Category Archives: History

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.

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.

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.

Mannheimer Braunbier

After my research of Horner Bier, I took more interest in trying to reconstruct other historic beers. In “Vollständige Braukunde” by Johann Carl Leuchs, I stumbled upon Mannheimer Braunbier, which is, as the name says, a brown beer that used to be brewed in Mannheim.

The typical brewing process for the beer is the Rhine method which was common around Mannheim, Frankfurt and Strasbourg. The malt is doughed in by underletting a mix of boiling and cold water. The water to grain ratio is relatively low, while the initial mash temperature is 30 to 50 °C, depending on the brewer. Then boiling water is added, until stirring is easier, and the mash is constantly stirred for 45 minutes. Then wort is drawn off and poured back onto the mash until the wort is clear. When all wort is drawn off into a cooling tub, more boiling water is added to the mash, a rest of 30 minutes is done, and the second runnings are drawn off into the cooling tub. At that point, the grains are considered to be completely spent, and no small beer is made from them. During the second mash, a bit of wort is taken, the hops are added, and are boiled for 15 minutes. This is called “roasting”. After that’s done, the remaining wort is added from the cooling tub. In the cooling tub, any unclear material like flour shall remain back to make sure a clear wort is boiled. Total boil time is 3 to 4 hours, then the wort is cooled down to about 18 °C, and yeast is pitched.

Leuchs mentions two recipes, one brewed with brown barley malt, amber barley malt and sugar, the other one brewed with equal amounts of brown barley malt and amber barley malt, juniper berries, and ginger. For the latter recipe, Leuchs refers to Hermbstädt, the author of the book “Chemische Grundsätze der Kunst, Bier zu brauen“. Interestingly, Hermbstädt mentions that originally, Mannheimer Bier was indeed brewed in Mannheim, but in 1826 (the year that book was published), was brewed in Berlin, where it was enjoyed as a common, healthy, and nourishing drink. It is described as very clear.

Interestingly, Hermbstädt describes a different mash schedule than Leuchs: in total, 12000 quarts (1 quart is about 1.145 liters) were supposed to be used for mashing to produce just 2000 quarts of beer, with a boil of only 30 minutes. I don’t know how that should work, so I simply don’t believe it. Also the hopping is different: hops and juniper berries are infused in water twice, and that infusion is then added to the boiled wort. When the cool wort is added to the fermentation vessel, chopped up ginger is added along with the yeast. According to Hermbstädt, the beer was drinkable already 8 days after brew day.

Based on this information, I tried to come up with an interpretation of the beer style. I’d leave out any excessive boiling, but I’d keep essential elements like the mash schedule as described by Leuchs, and the distinct technique of hop roasting. As brown and amber barley malt, I’m simply picking Munich malt and Vienna malt. This may not be the truest representation, but it’s the closest what we can get in modern diastatic malts that roughly matches the colour description. The question of how smokey the malts for this beer originally were is not something I’m able to answer, nor am I willing to do a wild guess and produce a smokey beer. As hops, I’m picking Tettnanger as that would be a relatively local hop variety for Mannheim.

So, here’s the recipe:

  • 2.75kg dark Munich malt
  • 2.75kg Vienna malt
  • 180g Tettnanger hops (4% alpha acid)
  • 14g juniper berries
  • 4g ginger root (chopped up)

The day before brewing, smash up the juniper berries and soak them in a liter of water until the next day, then remove them.

Dough in the malt with 10 liters of water to result in a mash at 50 °C. Keep that temperature for 30 minutes, then add another 10 liters of hot water to result in a mash temperature of 68 °C. If that’s too much effort, just add 10 liters of water of at least 50 °C, then heat up to that temperature.

Then do a Vorlauf until the wort is clear, and lauter. Sparge with hot water. Take the first few liters of the first runnings, and bring them to a boil together with the hops, and boil for 15 minutes. Then mix that with the remaining runnings and boil for 90 minutes. At the end of the boil, add the juniper berry infusion, and chill the wort to about 20 °C. Add chopped up ginger to the wort, and pitch an ale yeast. Depending on your brew kit’s efficiency, the resulting beer should come out with about 13.5 °P, 80 IBU and 5.5 % ABV. The bitterness is obviously crazy high, but with some aging, it should subside and smooth out.

As for brewing that, I have no immediate plans to do so. I’m currently planning to brew a Berliner Märzen-Weisse inspired by a historic recipe, about which I will post here soon. If you’re brewing Mannheimer Braunbier though, I’d love to hear about any results.

The Misunderstanding Of The Reinheitsgebot As Tradition

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

The 23rd of April is getting closer, and more media is starting to be interested in and report about the Reinheitsgebot. FAZ, one of Germany’s largest and most influential newspapers, started a blog about beer and the Reinheitsgebot.

In the latest article, they write about Schlenkerla, the classic Franconian brewery from Bamberg that produces a rather unique and tasty smoked beer. They also portray Matthias Trum, member of the family that owns the brewery, who has a background in brewing history at the Technical University of Munich in Weihenstephan (here’s the outcome of his diploma thesis). The end of the article contains a paragraph, written by Matthias Trum himself, about his position regarding the Reinheitsgebot. I’ll try to translate it here:

On a first glance, the purity law limits the possibilities of a brewer. In my opinion, you can’t forget that our, i.e. the Bavarian resp. the German understanding of what beer is, is based on this 500 year old law. If a brewer nowadays wants to produce a fermented barley drink with cherry flavour, then it may be an interesting drink, but it doesn’t conform to our grown understanding of beer. I’d find it a pity if such an old tradition like the purity law, even with all legitimate criticism, would be sacrificed to a modern and maybe only temporary trend. The solution would actually be quite simple: where beer is printed on the label, purity law must be in it. If somebody wants to brew anything else, they need to call it differently. Brewers and public authorities/legislative authority/EU would only need to agree.

Well, to put it mildly, this is infuriating. I’m especially appalled by how Matthias Trum, who has a background in beer history, can spout such completely ahistorical nonsense. As I’ve shown before, people in Germany, even Bavaria, have brewed plenty of beer in the last 500 years that doesn’t conform to the purity law at all. Even though a minimalistic understanding of beer as only containing malt, hops, water, and yeast may have been prevalent in Bavaria, it doesn’t reflect reality. And even if you accepted this minimalism as premise, it still doesn’t apply to the rest of Germany until about 110 years ago.

Brewing with other ingredients, such as juniper, marjoram, thyme, oregano, elderflowers, fir tips, birch tips, rose hips, cream of tartar, honey, ginger, gentian roots, bitter oranges, lemons, cardamom, rice, and salt, was common all over Germany. That was the understanding of beer in much of Germany from the 16th to the end of the 19th century. And it’s a sign of a rich and diverse brewing culture. When Matthias Trum claims that “our” understanding – I assume he’s implying the German understanding – of beer is equal to the Bavarian minimalism, then this is not only ahistorical, it tries to erase this rich and diverse German brewing culture outside of Bavaria with a relatively recent trend: pale lager beers only started being produced in Vienna in 1840 and Bohemia in 1842, while in Bavaria, dark lagers were prevalent until the end of the 19th century. Only in 1895, Helles started being served in Munich.

And that is one issue that I have with Matthias Trum’s statement: it claims “tradition” for a relatively recent trend in beer brewing, and it claims “tradition” for beer styles that weren’t even brewed or served in Germany for the majority of the last 500 years.

But it’s part of a pattern that I noticed: Bavarians try to claim the prerogative on how beer is meant to be, and try to force their narrow and minimalistic definition onto everyone else in Germany. I called this the Bavarian Beer Chauvinism. I find this chauvinism particularly heinous because it claims tradition where there is none, it built up a narrative that is not backed up by historical accounts, and at the same time, denies the existence of most of Germany’s brewing culture, at best it draws a distorted picture that beer over 500 years ago was only brewed with bad ingredients or other such nonsense.

Matthias Trum’s suggestion at the end shows exactly that: he’d like to deny using the term “beer” to everyone that refuses to adhere to the Bavarian minimalism. Very broadly and drastically interpreted, this could mean the end of beer in Germany imported from other countries with rich and diverse brewing traditions in Europe: plenty of English beer doesn’t conform to the purity law, as does a lot of Belgian beer, and most likely many brewing traditions, as well. And it’s not just about the straw-man “cherry beer” that Matthias Trum is attacking, there are lots of ingredients that are perfectly safe for brewing that would help brewers in creating new, exciting beers, or even just allow the recreation of historical German beers.

I, for one, would like to see Matthias Trum and his Schlenkerla brewery to recreate a historic Bavarian beer such as Farrnbacher beer, as it was brewed in the first half of the 19th century, and then he will realize how nonsensical the purity law is, and how harmful it actually is both to the history and the future of German brewing.