Category Archives: Beer Styles

Historic German Beers That Did Not Conform To The Reinheitsgebot

Bamberger Bier

Bamberger Bier in the early 19th century sometimes had salt added to get it to clarify more quickly.

Braunschweiger Mumme (Brunswick Mumm)

This historic German beer style used to be a popular export product. Besides wheat and barley malt, other ingredients were used, such as juniper berries, marjoram, thyme, and plums. Other sources mention fir tree bark, fir tips, birch tips, burnet, elderflowers, and rose hips.

Farrnbacher Bier

This beer from Bavaria was reportedly brewed with sugar, juniper berries, and cream of tartar.

Kottbusser Bier

In this beer, the barley malt, wheat malt and oat malt was augmented with honey and sugar.

Mannheimer Braunbier

Brewed with juniper berries and ginger.

Merseburger Bier

Brewed with gentian roots and bitter oranges.

Schwedisches Bier (“Swedish beer”)

This beer was brewed in Germany, and besides the usual ingredients of barley malt, wheat malt and oat malt, brewers also used oregano and honey.

Spandauer Bier

This beer was brewed with sugar.

Weißes Stettiner Bier

Also brewed with sugar.

Weinartiges Weißbier (“wine-like white beer”)

This wheat beer was brewed from two different types of wheat malt, barley malt, oat malt. Besides that, brewers added sugar, cardamom, and lemons. Alternatively, brewers could substitute the lemons with cream of tartar.

Weizenbier (“wheat beer”)

A wheat beer recipe from the first half of the 19th century mentions ingredients such as syrup (it’s unclear which kind of syrup), juniper berries, ginger, and salt.

Baierisches Weizenbier (Bavarian wheat beer)

Wheat beer in Bavaria in the first half of the 19th century used to be brewed with either top- or bottom-fermenting yeast, unlike nowadays. When bottom-fermented yeast was used, Branntwein (brandy) was added. Also, the recipe gives a grist of 2/3 barley malt and 1/3 wheat malt. While only the addition of brandy is strictly against the Reinheitsgebot respectively its modern version, this recipe goes very much against modern norms that are considered to be “traditional”: nowadays, only top-fermenting yeast is allowed for beers containing any other malt than barley, and in order to be called a wheat beer, the grist must contain at least 50% wheat malt.

Source: “Vollständige Braukunde” by Johann Carl Leuchs, published in Nuremberg in 1831.

Is The Purity Law a Uniformity Law – Does The Reinheitsgebot Prevent Diversity?

This is part of my series to discuss 500 years of Reinheitsgebot.

In this part of my series of “frequently questioned answers”, I will discuss the question of diversity or lack of diversity that comes with the German purity law, as it was brought up in the FAQ on reinheitsgebot.de.

Question 9: Is the purity law a uniformity law – does it prevent diversity?

Their answer:

Despite the limitation on malt, hops, water and yeast, German brewers have an extreme diversity in ingredients to brew good beer. More than 170 different hop varieties, 40 different types of malt, about 200 different yeast strains, the liquor (brewing water) also has an influence on the beer, just like the brewing method itself. According to them, that gives the freedom to brew 1 million different ways of brewing a beer according to the purity law.

My answer:

If there were a million different ways, then why is Germany’s beer landscape so uniform? Go to an average supermarket, and have a look through the aisles, what do you see? Twenty different brands of Pils, a few Hefeweizen, maybe a Kristallweizen, a Schwarzbier or two, if you’re lucky you’ll find a Helles, a Kölsch and/or an Altbier. In addition to that, the typical “world beers”, generic lagers from major international producers, and maybe bottled Guinness. And that’s it. Some focal points of great, local beer, like Franconia, remain local, and are hard to get in other parts of Germany, with the exception of specialty beer shops, of which there are only relatively few.

And even if you look at these mainstream beer styles, there is very little variation inbetween. In blind taste tests, people consistently fail to distinguish and identify major German Pils brands. I’ve even seen a blind test on German TV where people failed to identify what they claimed was their favourite Pils which they would always buy. This makes all the major brands essentially interchangeable, and the beer market cannot possibly be driven by variety, but by brand reputation only.

So, the question remains: if the purity law were actually an enabler in beer diversity, why is the German mass market so dominated by mostly uniform beer?

An English Barleywine Recipe

About two years ago, my then girlfriend and I brewed our first Christmas beer. It was an oatmeal milk stout which, in retrospect, had just too many components and was a bit confused, but still drinkable. Right after finishing that, we had another great idea: why not brew a big beer that takes some time for aging, and serve that as Christmas beer in a year’s time? So the obvious style for us was English barleywine. I put together a recipe, we brewed it (and had a very chaotic brew day with too many stuck sparges and very low efficiency), bottled it, and after a year, it came out really nice. We kept a few bottles, and yesterday, we brought some of them to the Christmas beer tasting of the Berlin Homebrewing group.

This beer, now two years old, was well-received, and so I’m documenting the recipe for others to brew it and have the patience of a year or longer to actually get a great beer.

Grist:

  • 83 % Pale Ale Malt
  • 17 % CaraRed

Hops:

  • 2.5 g/l Target @ 90 min
  • 3 g/l East Kent Goldings @ 10 min

Two hour mash at 62 °C, then a 90 minute boil. Nottingham Ale yeast. OG was 22 °P, FG was 3.5 °P. 9.6% ABV. 65 IBU (calculated).

In my notes, I forgot to write down the alpha acid content of the hops that I used. In the end, it doesn’t really matter much, because the hop bitterness almost totally fades, and there is just some very muted, round bitterness there that accentuates the overall maltiness. Because of that, I’m not sure whether anything but a bittering addition really makes sense in the end.

After fermentation, we bottled the beer without any priming whatsoever, and no fresh yeast. It still took up some carbonation, which probably comes from tiny amounts of fermentable sugar left after the main fermentation, which was eventually, and very slowly eaten up by the yeast. After that, we sampled the beer at 3 months, 6 months, and 9 months age. Only at 9 months age, it started to taste nice, but really only reached its full potential after 12 months of bottle maturation. An additional 12 months added even more complexity, and that makes me very happy about this beer and the recipe.

Optimizing a Hefeweizen Mash for Esters and Phenols

A few days ago, I had the idea that I wanted to brew a classic Hefeweizen. In my few years of homebrewing, I had actualy only ever done a “proper” Hefeweizen once, and it was the “Almtaler Hefeweisse” kit from Hopfen&Malz. I wasn’t overly impressed by the specific beer, it seemed a bit too watery for my taste. But then, that may have been purely because it was my third beer that I ever brewed. After that, I brewed two more Hefeweizen, but both with a twist, i.e. a heavy late aroma hopping, followed by some dry-hopping with Nelson Sauvin. That beer was a success, but it’s definitely not your classic Hefeweizen.

A Bavarian Hefeweizen has some specific properties: it’s brewed from a mix of barley malt and wheat malt, with the wheat being at least 50% of the grist. Some commercial examples even contain as much as 70% wheat malt. The beer is cloudy, both from proteins from the wheat malt and yeast in suspension, and while pale, it’s usually a tad darker than your German pale lager, sometimes even going towards a reddish hue. Hop bitterness is very low, with no hop aroma. Alcohol-wise, the typical commercial examples usually have 4.8 to 5.5% ABV. The yeast strains used for that style are top-fermenting. Historically, Hefeweizen did not conform to the Bavarian Purity Law (Reinheitsgebot) because it contains wheat malt, while the Reinheitsgebot only allows barley malt. Special permits were instead issued to those who held the privilege to brew with wheat.

Because I wanted to brew a Hefeweizen on a rather short notice, I went to Bierlieb and got some ingredients. Their choice in ingredients is alright but not great, but definitely enough for quite a few German beer styles, your odd IPA or Belgian-style beer. Unfortunately, they only offer dry yeasts, so I had to get WB-06. Now, the thing is that I’ve heard quite a few bad things about WB-06, namely that it’s a rather bland yeast that produces only tiny amounts of the typical phenolic and ester notes of a proper Hefeweizen. My previous experience with dry yeasts in general and specifically Fermentis dry yeast has been rather good so far (S-04 is my standard for most British styles, US-05 is the Chico strain and so probably the standard for almost everyone’s American styles, and Saflager W-34/70 and S-23 have worked for me in the past, too), so I wanted to give them a try nevertheless.

Just to be sure that I would definitely get enough phenolic (clove) and ester (banana) notes in my Hefeweizen, I was looking for a way to optimize my wort production to provide the yeast with as much of the precursors as possible.

For the clove notes, that’s relatively easy. The phenolic clove notes in Hefeweizen come from the specific yeast strains metabolizing free ferulic acid to 4-vinyl guaiacol. Ferulic acid is in the malt itself, but it needs to be freed and available in the wort. That is usually done through a ferulic acid rest, at about 45 °C.

The banana notes on the other hand are esters, iso-amyl acetate and ethyl acetate, and their production by the yeast directly correlates to the amount of glucose in the wort. So obviously, I’d need to do a mash in a way to increase the amount of glucose. Fortunately, there is a pretty cool method for that, the Herrmann method, or Herrmann-Verfahren in German. It is named after Markus Herrmann who wrote his doctoral thesis at Weihenstephan about the formation and influence of flavouring substances in wheat beer about a decade ago (sorry, German only!).

The principle behind the Herrmann-Verfahren is relatively easy: malt contains a number of enzymes which manipulate starches and complex sugars at specific temperatures. The most important ones are alpha- and beta-amylase that do most of the work. But there is another enzyme, maltase, which can break down maltose into glucose. Unfortunately, maltase works at about 45 °C, and is quickly denatured at higher temperatures. So Herrmann designed a mash schedule that first produces a good amount of maltose through a straightforward Hochkurz infusion mash, with 60% of the grist. Then, a second mash with the remaining 40% of the grist and cold water is done, which is then added to the first mash, bringing it down to 45 °C. That way, the maltase enzymes from the second mash can munch on the maltose produced by the first mash and create more glucose. After that mash, a second dextrinization rest is conducted, followed by mash-out.

The whole process is illustrated here:

Herrmann-Verfahren

That way, you end up with a wort with a lot higher amount of glucose, eventually leading to more esters after fermentation with the right yeast strain. Coincidentally, the 45 °C of the maltase rest is the same temperature that is also necessary for the ferulic acid rest.

The recipe that I came up with for my Hefeweizen looks like this:

Grist:

  • 66.6% Pale Wheat malt
  • 18.5% Pilsner malt
  • 9.3% Munich malt (dark)
  • 5.6% CaraMunich II

Hops:

  • 0.5 g/l Hallertauer Tradition (7% AA) first wort hopping
  • 0.25 g/l Hallertauer Mittelfrüh (3% AA) @ 20 min

60 minute boil. 10 IBU. Mash as described above. WB-06 yeast. OG 13.25 °P. For carbonation, I’m using about 7.5% of the wort as Speise.

For fermentation itself, I’m chilling the wort down to about 17 °C, then I’ll pitch the yeast, and will let the temperature freely rise to ambient temperature (about 23 °C in my flat at the moment). Fermentis recommends for the WB-06 yeast to keep a temperature below 22 °C for clove flavors and above 23 °C for banana flavors. Given that my wort provides the yeast with enough glucose and ferulic acid to actually produce either flavors above the perception threshold, I should be fine with that fermentation schedule to achieve a hopefully balanced Hefeweizen with all the right aromas and flavors and none of the wrong ones.

As soon as the beer is finished, I’ll report back about the results.

Reflections on Beer Taxonomy

People are obsessed with taxonomy. Classifying things. Grouping things by how similar they are in certain properties, and to distinguish them. Everything. Flora and fauna, chemical compounds, diseases, fonts, whatever you can imagine. And of course beer.

So obviously, there are different kinds of beers, often distinguished by colour, alcohol strength, aroma, flavour, ingredients, and often connected to a certain locality.

So different people got together, and put much thought into classifying beer, and put these characteristics into beer style guidelines. The Beer Judge Certification Program Style Guideline is a very common one among homebrewers. Then there’s the Brewers Association Beer Style Guidelines, developed and annually updated as guideline for professional beer judging. CAMRA, the Campaign for Real Ale, also has their own style guidelines, which are mostly focused on British beer, i.e. milds, bitters, golden ales, porters, stouts, and similar styles.

But when you look at these style guidelines, they contradict each other in lots of details. I criticized this earlier in my article about Vienna lager. Such contradiction is only natural and to be expected, because, well, humans are humans, and humans have opinions, sometimes very strong ones. The understanding of lots of beer styles is a rather informal one, so beers are grouped by similarity, and then from this similarity, a more general description is derived. And edge cases are often the problem here.

Some people go crazy about styles. Especially among homebrewers I’ve noticed that the BJCP guidelines are seen as the universal truth and gospel, even though claims about a lot of beer styles are completely unfounded and ahistorical. In the extreme cases this leads to people beers brewed after historic recipes as “not true to style“, because of minuscule details they or someone else might have just made up or misinterpreted.

Or another case that I stumbled upon, is this hilarious question on reddit recently about Hall&Woodhouse’s Poacher’s Choice. The important question is whether this beer is a strong ale or a winter warmer.  There wasn’t much response to this, but people argued it may be a strong ale, a strong pale ale, or a winter warmer, but probably not a winter warmer, because they usually are spiced. WAT? What is the difference between a strong ale and a strong pale ale in the first place, and what is a winter warmer? A case of people assuming something about a beer style, even though there is not the slightest bit of consensus in sight. Last time I checked, none of the style guidelines are really clear on that. Plus I don’t think there’s any useful definition of a winter warmer out there in the first place.

But that’s a general problem, especially with English beer styles: some beers are just too similar. Fuller’s, and that’s always my favourite example, makes three different beers from the same grist, but doing three runnings, and then blending them to get three different worts of different strength.

For whatever reason, may it be disillusionment, or just an attempt of distinguishing yourself from others, more and more brewers and beer producing companies went a post-modern way of describing beer styles, where all styles basically got deconstructed, and aspects of beer styles got reduced to simple terms and attributes, and everyone can just pick them up, put them together as they like.

Golden, Blonde, Pale, Amber, Dark, Black, Red, Brown, White, Belgian, English, Norwegian, American, India, Imperial, Double, Triple, Session, Strong, Farmhouse, Abbey, Wheat, Rye, Spelt, Old, Aged, Infused, Ale, Helles, Stout, Porter, Lager, Pilsner, Lambic, Hefeweizen, Gose, Saison.

This, of course, gets absurd really quickly, where breweries release beers that they “Imperial Porters”, using the “Imperial” to imply a stronger beer than a “normal” porter. You know what a stronger porter is called? A stout. Same with “Imperial Lager”. It’s Bockbier, really.

So, how should we deal with that? Shall the craft beer scene of the 2010’s be like the metal and rock scene 10, 15 years ago, where each band had to “invent” their very “own” music style?

I know no ultimate solution, but at least I have one idea for an approach: be more moderate in discussing styles. Less strict interpretations of arbitrary style guidelines, more reflection on existing beer styles and their history (!), all that balanced with less forced distinction. Because in the end, all that counts is that we enjoy good and creative beer, and not fight about absurd styles and names.

And now excuse me, I need to design a recipe for a Golden Imperial Session Stout Lager. 😉

P.S.: on a side note, it took me about two weeks to write this article, because WordPress seriously screwed me over and decided to simply not save a previous revision of that article, and so I had rewrite about half of the article. Another reminder why I’m sometimes not fond of IT in general and software in particular.