My Summer Beers for 2024

I feel like I’ve mostly blogged about beer history in the last year, but the truth is: I still brew beer at home. So this time, I want to talk about what beers I brewed for myself together with friends as the summer beers of 2024.

Czech 8° Pale Lager, Revision 3

Both in 2021 and 2022, I brewed Czech Pale Lagers specifically for the summer: refreshing, with lots of character, but lower in alcohol. In Czechia, beer “styles” are most often described in two dimensions, one is the colour (pale, semi-dark, dark, black), the other one is a band of strength, but not alcohol content, but rather original gravity, i.e. the amount of sugar in the wort before fermentation. “Eight degrees” thus refers to an original gravity of 8° Plato. It’s certainly on the lower end for Czech draught beers (10° is much more common), but it’s certainly allowed, though quite rare these days.

In my first version in 2021, I tried out a grist of mostly Pilsner malt with a small amount of dark caramel malt (CaraBohemian in my case), double decoction mash of course, Czech Saaz hops for bittering, German Brewers Gold hops as a late addition, and fermented with Lallemand Diamond Lager yeast. The idea was to get a citrusy-zesty note from the Brewers Gold like I had tasted it in other beers I had previously brewed, but in practice, the beer was a bit fruitier than expected. Still, it was very drinkable and well-received even by a few professional brewers I gave samples to.

In my second version in 2022, I slightly changed things: still double decoction mash, but just 100% Bohemian Pilsner malt this time, 100% Czech Saaz hops (did somebody say SMaSH?), and Imperial L28 yeast (allegedly the Pilsner Urquell D strain). That one was absolutely amazing.

So for my third version for 2024 (I had only brewing plans for 2023), I collaborated with my friend Christian, co-founder of THE MASH PIT (which unfortunately had to close during the pandemic) to brew a slightly different version: the change this time was to the grist: instead of 100% Bohemian Pilsner malt, we instead went for 80% Pilsner and 20% Munich malt. Christian in his time as brewer had made the experience that such additions of Munich malt can add just a bit more malt complexity, while I had noticed the use of Munich malt in Vinohradský Pivovar’s Káranská 9 beer which is described as being brewed with Munich and Pilsner malt.

We still stuck to 100% Saaz as well as double decoction mashing, but changed the yeast to the more affordable option of W-34/70 (because it doesn’t make that much of a difference, anyway).

The Recipe

Now that the beer is finished and both Christian and I tasted it, I can report back that it’s also a smashing success. Here are the ingredients:

  • 2.7 kg (79.4%) Bohemian Pilsner malt (Weyermann)
  • 0.7 kg (20.6%) Munich II malt (Weyermann)
  • 34g Saazer hops 2021 harvest (4.7% alpha acid) @ 60 min
  • 30g Saazer hops 2021 harvest (4.7% alpha acid) @ 5 min
  • 2 sachets of Fermentis Saflager W-34/70

Basic specs:

  • OG 8.7 °P
  • FG 2.5 °P
  • 3.3% ABV
  • Colour 7.4 EBC (calculated)
  • Bitterness 22.5 IBU (calculated)
A Tübinger glass with a slightly hazy, dark golden to pale amber beer in it, topped by a thick layer of white foam. It’s darker on the photo than what it really looks like.

And this is how we brewed it:

We mashed in all the malt with 20 liters of water to end up with a mash temperature of 32°C. After a brief wait, we pulled 12 liters of thick decoction, heated it up to 72°C, let it rest for 15 minutes, brought it to a boil for 5 minutes, then mixed it back. The resulting temperature of the mash was 66°C.

After 33 minutes, we pulled 8 liters of thin decoction, brought it to a boil, boiled it for 5 minutes, and mixed it back. The resulting mash temperature was 72°C.

We then rested it for 10 minutes, heated it up to 78°C, and then moved the mash into the lauter tun. After lautering and sparging, we brought the wort to a boil, and boiled it for 60 minutes, with hop additions at 60 minutes and 5 minutes before the end of the boil.

We then transferred the chilled wort to a fermenter and pitched two sachets of rehydrated W-34/70 yeast at 10°C. The beer then fermented until terminal gravity and was then lagered for 3 weeks at 1°C. We bottled it with some of the wort that we had held back so that it could referment in the bottle for natural carbonation.

Looking back at the first version of a Czech-style summer beer, I noticed that I had mentioned Mahrs Sommerpils in my blog post as an inspiration that lower-ABV beers with lots of bitterness and hop aroma can actually work. I actually had a bottle of Mahrs Sommerpils just the other day, and it’s just not the same beer it was back in 2019 when I first had it directly from the source. It lacks that bitterness and hop aroma it initially had. Even if I had Mahrs Sommerpils available in my local supermarket, I would still rather drink my home-brewed summer beer, and it’s definitely something I will brew again next year.

A beer label I designed for the 8° Pale Lager and printed using linocut. It consists of a circle that says “SVĚTLE PIVO” (pale beer) on the top and “OSMIČKA” (eighter, referring to the 8° Plato strength) on the bottom. Inside the circle, there is a Tübinger glass on top, left and right below it two hop cones, and underneath it, a circle with the text “8°” inside, again referring to the beer’s strength.
Best Bitter

This is a beer that I brewed with another friend and former work colleague of mine, Joel. It was actually born out of failure: Joel wanted to learn how to brew beer at home, so I showed it to him, but the first recipe for a Best Bitter I had come up with was not very good: a slight touch of chocolate malt turned the beer to be too roasted and astringent, while the substandard quality of the liquid yeast caused it to perform badly during fermentation. The resulting beer was also too hazy.

So this beer was a revision of that, and I wanted to approach it as simple as possible this time: about 90% pale malt, 10% Dark Crystal malt, Irish moss to help with a clearer beer, and the popular and often-used SafAle S-04 yeast.

The Recipe
  • 3.75 kg (90.4%) Pale malt (Weyermann)
  • 0.4 kg (9.6%) Warminster Crystal Malt 150 EBC
  • 60 g Fuggles (3.1% alpha acid) @ 60 min
  • 30 g Fuggles (3.1% alpha acid) @ 10 min
  • 1 tsp Irish moss @ 10 min
  • 2 sachets SafAle S-04 yeast

Basic specs:

  • OG 10°P
  • FG 2.8°P
  • 3.8% ABV
  • Colour 18.6 EBC (calculated)
  • Bitterness 26.3 IBU (calculated)

This time, the approach was much simpler: we mashed in all the malt with 15 liters of water to end up at a mash temperature of 67°C. We then rested it for 60 minutes. We then heated up the mash to 72°C and rested it for another 10 minutes. We then lautered and sparged it, followed by boiling the wort for 60 minutes, with hop additions 60 minutes and 10 minutes before the end of the boil. We then chilled down the wort to 20°C, pitched two sachets of S-04 yeast, let it ferment, and then bottled it with wort we had held back so that the beer could referment in the bottle for natural carbonation.

In the end, I was actually quite surprised about the resulting beer: it does taste remarkably close to a proper cask bitter (though it may be slightly undercarbonated), it has the right expression of fruity esters that makes bitters so unique, and it has absolutely the right malt character. I very firmly believe that British bitters, whether it’s ordinary, best or extra special bitter, stand and fall with using the right ingredients, and crystal malt from a British maltings is quite crucial for that, I think a lot more important than what people think it is. And I think it’s where most non-British brewers fail, even if they get the hops, the yeast and the water treatment right.

And while a Best Bitter may not be the most typical summer beer, I think what still makes it very good for this time of the year is the relatively low amount of alcohol of just 3.8% ABV.

The Best Bitter in the wrong kind of beer glass, visibly undercarbonated, with signs of chill haze.

Thornbridge’s Old New Burton Union: My Hot Take

By now, many of you have probably heard of the great news that Carlsberg Marston’s, who used to run the last remaining Burton Union brewing system, have handed over one set to Thornbridge Brewery in Bakewell, which will use it to ferment specialty beers. If not, Pete Brown will fill you in on some of the details.

As Pete Brown wrote in his blog post:

I’m sure there’ll be lots of hot takes on this.

So here is mine: Thornbridge should use their Burton Union to ferment a Bavarian Weissbier.

“But Burton Unions were built and used to ferment classic British beers, what’s got Bavarian Weissbier to do with it?” Glad you’re asking.

Let me start from the very beginning: in terms of historic fermenters, there are two big approaches: open fermenters and closed fermenters. The former are basically vats where the yeast is rising to the surface and can be skimmed off, while the latter are casks with a bunghole from which all the yeast (and some of the fermenting beer) is ejected.

German brewers call these approaches Bottichgärung and Spundgärung. English brewing also employed both techniques, but interestingly, Bavarian brewers used to make a clearer distinction, where Bottichgärung was typically used for bottom-fermented beers, while Spundgärung was exclusively for top-fermented beers.

The most primitive way of Spundgärung went like this: the wort was added to a cask, filled pretty much to the top, and yeast was pitched. Any yeast that would otherwise rise to the top would get ejected through the cask’s bunghole and run off down the side of the cask, where it would get caught in a tray. Any beer also ejected with it would be used to top up the cask, until fermentation was finished.

Spundgärung, as illustrated in a German brewing book from 1840

This is of course manual labour, and not the most hygienic, either. So is there a way to do this in a better way? Yes, there is: Burton Unions! The Burton Union is basically a scaled-up way of doing this that is not only more hygienic, but also essentially fully automated, at least when it comes to topping up the casks: yeast is ejected from the bunghole of not one, but several casks, through a pipe going upwards, ending up in a tray that is located on top of the casks. Any beer ejected with the yeast will end up on the bottom of that tray, from where it can run back into the casks.

Pressure (from the fermentation) and gravity do all the work here to keep the casks topped up. And this wasn’t just a British brewing secret, German brewers knew about this approach, too.

A Burton-Union-like system as shown in a German brewing book from 1831

Of course, they knew about it from brewing books and journals that also discussed British brewing, but it was nevertheless known.

In any case, Spundgärung is a technique that has completely fallen out of use in Bavarian brewing and German brewing in general, it is entirely historic. Burton Unions are probably the only system where this approach is still followed, at least the only one I know of, and they almost went extinct, too. So why not bring Bavarian top-fermented beers and Burton Unions together? It would be very interesting to see what impact the Burton Union system has on a Bavarian Weissbier: will it change the typical clove and banana aromas of the finished beer? Does it have any impact on the clarity of the beer?

Sure, Thornbridge announced that they will produce a version of Jaipur on it, and intend to use it for some of their other beers, then new recipes specifically designed for it, and of course, collaborations. A lot of it will probably be traditional British styles, because it’s traditional British brewing equipment.

But for me, trying a Bavarian Weissbier, fermented the old Spundgärung way, would be the most exciting and a project I would absolutely love to see.

Book Review: Modern Lager Beer

Kevin Davey of Heater Allen said in a video a few months ago that there are two types of brewers: the ones that focus on a recipe and the ones that focus on the process of brewing, and that lager brewers are in the process brewer camp.

When I read the new book Modern Lager Beer by Jack Hendler and Joe Connolly, I was instantly reminded of this. Normally, home-brewing books focus on styles and on recipes. Of course, processes will also be discussed, but the focus usually lies on the former. The structure in Modern Lager Beer is very different, though: after a brief discussion of the major contemporary lager brewing traditions, the process-drivenness (is that even of a word?) of lager brewing is being acknowledged, and everything after that is being discussed is from a process perspective, not necessarily just the authors’ opinions, but also often from the view of other experienced brewers. Sometimes, these may not always match up, or even contradict each other. As such, I never felt that the book told me what is exactly right or wrong, but rather gave me insight into the possibilities and different viewpoints to achieve different goals in a beer.

Ingredients? Yeast is being discussed and compared in all its expressive parameters, including a quick guide how to choose the right strain for you, without ever getting prescriptive. The insight on malt is how much of its parameters are driven by the malting process itself, and how much of a beer (including aspects of the necessary production process) are predetermined in the malt house, including what’s relevant when working with adjuncts such as corn (maize) and rice. For water, the topics of hardness and alkalinity and their overall impact on the process and the beer are described, while hops are more discussed from the standpoint of how they can be utilized in the brewhouse, and what specific properties of hop varieties (e.g. farnesene content) can have which impact on the beer.

The emphasis on process is even more noticeable in three chapters that make up a large chunk of the whole book: fermentation, decoction mashing, and carbonation, all absolutely essential steps in brewing a great lager beer.

I think this is what sets this book really apart: fermentation is barely ever discussed to such a great detail unless you dig through the standard works like Kunze or Narziss. Whether it’s aeration, free amino nitrogen, pitching rates, top pressure or temperature, the impact on each of these is described and discussed, filled with the opinions and views of a multitude of respected brewers from both the US and Europe. Lagering is discussed in similar detail, including the question of how much of it is necessary, how progress can be monitored, what some of the risks might be under certain circumstances (such as yeast autolysis), and how they can be detected and mitigated.

The same goes for decoction mashing: only rarely discussed in detail otherwise, Modern Lager Beer really gets into all the details of single, double and triple decoction and how to decoct even on very simple brew kits that weren’t explicitly designed for decoction mashing. The authors even bring in the views of breweries that do not employ decoction mashing whatsoever, and their rationale of what they try to achieve in a beer and why decoction mashing would not be helpful in these instances.

The third otherwise rarely discussed topic is carbonation. The authors list the different options to do that, and what advantages and risks they all bring to the table, whether it’s force carbonation, spunding or kräusening. At the same time, they emphasise the importance of carbon dioxide in beer, and even call it “the fifth ingredient”.

The last third of the book is concluded with an overview over various traditional techniques and aspects, whether it’s Kellerbier, open fermentation, coolships, beer served from wooden casks, and even biological acidification (Sauergut) for pH control, an outlook on the possible future of lager beer, and finally, a collection of lager beer recipes of various styles which, matching the overall tone of the book, are still presented in a more process-oriented fashion than usual.

All in all, the book is a very dense (but not condensed) overview over all the more advanced aspects of brewing lager beer primarily in a commercial-industrial setting, but explained in such a way that home-brewers have ample starting points to get inspiration to improve their own brewing process. With plenty of sources and references, Modern Lager Beer is merely a starting point into what can become going down a rabbit hole full of rabbit holes. There’s a lot of information packed into just 300 pages, with the breadth and a level of detail that comes close to the likes of Kunze and Narziss, while remaining approachable.

As for me, I have yet to reflect on the book and what I can incorporate into my standard processes for lager brewing which have worked very well for me in the past. I’m sure there are still details that I can deal with better, but I think that requires a second and third reading of some of the chapters or sections of Modern Lager Beer.

And finally, I think it’s also worth pointing out what the book is not trying to be: it’s most certainly not a guide on individual beer styles (in fact, beer styles are rarely brought up, and my area of expertise, Vienna Lager, is only mentioned in passing as an early stage of the evolution of pale lager beers, on page 14). It is not a collection of recipe (though it does contain 30 recipes in total), nor does it contain a comprehensive history of bottom-fermented beers. And that’s fine, because in its focus on the brewing process in its many details is what makes the book really stand out for me.

If you’re a home-brewer, whether you’re just starting out with brewing lager beers, or whether you’ve gained a lot of experience already and are generally happy with what you’re brewing, do get this book and read it. It will open up your mind to all the complexities of lager brewing that most home-brewers can safely ignore, but which may still point you to some adjustments that may improve your beer even further.

The book Modern Lager Beer by Jack Hendler & Joe Connolly, held in my hand

Alcohol-Free Augustiner: The Tasting

A few weeks ago, I wrote about alcohol-free Augustiner and why it’s a big deal. At the time, I hadn’t tasted it and was purely relying on other people’s verdicts and information.

Well, yesterday was the day. I’m currently in Munich for my job (it’s a hard life, eh), and so I tried to get some bottles of it. My wife had sent me to a bottle shop that may have it, but alas, no chance (“nobody has it right now”, as the guy behind the counter said).

So after dinner, I went to Augustinerkeller with a work colleague (a second one joined us later), to have some fresh Helles from wooden cask and to try the alcohol-free Helles because if one place just has to have it, it’s one of Augustiner’s top spots in Munich, right?

So, yes, they did have it.

A glass of Augustiner Alkoholfrei Hell on a beer coaster on a bar counter, with a second glass of it in the background, and a number of waiters further in the background

So let’s just get to the point: it’s very good, but it still tastes like an alcohol-free beer. I would happily order it again, and I would also happily use it to blend it with regular bottled Augustiner at home.

Last time I wrote about it, I said that with the traditional methods of brewing alcohol-free beer, you either end up with a full-bodied but sweet beer, or a very thin and slightly sour tasting beer. This beer balances this out: it’s full-bodied with a very mouthfeel compared to virtually all other alcohol-free beers I’ve had, it’s not sweet, and that sour taste is a lot less than in other beers. It’s more bitter than their regular Helles. It does not have that Augustiner house flavour (that bit of pleasant sulphur), though, but still all the other properties of a good Bavarian Helles.

My work colleagues also both liked it, one of them compared it favourably to Jever Fun. All of us ultimately still preferred Helles from wooden cask, which is understandable because at Augustinerkeller, it’s about the best Augustiner beer you can possibly get.

After that very unscientific sensory evaluation of this new alcohol-free beer, I stand by my prediction that this could be a game-changer. I think the fact alone that it’s impossible to get even in Munich and that Augustiner seemed to be slightly overwhelmed by the success of this new beer shows that they’ve created a bit of a hype.

Fun fact: while we were at Augustinerkeller, we witnessed 3 big wooden casks getting tapped, in a very consistent 40 minute interval. I asked what size they were. One-hundred litres, they waiter said. 100 litres, in just 40 minutes, at least 3 times over. Absolutely massive. But then, football was on, with Bayern playing Arsenal, and Augustinerkeller were showing it on big screens.

Two empty glasses of Augustiner Alkoholfrei Hell

More About Pilsator

Just yesterday, I wrote about Pilsner in Germany and how it lost its geographic indication the courts, including a beer named Pilsator. Of course, I couldn’t resist looking a bit more what was written about it in the newspapers after the name was announced. Let’s just say… the classic philologists and linguists weren’t particularly impressed.

On 17th August 1909, Professor Dr. J. Röhr pointed out that the suffix -ator indicates a male person performing a particular action, such as mercator for merchant, viator for traveller, lignator for woodcutter, etc., so for somebody who has any idea about Latin, a pilsator is somebody who pilses (don’t we all like to pils every now and then?).

In a short newspaper article in Bielefeld from the 19th of the same month, Pilsator is called a “badly done portmanteau of two words every beer drinker should know, Pilsner and Salvator”, and the fact that Böhmisches Brauhaus simply used two existing terms made them not look particularly sympathetic.

And on a similar note, a Cologne newspaper mentions that the inventor must have thought about Salvator but had no idea about the Latin roots of the -ator suffix and how to correct apply it, making “Pilsator” yet another “language stupidity” that will shout at people from thousands of ads and countless beer casks and bottles. The author even recommended that Gustav Wustmann should add this word to the next edition of his book “Allerhand Sprachdummheiten: kleine deutsche Grammatik des Zweifelhaften, des Falschen und des Hässlichen” (lit. All sorts of linguistic stupidities: a little German grammar of the dubious, the wrong and the ugly).

On the 23rd September, German writer Johannes Trojan, introduced as drinker and language connoisseur, responded to Prof. Dr. Röhn by saying that that scientific standpoint should not be considered, as “Pilsator” is a beautiful and bite-sized name that alludes to both Pilsner and Salvator.

At the shareholders’ meeting in December 1909, criticism was voiced about the naming competition, but one of the judges defended it that it was good advertising for the brewery and got people to talk about the brewery and the new beer. In total, an increase in sales of 1,000 hl was attributed to it by the directors.

And in March 1910, Böhmisches Brauhaus released a new Bockbier, aptly named Pilsator-Bock:

An ad for Böhmisches Brauhaus Pilsator Bock from March 1910.
An ad for Böhmisches Brauhaus Pilsator-Bock from March 1910.

How Pilsner Lost Its Geographic Indication Status in Germany

In the 19th and early 20th century, it was common to call beers in Germany and Austria by the place where they came from, a geographic indication if you will, such as Pilsner, Budweiser, or Münchner. Nowadays, this concept is applied to all other kinds of food and drink, and even has its own categories of protection on the EU level.

The success of specific beers of course often came with imitators. Some American breweries were good at marketing their locally brewed beers as all kinds of European beer types. One of my favourite examples is this Schlitz ad from 1891 that mentions Schlitz-brewed Budweiser, Pilsener, Wiener, Erlanger and Culmbacher, all referring to places in either Bohemia, Austria or Bavaria, all of them well-known for their beer at the time.

An ad for Schlitz Brewery Milwaukee from 1891, advertising Budweiser, Pilsener, Wiener, Erlanger and Culmbacher, among others.
An ad for Schlitz Brewery Milwaukee from 1891, advertising Budweiser, Pilsener, Wiener, Erlanger and Culmbacher, among others.

The case of Budweiser, which meant a century-long legal struggle between the breweries of Budweis/České Budějovice and Anheuser-Busch, is probably the best known one, but in the early 20th century, also some of the breweries of Pilsen/Plzeň weren’t super happy about the proliferation of the “Pilsner” resp. “Pilsener” name used for beers not from the Bohemian city of Pilsen/Plzeň.

(Ironically, nobody ever seemed to care about Anheuser-Busch stealing coopting another Bohemian place name well-known for its beer as a brand name, Michelob/Měcholupy)

In 1910, the breweries of Pilsen seem to have sued a number of German breweries, such as Pankow-based Engelhardt brewery, which were then initially banned from calling their beer “Engelhardt Pilsener” resp. “Engelhardt Export Pilsener”. The German court then found them to abuse the designation of origin of a foreign beer without clearly specifying that their beer wasn’t from Pilsen, but rather from Pankow just outside Berlin. This initial verdict is quite interesting, as it even specifically points out that a “light [i.e. pale], highly hopped, bottom-fermented bitter beer” didn’t necessarily need to be called a “Pilsner”, and specifically mentions Schultheiss Märzen as a counter-example of a beer with similar properties that makes no reference to the Bohemian city.

In December 1913 though, the Reichsgericht (Supreme court of the German Empire) in Leipzig passed a verdict that the term “Pilsener” had simply changed in meaning and couldn’t be seen as a pure geographic indication anymore, but rather as a statement of quality about the product, and that enforcing it as a geographic indication would be an interference into the “free development of business” by the court. The court also rejected any possible confusion of customers because of the price difference between “German Pilsener” and “real Pilsener”, and referred the case back to a lower court (this basically means that the Supreme court told the lower court what the correct legal opinion was meant to be). The complaining parties, namely Bürgerliches Brauhaus Pilsen, 1. Pilsener Aktienbrauerei and Pilsener Genossenschaftsbrauerei, were presumably not happy about it.

Just earlier that year, they had also sued Geraer Aktienbrauerei in Timm near Gera, Radeberger Exportbierbrauerei and Böhmisches Brauhaus in Berlin to stop calling their beers Timmser Pilsner, Radeberg Pilsner, resp. Pilsator (a brand that Böhmisches Brauhaus had started using only in 1909). The courts in these cases argued slightly differently, namely that while “Pilsner” hadn’t entirely lost its geographic indication, the prefixes of respective place names “Timmser” resp. “Radeberger” made the origin clearer and demoted “Pilsner” to a generic product name. In the case of “Pilsator”, it also noted that the beer had always been used in connection with Böhmisches Brauhaus Berlin, thus always making clear where it had come from.

This was hardly surprising, because even the Austrian administrative court had ruled in 1910 that “Pilsator” was merely a fantasy name that obviously did not indicate a provenance from Pilsen.

Little fun fact: the brand name “Pilsator” was the outcome of a competition in 1909 by Böhmisches Brauhaus Berlin that had been advertised with the slogan “Thousand Mark for One Word”. Among many thousand submissions, the jury selected the brand “Pilsator”. As this brand had been submitted by 26 competitors, the winner had to be chosen through a lottery, in which Josef Seestaller from Munich was drawn as the official winner. The Pilsner Tagblatt reported on this with the sarcastic comment that now the Berlin-based brewery just needs to do one more thing: brew a real Pilsner. The Pilsator name continued as a beer type in East Germany’s TGL 7764 regulation, and is still used as a brand name, namely Pilsator Pilsner brewed by Frankfurter Brauhaus in Frankfurt/Oder.

Pilsner beer wasn’t the only concern of the Pilsen breweries, though. In 1911, they petitioned the Prague commodity exchange (Produktenbörse) to stop using the terms “Pilsner malt”, “Vienna malt” and “Munich malt” because German and American breweries using “Pilsner malt” could claim that they were making “Pilsner beer” and that they had to defend their geographic indication in German courts. At the time, the question was referred to the Viennese commodity exchange.

Trade publication Der Böhmische Bierbrauer discussed in April 1912 how the term “Bohemian malt” was really more appropriate as it had been in use in scientific and trade publications, while “Pilsner malt” was more of a marketing term by maltings at the time. They suggested to change the official terminology at the Prague commodity exchange from “Pilsner malt” to “malt of wort colour up to 0.25 cm2 ⅒ n iodine solution”, “Vienna malt” to “malt of wort colour up to 0.40 cm2 ⅒ n iodine solution” and “Munich malt” to “malt of wort colour over 0.40 cm2 ⅒ n iodine solution”.

The article relents that this won’t get the term “Pilsner malt” banned but it will simply not get used anymore in official commodity exchange documents. They still asked readers to use the term “Bohemian malt”, not “Pilsner malt”, “as nobody will gain anything from it.”

Just a few days later, Der Böhmische Bierbrauer published another update about this matter. A report of the commodity exchange came to the conclusion that the proposal was practically a failure as it would only be limited to official documents at the exchange. At the exchange itself, it would also affect the interests of trading maltings that have used that term in their trade for a while now. Abuses of geographic indication should be pursued in other ways, according to the exchange.

Assuming from the lack of further reports on the matter, that seems to have been the end of it with regards to malt, and since the terms “Pilsner malt”, “Vienna malt” and “Munich malt” are still common trade names in the 21st century, the maltings have definitely prevailed.

Why Augustiner’s new alcohol-free Helles is a big deal

Augustiner brewery of Munich, known to be very conservative, secretive and loaded, recently announced their latest addition to their portfolio, an alcohol-free Helles, aptly named “Augustiner Alkoholfrei Hell”. Augustiner hadn’t released a new beer in 38 years, and in fact was the last of the “big six” Munich brands without an alcohol-free beer.

They first teased the release of a new beer type on Instagram without getting specific, which of course came with lots of outcry, “oh no, not an alcohol-free one! Please anything but an alcohol-free beer!” and such, but my first thought that this could be a game changer. Augustiner obviously cares a lot of about the quality and presentation of their own beers (for example, they still run their own cooperage on the outskirts of Munich to ensure that they can serve all their Oktoberfestbier from massive 200 liter “Hirsch” wooden casks, and will typically serve at least one beer from wooden casks in their prime locations), and a poorly-received alcohol-free beer (or any new beer type, really) could have really tarnished their reputation.

On Monday, 18th March 2024, the rumours of an alcohol-free beer turned out to be true, when Augustiner officially presented their new beer. I was of course very curious, and checked out early reports about it. Süddeutsche Zeitung was probably the first one to report on it (link to a paywall-free archived version of the article), and one thing that caught my eye was how openly Augustiner spoke about their method of production.

Basically, there are two ways of producing an alcohol-free beer: one is to brew a low-gravity wort and ferment either with a poorly attenuating yeast (essentially, one that cannot ferment maltose sugar) or to stop fermentation shortly after it’s started by chilling down the beer very quickly to prevent the yeast from metabolizing any further sugar. This approach is called arrested or restricted fermentation. The other method is to brew a regular beer and then dealcoholize it, i.e. remove the alcohol after fermentation through some method of cold distillation. This is generally called physical dealcoholisation. Both methods have their advantages and disadvantages, leading to either worty-sweet beer with the former method, or very thin, watery and slightly sour with the latter method. And as the Süddeutsche Zeitung says, “Augustiner decided on a mix of both methods.”

Through my very good friend Ben who works as a brewing scientist at VLB, I’ve learned about the paper Effect of Production Technique on Pilsner-Style Non-Alcoholic Beer (NAB) Chemistry and Flavor by Nils Rettberg, Scott Lafontaine, et al., published in early 2022 (Ben himself wrote about his experience with non-alcoholic beers after completing Dry January 2022). One of its conclusions was that blending non-alcoholic beers from restricted fermentation and from vacuum dealcoholisation produced a more harmonious beer that generally fared better in blind tasting than beers solely produced using either method. Another conclusion was that more hop compounds, such as through late kettle-hopping or dry-hopping, can mask the less pleasant flavours of non-alcoholic beers. This a very interesting paper, though of course rather technical, but if you’re interested in all the nitty-gritty details, definitely worth checking out.

While the paper is about Pilsner-type beers, and Helles is certainly not a beer type that has a particularly large amount of hop aroma or flavour, it still shows that for more lightly hopped beers, it still seems to be a practical approach for Augustiner, and they seem to have either drawn the same conclusions as the paper above or got convinced by the methods through it.

The tasting notes from Mareike Hasenbeck describe the beer as having a fresh, spicy and malty aroma with a hint of sulfur, while the flavour is malty-bready with a touch of lemon and sulfur and ample carbon dioxide on the tongue, finishing with a noticeable hop bitterness. Especially that last bit made me wonder whether the hopping rate was slightly increased compared to Augustiner’s regular Helles to create an overall nicer and rounder beer. Even though Augustiner’s approach was not to create a 1:1 copy of their flag-ship Augustiner Lagerbier Hell but rather a really good alcohol-free beer that meets their exacting, Mareike Hasenbeck notes that straight from the fridge, the fact that the beer is alcohol-free could be easily missed by laypeople (i.e. the non-nerdy, less discerning drinkers).

And I think that’s a big deal. If a regular beer drinker can have the non-alcoholic beer served under optimal conditions and not notice that it doesn’t contain alcohol (or at least, less than 0.5% by volume), you’re at a point where it is satisfying enough for consumers. At least for me personally, unless I specifically want to get inebriated, it would then make no difference whether I drink the regular version or the alcohol-free version. In fact, I would sometimes even want to specifically have the alcohol-free version, for example to avoid getting tipsy too quickly.

Previously, only one beer got close enough for me to this ideal, and that’s Guinness with the 0.0 version of their draught stout. When I first had it from nitro can, this was quite the revelation. To this day, I would still call it the most convincing alcohol-free beer, and don’t mind having a can or pint (or two) whenever I have the chance. Unfortunately, Guinness 0.0 has not made it to Germany yet, but I’m still hopeful. The only other beer that got close to it for me was Riedenburger Dolden Null, a German alcohol-free IPA, but their trick is basically to hide the worty flavour under loads of hops.

Everything I’ve read about the Augustiner Alkoholfrei Hell sounds to me as if Augustiner may have pulled off the same as Guinness, to release a convincing alcohol-free Helles that may be pleasing even to consumers and Augustiner fans that otherwise would not choose an alcohol-free beer. That’s a big deal, and could change the landscape and expected quality of alcohol-free beer in Bavaria and the rest of Germany.

As for myself, I have yet to try the new beer, and it doesn’t seem to have arrived in Berlin yet. One drinks wholesaler with a dedicated beer shop in Charlottenburg estimated it 3 to 4 weeks until they get it, while a restaurant/beer garden near the government district that is known for its Augustiner from wooden cask estimated it to take more like 4 to 8 weeks.

Ben on the other hand has already had a chance to try the beer at Augustinerkeller in Munich, and called it “unsurprisingly excellent”. With everything he also told me about it in private conversations, I am very hopeful that Augustiner Alkoholfrei Hell will indeed be a game changer.

Since the release, Tegernseer also started talking about how they’re currently working on their own alcohol-free Helles. The game is definitely on.

P.S.: in case you wondered what the last beer was Augustiner launched 38 years ago: it was their Hefeweizen.

Liquid yeast: why do I even bother?

The rising costs of ingredients is not just something professional brewers are struggling with, homebrewers also notice the price increases. And ironically, the ingredient that is the smallest by weight is often the most expensive one: yeast.

When I started homebrewing over 10 years ago, dry yeasts were still considered kind of inferior, with a relatively small choice in yeast strains compared to nowadays, they were thought of as sub-standards products because cold chains weren’t considered as crucial as with liquid yeast, and there was a general association with “that homebrew flavour”, probably also because of improper storage.

Liquid yeast on the other hand was thought to be the gold standard, with a large variety in strains, all with their own unique, interesting flavours and aromas that would give homebrewers a key ingredient to push their beer from lackluster to amazing.

It’s March 2024, and I spent €11.49 on a pack of liquid yeast, allegedly the Pilsner Urquell “D” strain, for which I had to create a starter using malt extract to multiply its cell count and improve its vitality. What really happened though was that the yeast was dead, completely dead, and I only noticed it when the starter did not elicit any fermentation activity whatsoever after more than 24 hours on the stir plate.

Instead, I had to resort to my backup plan and rehydrated and pitched two sachets of W-34/70, probably the most widespread bottom-fermenting yeast strain these days. Full disclosure: I got these two sachets for free from a friend who in turn had gotten them at BrauBeviale last December, but if I had had to buy it myself, it would have cost me €9.98. Not much cheaper, but a lot less hassle, because that W-34/70 was rehydrated and noticeably very active in less than 40 minutes, and after pitching it got past the lag phase in something like 24 to 32 hours (no signs of CO2 production at 24 hours, but happily burping away at 32 hours after the pitch).

Now why do I even bother? In the last 5 years of homebrewing, I’ve been mostly brewing bottom-fermented beers, I tried out a number of dry yeast strains, and they were good, with maybe one exception that I found a bit too fruity (and that is a common criticism). Thinking back about all the different bottom-fermenting liquid yeast strains that I used, there was only one that really stood out, and that was Wyeast 2001 (allegedly the Pilsner Urquell “H” strain) due to its very prominent diacetyl note (perfect for a Pilsner Urquell clone). All the others produced beers where the yeast character was just a standard neutral, bottom-fermented flavour, i.e. not much at all.

Every time I picked a specific yeast strain, I chose it for some expected specific flavour element, or “authenticity”, because clearly, a Czech style requires a Czech yeast strain, no? Really, actually, no. One thing I learned in the last few years was that there is so little difference in the yeast strains, you just won’t taste the difference. My Czech Dark Lager, probably the best beer I ever brewed, was fermented with harvested yeast from a German industrial brewery in its 2022 version, and with Fermentis S-189 in its 2023 version, both of them decidedly not Czech yeast strains, and yet both batches tasted exactly like a Czech beer.

So why should I bother about liquid yeast? I probably shouldn’t. The dry yeast strains I’ve had the most success with were Fermentis W-34/70 (a yeast strain is basically an industry standard in its own right, given how ubiquitous it is), Fermentis S-189 (I couldn’t even describe the differences of it to W-34/70, because they absolutely miniscule), and LalBrew Diamond (again, very similar to the others). Fermentis S-23 is also popular, but I found it a bit too fruity, so not exactly my favourite.

With that many similarities, it all boils down to personal preference and maybe price. At my homebrew store of choice, an 11g sachet of LalBrew Diamond costs €4.14, while 11.5g sachets of Fermentis S-189, W-34/70 and S-23 are sold for €4.83, 4.99 and €4.49, respectively. In my experience, two sachets are usually enough for a 20 liter batch of normal-strength beer.

After the frustrating experience with liquid yeast last weekend, I decided for myself that I simply won’t bother with it anymore. Should I ever have the urge of using a pack of liquid yeast, you will definitely hear about it here.

How To Brew Mönchsambacher Weihnachts-Bock, according to the brewmaster

At HBCon 2024 (more about the event here), one of the sessions I attended was a seminar about how to brew easy-drinking Bockbier. Basically, brewmaster Stefan Zehendner told us all the details about the beer, the idea an concept behind, everything about the ingredients and the brewing process, and of course lots of little details and anecdotes.

A lot of information about that particular beer can already be found in this article in Craft Beer & Brewing, and if you’re a subscriber to that magazine, there’s even a home-brew recipe available.

Mönchsambacher produces a total of about 6000 hl of beer per year, with no intention of further growing the business. Of this, about 1,500 crates (i.e. 150 hl) is Weihnachts-Bock, which is usually sold out within a week.

The Weihnachts-Bock has about 17.5 to 18 °P original gravity. To achieve consistency, all the lager tanks are blended into one beer during packaging. It has about 3.3 to 3.5 °P residual extract, and is hopped to 48 IBU. Compared to the brewery’s other beers, this CO2 content is slightly higher, making this whole beer a hop-forward, not too sweet, well-integrated beer.

The brewmaster considers his brewing water to be one of the keys to his beer. The water is very hard: 28 °dH (German degrees of hardness), where 1° equals 0.1783 mmol/l. About 13 to 14 °dH are magnesium, and about the same amount is calcium, much of it bound to sulfate. This hardness results in a higher mash pH for the Bock, around 5.6 to 5.7.

The grist is simple: 100% Pilsner malt. As many other local breweries, Mönchsambacher gets their malt from local maltings Bamberger Malz. The grist is also used for all the other bottom-fermented beers, except for the Festbier, which is brewed from a 50/50 blend of Pilsner and Vienna malt. The Pilsner malt from Bamberger Malz is slightly less modified.

This is what the mash schedule looks like:

The grist is mashed in at 45°C, then rested for 10 minutes.

Then the mash is heated up to 52°C, for another 10 minute rest.

After this rest, the mash is heated up to 62°C, and the first (and only) decoction is pulled: about one third of the mash volume (relatively thin mash) is pumped into the kettle, brought up to 72°C and rested for 15 minutes for saccharification. It is then brought to a boil and boiled for 5 minutes before it is mixed back.

Stefan called this decoction to be important for the bright golden colour of the beer and a more robust (he used the word kernig which is impossible for me to translate) body.

After mixing the decoction back, the mash should have reached 72°C. It is then left to saccharify for another 20 minutes, after which it is heated up to 78°C, which is when lautering starts.

The wort is boiled for a total of 75 minutes. The only hop variety used in the brewery is Perle. In the case of the Weihnachts-Bock, the hops are added at 3 points: at the beginning of the boil, 25 minutes before the end of the boil, and in the whirlpool. The hops in the whirlpool are added beforehand, so it has 10 minutes of contact while the wort is pumped into the whirlpool, and then left for a trub cone to form for another 15 minutes until the wort is pumped out of the whirlpool.

The wort is then chilled to 7.5°C, yeast is pitched, and fermentation happens at 9.2°C. The brewmaster said the yeast strain they use is W-34/72 which they get delivered from Speckner yeast lab in Augsburg. I’ve not been able to find that particular strain in Speckner’s list of available strain, so this is probably a matter of miscommunication (Speckner has W-34/70 and W-34/78 in their portfolio). In any case, Zehendner finds the water much more important than the yeast, so for home-brewers, W-34/70 is probably totally sufficient.

What is important though is that the yeast must have gotten used to the brewery before it is used for fermenting the Weihnachts-Bock. So any yeast going into Weihnachts-Bock has been pitched once or twice before.

Fermentation takes 13 days in tanks which are left open, so it is effectively open fermentation. Before moving the beer into lagering tanks, Kräusen (freshly fermenting beer) from another tank is added at about 10% before it is lagered to ensure a very clean secondary fermentation/lagering. Lagering itself happens at 2°C for a total of 12 weeks, with fermentation slowly progressing for 10 weeks.

The last time this recipe has changed was when the brewery upgraded their brew system in 2000. As part of the adjustments, the number of decoctions was reduced from 2 to 1, and because they had sold the coolship, the hop addition had to be removed. Because there was no more coolship, the whirlpool was instead chosen to have a similar geometry so that the wort can “stink out” in the same way, so basically that DMS and other unwanted chemical compounds can evaporate in the same way and at the same rate.

When the beer is bottled, it is always unfiltered. Zehendner considers a bit of yeast to be absolutely vital to have a beer that can age well. Apparently, the beer will ferment a little bit more after bottling, so practically, the Weihnachts-Bock is a bottle-conditioned beer. The best before date is 3 months for the Weihnachts-Bock and just 5 weeks for the regular Lager. The main reason for the short date is that the beer changes in the bottle, and slowly loses its sulphur notes, making it taste different from what regular drinkers expect. Mönchsambacher also keeps their bottled beers chilled at all times, and are selling it chilled directly from the brewery.

Something that I had never heard before was the anecdote of a pediococcus infection they struggled with for about a year. Pediococcus is a bacteria that makes beer go “ropey”, it gives it a slimey texture and leaves behind plenty of diacetyl. They struggled with such an infection on and off for about a year, until they finally discovered the unlikely source of the infection: the water source! After spending about €80,000 on a membrane filter, this has finally been cleaned up and now the brewery is infection-free again. The brewmaster pointed out that the water treatment with chlorine dioxide would have been another option, but he decided against it specifically because he thinks that it could also negatively affect yeast health in the long run.

Still, this is the only time where I’ve heard that the infection vector of a brewery was the water. It is quite insidious: after disinfecting the whole brewery, all it needs is some water to rinse off disinfectants, and you got the infection back on your equipment.

Stefan Zehendner is not just a traditional Franconian brewer, he also likes to experiment: recently, they filled a batch of Weihnachts-Bock into a wine cask that was previously filled with spontaneously fermented Silvaner wine. In the future, he’s also thinking about producing Weihnachts-Bock wort and getting it fermented somewhere else as a sour beer, which also sounds absolutely intriguing. And apparently if you visit the brewery taproom at the right times, there’s a chance that a keg of Cantillon might be on, about the last beer you’d expect in Franconia.

The process I described here does not just apply to the Weihnachts-Bock, but their other Bock, the Maibock, is also brewed essentially the same way. The only differences are a slightly reduced original gravity of 16.5°P and a reduced bitterness of about 40 IBU.

And that’s how you brew Mönchsambacher Weihnachts-Bock, based on all my notes from the session at Heimbrau Convention 2024. I think this description is complete enough to brew a pretty faithful clone at home.

My Experience at Heimbrau Convention 2024

My journey to this year’s Heimbrau Convention (HBCon) was rather turbulent: just a few days before I was supposed to travel from Berlin to the city of Romrod, the train driver’s union announced a strike that affected my initial journey from Berlin to Fulda.

Fortunately, I managed to find an alternative route by booking alternative provider FlixTrain, which in the end was slightly quicker and cheaper than Deutsche Bahn. The journey itself went fine in the end.

This year, I was invited to speak about Vienna Lager at HBCon, the largest (and probably only?) home-brewing conference in Germany, all community-organised. As in previous years, the event venue was Schloss Romrod, a historic castle in the city of Romrod that got renovated to be used as a hotel.

The inner yard of Schloss Romrod, as seen from the castle wall

This was actually my first time to speak in front of such a large audience about this topic, so I was rather excited and nervous, with weeks of preparation beforehand.

With HBCon being community-organised and community-driven, there were of course ample opportunities to share and show off your own beer. For me, I decided to bring a little specialty, namely the Bretted Imperial Stout I had brewed with Ben back in November 2022. Unfortunately, the bottles did not handle the journey well, and even though they remained intact, 2 out of 3 bottles were gushers. I had packed them cold, and refrigerated them again shortly after I arrived in Romrod, but I have a feeling this may not have been enough time for the beer to settle. A bit of a bummer, but the beer that I could serve was well-received, in particular by the few people who specifically said they liked dark beers. The slight acidity from the acetic acid that Brettanomyces produces under the presence of oxygen really does add something to even a strong beer, it just makes it ever so slightly more refreshing, and gives the beer an impression of dryness.

A messy and embarrassing beer spillage

Of course not all beers were top notch. While I had quite a few really well-made home-brewed beers, there were also some good examples for specific off-flavours, or simply weird flavour combinations that just didn’t work for me.

Friday was arrival day and a first opportunity to meet people and share beer. Since my talk was scheduled for Saturday 9:30am, I decided to take it easy and did not drink very much on Friday evening. I still enjoyed the opportunity to try original Polish Grodziskie, which was actually much lighter in smoke than what I thought it would be. It was an incredibly refreshing beer that would be perfect for summer.

Saturday morning was easy, I got up early enough, had breakfast, and then went to the venue where my talk was supposed to happen. Due to the large number of sessions, the convention had additional venues outside the castle, some only reachable by shuttle bus, but this one fortunately was only 5 minutes of walking away.

My talk went well, and even though I had practiced my presentation and timed it, in the end I spent 10 more minutes than planned waffling about the history of Vienna Lager and how to brew it. The Q&A session was good but relatively short, and the feedback afterwards was that people really enjoyed my talk.

Selfie with the audience

After my session, the Polish Homebrewers Association presented Baltic Porter, with a good overview over the history of why Porter became popular in Poland in the first place, how it’s defined nowadays (the Polish view on Baltic Porter apparently diverges quite a bit from the BJCP style guidelines) and how to brew it. Of course we also got to try Baltic Porter, in our case Grand Baltic Porter by Browar Amber. What an incredibly smooth beer, not too much roasted character, but with a hint of sweetness and some sherry-like oxidation character instead.

The third and final talk in a row that I attended was Jan Brücklmeier talking about historic small beers in Germany, specifically the kind that was made from the last runnings during brewing (Nachbiere). Of course his presentation was not just strictly about small beer, and he put out some interesting hypotheses about German brewing in general.

How barley replaced oats, hops replaced gruit, and how this correlates with the rise and fall in temperatures at the time

In particular, he thinks that part of beer’s success was due to the first small ice age: wine became harder to grow in the north of Europe, which caused people to switch from wine to beer as the former became a more expensive imported product. At the same time, barley became more prevalent, in particular because it takes fewer warm days (> 5°C) for it to ripen, while oats require slightly warmer temperatures (> 7°C) for about two months longer. At the same time, barley produces a significantly larger yield.

This switch from oats to barley as brewing grains probably also helped with the popularisation of hops over gruit, as hops and oats don’t work nearly as well flavour-wise as hops and barley. Higher amounts of hops allowed beer to be fortified sufficiently to be traded over longer distances, something that was definitely done by the Hansa in the North of Europe. And finally, lower overall temperatures probably also created an environment in which bottom-fermenting yeast would be much more suitable.

Besides a more detailed explanation of specific Nachbier techniques, we also got to try something special: Heinzlein, the original Bamberg Nachbier, as recreated by Heller brewery from Bamberg (which some of you may recognise as the brewery behind Schlenkerla). Normally, this is a bottled beer only, but specifically for this event, Jan Brücklmeier managed to organise a keg of it.

I had had the Heinzlein a few years ago when it was officially released. I thought it was okayish back then, but clearly too astringent and thin. Well, I can gladly say that it seems to have lost most of that astringency, making it so much nicer to drink and actually want to have a second one.

After a lunch break, the highlight of the day awaited me: I was booked in for a seminar with Stefan Zehendner, owner and brewmaster of Mönchsambacher brewery not far away from Bamberg. He guided us through all the details of how we brewed the Mönchsambacher Weihnachts-Bock: the idea and history behind it, all the details about ingredients, whether it was the brewing water, the malt, the hops or the yeast, and of course all the processes, from mashing (it’s a single decoction mash) to fermentation to lagering, followed by a few interesting anecdotes and of course an extensive Q&A.

Two bottles of Mönchsambacher Weihnachts-Bock, one old, one new. The new one is partially hidden behind a water glass, making the monk on the label look mirrored, while also emphasizing the monk’s wink.

Frankly speaking, this was the most amazing and productive session at the whole event. In less than 90 minutes, I learned more than ever before about all the intricacies of brewing an easy-drinking Bock, Franconian style, going into all the details I had never even thought about. I feel like it gave me enough information to be able to brew a fairly good clone version of Mönchsambacher Weihnachts-Bock, or develop my very own recipe if I wanted to. I also gained more insight into the water profile outside of Bamberg, which according to Stefan Zehendner contributes a significant part of the character of his beers.

I intend to write down all the notes I’ve taken into a more easily digestible, separate article that actually makes sense. So watch this space!

I was then hanging out with friends at the “Meet se Brauverein” (sic!) event, where home-brew clubs from all over Germany could present themselves by — of course — serving beer and talking about what they were doing. One of the clubs served an ESB poured from a beer engine which was quite alright (maybe a bit astringent, but bringing and setting up a beer engine shows the amount of dedication that went into presenting that beer). Another one served (keg) mild and old ale (from bottles), even encouraging people to try a blend of both. Of course I had to try something fun like that, and indeed, the best version was the old ale blended with the mild.

Home-brewed ESB is getting poured from a beer engine into a small tasting glass

After dinner in the completely overrun local Italian restaurant (thanks to the conference; the locals looked properly annoyed, presumably because they weren’t served quickly enough), we then headed to the final event of the Saturday, the home-brewing competition. This competition was done by popular vote, where people who had preregistered for it could present their own beer of any style, and the audience could sample the beers and vote on their favourite. This was a bit underwhelming, as some of the beers I tried were really not good. On the positive side, I had a pretty good Berliner Weisse, of which I had two glasses and for which I eventually voted as my favourite. That was a pattern I noticed: a lot of home-brewers put a lot of focus on hazy IPAs and other beer styles, often with wonky adjuncts, while simple, straightforward, well-brewed classic styles were rather rare.

Frank Christian (@humble_beer) entertained us instead by serving a wide range of beers he had brewed himself, like the Truman 1890 Export Stout based on Ron Pattinson’s recipe served on nitro, a saison blended with lambic (if I recall correctly) and then left to age, and various other mixed fermentation and sour styles, all absolutely amazing.

A very small keg with tap, pouring a very foamy Truman Export Stout 1890 that had been blended with a barrel-aged version of the same beer.

I eventually called it a night, went back to my hotel room and went to sleep, so that I could be fit enough to get up for Sunday’s final event, the Weißwurst breakfast and the raffle. This was a wonderful finish to the whole event, everyone getting together for one last time, eating Weißwurst and a pretzel, drinking Hefeweizen (the options were Mönchsambacher Hefeweizen and Gutmann Hefeweizen, I chose the latter) and hoping to win in the raffle (I didn’t win anything, btw).

The HBCon organizers getting a big round of applause

Heading back home was a slight problem, but thanks to some friendly chaps at the conference, I got a hitch to the next train station so that I could catch my train. While waiting for my train, I actually ran into other home-brewers who had attended the event and had a bit of a chat. The rest of the journey was uneventful, and all I can say is that Fulda looks incredibly boring.

All in all, going to that event was a great experience. At the same time, if I hadn’t been invited, I’m not sure whether I would take part again on my own. Traveling to what feels like the middle of nowhere Hesse, Germany just took a long time, was stressful, booking a hotel room could potentially be quite pricey, and getting around is hard because public transport coverage is spotty. If traveling and staying there were easier, it would make it easier for me to decide to join in next year, even just as a regular audience member, maybe even a bit better prepared in terms of bringing and serving my own home-brewed beer.