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. 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.


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.

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.

Horner Bier

Some time ago, I stumbled upon a mention of an Austrian beer style called Horner Bier in some historic brewing-related book, and it got me interested. Deriving from name, the beer was from this small Lower Austrian town called Horn. I have no direct relation to that town (other than an officer in my medical training in the Austrian Army articulating the empty threat that we’d be transferred for disciplinary reasons to the Horn barracks if we didn’t pass the training), but I was nevertheless curious. Apparently, the Horner Bier was an oat malt beer, and quite popular in Vienna in the 18th century (and probably earlier). Just like I got obsessed with proper, historic Vienna Lager a bit, I just had to research this beer, as well.

A starting point is an article that Evan Rail wrote about Horner Bier a while ago. In a book from 1865 by Karl Balling, he found a rough description of the beer:

  • It’s an oat beer
  • It’s very fizzy and refreshing
  • It’s cloudy

Also, Mozart apparently mentioned the beer in some lyrics.

Horner Bier

Looking further, I went through the historic brewing books of which there are plenty available for free on Google Play. A book that I mentioned too often recently is “Vollständige Braukunde“, it briefly mentions Horner Bier as one of the few oat beers still being brewed:

Horner Bier

In another section on Austrian beer, that same book mentions that in 1822, a law was enacted in Austria that prohibited sparging and making beer from second runnings. It makes no mention about the reason, or previous practices. So for at least some time, Horner Bier may have been a no-sparge beer.

Looking further, the book “Die Staatswirthschafts-Chemie” briefly mentions Horner Bier, as well, in particular that it was made from unkilned, air-dried oat malt (Hafer-Luftmalz), and that it was slightly sour.

Also, in a book about Vienna from 1808 with a title too long to mention here, Horner Bier is mentioned as one of three beer styles common in the city. In this account, it is mentioned as containing very little hops and a small amount of cream of tartar.

Horner Bier

So, to summarize, what is known about Horner Bier is that it was made from oat malt, it was fizzy, cloudy, considered refreshing, slightly sour, contained only a small amount of hops, and also a bit of cream of tartar was used in its production. It would be interesting to see measurements of original and final gravity, or perhaps even a historic recipe, but my research hasn’t surfaced anything like that. I’ll probably attempt to brew a version of it for the Berlin Homebrewers meetup in September with the theme of historic beer styles.

(thanks go out to Lars Marius Garshol who encouraged me to write down my few findings on Horner Beer)

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.

“Chemistry In The Beer” – The Reinheitsgebot And Unmalted Grains

In a previous article in which I discussed the original source of the Reinheitsgebot, or purity law, I argued that the mention of barley instead of malt is of significance. Any use of unmalted grains is of course rejected by proponents of the purity law, and also the modern beer legislation, the Vorläufiges Biergesetz, codifies malted barley as the only allowed grain for bottom-fermented beer, and malt from any grains for top-fermented beer. In Germany, it is at the moment not allowed to brew beer that contains unmalted grains, adjuncts, or “Rohfrucht” as they’re called in German.

Already back in the 1960’s, the Reinheitsgebot proponents were fiercely against any change in German beer legislation and any attempts in harmonizing German legislation with EC legislation. The great fear was “chemistry” and “chemicals”. First there was the fear of hop extract, then there was the general fear of chemicals, culminating with the infamous Franz Josef Strauß warning about “chemistry in the beer”.

Even today, insists that the use of unmalted grains requires artificial enzymes (see answer to question 2) to convert its starches into fermentable sugars. Nothing is further from the truth. To explain why, I need to talk about why barley is malted in the first place.

The process is malting means that barley kernels are soaked in water. This starts the germination process, the barley basically starts the growth process. This produces enzymes that can convert starch into simple sugars, cell walls in the grain and proteins start to break down, the whole grain is being modified. If the maltster lets this process continue, whole plants would start to grow, and nothing would be left of the grain. That’s why after a few days, the so-called green malt is dried and kilned. Kilning at lower temperatures gets you a paler malt in colour, while kilning at higher temperatures gets you darker malts. The kilning process also destroys some of the enzymes. But brewers need these enzymes to later convert the malt’s starches into simple sugars during mashing. So it is the maltster’s job to produce malt that still contains enough enzymes.

The amount of enzymes in a certain amount of malt decides what amount of starches can actually be converted. This is called diastatic power. Paler malts usually have a higher diastatic power, while darker malts often have a lower diastatic power. Dark malt, like dark Munich malt (used to make dark-brown lagers, the classic Munich style of beer), has just enough diastatic power to convert itself, but not more. A lot of specialty malts, like caramel malts, dark kilned malts, and roasted malts have no diastatic power at all. They always require a certain share of enzymatic base malts to convert their starches.

Diastatic power for malts is specified in either Windisch-Kolbach units (°WK) or degree Lintner (°L). Conversion between the two is easy: °WK = (°L * 3.5) – 16. Usually, about 105-125 °WK (~ 35-40 °L) are necessary in a grist to fully convert all starches. Base malts can range from 140 °L (Pilsner malt) down to 40 °L (Munich malt) in diastatic power. A chart with typical values can for example be found here.

So, in order to brew with unmalted grains, there are two things that you need to make sure: first, you need enough enzymes by adding enzymatic malt into your grist, and second, you need to make sure that the enzymes can reach the starches. Some adjuncts thus need to be cooked or otherwise treated with heat to make the starch accessible. Flaked barley can be boiled, corn can be made into flakes (like cornflakes, except your breakfast cereal is fortified with a whole lot of other things that you may not want in your mash), oats can simply be rolled, while wheat can be torrified.

Calculating how much malt you need is easily. Suppose you have a base malt with 110 °L diastatic power. In total, you need 40 °L in your grist. That means you need at least 100*40/110 = 36.36 % of base malt in your grist, the rest can be unmalted grains. The lower your diastatic power, the higher your share of base malt, and with 40 °L Munich malt, you need 100*40/40 = 100% base malt.

So why is an all-malt grist still promoted? Because of historic reasons. Brewers back in the day could have easily worked with unmalted grains, and probably also did. But back then, even the malt wasn’t quite the sure thing as it is now: maltsters several hundred years ago didn’t have the ability to finely control, measure and evaluate their malt production. Historically, malts were often relatively dark (because it’s hard to finely control kilning temperatures), undermodified (i.e. some of inner structures weren’t properly broken down), and low in enzymes. These types of malt are hard to work with, unless you employ certain techniques. Decoction mashing, as practiced by German brewers for centuries, is one way of making the most out of malts that were badly modified and low in enzymes. In the 19th century, one of the big achievements of continental brewing was to learn how to produce pale kilned malts, but the decoction mashing tradition remained.

British brewers on the other hand, who had known how to produce pale malts for much longer, have traditionally employed a mashing regime which is nowadays often called a single-step infusion mash. The grist is infused in water and rested at a certain temperature. Because the malt is better modified, and relatively rich in enzymes, it can easily convert all the starches without requiring decoctions to make it more accessible. The same technique is employed by most homebrewers nowadays due to the high quality of malt, as well as commercial brewers that try to avoid energy-intense decoction mashes. Adjunct brewing is a well-researched topic in brewing science, and even German scientific brewing literature contains plenty about it.

So, from a purely technological point of view, there is no argument against the use of unmalted grains when producing wort. With some care, adjuncts can be easily used without requiring any artificial enzymes or other “chemistry”. Brewers can also benefit from a wider range of base materials, as unmalted grains often impart slightly different qualities in the beer compared to their malted equivalents. It is not bad per se, nor is it artificial. Rejecting unmalted grains is dogmatism, in my opinion, as it provides and ensures no quality in the beer, but instead just arbitrarily restricts brewing and thus variety.

In the end, the prohibition of unmalted grains in German beer is also an insult to German malting. German maltsters produce a wide range of all kinds of base malts and speciality malts, exactly matching very strict specifications in colour, kernel modification, friability, protein content, diastatic power, and a whole lot of other properties. At the same time, German legislation specifically disallows German brewers to build upon some aspects of this high quality work. And the proponents of the Reinheitsgebot even support that, even though it makes no sense other than to bring up that bogeyman that is “chemistry in the beer”.