All posts by ak

My 2016, Summarized

Plenty of stuff happened in 2016. Even though I only do the blogging on the side, I got a few things done of which I’m quite proud.

First of all, I managed to self-publish my first (German-speaking) e-book about historic beer styles. It’s a bit rough around the edges, but it was a good experience to work on it, and it will form the basis for a more comprehensive, in-depth, English-language e-book about the same topic. You can download my e-book here, for free and all.

I also posted a series of articles about the German purity law and the unhistorical narrative around it that has been published by the German Brewers Association at its (supposed) 500 year anniversary.

Then I spent some time researching old beer styles: first Horner Bier, a refreshing old Austrian beer style brewed exclusively from oat malt, then Mannheimer Braunbier, a once common brown beer that was brewed with juniper berries, and then a whole lot of other styles most of which made it into my e-book. I even brewed Horner Bier at home, and it turned out to be nice. Also Berliner Weisse: I joined up with Franz Pozelt, and we first brewed an unboiled Starkbier version based on a historic recipe involving barley malt, wheat malt and oat malt, and then a more modern version at normal Schankbier strength. I also attended the Berliner Weisse Summit, which was pretty amazing.

In summer, my wife and I visited Bakewell and the Peak District, and then York for a week. This included not only visits to a lot of pubs (I can particularly recommend the Phoenix Inn and the Maltings in York, and The Manners in Bakewell), but also two brewery visits, first Cloudwater in Manchester, then Thornbridge in Bakewell. We also visited Thornbridge’s Peakender Beer Festival, which is great if you like Thornbridge beers, and the Portrush Beer Festival in Northern Ireland, which was fantastic to get an insight into the growing craft beer scene of Norn Iron.

On the lager brewing front, I played a bit with Munich Helles, my wife’s favourite beer style, and found what works best for us: 98 % Pilsner malt, 2 % CaraHell, 100 % Hersbrucker hops, and Wyeast 2308 yeast. Other tries that worked alright but not as great involved 100 % Pilsner malt, Hallertauer Mittelfrüh or Perle hops, and W-34/70 yeast. What absolutely did not work out was 2 % CaraMunich, Saazer hops, and Mangrove Jack’s M76 Bavarian lager yeast: way too fruity, and outright weird. Most likely because of the yeast. And as a final surprise of the year, the chest freezer on a thermostat that I’ve used for keeping exact fermentation temperatures broke in such a way that it’s irreparable.

So, what’s the outlook for 2017? First, I will continue my work on an English-language e-book about historic beer styles. Then, I will need to look into an affordable replacement so that I can continue brewing lager beer at home. And lastly, beer festivals: we’ll be going to the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival in January, and the Great British Beer Festival in August.

And of course, 2017 will hopefully be full of lots of great, homebrewed beer.

An Outlandish Theory about Northern German White Beers

Since I started researching for my first e-book, I read quite a few things about white beers that were brewed in Northern Germany, and I noticed some similarities, not primarily in the ingredients, but in how the beers were described and compared.

Let’s start with the archetypal Northern German white beer, Broyhan. It is said that it was first brewed in 1526 in Hanover by a brewer named Cord Broyhan or similar. Said brewer had learned his trade in Hamburg, and then went back to Hanover to brew beer like in Hamburg. But allegedly, the brew didn’t quite work out, and the beer turned out to be different, but still tasty, so it was swiftly sold under the brewer’s own name. Most likely, Cord Broyhan wanted to brew Hamburger Weissbier. Now what was the difference between Hamburger Weissbier and Broyhan? We don’t know. The sources don’t say. But we can safely assume the beers must have reasonably similar. Maybe the malt was treated differently, maybe the local water had an influence, maybe the local brewer’s yeast yielded different results, maybe the brewer simply forgot to acquire hops (Broyhan is said to have been brewed without hops). But what we do know is that it was a slightly sour beer style.

The next one is Kottbusser Bier, a beer style from Cottbus. Several sources describe it as white beer “like Broyhan, but with hops”. Typical recipes include various malts in different ratios, all of them air-dried, then usually sugar, and sometimes honey, as well. Hopping rates suggest a very restrained or even unnoticeable bitterness, and no hop aroma whatsoever. Historic sources also confirm that it definitely was a sour beer.

Then there’s Berliner Weisse. It’s made from pale malts (which used to be air-dried), and it’s sour. The sourness was something that was only established in the 18th century through the introduction of yeast from Cottbus breweries. Interestingly, Berlin brewers had to constantly renew their yeast through new shipments from Cottbus, as the mixed fermentation culture was not stable and caused too much sourness when repitched several times. It also means that Berliner Weisse and Kottbusser Bier shared a common character through the yeast and the lactic acid bacteria, while also having a relatively similar grist. And then there’s this historic source from the 18th century that describes the production of Berliner Weisse and contains an interesting formulation: the wort was made without hops, while a separate hop extract was produced, and this extract was added to the Breihan (merely a different spelling of Broyhan), which in this context clearly refers to the unhopped wort. It’s unclear whether Broyhan was a generic term for any unhopped beer, or whether Berliner Weisse was brewed just like Broyhan at that time, the main difference being the addition of hop extract.

And finally, Gose. Nowadays, Gose is brewed with coriander and salt, and is also slightly sour, but historic sources mention nothing about coriander or salt, but do describe it as sour, in one instance even as essentially being the same as Broyhan.

And that’s how my outlandish theory is formed: since several historic sources describe close relationships between Broyhan, Kottbusser Bier, Berliner Weisse and Gose, either in taste or in ingredients, I think that this is a indicator that these four beers are the same beer style, or to be more specific, the respective local expressions of beer with a specific aroma, flavour and colour. Despite a certain difference in ingredients, the similarities were recognized, and so the beers satisfied the customers’ expectations of sour white beer. Each were individual in their own ways, but each would very likely be in such a condition that they could replace any of the other beer styles of that group and still meet the expectations of beer drinkers. And all four beers are representative of a beer fashion that dates back about 500 years ago.

That being said, there is a reason why I titled this theory to be outlandish. It is based on conjecture, riddled with assumptions, and probably too good to true. Nevertheless, whenever I read about the sour white beers of Northern Germany, I get the feeling that they’re just so similar to each other, almost like they’re related. In some ways, I want it to be true, but then, there is no way to prove such a strong relationship. And finally, there is another question that remains completely unanswered: whether there was any relationship between Northern German white beers and Belgian lambic or gueuze.

Historic Bavarian Weißbier

One of the distinctly Bavarian beer styles still around nowadays is Weißbier (sometimes spelled Weissbier), which literally translated to “white beer” in English. Modern Weißbier is a top-fermented beer with around 11 to 13 °P original gravity, a grist of at least 50% wheat malt, low hopping, and a distinctly estery and/or phenolic aroma and flavour reminiscent of banana and/or cloves. Until the last few decades, it’s only been popular in Bavaria, and even there, it used to have the image of a drink that was mostly consumed by elderly women, not unlike Milk Stout in the UK.

You will quite often read about this beer style that the “Weiß” in “Weißbier” is allegedly referring to its wheat content, often alluding that “Weiß” (white) and “Weizen” (wheat) have the same etymological origin. From what I could find out, this is not necessarily the case.

The origins of Weißbier apparently lie with Bohemian white beer that became popular in Bavaria in the late middle ages. With the various beer purity laws enacted in 1469, 1487, 1493 and 1516 in Bavaria or parts of it, brewing with wheat was prohibited for the common folk. Brewing Weißbier was an exclusive privilege that was first handed to the Degenberg dynasty, and was later taken back by the Wittelsbach dynasty, who also happened to be the rulers of Bavaria, so producing Weißbier was practically a state privilege. Only in 1798, this exclusivity was repealed, and privileges were sold to other breweries. State-run breweries were eventually sold or leased out. One of the leaseholders of one these breweries, in particular Weißes Hofbräuhaus in Munich, was Georg Schneider. In 1873, Georg Schneider started his own brewery, as the lease for Weißes Hofbräuhaus was about to run out. Since he was leaseholder, he had the brewing privilege and the right to all ingredients, and thus was able to take both the privilege and the original yeast from Weißes Hofbräuhaus over to his new brewery. That new brewery is now known as Schneider Weisse, but have moved their headquarter and production facilities away from Munich since then. So Schneider Weisse, in terms of their origins as business, and in terms of the originality of their yeast, have a well-documented provenance.

But what was Weißbier like back then? From what I could find out, it did show quite a few differences to the modern product. First of all, the name. Nowadays, Weißbier (white beer) and Weizenbier (wheat beer) are treated as synonyms. In Germany, if you want to call your beer after the type of malted grain that you used in it, it needs to contain at least 50% of it in its grist. But in the past, Weißbier had a different meaning.

Generally, beer in Germany used to be classified in two different types, Weißbier (white beer) and Braunbier (brown beer). The distinction was in the malt: kilning technology in the middle ages and early modern era was rather primitive, and well until the early 19th century, smoke kilns were in use. These smoke kilns not only gave all the malt a smokey taste, it was also rather hard to control the temperature with which the green malt was kilned. Under such circumstances, it was basically impossible to gain an exact control over the malt colour, so all kilned malt was brown and smokey. To produce a pale malt, the easiest option was to simply air-dry it. The green malt was spread out in a well-covered place with a constant draft to slowly dry it out without applying any additional heat. Of course, that process took a lot longer and was more laborious that kilning, and the resulting malt couldn’t be kept for long because it tended to spoil quickly and get mouldy. With the difference in these malts, brown beers were made from brown (i.e. kilned) malt, while white beers were brewed using pale, air-dried malt.

When we look at historic sources, we indeed find an indication that Bavarian Weißbier was not necessarily brewed with wheat. One such source is a book called “Die Bayerische Bierbrauerei oder die Brauerei der braunen Biere und des weißen Gerstenbieres, […]” written by Friedrich Meyer and published in 1830, whose title translates to “The Bavarian beer brewery or the brewing of brown beers and of white barley beer, […]”. Well, that just gives it away. In the book itself, the author writes that Weißbier is brewed from only slightly kilned malt or alternatively air-dried malt. There was a difference in fermentation as well: while brown beers were bottom-fermented, white beers were top-fermented. That shows how dominant bottom-fermentation in Bavaria was. Because of the top-fermentation, it could also be done in warm weather, and thus was a perfect beer to be produced during the summer.

The author also notes that if wheat is not too expensive, a bit of wheat malt can be added, at a ratio of half a Metze of wheat malt for every Schäffel of barley malt. A Metze is 21.6 liters, while a Bavarian Schäffel was 222.36 liters, so that means only about 5% of wheat malt in the overall grist. That’s not a whole lot, and even totally optional according the author.

Interestingly, the author also mentions that Weißbier in Bavaria is in decline, and he partially blames the brewers for it. Some of them even openly mentioned to him that “one had to deliberately make a bad Weißbier so that the brown beer can be sold more easily”. He counters that top-fermented beers that can be consumed 3 to 4 days after fermentation is completed and that it can be sold within only a few weeks means less tied-up capital and less risk for the brewer.

The same author published an updated version of his book in 1847 under title “Die bayerische Bierbrauerei in all ihren Theilen […]”. It also contains a chapter about Weißbier. In there, the author makes a specific distinction between “weißes Weitzenbier” and “weißes Gerstenbier”, i.e. white wheat beer and white barley beer, both of which were commonly called Weißbier. He again mentions that it’s a beer style in decline, praises it for its refreshing qualities in the summer time, but also describes it as a drink that was more common in the countryside, and, because of its relatively low price compared to lager beer, popular among poor people.

The recipe described in 1847 differs from the previous one from 1830: this time, it’s at least one Metze of wheat malt for every Schäffel of barley malt. But even that means only about 10% of wheat malt, although it can be more. Another difference of Weißbier compared to brown beer was the malt itself: the rootlets of malt for Weißbier was allowed to grow longer, which might be an indication that malt for Weißbier was more modified than lager malt.

Weißbier brewed from wheat on the other hand is described as made purely from wheat malt alone. It’s described as less perishable than Weißbier made from barley malt. Other than that, the processes of brewing it are the same.

Both versions of the book say that Weißbier is brewed with a method called “auf Satz brauen”, which is a rather complicated method that involves multiple mashes with cold and hot runnings being drawn off at various points. I shall discuss this at a later point in time, also because I haven’t fully understood the method myself.

Other sources confirm the descriptions found in both of Meyer’s books: in Handbuch für Bierbrauer by P. Müller (1854), the author describes Weißbier as top-fermented, with a grist of 1/2 to 3/4 Metzen of wheat malt per Scheffel of barley malt (a different spelling of Schäffel, in case you wondered), and that it’s brewed both in summer and winter. The author also provides information about the original gravity: 10 to 10.5% extract. That’s actually a bit less than modern Weißbier.

All three sources describe about the same hopping rate: about 1 to 1.5 Pfund of hops per Schäffel, and the hops are boiled for 45 minutes to one hour.

So, with all the parameters that we know about Bavarian Weißbier in the first half of the 19th century, we can convert all these old units to modern ones and scaled it to the typical recipe size for homebrewers, and end up with a recipe like that:

  • 3.6 kg Pilsner Malt (93.5 %)
  • 0.25 kg Pale Wheat Malt (6.5 %)
  • 25 g Hallertauer Mittelfrüh (3 % alpha acid)
  • 1 pack of Bavarian Weißbier yeast, e.g. Wyeast 3068

In my opinion, the particular mashing method wouldn’t have a big impact on the beer here, so I’d follow a simple mashing scheme like a Hochkurz infusion mash. Mash, lauter, sparge as usual, boil the wort for an hour, add hops at the beginning of the boil. Chill wort to 20 °C, pitch yeast. The resulting beer should look like that:

  • OG 10.5 °P (1.042)
  • 4.4 % ABV
  • 10 IBU
  • 5.5 EBC (2.8 SRM)

Most of the beer’s character would come from the expressive yeast. If you want to be even more adventurous, you can try and make a starter from the dregs of a Schneider Weisse bottle. With a lower alcohol content than modern Weißbier, it would probably be even more refreshing, certainly a great summer beer. And last but not least, the beer, compared to a modern version, would show how much of an impact the use of wheat malt makes on the beer’s overall character. My guess is: not so much. But then, I haven’t brewed this beer yet.

My Book about Historic Beers

Last Thursday evening, I released an ebook about homebrewing historic beer styles. I wrote this book in German and released it under a Creative Commons license, meaning that you’re free to download and distribute it to whoever you like.

Even though I tweeted about it in German, some of my English-speaking Twitter followers retweeted it, and the whole thing got a bit more popular than I had initially thought. With 290 downloads and counting, I wouldn’t exactly say it blew up, but for such a niche topic, in a language that is spoken in countries where homebrewing is still kind of a niche hobby too, and only minimal announcements, I think it has done quite alright so far.

Probably the most common feedback that I got was that the ebook is in German. No why did I do that? Very simple: this ebook is a trial run. First, it was a trial to see whether I’d have the energy to even follow through with such a project (I started working on the ebook in early August 2016, and only worked on it in my free time), how many beer styles I’d be able to cover (almost 30, as it turned out), and whether the outcome would even be worth publishing (yes, I suppose). Second, I published the book for free because I wanted to see whether there would be any interest in the topic itself. As it turned out, yes, the interest is definitely there.

But why homebrewing historic beers? Because I find looking into the past exciting. All the beer and the beer culture of modern days wasn’t created in a clean room, but it’s gone through a development over the years, decades, and centuries. Over the last 150 years, beer as a product has radically changed, and brewing “trends” that used to be limited to the regions of Bavaria, Bohemia and Austria have exploded and are now stylistically absolutely dominant. And even in countries and places that have preserved their local beer styles and traditions, these styles are still continuously reinvented and adapted to ever-changing trends. With it, you’ve got folklore, and myths, some of them rooted in actual history, some of them just completely made up. So instead of just perpetuating folklore and myths around beer, I think it’s a better idea to actually look into the past, to take a closer look at contemporary documentation about local beers, about the fashionable beer styles of past centuries, and try to recreate them in a fashion that is as true to the historic original as possible and feasible.

One book that has done that in a fantastic way is Ron Pattinson’s Home Brewers’s Guide to Vintage Beer. Ron’s focus was on British beers, simply because he was able to directly work with historic brewing records, but he also made attempts to cover continental styles, as well, such as Kottbusser, Salvatorbier and Grätzer.

And that’s where I picked up. I’m not saying my ebook is even nearly as complete or well-researched as Ron’s book, but due to where I come from (Austrian living in Germany for almost eight years now), I’m also interested in historic beers of Germany. Especially with the “anniversary” of 500 years of purity law that were celebrated earlier this year, I think it is more important than ever to really more closely look into German beer history, and the surrounding culture. One thing that I definitely learned when researching German historic beer styles is that German beer culture used to incredibly diverse and rich, much more so than today, and not only in the styles themselves, but also in terms of ingredients that were used and socially acceptable to be used to brew beer. It also gave me a perspective about what’s modern, recently developed beer, and what German beer styles available today actually go back much further and are remnants of this large diversity of local beer styles. Munich Dunkel, Bavarian Weißbier, Gose, or Berliner Weisse are such remnants, and just give you a little hint into the diversity and complexity of what and how beer used to be in the past, just 200 or 250 years ago.

Where am I going to go from here on? My plan is to start work on an English language book about historic beer styles. It will contain the beer styles that I’ve already included in my first book, but at the same time, I also plan to expand it with more background information, and even more beer styles and a more thorough discussion of various brewing techniques. I will do this in my free time, so I obviously can’t say how long this will take. If you’re nevertheless interested in brewing historic beers from Germany, Austria, Great Britain, or Belgium, like Broihan, Horner Bier, Scottish India Beer, or Antwerp brown beer, and aren’t afraid to read (or auto-translate) German, you’re more than welcome to download my ebook for free. As always, feedback is absolutely welcome.

Bakewell from a Beer Perspective

My wife and I are currently spending our holidays in Bakewell, Derbyshire, England. Even though I usually primarily blog about homebrewing, I’d like to share a few quick notes about good beer here in Bakewell.

The first impression was that the pubs are dominated by Peak Ales, a microbrewery near Chatsworth house. Unfortunately, I find all of their beers rather unremarkable, the stereotypical “boring brown bitter”. Which is unfortunate, because Bakewell is home to another brewery, Thornbridge, which has produced some fantastic and exciting beer over the last 11 years. It was surprisingly hard to find any pub that has Thornbridge from cask. Impossible, in fact. What the locals told us, most of the Thornbridge pubs are in Sheffield, and the only local Thornbridge pub we found, the Horsepack Inn in Little Longstone, had really odd opening hours. Don’t expect to be able to get a pint there on Thursday at 4pm.

Manchester is only 2 hours away from Bakewell by bus, so if you have plenty of time, it’s worth visiting Cloudwater Brewery. They’ve recently created a large hype with their rather unusual one-off brews and fantastically juicy series of Double IPAs. You need to reserve a seat beforehand to be sure to get served on Saturdays when their tap room is open. We were lucky to reserve just for the weekend after they started releasing their v4/v5 DIPAs.

If you find the trip to Manchester too boring, a good time-waster is to count pubs and what breweries run them. It looks like Robinsons totally dominates around that area, but I managed to see a seemingly defunct-looking pub with an old Boddingtons sign just before Stockport.

Talking about the better beer in Bakewell itself, we enjoyed going to a particular pub, The Manners. It’s a Robinsons pub, their food was good, and the beer was well-kept. From cask, they had five different Robinsons ales (Trooper, Unicorn, Wizard, Bonjeuros, Dizzy Blonde), from keg, the usual lagers, Robinsons Smooth (nitro keg ale) and Robinsons Dark (keg mild). My personal favourite has been Bonjeuros, a dry, hoppy, citrusy, zesty golden ale, which was quite refreshing.

Our opportunity to drink more Thornbridge beer was Peakender beer festival. It’s Thornbridge’s very own festival, so of course, many of their core range beers were available, and a good selection of other breweries’s beers. What we didn’t know beforehand: the location was extremely muddy. It’s more of a 3-day camping&beer festival. But on the Sunday when we were there, the weather was rather sunny, and a rare opportunity to get a proper sunburn in England.

Another day, we also visited Thornbridge brewery itself. It was quite interesting to see the size of the operation, which was actually smaller than I had expected, given their vast core range, and the amount of beer they sell nationally and internationally. Unfortunately, they’re currently undergoing some extensions, and thus not all parts of the brewery can be visited. We had the chance to sample one of Thornbridge’s latest releases, Serpent: a Belgian-style Golden Ale, fermented with the lees from a local cider maker and barrel-aged in ex-Bourbon casks (Four Roses), was a collaboration with Brooklyn Brewery. A pretty good beer, with the qualities of a dry, fruity white wine. I also managed to get two bottles of their sour red ale oak-aged on cherries resp. raspberries, for which Thornbridge recently won gold and silver medal at the World Beer Cup. I have yet to try these, though.

Starting tomorrow, we’ll be in York for a week. I’ll write about it next week, and I’d be grateful if anybody has any good tips regarding beer there.

Interview with Franz Pozelt about Kölsch

A few days ago, I interviewed Franz Pozelt about the topic of Kölsch brewing and its history. Franz learned the trade of brewer and maltster at Sünner brewery in Cologne, is an avid homebrewer, active in the local homebrewing scene in Berlin, and running the beer and brewing group of Slow Food Berlin. So naturally, he knows a lot about Kölsch, and so I asked him to share his knowledge in an interview.

You did an apprenticeship as brewer and maltster at Sünner in Cologne. Can you tell me something about the apprenticeship?

This was a while ago, I started my apprenticeship in 1969. A few weeks ago I met someone by coincidence who, maybe about 10 years ago, maybe a bit earlier or later, also was an apprentice at Sünner. The frightening thing is, it hasn’t changed so much since then, that means, an apprentice was primarily manpower. During my apprenticeship I was mostly working in the fermentation and lager cellar, my acquaintance in kegging. At the same time Sünner also have a tradition of apprentices achieving good grades at exams. During my time, the apprenticeship respectively working in the brewery was physically very exhausting. It could well happen that you had to change from the lager cellar at 4-8 °C (the whole room was cooled, not individual tanks) to the brewhouse, removing the spent grain from the lauter tun (“Austrebern”). Austrebern means that you’d climb into the lauter tun, had to remove the remaining spent grains, and clean the lauter tun using a water hose. I don’t know how warm and wet it was in the lauter tun, but I think quite a bit over 40 °C. After that you’d have to go back to the lager cellar.

But there were also rituals that don’t exist anymore. As an apprentice your first work duty of the day was to take a sample from the lager tank (“zwickeln”). Beer from the tank was filled in a 1 liter jug, the jug including content was warmed to a pleasant drinking temperature, a bit warmer than in pubs and restaurants. After the beer has reached its drinking temperature, it was drank directly from the jug together by all attendees. As far as I can remember, this was the job with the greatest responsibility for an apprentice, the beer couldn’t be too cold or too warm, and we didn’t put a thermometer into the beer. These drinking rituals or the cold meals together on Friday afternoons were pleasant experiences that caused a feeling of togetherness. During my “Lehrzeit”, the terms “Ausbildung” and “Auszubildender” were legally only introduced in 1971, I also tried to brew beer at home, and we drank the results within the family, but it wasn’t convincing enough to try it a second time. Most of my work during the apprenticeship was cleaning lager tanks and fermentation vessels, putting up and stacking kegs, and occasionally polishing the copper vessels in the brewhouse. What have I learned? The basics of the malting and brewing process, that Germans drink a lot and make the best beer. The Belgians (North Rhine-Westphalia, as is well known, is bordering on Belgium) do absolutely terrible things, use unmalted grains and sugar, you get headaches from that. In Bavaria other beer was brewed, at that time Bavaria was still deemed as very backwards and exotic, and we had our Kölsch. I accomplished my exams, both the practical and the theoretical part, with “Good” [the second-best grade in the German school system], I just looked at my school report. If I remember correctly, I was one of the best apprentices.

Which beer styles did you brew at Sünner? What was the most popular?

We mostly brewed Kölsch, occasionally also Pils, and at that time very seldomly also Export and “Malzbier”. Kölsch was the most popular beer type, measured by the drinking rituals mentioned earlier the other beers didn’t exist. What was maybe also interesting, we mostly produced keg beer, the share of bottled beer was tiny. At that time Küppers-Kölsch (belonging to Wickühler), the market-dominating bottle beer brand, wasn’t available in kegs or only in such small amounts that I never noticed it.

You once told me that Pils was a very common beer style in Cologne. How did it get to that, and why and when did Kölsch become synonymous with beer in Cologne?

Already during my apprenticeship it was whispered to me that Kölsch didn’t use to be the main beer. I did some research on this, here are my findings and assessments.

1906, Sünner brewery released a pale top-fermented beer to the market, that started to be called Kölsch from 1918 on. Until Kölsch would become a market-dominating drink in Cologne, it took a few decades, initially it was a niche product. In the 1950’s the ratio of Pils to Kölsch was 80 : 20, today Kölsch has a market share of 90%. This development started after World War 2, and I think it’s related to a clever marketing strategy of the small to medium-sized “craftmanship” breweries. In the 1970’s there were 27 breweries in the Cologne region, one of them a large industrial brewery. The Kölsch beer style changed in the 1950’s to a less-hopped, highly attenuated, foam-stable beer. According to literature, top-fermented beers in Cologne before World War 2 were even dry-hopped. Back to the marketing strategy, the Cologne brewers understood to counter the Pils trend with a top-fermented copy, and to load the beer with regionalism. Why this local identity in Cologne plays such a big role would be a topic for a socio-cultural essay. Today there are still nine Kölsch breweries in the Cologne brewery organization, one of them, the Haus Kölscher Brautradition (Radeberger-Gruppe) which brews 11 Kölsch brands.

What constitutes a Kölsch was defined in 1985 in the Kölsch-Konvention. Do you remember whether Kölsch used to be brewed differently, or were there other deviations to what Kölsch is officially since 1985?

I wouldn’t call it different, but the taste of Kölsch has become more uniform. I remember that earlier, beginning of the 1970’s for example, Päffgen tasted somewhat more bitter and wasn’t as heavily filtered. According to the information that I’ve got, Kölsch nowadays is predominantly hopped with Perle, there is one maltster (Schill) that produces a Kölsch malt, all that contributes to the unification. The Kölsch-Konvention limited Kölsch brewing to Cologne and breweries outside Cologne that had traditionally brewed Kölsch before the Konvention has taken effect, like for example Bischof Kölsch in Hürth (1000 hectoliters/year) or Erzquell Brauerei Bilstein (100,000 hectoliters/year), and thus prevented possible copies of Kölsch through large breweries outside of Cologne. However all the upcoming brewpubs couldn’t call their Kölsch a Kölsch anymore, as it was unfiltered. Braustelle Köln (an early microbrewery, from 2001) advertises their Kölsch (which is not allowed to be a Kölsch) like that: “Helios is a Wieß, the original form of Kölsch, brewed from 100% barley malt, top-fermented and hop-accentuated.”

When homebrewers discuss Kölsch, often “Wieß” as unfiltered, cloudy beer style that is close to Kölsch is mentioned. What did it use to be in the past, respectively what is it like today, was it a niche product, or relatively common?

In the 19th century, there existed up to 100 home breweries with attached pubs in Cologne, there Wieß was drunk, a cloudy unfiltered beer with a share of wheat malt in the grist. This Wieß (in the Cologne dialect “wieß” means “white”) is considered to be the predecessor of modern Kölsch. Braustelle and Gasthausbrauerei Heller, which nowadays also offer bottled beer, brew Wieß. The assumption that it would have been the most common beer in Cologne is misguided, though. At the end of the 19th century the number of home breweries went down by a lot, and several large breweries arose which brewed bottom-fermented beer types like Bräu, Pilsener, Export, Märzen, Bockbier, Lager, Brillant and Kristall.

When you brew Kölsch at home, do you have a standard recipe, or do you vary your recipes? What does a good Kölsch recipe look like for you?

I mostly vary, as a homebrewer I’m not forced to brew a consistent product, and so I always try to optimize. The guideline for the optimization of Kölsch is to brew a beer with high drinkability that still has a character on its own. So far, I’ve always used floor-malted Weyermann Pilsner and wheat malt, sometimes also CaraHell, more recently also Vienna malt and chit malt. Regarding hops, I’ve always tried something new, like Liberty, Perle, Saaz and most recently Bramling Cross, most often in combination with Hallertauer Mittelfrüh. I brew Kölsch with WLP029 yeast. There’s also a Kölsch yeast from Wyeast, and from Schnapsbrenner you can buy a Kölsch yeast from yeast bank Weihenstephan.

Are there any other tips that you can recommend to homebrewers that want to brew Kölsch?

Bestmalz offers a Heidelberger malt and Heidelberger wheat malt with a very low color, between 2.5 and 3 EBC, I would like to try that. Both White Labs and Wyeast specify a recommended minimum temperature of 18 °C for the yeast. I wouldn’t ferment at a higher temperature than that. Fermentation temperature in Kölsch breweries is usually at 14 °C, at most 16 °C. According to an article by Dipl.Ing. Heinrich Becker, “Technologischer Werdegang des Kölsch seit 1900” on the website of the brewers organization of Cologne, pitching temperature is between 11 and 13 °C, and the racking temperature between 12 and 15 °C. The yeasts by Wyeast and White Labs are purported to be yeast from Cologne breweries, so they should be able to deal with these temperatures.

The State of Austrian Hops

DoldenEspecially when discussing historic Austrian beers, obviously Austrian hops, or to some extent, Cisleithanian hops, are often discussed. A lot has happened in terms of hops over the last 100 years in Cisleithania (the Austrian part of the Austrian-Hungarian empire after 1867), and I’d like to give a bit of an overview about it.

Historically, hops were grown only in certain regions of Cisleithania. The largest of these areas were the Saaz (which now belongs to the Czech Republic), the Mühlviertel (part of Upper Austria), the Waldviertel which lies in Lower Austria and is adjacent to the Mühlviertel, and Lower Styria, which now mostly belongs to Slovenia. In the nowadays Austrian part of Lower Styria, only in Leutschach there is still a hop-growing industry.

Each of these areas had their respective land races of hops. A land race is simply a variety of hops that was growing locally and was eventually domesticated, and they’ve traditionally been named after the respective local regions. Hence Hallertauer, Hersbrucker, Spalter, Tettnanger, Saazer, and so on.

Wait, why do only Saaz hops appear in that list of land races, but none from the Mühlviertel or Lower Styria? Because, as far as I was able to find out, Saaz hops are the only land race left of all the local hop varieties that were grown in Austria in the 19th century.

The first “victim” were the hops in Styria. The main hop variety for quite some time now is Styrian Golding resp. Savinjski Golding, which was introduced to Styria only relatively recently. The book “For The Love Of Hops” by Stan Hieronymus (p.167) claims this was in the 1930’s after Slovenian hop fields were destroyed by a disease and that the replacement was Fuggles misidentified as Goldings. slovenianhops.si claims that Styrian Goldings is a descendant of Fuggles and that it was introduced in the early 19th century. This seems highly unlikely, as Fuggles was isolated, categorized and named only in the 1860’s/70’s. But what seems to be secured is that the local land race in Styria was not resistant to a hop disease (some say powdery mildew), while the imported Styrian Goldings were, and thus completely overtook the local industry.

What I keep reading, most of the time without any source, is that Styrian Goldings was Anton Dreher’s favourite hop variety. This is total bollocks, as Anton Dreher died in 1863, before Fuggles was even released to the public. Also his son, Anton Dreher the younger, died in 1921, before Styrian Goldings started to be grown.

Hop growing in the Mühlviertel goes back several hundred years, with the first historic mention in 1206. The peak of hop production was in 1880. But in 1939, the hop industry came to a stand still, as Berlin ordered all hop farmers in Mühlviertel to destroy their plants. The hop industry was dead in the Mühlviertel until after World War 2. The “reforestation” of hops was initially done with English hops. That’s how the Malling hop variety made it to Austria, where it is still grown to this day. Later, Styrian Golding and Aurora were added, as well as Perle, Hersbrucker, Spalter Select, Saphir, and Tradition. The original land races don’t exist anymore, and aren’t grown commercially anymore. The same also goes for the Waldviertel, as it is geographically adjacent to the Mühlviertel, and both regions hop marketing and sales efforts have been combined since the early 1950’s.

That leaves the Saaz hops. Unlike the two previous regions, the local land race of hops was never destroyed by hop diseases or ordered to be removed. Due to its rather unique aromatic qualities and the widespread use in Czech beers, Saazer hops are still widely grown and have soared in popularity world-wide. It’s the only Cisleithanian hop land race left that is still commercially available to brewers, and in my opinion, the only good choice for historic Austrian beers.

This may seem counterintuitive at first, as you wouldn’t immediately associate Czech hops with Austrian beer, but there’s a very direct connection between Saazer hops and Austrian beer: Anton Dreher and the Kleinschwechater Brauerei. This brewer, well-known for the invention of the Vienna lager, a very early and (for that time) pale continental lager beer, used to own land in Michelob near Saaz, where he’d grow hops and barley to stay independent from the then relatively volatile market. It is safe to assume that the hop variety grown there is the local land race, and that he’d use the self-grown hops in his own beers. A year ago, when I tried to retrace the history of Vienna lager and the appropriate ingredients, I used Saazer hops as well, and their spiciness worked quite nicely in combination with the Vienna malt. Even a modern Austrian commercial recreation of that historic beer, Ottakringer’s “Wiener Original”, uses Saaz hops.

In any case, it would nevertheless be very interesting to learn whether any of these older land race hops have somehow survived in the seed bank somewhere around the world. If they do, then reviving them, like the historic English Farnham White Bine hop variety, would certainly be possible.

My Attempts On The Perfect Munich Helles

There is one beer style that seems to be the goal of many homebrewers to get it right: Munich Helles. A pale, golden lager beer with a malty body and not much hop character. Many have tried getting it right. There are threads on homebrewing forums, even on German ones, Reddit also has something, there’s a even a blog dedicated to brewing lager beers with the focus on Bavarian beers, aptly named “The Quest For Edelstoff“, the almost legendary export-strength Helles brewed by Augustiner.

Since my wife and I particularly enjoy Helles, it has been my goal in the last few years to brew a really good one. In February, I brewed my fourth one, and so far, it’s been absolutely fantastic (it’s still carbonating, though). In the fourth try, I got everything just right, it looks right, it smells right, it tastes right. There is nothing where I would say that this is a fault (no matter how minor) in the beer, and I am overly critical about my own beer.

Maybe I should discuss what my previous attempts looked like. In the first recipe that I did in February 2014, the grist was rather complex (mostly Pilsner, some light Munich malt, some CaraPils, some Melanoidin). The mash was a Hochkurz infusion mash, 90 minute boil, with a single hop addition of Hallertauer Mittelfrüh. W-34/70 yeast. If I remember correctly, the beer came out a tad too dark (still pale, but more brown than golden), and it had a honey-like note. I blame the melanoidin malt for that.

The second attempt, in October 2014, was close to the first recipe, except no melanoidin malt, and Perle hops at 90 minutes and 15 minutes. The mash was unexpectedly more efficient than planned, and in the end the yeast must have stalled a bit, so it came out strong, more like a Maibock, with some residual sweetness.

The third attempt, brewed in September 2015, was 100% Pilsner malt, with a Hochkurz double decoction. This time a 2 hour boil, and Perle at 60 and 40 min, and Hallertauer Mittelfrüh at 15 min. Yeast (again) was W-34/70. The overall result was very cloudy, and had more hop aroma than anticipated. It tasted more like unfiltered Staropramen than a Helles.

For the fourth attempt, done in February 2016, I decided to do a few things differently, and incorporated a lot of recommendations from Ludwig Narziß’s books. I composed the grist of 98% Pilsner malt and 2% CaraHell, which I then mashed at 38 °C in a water adjusted to a residual alkalinity of 0 °dH. I rested for 20 minutes, then heated up to 50 °C. I then drew a decoction, heated the decoction up to 65 °C, rested until conversion, then brought it to a boil for 10 minutes and poured it back to bring the mash up to 65 °C. I then let it rest for 50 minutes. I then drew a second decoction, again brought it to a boil for 10 minutes, and poured it back to get to 75 °C. I then lautered and sparged. Again, a 90 minute boil. For hopping, I used Hersbrucker hops this time, with additions at 70 and 40 minutes. Also, I cheated, and added some Irish moss at 15 minutes. After chilling the wort to 11 °C, I pitched a large starter of Wyeast 2308 (i.e. the Weihenstephan 308 yeast strain), and let it ferment for 2 weeks, followed by 7 weeks of lagering at 1 °C. I then kegged it. It’s currently carbonating.

Since the overall amount in the fermenter was about 21 liters, but the keg only fit 19 liters, I got to try some uncarbonated Helles. The colour was clearly golden, and just right. The hops were subdued, and the beer was dominated by a very soft malty note. There was no sweetness though. The mouthfeel was very full-bodied, and there was a typical lager flavour in there – I guess low levels of sulphur. All in all, a very pleasant experience.

For the colour, I’d say it’s most definitely the grist that’s responsible for that. 100% Pilsner malt was a tiny bit too pale, small amount of Munich and/or Melanoidin malt made the beer a tiny bit too brown. 2% CaraHell really seems to do the trick.

Then the hops: Perle clearly doesn’t work so well, Hallertauer seemed okay in the past, but the Hersbrucker seems to taste even nicer when used in rather small amounts and with no late additions.

And last, probably one of the most important factors, the yeast. While W-34/70 is one of the standard strains in lager brewing, I’m not sure it’s particularly well-suited for brewing Helles. Even when fermented cleanly, it just seems a bit harsher than the W-308 strain, which is just softer and a bit less attenuative. I’m not sure whether the decoction mash made any real difference, but it’s certainly a technique to achieve a highly fermentable wort.

I’m not saying my Helles is the perfect Helles, but of those that I’ve brewed so far, it is by far the best. For the next attempts, I will definitely keep the grist, and most likely the hops, and at most will I experiment with other mash schedules and methods, and most likely with other Bavarian lager yeast strains that are not W-34/70. W-206 is certainly worth a try, and so is W-109 which is a traditional strain for Helles and available for homebrewers.

Berliner Weisse Gipfel

Today was the 3rd Berliner Weisse Gipfel (Berliner Weisse Summit), a beer festival in Berlin dedicated to Berliner Weisse and related sour beers resp. beers inspired by Berliner Weisse. The event location is particularly special for that beer style, as Willner Brauerei, one of the large Weisse breweries in Berlin at the beginning of the 20th century, originally had their brewery and malting house located there. Nowadays, Bogk Bier and Schneeeule have put up their tent and have started brewing Weisse again.

At the festival itself, both local and foreign breweries had stands, and served some fantastic beer. I haven’t taken many notes, but one brewery particularly stood out. Oedipus Brewing from Amsterdam had a 4%ABV Weisse called Vogelen, dry-hopped with three different C hops which nicely accentuated the beer’s sourness. This was probably my favourite. Of similar quality was their Gandalf Red with Pink (?), a Berliner Weisse fermented on cherries, and then further matured in a red wine cask with Brettanomyces. Wonderfully complex, with just a hint of cherry, and a nice tartness.

Oedipus Brewing menu

Oedipus Brewing’s brewer, Sander Nederveen, also held a very enthusiastic talk about wort souring techniques. Too much was said to summarise the whole talk, but let’s just say: they’re doing cool stuff with Lactobacillus and Brettanomyces, and they’re not afraid of the funk.

Sander Nederveen speaking

Another interesting thing that was offered was a tour through the old brewery building. Willner Brauerei was an active brewery from the second half of the 19th century until 1990. Unfortunately, much of the brew kit has been removed shortly after closure, and transferred to the brewery museum that Schultheiss had opened up in Kreuzberg. Even worse, that museum was closed in 1994, and the exhibits were put into the Kindl-Schultheiss brewery storage facility in Hohenschönhausen.

Of what’s still there, the malthouse could be visited. I found the kiln to be particularly interesting: the green malt was put on an upper level floor, consisting of a rather fine metal grid. There, the first low-temperature kilning happened. The malt was then transferred through a small hatch down to the lower level floor made of the same kind of metal grid. That’s where the second, high-temperature kiln was done. All kilning was done with hot air, so no malt ever had direct with the fuel or any of its fumes.

All in all, it was a pretty well-organized festival, and I’m looking forward to next year. Talking to all the local homebrewers I met there, Berliner Weisse brewing seems to be up and coming. And last but not least, I took some bottles with me that I’ll be aging: first of all, the Gipfel-Weisse, a collaboration brew of Bogk Bier and Schneeeule, which is a Berliner Märzen-Weisse. Then a regular Berliner Weisse by Schneeeule, with the name Marlene. Another highlight of which I had to take a bottle was Meerjungfrau by Rügener Insel-Brauerei, a medium sour beer with a great complexity that reminded me of Gueuze. It’s refermented in the bottle with Champagne yeast, and combined great complexity with a good drinkability. And last but not least, the Berliner Weisse by Biermanufaktur Potsdam. I picked this one because it had something going on that intrigued me. Let’s see how this one develops.

Cheers!

Brewing a Historic Berliner Weisse

It’s March, and I’ve been wanting to brew a Berliner Weisse for quite a while. So what better time to brew a Märzen-Weisse?

Relatively little is actually known about Märzen-Weisse. What is known is that it’s a stronger version of a regular Weisse. In his 1947 brewing notes, the brewmaster of Groterjan brewery mentioned a high-gravity version of 16-18 °P that some breweries produced occasionally. I don’t know whether that’s the Märzen-Weisse strength, but it definitely sounds intriguing.

For this brew, I teamed up with Franz Pozelt of Slowfood Berlin, to do one Weisse according to my recipe, and then one Weisse according to his recipe. Last Sunday was the first of two brewing dates.

We started off with a historic Berliner Weisse recipe that calls for 20 parts pale barley malt, 10 parts wheat malt, and 2 parts oat malt. We didn’t know where we’d end up in terms of gravity (because it’s a no-boil recipe, see below), so we used 4 kg Pilsner malt, 2 kg pale wheat malt, and 400 g oat malt.

The mash schedule was also based on historic methods: with dough-in at about 40 °C, we then slowly rose the temperature until we reached 50 °C to rest for 15 minutes. Then we continued to slowly heat up until we reached 62 °C, which we held for 45 minutes. We then drew a thin decoction and boiled it for about 5 minutes. At this point, we also added the hops, literally 3 leaves of Hersbrucker, to boil it. Mash hopping is another historic method in Berliner Weisse.

We then mixed the decoction back to raise the temperature to 72 °C, held that temperature for another 15 minutes, and then moved the mash to the lauter tun. With enough vorlauf to achieve a bright and clear wort, we then went on to sparge. Since this was going to be a no-boil Berliner Weisse, we didn’t know what efficiency to expect, so we simply collected enough wort until we reached 16 °P.

The wort was then heated up to 95 °C, and the temperature held for 20 minutes. This was a bit of a compromise, as older recipes lauter directly to the cooling tub resp. the fermentation vessel, but the Groterjan brewmaster mentions this as a possibility to prevent beer infections (such as Pediococcus) without having to resort to a boil. Interestingly, the resulting wort had 17 °P. That may be due to a measurement error earlier, and we didn’t mix the wort properly before (my experience is that during lautering, the runnings don’t mix well, most likely due to different specific gravity, so you get wildly different measurements with the refractometer depending where you take your sample).

Right after that, the wort was transferred to the fermentation vessel, and cooled down to 30 °C.

Fermentation itself is where my approach deviates from history: to better control the resulting sourness, I decided to sour the wort with a big starter of Wyeast 5335 Lactobacillus buchneri, and when sourness will have approached a good level, yeast will be pitched. I decided for US-05, as it’s a relatively neutral ale yeast which has been shown to successfully ferment even in wort with a pH level of 3.38, plus it’s cheaper for me to get several sachets of it than e.g. a single vial of WLP029 or a smack-pack of Wyeast 1007.

Since the brewday went without any issues, the lacto is doing its work now, and I’ll keep measuring the pH levels and tasting the souring wort. The yeast will be pitched when the sourness is right. In addition to that, the fermentation vessel was used to ferment and mature a batch of porter with Brettanomyces, so I expect an infection with B. claussenii, as well, which is perfectly fine for the style.

I’ll report about any results. At the moment, the lactobacillus is slowly fermenting away, producing some CO2. I suppose that’s fine, as L. buchneri is heterofermentative.