’s, and at least major cases of downy mildew can be corroborated through the Joh.Barth&Sohn-issued annual hop reports: in the 1934/35 report, Poland and Yugoslavia are mentioned as two countries who have been indifferent about Peronospora (downy mildew) in the past and now have to pay the price for it through crop failures. But (Styrian) Goldings are mentioned in earlier issues of the same report: the 1931/32 report mentions both Goldings and “late hops” being picked in Slovenia. The 1926/27 report mentions both varieties, with the “late hops” only being grown on 90 hectares (ha) of a total of 1150 ha of hop gardens in Slovenia. The “late hops” suffered from Peronospora, while the quality of the Goldings was good. Earlier Barth reports give no insight into which hop varieties were grown.

So what we do know from these reports is that the change from the old Styrian variety to the newer Styrian Goldings variety must have happened in the years before 1926/1927. During that time, Slovenian hop farming went through huge changes: where Styria grew 1788 ha of hops in 1914, that area had shrunk to just 855 ha in 1917, and to a mere 400 ha in 1919. From then on, the hop acreage grew dramatically to 850 ha in 1924 and reached its peak of 3000 ha in 1928. In 1930, it took another drop to 1380 ha, but slowly recovered to 1850 ha in 1937, roughly the size before World War I. During these many ups and downs, it is very likely that new hop gardens were planted with Styrian Goldings, whereas old hop gardens that were abandoned were more likely old Styrian hops. But this is more speculation on my side, so that question when this change really happened is still unanswered.

German Porter

Porter and stout are certainly beer styles that made their way around the world and were transformed over the last 200 years or so into a vast amount of different sub styles, with dry Irish Stout, English Porter, hop-forward American Porter, Imperial Stout just being a few examples. One sub-style of this hasn’t been picked up that much: German Porter. 19th century beer literature is full of evidence that bottled Porter imported from the UK was a very common beer in Germany, with Porter being almost twice as expensive as Munich lager beers. So naturally, by the early 20th century, and probably earlier, it was brewed domestically.

Several sources exist that describe some very general properties of German Porter. In addition to that, I was able to find three sources that document possible grists and hopping rates.

Original gravity: German Porter was generally characterized as Starkbier, a generic designation in Germany for beer with an OG of 16% or more, and at least 6.5% ABV. Kulitzscher, in the book “Handbuch zur Fabrikation obergäriger Biere” from 1930, describes that OG at 16 to 20%. “Handbuch der Ernährungslehre” from 1920, mentions an OG of 18%. The brewmaster of the Groterjan brewery, Dörfel, mentions an OG of 18% for the pre-war Porter that was brewed in small amounts at Groterjan, but describes the general beer type as going up to 22%. The more recent “Abriss der Bierbrauerei” bei Prof. Narziss mentions a lower range of 13 to 16%.

Grists: three sources describe possible grists. The oldest one is is Kulitzscher in 1930, who mentions Munich malt as base malt, 20% (sic!) caramel malt, and 6% debittered roasted malt. Dörfel on the other hand describes the grist as 70% Munich malt, 20% pale malt, 7% caramel malt, and 3% roasted malt, as well as 400 g of caramel colouring per hectolitre. Narziss describes an even simpler grist: about 2/3 pale malt, 1/3 dark malt (presumably Munich malt), and 2 to 2.5% roasted malt.

Hopping rate: Kulitzscher says 1 to 1.5 Pfund (500 to 750g) of hops (of unknown alpha acid content) per Zentner (50kg) of grist. If we assume an alpha acid content of 3 to 4.5%, this means anything between roughly 23 and 50 IBU. Dörfel on the other hand mentions 500g of hops per hectolitre, which, if we assume the same range of alpha acid content, is equivalent to about 30 to 46 IBU. Narziss mentions 30 IBU of bitterness. Since this is a German beer style, we can assume that German hop varieties were used.

Yeast: remarkably, pretty much all sources agree that Porter needs to be fermented with Brettanomyces. Without Brettanomyces, they agree, Porter doesn’t develop its typical aroma and flavour during secondary fermentation. Dörfel mentions the use of “Porterhefe” (porter yeast), which is described as a yeast blend which contains both Saccharomyces and Brettanomyces and seems to get repitched. He also mentions though that Schönfeld of VLB Berlin was able to create pure cultures of both yeast types in the 1920’s, and that Hochschulbrauerei used pure cultures separately for primary and secondary fermentation. Interestingly, there are two sources that mention that German Porter could also be bottom-fermented: “Handbuch der Ernährungslehre” describes it as “either top- or bottom-fermented”, while Narziss says that Porter is “often bottom-fermented”.

With sources on these parameters, I think it’s quite easy to extract how German Porter was typically formulated. Despite the name, it is certainly closer to Stout due to its higher strength. One important element of British Porter and Stout in the 19th century, the matured character coming from a secondary fermentation with Brettanomyces, was certainly recognized and improved on through the use of pure yeast cultures. And it’s definitely a beer style I’d like to try: the use of large amounts of Munich malt and caramel malt to a certain extent, as well as German hop varieties, I wouldn’t be surprised if it has its very own character on top of what I’d expect from a Bretted Porter.

My New Year’s Resolutions for 2018

2017 was a bit of a slump for me in terms of homebrewing: my keezer broke (and was unfixable), I was generally too busy with work, and didn’t really have that much motivation. Due to a broken keezer, I had to dump beer, and I brewed some terrible beer afterwards which I also had to dump. I also dumped some aged beer, such as my Berliner Weisse Starkbier, because the vinegar note was just too strong on it (not an Acetobacter infection, but a contribution of Wyeast 5335 which can produce acetic acid). Also, I noticed that my beer taste has changed a bit over the last 2 years, so brewing overly hoppy stuff just isn’t for me anymore.

So over the course of 2017, I developed the idea that I wanted to refocus my homebrewing efforts, develop my skills and improve my knowledge. A pinnacle in homebrewing is certainly lager brewing, and since this is actually the kind of beer we drink most in our household (there’s always a crate of Augustiner Helles or Edelstoff in), I decided to exclusively brew lager beers for the whole year of 2018.

Thankfully, my father got us a commercial refrigerator as an (early) Christmas present, which now not only functions as a beer fridge, but also controls fermentation temperatures quite well. I already have one batch of Helles currently lagering in there, so I actually kind of already started with this new year’s resolution, but in any case, I plan to stick to it at least until December 31, 2018. I also have the ingredients for two more beers ready to go: one of them will be the historic Vienna Lager I kept blogging about in the past, with the right ingredients, OG, FG, attenuation, hopping rate, and mashing regime. The other one is the Helles recipe which I crowd-sourced for fun through Twitter polls back in October.

My other new year’s resolution for 2018 is a matter of procrastination. In late 2016, I published a German-language e-book about historic beer styles. After that, I started working on an English-language e-book about historic German and Austrian beer styles. It’s been a lot of work, I went through an incredible amount of sources just to find out all possible details about classic German beer styles, some of which are practically extinct. Unfortunately, I also hit a bit of a rough spot where I wasn’t really happy with the detailedness of some of the styles that I had researched, and where I generally wasn’t motivated enough to continue working on it. But hey, that’s why I decided to self-publish, right? No advance money, no deadlines, no pressure from publishers.

Therefore, my plan for 2018 is to finalize the book and publish it within the first 3 months of 2018. I think I’m actually pretty close, it may require a few finishing touches here and there, and maybe a less robotic writing style (that’s what you get when most of the writing you’ve done in your professional career is technical documentation), and it should be presentable enough. Should I not keep this new year’s resolution, you’re free to call me out on it!

How to build up the Prussian hop industry for 3 decades and implode it within a few years

Prussian king Frederick the Great was apparently very interested in the state of hops in Prussia. He noticed that most hops that Prussian brewers used in brewing was imported from surrounding hop growing regions like Bavaria, Franconia and Bohemia. Self-sufficiency was apparently an important economic principle at that time, if you could grow it locally it meant you didn’t need to spend time to import it from somewhere else.

So in 1743, Frederick the Great gradually ordered the various regions of his kingdom to start planting hop gardens and grow more hops: first Pomerania, then Saxony was ordered to become self-sufficient and if possible, export any surplus hops. In 1751, he ordered that experiments with Bohemian seedlings shall be undertaken in the regions of Altmark and Kurmark, as these hops were more popular on the hop markets due to “their greater strength and power”.

The Seven Years’ War stifled further initiatives, but in 1770, new orders were sent out to further promote growing hops for self-sufficiency. Hop poles were sold to new hop farmers for a very cheap price, and even a contest was started, with a cash prize of the farmer with the greatest hop production at the end of the year.

In 1775, hop gardens were introduced in Western Prussia, and the king’s chamber director was ordered to expand the hop gardens around Potsdam as the existing ones still couldn’t cover to demand from brewers in Berlin. In April 1776, imports into Prussia were completely prohibited due to a substantial surplus production of 2600 Wispel from 1775, about 1420 hecolitres in modern units (it is unknown whether this was in pressed or unpressed form), and enforcement of this law was supervised by the king himself.

There’s a story where allegedly Frederick the Great on one of his carriage rides through his kingdom noticed a carriage with a delivery of hops. Realising that from that particular street, it could have only come from Dessau, he suspected that the hops may have been smuggled in from the adjacent Principality of Anhalt. He immediately started an investigation that eventually found out that the hops were indeed contraband and illegally imported from Anhalt.

But the tides turned: due to a bad hop harvest in 1777, the king didn’t decide to allow imports, but he instead also forbade exports, to prefer the local market. And not just temporarily to deal with the hop shortage, no, this export ban was permanent, and the Prussian hop market was insular. Hop prices crashed, and by 1779, many hop farmers gave up the crop completely. The French period and the German campaign of 1813 didn’t help with developing Prussian hop gardens, either. Only in 1860, when Europe was hit by a terrible hop crop failure, Prussia had a temporary surge in new hop gradens: the Hallertau was the only region with a good harvest of high-quality hops, which sold for 6.5 times the normal rate. Farmers again started looking into hops as an attractive cash crop. By the end of the 19th century, much of the hop growing had shifted to Posen/Poznań, while both the acreage and the yield in the rest of Prussia steadily decreased: in 1898, Prussia only harvested a miserable 4.6 Zentner per hectare, while Bavaria reached 10.6, Baden 13.6, and Alsace 16.8.

If Frederick the Great had been more forward-thinking and less focused on self-sustenance, the current German landscape of major hop growing regions may have looked differently.

Missing Local Beer Styles

This is my contribution to The Session 129, aka Beer Blogging Friday.

As someone who lives in Berlin, I would call myself rather privileged when it comes to beer diversity: there is a vibrant craft beer scene, including a number of microbreweries, places dedicated to specifically German or Belgian beer culture, and generally a great availability of everything. Except for one thing: cask ale.

One of my great pleasures in beer is cask ale, that is fresh beer, usually top-fermented and of a British style, conditioned with live yeast in small casks, and served directly from it or via a beer engine. When done right, this is probably the best beer you can have, and you can have more than one of it. Now, if I said that there was no cask ale in Berlin, I’d be lying, because there is in fact one pub called Loch Ness, a pub run by two Germans who are rather… enthusiastic about Scotland, including the beer culture, and so cask ale is usually available which they import themselves once every few weeks. Once a year, they even do a Real Ale Festival. The only problem is: it’s rather far away. From where I live, it is surprisingly hard to reach, we’re easily talking about an hour. Ironically, Försters Feine Biere is only about 30 minutes away by foot, but for me to get there, it takes me about 30 minutes as well, so it works out the same in the end. This difference is owed to the layout of public transport in Berlin: while Försters is close to an U-Bahn line which runs close to mine, Loch Ness is close to an S-Bahn line which is rather out of the way and would require me to travel to Brandenburg gate.

But then, that’s not even the point. I don’t want one pub that serves cask ale, I want several. I don’t want outrageous beers in them, but rather easy-drinkable beers that are just well done, think of beers like Landlord, Harvey’s Best, London Pride, Old Peculier, or for when I want a hoppier beer, something like Jaipur. I’m not saying I want exactly these beers (I certainly wouldn’t mind them, though), but rather something like it, possibly and preferably even locally brewed.

My other interest in beer, besides drinking it, is the history of beer. One truly local beer style that I miss in Berlin is Berliner Braunbier. You’ve probably never even heard of it. Berliner Braunbier is the other local top-fermented beer style in Berlin besides Berliner Weisse. Unlike Weisse, the Braunbier was a proper brown beer, made from a very dark kilned malt, and was not sour (or if sour, only very little). But just like Berliner Weisse, it was put in casks while it was still fermenting and sent to the local pubs and inns, where it finished fermenting. Also like Berliner Weisse, it was diluted before it was served or bottled.

Berliner Braunbier existed in two variations: one was a rather sweet version, barely hopped, while the other was strongly hopped, a so-called Bitterbier. Already in the 19th century, some beer writers argue that Berliner Braunbier are actually two distinct types of beer because of the vast differences in the different Braunbiere that were served in Berlin.

The Braunbier itself was brewed from a high-dried malt, some sources even claim it was four-row barley malt. Because of relatively simple smoke kilns at that time, the malt was smokey, but the malt was left to mature for several months in order to lose some of that smokiness. The resulting beer was described as very dark, and hopped differently, at rates ranging from 1.4 g/l to 11 g/l. Again, already in the 19th century, some literature notes that for efficiency and flavour reasons, roasted malt together with a paler malt could be used instead of producing a dark malt. Does that ring a bell? It sounds similar to English Porter used to be brewed: first it was formulated as 100% diastatic brown malt, and only later the amount of brown malt was reduced in favour of pale malt and black malt.

In some ways, that makes Berliner Braunbier a kind of local convergent evolution that shares several similarities to Porter, but is historically unrelated to it. How can we be sure that it is unrelated? Because Germans knew and liked Porter, and when German brewers produced something like a Porter, they would call it a Porter, even going so far as making their own German Porter beer style (which is a whole topic on its own).

Funny side story: in February or March this year, I attended a talk by Joe Stange about German and American brewing and the mutual influences, hosted at Vagabund Brauerei. In a discussion, one of the brewery owners noted that Berlin’s water is relatively hard and quite suitable for brewing dark beers, so he wondered why there’s no local dark beer style. Haha, there actually was! It’s just been completely forgotten about, and like many top-fermented beer styles that were popular in Northern Germany, died out when pale Lager beers became popular and revolutionized the beer market.

If you want to brew Berliner Braunbier yourself, here are some rough specs. You will find a number of historic recipes in my upcoming e-book about homebrewing historic beers which I will hopefully be able to release soon. So anyways, here’s roughly what the beer looked like:

  •  OG 15-16 °P (1.061-1.065)
  • 96-97 % dark malt (e.g. Munich malt)
  • 3-4 % black malt
  • Any German noble hop variety, with a hopping rate of e.g. 1.4 g/l, 4.4 g/l or 11 g/l.

Dough in malt with hot water into a very thick mash at 61 °C, then rest for 30 minutes. Add boiling water while stirring to raise temperature to 76 °C, then rest 120 minutes. When lautering, add another 9 liters of boiling water. Boil for 90 minutes, add all hops at the beginning of the boil. Ferment with a top-fermenting yeast strain at 23 °C.

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