All posts by ak

When did hop alpha acid become relevant in recipe formulation?

This is one question that itched me a lot is the matter of hops and their contribution of bitterness in historic beers: when did the alpha acid content of hops become relevant in beer recipe formulation?

While the topic of bitterness in beer and the various contributing factors is a complex one to be discussed at another point, it is universally recognized that iso-alpha-acid, the isomerized form of alpha acid, is a major contributor to the overall bitterness of a beer. This isomerization happens when boiling the wort with hops. Even the quantification of bitterness in beer, often noted as IBU, International Bitterness Units, is essentially a determination of the amount of dissolved iso-alpha-acid by employing spectrophotometry.

One conclusion of the observation of the relationship between iso-alpha-acid and bitterness is that the higher the amount of alpha acid in a particular crop of hops is, the higher the contribution of bitterness will be in the resulting beer, assuming the same boil times and all. Brewers nowadays take the amount of alpha acid in hops into account when formulating beer recipes, and using formulas like Tinseth, Rager or Garetz, attempt to approximate the expected bitterness. Of course, this is very much only an approximation: lab analyses have shown that the calculated IBU can diverge quite a bit from measured IBU, in particular in amounts that are beyond the maximum solubility of iso-alpha-acid in aqueous solutions.

But what does this have to do with historic beer? Quite a lot: due to the lack of analytical methods to determine the bitterness contribution of a particular hop crop, it was essentially unknown how bitter a beer would end up with a new crop until it was brewed and taste-tested.

Depending on various factors like the weather, crops of the same hop variety grown in the same hop garden in different years can yield different amounts of alpha acid.  Chinook hops from 2016 can have e.g. 11.6 %, while the 2015 crop has 12.8 %, the 2014 crop 12.0 %, the 2013 crop 13.7 %, and so on. This aren’t just made-up numbers, I took these from the historic data of Chinook hops as provided by a German online homebrewing store.

When looking at the relative variability of the alpha acid content, you roughly get a +/- 10 % variation over the course of several years, which would also reflect the same in the overall bitterness contribution.

Now, in the context of historic beers, this variability is a lot more dramatic: early hop varieties and local land races are usually low in alpha acid. If we had the same absolute variability in alpha acid content in a land race as with Chinook in the example above, the impact on the relative variability would be much greater. Let’s look at another example: Hersbrucker Spät from 2016 with 3.2 % alpha acid, 2015 3 %, 2014 2.3 %, and 2013 a staggering 1.8 % alpha acid content. In terms of relative variability, this is more in the range of +/- 30 %.

In pretty much all historic recipes from the 18th, 19th and first half of the 20th century, hop dosage is usually specified in weight per resulting beer, for example gram per hectolitre or pounds per barrel. If I were to brew a simple Munich Lagerbier according to typical first half of the 19th century gravity and hopping rates, a variability between 1.8 and 3.2 % alpha acid makes the difference between 27 IBU on the low end and 47 IBU on the high end. That’s about the difference in bitterness between e.g. a malty brown ale (e.g. Sam Smith Nut Brown Ale allegedly has 31 IBU) and an aggressively hopped Pilsner-style beer (Schönramer Pils allegedly has 45 IBU).

I actually haven’t found much evidence how brewers used to counteract these problems, but I have two theories:

Bavarian brewers employed blending methods prior to lagering their beer: several batches of beer were fermented one after the other, but were then evenly split up between a relatively large number of lagering barrels. This was done for consistency reasons, and would have allowed the brewmaster to adjust the hopping rate of the different batches according to the outcome of the first batch or first few batches.

To a certain extent, brewers also had a relatively good understanding how hops brought preservative qualities to the beer. In some literature, e.g. Ausführliches Lehrbuch der Bayrischen Bierbrauerei mit besonderer Berücksichtigung der Dickmaischbrauerei by J.S. Schorer (published in 1863), different hopping rates and blends of hop varieties were proposed depending on how long the beer was to be lagered, and how late in the year the beer was to be served, in order to compensate for the slowly warming beer cellars (this was before modern refrigeration, when beer was still lagered in ice cellars). Some of these hop blends suggest blending hops from the latest harvest with older hops from previous years. Old hops still provide preservative qualities, but due to the degradation of the alpha acid content, don’t contribute nearly as much bitterness as younger hops. This effect is used even nowadays in Lambic brewing, where relatively large doses of aged hops are used.

But this still hasn’t answered the original question. So I went out and searched a bit. To cut this a bit short, I was not able to find a proper answer. I was not even able to find out when alpha acids were discovered, or when iso-alpha acid was first recognized as contributor of bitterness. But I was nevertheless able to at least find something:

An early analysis of different hop varieties regarding their alpha and beta acid contents (back then often called “alpha resin” and “beta resin”) are the two papers called “REPORTS RECEIVED FROM BREWERS ON RECENT BREWING TRIALS WITH CERTAIN NEW VARIETIES OF HOPS” by Prof. E. S. Salmon and H. H. Glasscock, M.Sc. (published 1944) and “REPORTS RECEIVED FROM BREWERS ON RECENT BREWING TRIALS WITH CERTAIN NEW VARIETIES OF HOPS; II“, by Prof. E. S. Salmon and Dr. A. H. Burgess (published 1947). These papers refer to analyses going back as far as 1932, and not just of new varieties as the titles would suggest, but also Fuggles from Worchestershire and Mid-Kent and Goldings from Mid-Kent and East-Kent. In case you’re wondering, “new” varieties discussed were hops like Brewer’s Gold, Quality Hop [sic!], Brewer’s Favourite, Bullion, Fillpocket, and Brewer’s Standby.

From what I could see from scanning the literature of that time, the analysis of different types of alpha acid was still an active research topic and the 1950’s and probably beyond that. It have not been able to find a definitive point in time where the relationship between iso-alpha-acid content and bitterness contribution was discovered or picked up as a tool to determine hop dosage sizes. So unfortunately, this question remains unanswered as of now.

Let’s talk about SMaSH beers

This is my contribution to session 125, aka “Beer Blogging Friday”. In this session, I’m writing about my views about SMaSH beers.

SMaSH beers are a way of formulating beer recipes. SMaSH stands for “single malt and single hop”, meaning that in the formulation of the recipe only a single type of malt (usually a base malt of some sorts) of a single hop variety are being used. Everything else, from yeast to mashing regime to hop dosages and timing, is up to the brewer.

Would I consider SMaSH beers to be trendy? No, not at all. The only reason that I can see in purposefully producing a SMaSH is to try out a specific ingredient, be it a specific base malt, a new hop variety, or even a new yeast strain on top of a simple, neutral SMaSH wort. While certainly a great tool for homebrewers for learning to know ingredients, I personally find them boring and uninspired. In particular when commercial brewers produce them: it reeks of beer geekery, it will not impress people with no interest in the finer details of brewing, and more often than not, the resulting beer is unbalanced.

Don’t get me wrong: there are beers and whole styles that happen to be SMaSH beers, but they were not conceived with the specific idea of producing a beer to highlight one type of malt and one hop. From a purely historic point of view, most beers were probably SMaSH beers: the maltster made one type of malt, the brewer took that one malt and used the local hops he always used for brewing, and made beer out of that. Modern base malt names like Pilsner malt, Vienna malt, and Munich malt show this historic connection with classic styles.

Of course, there are many ways to formulate recipes for styles like Bohemian-style pale lager, Vienna lager, Munich Helles or Munich Dunkles. But for each of these classic lager styles, there is a straightforward way that happens to be SMaSH.

For a Bohemian-style pale lager, like a Pilsner, you can just use 100 % Pilsner malt to an OG that is suitable for the strength you want to achieve, hop it with large doses of a hop variety like Saaz for both bitterness and aroma, and ferment with a lager yeast.

Vienna lager? Similar: 100 % Vienna malt, bittering with a classic hop like a Bavarian noble hop variety or Saaz, ferment  with a lager yeast. And the same goes for the Munich beer styles: depending on whether you want it pale or dark (Helles or Dunkles), choose a pale or dark base malt, hop with some Bavarian noble hop for only a restrained bitterness, and ferment with a lager yeast.

Of course, this goes beyond classic lager styles: beers like pale ales, IPAs, golden ales, bitters, or saisons could easily be formulated with just a single base malt and just one hop variety. Even a relatively unknown style, Grätzer/Piwo Grodziskie, was/is usually brewed with a single malt: oak-smoked wheat malt. There are probably plenty of many more examples.

Other beer styles can practically not be achieved as a SMaSH, in particular those who require more than one type of grain: just think Bavarian wheat beer, which needs to be brewed with more than 50 % wheat malt, but usually also contains a certain share of barley malt. Dre Beechum suggested an interesting extension to SMaSH, “brewing on the ones“, that only slightly widens the constraints of SMaSH, but allows for more existing styles to be formulated easily. I wrote about this in the context of designing simple beer recipes a few years ago.

But still, I’m convinced that SMaSH or “brewing on the ones” beers should not be done just for the sake of strictly keeping to this scheme of recipe formulation, but rather as a rough guideline to formulate simple recipes in order to brew excellent beers. After all, the resulting beer is what counts to the connoisseur, not the (by itself meaningless) notion that only one hop and only one malt type were used. If a beer can be improved by adding a single specialty malt, or by using different bittering hops than aroma hops, then you should totally do that, instead of insisting on conceptual purity. Because what counts in the end is that the beer is good.

What was the colour of brown beer in the 19th century?

When working on my upcoming e-book about historic beers, one particular aspect of recreating historic beers crept through my mind: how similar or different are modern malts compared to malts that were produced 100 to 200 years ago?

The biggest improvements in malting technologies, in particular kilning, happened in Continental Europe within the last 200 years: while smoke kilns used to be widespread, Bavarian breweries started adopting modern, smoke-free kilns about 200 years ago, and in the 1830’s, Gabriel Sedlmayr and Anton Dreher brought back more knowledge about how to produce pale malts from the UK back to Continental Europe. The 1840’s were the beginning of pale lager beers which eventually became the world-wide standard for mass beer production around the world.

But one particular aspect kept bugging me: what did the colour of brown beers use to be like 100, 200 years ago? Here, by brown beer, I mean all beer made from kilned malt. The romantic notion is of course a deep brown beer, made from a highly dried malt, almost bordering on porter. But how can we get closer to the truth? It’s not like we can just look up photos of beers back then. Or can we…?

Well, not photos, but there’s a similar source: let’s take a closer look at art of that time. If we assume that painters who focused on a certain realism in their paintings took care of getting their colours right, then we can expect a realistic and reasonably consistent portrayal of the colours of brown beer. So let’s go through a few examples.

This first example is from a painting depicting a Bavarian pub scene in 1855. One man holds a glass of reddish-brown beer with an off-white head. It’s not clear whether the glass on the table also contains beer, but if it is, looks slightly paler due to the smaller size of the glass.This example shows a Stammtisch scene from 1872 with the waitress handing the customer a glass of dark brown, almost black beer, with a distinctly white head.This picture from 1877 again shows a bright, reddish-brown beer, almost bordering on a dark amber. …and the same goes for these examples from 1885, 1888 and 1912.  Noticeable in all three is a kind of glow, coming from a bright beer served in glassware, which, in my opinion looks mouthwatering. I would happily want to try one of these beers! The last two examples are slightly different: both from 1916, they show Austrian-Hungarian soldiers being served beer. The beer has an amber to golden colour, and is distinctly paler than in the other pictures that I showed here. Both are from brewery ads (the top one from the Hungarian Dreher brewery, the bottom one from Hütteldorfer brewery, Vienna), and mostly reflect the ongoing change in beer fashion at that time, while the previous examples are mostly from pictures painted by artists situated in Bavaria, where brown beer remained fashionable for longer than in most other places.

When we compare modern dark beers (in particular Bavarian ones) with those from 100 to 150 years ago, visually it seems like there is not really a difference. If anything, I’d say that the old beers in these examples may even have been a tad paler than the modern varieties.

Now what conclusions can we take from that, in particular for recreating historic beers? Well, the number one takeaway for me is that brown beers back then were mostly the same colour as today, which means that if I wanted to recreate an old beer recipe from that era, I could assume within reason that the colour of dark (Munich) malt nowadays is the same or very similar to how it used to be 100, 150 years ago. For historicity’s sake, the beer would also need to be as bright as on the pictures above: no haze in these beers. And finally, but that’s more of a minor detail: look at the drinking vessels at that time. While the Steinkrug (earthenware mug) is classically associated with historic beer of previous centuries, the art in the 19th century suggests that glassware must have been quite common for beer to be served in. And of course, a lot of the beer mugs have metal lids on them.

So, if you think about rebrewing some historic Bavarian brown beer, don’t worry about the malt, just use Munich malt as a dark base malt,  and make the beer bright and haze-free, and you’ll be fine.

Hops used in Vienna Lager

Two  years ago, I did some research to put together a recipe that was meant to closely match what a Vienna lager in the 19th century would have looked and tasted like.

About a year ago, I also discussed the state of Austrian hops and how the hop growing industry had changed over time. In that article, I mentioned that Kleinschwechater Brauerei used to own land in Michelob in Bohemia, close to Saaz, where the brewery grew barley and hops. Due to the geographical closeness, I made the point that most likely Saaz hops or a very closely related landrace would have been grown there.  But so far, I did not have any conclusive proof that Kleinschwechater (later Schwechater) Brauerei indeed brewed with Saaz hops.

That changed a bit when I visited the Schultze-Berndt library located at VLB and curated by the Gesellschaft für Geschichte des Brauwesens (society for the history of brewing technology) a few weeks. When doing some research for my English-language book on homebrewing historic beer styles, I stumbled upon a Festschrift regarding 100 years of brewing Vienna lager, aptly named “Schwechater Lager”. While not having that much content, it still had some bits and pieces that gave away some information, including the beautiful water colour illustrations.

One image in particular contained something very interesting: pictures of huge stacks of hop bales. 

These hop bales clearly show the marking “SAAZ”. Assuming that this picture accurately shows the hop storage facilities at Schwechater brewery, we now have a direct connection showing that Schwechater has been using Saaz hops. The text around it mentions that the brewery has been covering their demand using hops from Saaz, and praises Saaz as one of the best hop growing regions in the world. Unfortunately, no time frames are mentioned, so while all this information was certainly true for their brewing in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s, we cannot yet make the direct connection that Vienna lager in the 19th century must have used Saaz hops.

So let’s go a bit further, into the less colourful but more number-laden territory of raw statistics. In 1891 (that’s the earliest that I could find), Bohemia had 10317 hectares of hop growing land, producing an annual output of 77540 Zentner (1 Zentner = 50 kg in Germany, therefore 3877 tons). At that time, the total hop growing area of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy was 14850.5 hectares (divided into the regions of Bohemia, Galicia, Styria, Upper Austria, Moravia and Carinthia), and the total annual output was 117534 Zentner (5876 tons). So for the whole of the monarchy, Bohemia produced almost 66 % of all its hops, on almost 70 % of its acreage allocated to hop growing.

This trend of Bohemia being the dominant hop grower within the monarchy continued in the years after as late as 1918, and Bohemia’s dominance even grew larger as other hop growing areas declined further: in 1913, Bohemia’s hop output was 73.8 % of the monarchy’s total output, with 75.8 % of the total hop acreage, while in 1914 it was a staggering 87.7 % (85.2 % of the total hop acreage). The stark increase in share in 1914 is due to a complete failure in Galicia for that year, most likely due to World War 1 and Austria-Hungary losing the Battle of Galicia.

So, just by looking at the pure numbers, we can deduce that there was a very high likelihood that most breweries bought their hops from Saaz. Again, this is not definite proof, but it points even more towards the direction that hops from Saaz were used by Schwechater brewery, and possibly most other breweries at that time, especially since Saaz hops were the highest priced ones in Germany and Austria at that time.

On a side note, the hop production of Bohemia at that time up as late as the late 1930’s was so strong that Germany’s annexation of the Sudetenland in 1938 pretty much doubled Nazi Germany’s acreage and overall amount of hops produced.

A Refreshing Golden Ale

I recently brewed a Golden Ale that I would like to briefly introduce. Even though I brewed only about a month ago, the beer is already drinkable and in my opinion absolutely fantastic. And it’s such a simple recipe, a “SMaSH”, but I didn’t specifically design it to be one, it just happened to be one.

Here are the basic numbers:

  • OG 11.25 °P (1.045)
  • 4.6 % ABV
  • 30 IBU (calculated; Tinseth)
  • ~6 EBC

The grist is just 100 % Extra Pale Maris Otter, which I mashed at 68 °C until fully converted. The hopping goes like this:

  • 1 g/l Brewer’s Gold (6.8 % alpha acid) @ 75 min
  • 1 g/l Brewer’s Gold (6.8 % alpha acid) @ 10 min
  • 1.5 g/l Brewer’s Gold (6.8 % alpha acid) @ 0 min

As yeast, I chose Nottingham Ale dry yeast, and just let it ferment at room temperatures, so it rose to probably something like 22 to 23 °C.

Now what’s so special about this beer? Well, for one, for such a young beer, it’s incredibly drinkable. Besides that, it’s a great showcase for German Brewer’s Gold hops. In typical descriptions of this hop variety, it is characterised as quite pungent, and more recommended for bittering than anything else, but I have to reject this notion: it is equally usable as aroma hop, as it adds typically “British” herbal-floral-spicy notes, complemented by a citrus note that is relatively subtle and not in-your-face like American varieties but still more pronounced than other traditional English hop varieties. And these characteristics even show in Hallertau terroir.

Brewer’s Gold was originally developed at Wye College about a hundred years ago, and to my knowledge, isn’t grown much in the UK anymore. For whatever reason, it still seems to get grown to a certain extent in Germany. I got my hops through a hop order directly pretty much directly shipped from a hop grower in the Hallertau, organised through a German homebrewing forum.

In my case, I bottled the beer with a relatively low carbonation, so as a bright, hoppy beer, it is the closest to fresh cask ale you can get under these circumstances. When this batch is finished, and it probably won’t take too long, I’ll definitely consider rebrewing this beer, which is something I don’t normally do.

Beer Brewing in Bamberg, 200 Years Ago

I recently bought a reprint of a historic book by the name of “Das Bamberger Bier”, written by Johann Albert Joseph Seifert. It gives an overview over the ingredients and processes used specifically in Bamberg to produce beer. As I already said on twitter, it’s full of gems.

Let’s start with the ingredients: the malt. The book contains a description how to let the barley germinate, how it needs to be turned, when it needs to be dried, and so on. What caught my eye in the production process was a single paragraph that essentially says that brewers with enough space in their buildings to produce air-dried malt will have a good, pure, wine-coloured beer. I interpret that as a suggestion to use air-dried malt (“Luftmalz” as it’s often called in historic German brewing literature) for brewing beer if possible.

You can’t produce air-dried malt during the winter, though, as a night of frost can destroy all your drying malt. So kilning your malt is still recommended during these times.

Then the water. According to the author, rain water is the best for brewing, but at that time, cisterns to collect had already fallen out of use, so brewers would have to work without it. River water, if clean enough, was the next best choice, that is if the brewer has access to it. Well water was considered to be of the worst quality, and required thorough boiling before it was usable by the brewers.

As for the hops, Bohemian hops were commonly used in Bamberg at that time. The author then gets mysterious: he went to school in Komotau/Chomutov, only a few kilometers away from Saaz/Žatec, and he alleges some dodgy things are going on with customs between the Bohemian-Bavarian border without going into details. He does propose though that hops more local to Bamberg can produce equally good beers.

The yeast that brewers in Bamberg used was mostly bottom-fermenting. Probably it was all bottom-fermenting by today’s standards, but the differentiation 200 years ago could not be done on a morphological level (nobody knew what yeast really was), so instead yeasts were distinguished how they cropped: so-called “Oberzeug” is top-cropped yeast, and usually synonymous with proper top-fermenting yeast, while “Unterzeug” was bottom-cropped, all the stuff that was on the bottom of the fermenter at the end of the fermentation. Brewers weren’t keen on using top-cropped yeast, but if nothing else was available, they would still use it, in particular for winter beers.

Fermentation was done cold, as in most parts of Bavaria at that time, at least for the higher-strength lager beers or summer beers, at about 12 °C, while the Schenkbiere or winter beers, running beer that was brewed during the winter to be served after only a few weeks of maturation, was fermented warmer, at 18 °C or warmer.

Now about the process itself: while in most parts of Bavaria a triple decoction mash very common, Bamberg is quite different. The specific mashing regime is often attributed as the reason why beers from Bamberg are as peculiar and more alcoholic than other lager beers at that time.

So how mashing in Bamberg essentially worked 200 years ago is infusion mashing: grind the malt, add water of a certain temperature, let it stand for some time until all sugars have been converted, then lauter. Then do a second mash with water that’s a bit hotter, again let it stand for some time, then lauter again. In some way, the method bears a lot of similarity to classic English mashing. Homebrewers may also recognize it as similar to “batch sparging”.

You essentially start off to dough in the malt to a very thick consistency. The book is not very clear on how much water per amount of malt this would be, but from my own experience, I would guess about 1.3 liters per kg of malt, because that that’s about enough to wet all the malt, but not to have much free-standing liquid afterwards.

The water is mixed from 2 parts of cold water and 1 part of hot, nearly boiling water. If we assume “cold water” to mean about 10 °C and “hot water” to be between 95 and 100 °C, the water would have a temperature of 38 to 39 °C, and the resulting mash would end up at about 34 °C. That’s quite close to the temperature of an acid rest, which is done at about 35 to 45 °C to lower the pH of the mash. At this temperature, the mash is left to stand for about 15 minutes.

The next step is to do the first mash. Water is added (the author is unclear about how much, though) that was previously mixed from 2 parts of hot water and 1 part of cold water. If we make the same assumptions as before, we come up with a strike temperature of 66 °C. The resulting temperature of the mash will be lower. Since we do not know how much water we can add, we can at least assume that we need to add so much that we hit a mash temperature of 60 °C or higher. This mash, after thorough mixing, is then left to stand for an hour. After an hour, the first lautering starts, where the wort is first recirculated until it runs clear, then all wort is completely drained and put on the coolship.

Then the second mash is conducted, with water mixed from 3 parts of hot water and 1 part of cold water. That would mean 73 °C, and the resulting mash temperature will probably be around 68 to 70 °C. This again is thoroughly mixed, and left to stand for an hour, then again recirculated, and completely drained.

Optionally, you can do this even a third time, with hot water only, and this third wort would be used for small beer only. This small beer was called “Heinzele” or “Hansle” in Bamberg. Some brewers would also use cold water only for this final mash.

For lager beer, only the first and second wort was used. The hops were boiled in a very particular fashion, by what was called “Hopfen rösten”, or “roasting the hops”, where a small amount of wort was used to boil the hops for an hour, then the hops were removed (so that they could be reused for the Heinzele), and the hopped wort was boiled with the rest of the wort for another 60 to 90 minutes. The author did not like this practice, and said that beers made without roasting the hops would actually taste nicer and keep better.

After the wort was fully boiled, it is cooled as quickly as possible in a coolship, then moved to the fermenter, where yeast is added. After the fermentation has finished, the young beer is moved to casks, where it is left with the bungs open so that it can expel any remaining yeast and clear up. These casks were unpitched, but instead just washed with hot water and burnt with a small amount of sulphur. Since most other Bavarian beers were filled into pitched casks, this will very likely also have had an influcence on the flavour specific to beer from Bamberg.

As for the recipe itself, I converted the amounts of malt and hops provided in the books and ended up with these rough parameters: it most likely had an OG of about 14.5 °P (1.059), about 5 % ABV (depending how highly fermenting the lager yeast strain was), and used as much as 8.75 g/l of hops. Due to the hop roasting, alpha acid extraction was probably quite inefficient though, so the bitterness of the beer was probably at about 35 to 40 IBU.

To produce 20 liters of this beer, 5.4 kg Munich malt and 175 g Saazer or Spalter hops should suffice. Use a strike water calculator of your choice to find the optimal amounts of water for the different mashes. A bottom-fermenting yeast with a relatively low attenuation would be most suitable for this style. My personal preference is White Labs WLP820.

Besides a description of ingredients and brewing processes, the book also contains a list of all breweries in Bamberg at that time, 65 in total, including the owner’s name, the brewery’s or pub’s name, the address, the amount of malt used, and the amount of beer produced from it. Of the breweries that are still around in Bamberg, some of them do appear on this list:

  • “zum Spezial”, run by Peter Brust, 2nd district, house no. 593, produced 789 Eimer beer and 394 Eimer “Nachbier” (Hansle) from 306 Schäffel and 5 Metzen of malt.
  • “zum Greifenklau”, run by Johann Müller, 3rd district, house no. 1333, produced 835 Eimer beer and 417 Eimer Nachbier from 325 Schäffel and 1 Viertel of malt.
  • “zum Fäßlein”, run by Anton Kröner, 3rd district, house no. 1004, produced 364 Eimer beer and 182 Eimer Nachbier from 141 Schäffel, 2 Metzen and 2 Viertel of malt.

Ron Pattinson has the full list. These breweries, while still around, weren’t by far the largest though. The place with the highest beer production was “zur weißen Taube”, with a whopping 1379 Eimer of beer and 689 Eimer of Hansle.

Looking at the numbers, there’s also an interesting pattern showing up: for every 2 Eimer of beer, 1 Eimer of Hansle was produced. And also the ratio of beer to malt is relatively consistent, at about 2.5 to 2.6 Eimer of beer per Scheffel of malt.

Why There Is No Farmhouse Brewing Tradition in Austria

Beer is a common people’s drink, and in quite a few countries all over Europe, it was brewed at home, by farmers, which led to all different kinds of farmhouse brewing traditions, like the origins of the Belgian/French Saison style, or the farmhouse brewing still practiced in the Nordic countries and Lithuania. There is so much diversity in farmhouse brewing that you can literally spend years on research and writing about it.

Since beer in Austria has such an importance, I always wondered whether there was any farmhouse brewing tradition there. I asked my grandmother whether she remembered in her childhood and youth, and she said there was absolutely nothing like it. On the other hand, producing Most (pretty much like cider) from apples and/or pears seems to have been more prevalent, especially in rural areas of the region where I come from. But it was nothing I put more thought into until I stumbled upon a series of books from the 1930’s describing the history of brewing and hop growing in Upper Austria.

These books give an interesting insight into how brewing was organized since the middle ages: hop growing has been documented since the early 13th century near the monastery of Wilhering. The hops grown actually had to be delivered as natural goods, which was called “Hopfendienst” (literally “hop service”). And beer brewing was very similar: the monastery of St. Florian documents 27 surrounding farms between 1378 and 1445 that had to do “Bierdienst” (“beer service”).  At that time, it was already possible to pay money instead of delivering beer, which suggest that there may have been a time where there was no alternative to delivering beer.

But it also shows that beer brewing by farmers was on its way out: at that time, the right to brew was shifting from farms towards cities and market towns. Cities like Linz, Freistadt and Enns received the privilege of “ban miles”, which prescribed that no other pubs and no brewing were allowed in a certain distance around these cities. Brewing became a privilege of the citizens, which often formed brewing communes or took turns in brewing through a publicly organized lot system. With this also often came restrictions on the sale of imported beer, which ensured that local beer was consumed locally.

Besides the cities and towns, monasteries also brewed beer: Wilhering used to have its brew house, which even burned down and had to be rebuilt in the 17th century, and so did the monastery of Schlägl. This brewery still exists in this day and age, but historic records before the 17th century were lost due to a fire in 1626.

In one case, the old concepts of brewing communes also survived into the modern era: the city of Freistadt not only has brewing privileges at least since 1277, it also has the last brewing commune in Austria. In the 18th century, its citizens decided to build a brew house and concentrate the brewing efforts. This brewery, Freistädter Brauerei, still exists today, and so does the ownership structure: every house within the city walls comes with shares of the breweries, and the right to a certain amount of beer every year. If you buy a house in Freistadt, you also become a co-owner of the brewery.

So, for centuries, brewing in parts of Austria has been absolutely dominated by cities and market towns, which had exclusive brewing rights. Already towards the end of the middle ages there were efforts to stop farmers from brewing beer, and since no farmhouse brewing is recorded since then, it seems like it was quite successful.

Of course it is too simple to say that there was no farmhouse brewing at all in Austria. There are actually records of a farmhouse brewing tradition in certain parts of Austria, in particular in Carinthia. There, stone beer was brewed by the local farmers, from oats, barley and wheat, employing hot stones to heat the mash in simple wooden mash tuns, without boiling the wort. When the Austrian government tried to supplant this very traditional beer style with modern brown barley beer, the lawyer of a Carinthian abbey gave his expert opinion, in which he stated that stone beer was the only drink available to field workers on the farm, and taking away their beer would deny them their refreshments after a week of hard work. He also stated that only oats and low-quality wheat were used instead of high-quality ingredients.

This is probably the only record of a brewing tradition (and possibly right) outside of cities and market towns that can be truly considered to be farmhouse brewing. I am not a really sure why the specific rights of Carinthia and Upper Austria differed so much, but my guess is that Carinthia and Upper Austria were simply governed differently: even though they were both in the sphere of influence of the Habsburgers, they were still legally separate duchies resp. archduchies.

Interestingly enough, descriptions of this Carinthian farmhouse brewing tradition seem remarkably similar to elements of other European farmhouse traditions: the use of juniper (which is a huge topic on its own), the use of hot stones for mashing in primitive wooden mash tuns, and unboiled wort.

To summarize, we can certainly that due to power structures in large parts of Austria, brewing outside of cities and market towns, in particular by farmers, was actively discouraged and regulated through brewing rights. The only well-known exception to this is Carinthia, where a unique stone beer tradition was alive until the early 20th century. But even this tradition has long died out, which is way we can definitely say that there is no more farmhouse brewing in Austria, and there hasn’t been any in most parts for at least 500 years.

If you want to read more on this, the Upper Austrian state library has the multi-volume work “Brauwesen und Hopfenbau in Oberösterreich von 1100 – 1930” (brewing and hop-growing in Upper Austria from 1100 to 1930) freely available in digitized form.

The Demise Of Upper Austrian Hop-Growing

In a previous article, I discussed the history and current state of the hop-growing industry in Austria. Recent finds in the Upper Austrian state library allow me to expand on this topic, in particular on hop agriculture in Upper Austria, in particular in Mühlviertel.

Hop-growing has a great industry in Upper Austria. The earliest mention of hop-growing dates back to 1206, and there’s always been hop-growing all over the country, but especially so in the Mühlviertel, the northern-most part of Upper Austria, and the Innviertel, the western-most part which used to belong to Bavaria until 1779 and was heavily influenced through the hop-growing industry there. Even though Austria was always overshadowed by the much larger hop-growing regions in Bavaria and Bohemia, Upper Austrian growers managed to produce good quality that at least was able to satisfy local demand, and export to a certain extent. One source mentions during the time of the American Civil War, hop exports from the US to England essentially ceased, which allowed some Upper Austrian hop growers to enter the English market at least temporarily.

But the dominance of Bavaria and Bohemia got bigger and bigger, while the crop areas in the Mühlviertel kept shrinking quite massively: while in 1927, there were still 307 ha of hops being grown, it was a measly 32 ha in 1936. Attempts to counter this in the 1920’s failed due to lack of funding, and also due to difficulties to compete with Bavarian and Bohemian hop products.

In the previous article, I mentioned that in 1939, the remaining hop gardens were ordered to be uprooted by Berlin. Without context, it may seem nonsensical to just get rid of a local agricultural industry, but there’s actually a geopolitical reason behind it.

After the “Anschluss” of Austria, the Upper Austrian hop-growing industry actually hoped to be able to revive and increase the acreage of hops with the help of the German beer industry. But in October 1938, the Sudetenland, the then mostly German-speaking areas of Czechoslovakia, were annexed by Nazi Germany after the Munich Agreement. Since this included the hop-growing regions of Saaz/Žatec and Auscha/Úštěk, Germany suddenly had an absolute over-abundance of high-quality hops for its beer brewing industry.

This was the demise of hop-growing in Mühlviertel: with the vast majority of European hop-growing regions under German control, it made at that point no sense to further invest into the Mühlviertel, and so it was decided to end hop-growing altogether there.

In some ways, the Munich Agreement was the demise of Upper Austrian hops. With it, the land races of that area were lost. Only after World War 2, hops were reintroduced, but this time, English and later German varieties. Nowadays, Malling, Styrian Golding, Aurora, Perle, Tradition, Spalter Select and Saphir are being grown there.

Bavarian Brown Beer

This is my contribution to Session 120.

Bavaria is seen as a heartland of German beer culture, and people usually associate it with pale, sparkling, malty lager beers served in glasses way too large to comfortably lift and drink from. Dark beers are still around and brewed by the Munich breweries, usually referred to as “Munich Dunkel” in modern beer style guidelines, but they’re not fashionable anymore and more of a niche drink for connoisseurs. But this didn’t use to be like that: brewing pale lager was initially only done for export, to counter the fashion of Pilsner beers. Until the 1930’s, dark lager beers were still the most commonly consumed beer style in the Bavarian capital. Even Radler, many people’s favourite summer refreshment, a mix of about half-and-half beer and lemonade, was originally mixed using dark lager beer. And I can absolutely recommend to try a Radler made like that (in a good beer garden, simply ordering a “dunkler Radler” shouldn’t be a problem), the malty notes compliment the lemony tang more nicely than Helles.

So, how was such a beer brewed back then? As for most parts of Bavaria, beer in Munich was traditionally brewed using a decoction mash. As a base malt, a dark, melanoidin-rich 2-row malt, nowadays commonly known as “Munich malt”, is chosen: it produces a dark wort, but should ideally be neither roasted nor smokey.

When looking at historic sources, strength differs, of course, but let’s pick a recipe from the 1830’s: with an original gravity of 16 °P (1.065), it would nowadays be considered to be of Starkbier strength, and called a Bock, but lager yeast used to attenuate terribly (sometimes as low as 44 %, often as high as 55 to 65 %), so we can expect 5.3 % ABV using a modern, low-attenuating lager yeast.

The important bit about brewing this beer is the process, though: using a single-step infusion mash won’t get you there. You need to decoct.

Starting with 5.25 kg of Munich malt to produce about 20 liters of beer, dough in the milled grain with 18 liters of cold (~10 °C/50 °F) liquor (i.e. water), and let it rest for 4 hours. Then slowly mix in 9 liters of boiling liquor to raise the temperature to 40 °C.

Then take 9 liters of thick mash (you can just ladle out from the bottom of your mash tun), slowly bring it to a boil over the course of one hour, boil it for one hour, and then again slowly mix it back into the mash tun. This should raise the mash temperature to 55 °C.

Again, draw 9 liters of thick mash, bring to boil and boil for 30 minutes, then slowly mix it back into the mash tun. This should raise the mash temperature to 67 °C.

For the final decoction, draw 9 liters of thin mash, bring it to a boil, boil for 15 minutes, and slowly mix it back into the mash tun until it has reached a temperature of not more than 75 °C. Then rest for 1 hour.

After that, you can start lautering and sparging, until you’ve collected about 28 liters of wort.

Add 120 g Bavarian or Bohemian hops (3 % alpha acid), e.g. Hersbrucker, Spalter, Hallertauer Mittelfrüh or Saazer, to the first wort, and bring it to a boil. Boil for 2 to 2.5 hours. The calculated bitterness is 44 IBU, but much of this bitterness will age out and get smoother during lagering.

For fermentation, chill the wort to 8 °C. Pitch a healthy starter of lager yeast (in my experience, WLP820 comes close to the bad attenuation of historic yeast strains), and ferment the beer at 9 to 10 °C.

If you want to be extremely authentic about lagering, get a wooden, pitched cask of about 20 liters size, fill your beer into it, bung it up, and let it mature for 8 to 10 months. Alternatively, you can leave the pitch out and just use a metal keg or beer bottles.

The resulting beer should be sparkling, brown, malty, not too bitter, and contain about 5.3 % ABV.

If you want to check the historic sources for this beer yourself: this recipe is taken from the book “The Art of Brewing” by David Booth, published in 1834.

The resulting beer may not be cool, neither in the hip beer scene nor in the conservative Bavarian beer culture, but it’s nevertheless a great beer style. If you’re too lazy to brew it yourself (which is understandable, the recipe implies an extra-long brew day), here’s my suggestion for a fantastic example of the style: Augustiner Dunkel. At 5.6 % ABV, it is spicy, malty, with hints of chocolate and licorice, but never sweet.

 

My Discomfort Beer

This is my contribution to Session 119.

Unlike German, Austrian, British or American beers, I, for whatever reason, always found Belgian beers to be less approachable. Not that they were bad or anything, but I was actually intimidated by the various beers, supposedly big names, of all these different styles. So it took me a while to actually get into Belgian beer as such. Styles like Gueuze and Flanders Red Ale was actually  what I could cope with the best, and eventually, I also started to understand and like the spicy, peppery notes of Dubbels, Tripels and Saisons. But there was this one beer that took me a long while until I actually got to try it: Orval.

I had bought a bottle at a local craft beer store, and drank it at home. I found it odd, quite bitter, not really balanced, but at the same time I thought, hey, everybody says this beer is so great and special, so I ought to enjoy it. But it still struck me as weird. Since I knew that the beer gets bottled with Brettanomyces for secondary fermentation, I blamed it on the beer being too young why it wasn’t quite right, but I didn’t really know. In any case, I did not really enjoy the beer.

Only several months later, I got my hand on it again, this time a bit more aged: there’s a chain store not far from where I live, specializing on traditionally  manufactured, durable products, and they also happen to have some beer, amongst it Orval. The bottles at the time had been bottled for about 6 months, so my concern of that last time, the beer being too young, should not be a problem anymore.

So I tried it, and… it was different. This bitterness was still there. But it was embedded into more funkiness and a slightly sour undertone, and that actually made it enjoyable.

Around that time I had also brewed a historic porter recipe (1831 Truman Keeping) according to Ron Pattinson’s Home Brewer’s Guide to Vintage Beer, including a secondary fermentation with Brettanomyces claussenii. After about 5 months of secondary fermentation, I first tried the beer, and I was overwhelmed: what a fantastic beer! Full of roasted notes, mostly coffee, which were complemented by a great hop bitterness (the amount of East Kent Goldings hops in that recipe is insane), and a slightly sour and funky note.

And it didn’t even hit me at first: the sour and funky notes were exactly what I had gotten from the Orval earlier. It literally took me several days to realize that, and even longer to get a deeper connection: Orval may be an imitation or at least be inspired by British keeping beers, in particular stock pale ales. Since I had never had any stock pale ale, this was merely an idea, and I laid it aside until I’d have the time to brew one by myself: after all, Ron’s book is full of recipes for it.

In December 2016, I then got my hand on a bottle of Goose Island Brewery Yard Stock Pale Ale. This beer was brewed in collaboration with Ron Pattinson, and based on 19th century stock pale ales. I was excited, because if there’s one person that would make sure the beer’s grist, hopping, wort production, fermentation and maturation would be as historic and authentic as possible, it would be him. Finally! A stock pale ale! The beer was a revelation in some ways, but then, it was exactly like I had imagined it would be. Light, refreshing, slightly sour, earthy, funky. Refreshing, that’s something you won’t hear often about an 8 % ABV beer.

After finishing the bottle, I began to think back, and I remembered Orval, and how my second bottle of it was. I didn’t make a direct side-by-side comparison of both beers, but the overall character, the aroma, the flavours, the sourness, that was something that I remembered as very similar if not pretty much the same.

Having a proper stock pale ale actually made me appreciate Orval more, and what I had first considered to be weird was actually a fantastic beer. It also expanded my understanding of Orval: in the end, it’s a stock pale ale, made to a standard like pale ale used to be produced 150, 200 years ago, with characteristics that made it highly priced at that time.

I think there should be more like this around, but they’re not really fashionable at the moment. But I will certainly be brewing beer like that at home. Maybe not up to 8 % ABV, but with similar hopping rates and the same secondary fermentation.