So, the story of Dampfbier (lit. steam beer) goes like this… a 19th century Bavarian brewer who didn’t have a permit to brew with wheat malt instead brewed one with only lightly kilned barley malt and fermented it with a Weißbier yeast. As the beer was vigorously fermenting, it looked like steam coming off the beer, hence the name “Dampfbier”.
The problem here is… if a beer style’s origin story sounds too good to be true, it probably is not actually rooted in history. Naive me would simply ask why other beers like Weißbier brewed with wheat malt wouldn’t be called the same name because supposedly, the yeast would ferment as vigorous. When we actually look at historic sources though, an entirely different picture is unveiled:
One very early mention of Dampfbier can be found in Landwirthschaftliches ConversationsLexicon für Praktiker und Laien from 1837. The meaning is a different one, though: it is used to describe beer that was brewed using steam coming from a steam boiler as a heat source for mashing as well as boiling the wort. In that particular case, brewing itself really seemed more of a side business, as most of the article is about how the steam boiler was used in a distillery in Galicia that made Polish distilled spirit from potatoes, supposedly what would be called wodka nowadays.
Philipp Heiss, former brewmaster at Spaten brewery and author of Die Bierbrauerei mit besonderer Berücksichtigung der Dickmaischbrauerei (1853), added a small section in his book about brewing with steam. He sees two main applications: to use steam engines as a power source to steadily drive all kinds of machines in a brewery, and to use the steam as a direct or indirect heat source. He talked about several attempts to brew beer using steam, in particular brewer Zacherl (Paulaner) in Munich and Wanka in Prague, but classified both as less than successful. Heiss described Dampfbier as getting sour more quickly, and in total definitely wasn’t convinced about the technique.
Differences between beer brewed with steam vs. those with fire as heat source remained a hot topic in the decades to follow. In Dingler’s Polytechnisches Journal, a 1889 article lists a few experimental results. At Berlin’s Versuchs- und Lehranstalt für Brauerei (VLB), the amount of fuel required to brew beer using steam was determined to be significantly less than using direct firing, certainly one good argument in favour of steam. In addition, Schloßbrauerei in Schöneberg conducted an experiment to directly compare lager beer brewed using fire with beer of the same type brewed using steam, and the differences were negligible, “contrary to the widespread prejudice that Dampfbier was less full-bodied”.
I could go one like this, but when looking at historic sources, one thing becomes very clear very quickly: Dampfbier in the 19th century purely referred to beer brewed using steam as a heat source, not barley beers fermented with Weißbier yeast.
So, what can be said to vindicate the beer style? Beer brewed from pale barley malt and fermented using Weißbier yeast definitely existed and is well-documented. Friedrich Meyer mentioned Weißbier brewed from pale barley malt, sometimes with the addition of small amounts of wheat malt in his books, e.g. 1830 Die bayerische Bierbrauerei. The 1847 edition of this book even makes a distinction between weißes Gerstenbier (white barley beer) and weißes Weitzenbier (white wheat beer), but also explains that the term Weißbier commonly refers to the former.
So, in that sense, the beer style that some people nowadays call Dampfbier definitely existed. It just used to be called Weißbier (white beer), and has nothing to do with the historic understanding of Dampfbier as a beer brewed using steam. Personally, I’m just unhappy with the term as it is confusing, it gives credence to the too-good-to-be-true origin story, and it hides the much more complex history of white beers in Bavaria.
Carinthian Steinbier (stone beer) is a very unique but extinct beer tradition in Austria, and probably the only farmhouse brewing tradition that survived long enough to be documented by historians and brewers alike. At the same time, Carinthian Steinbier was also brewed commercially, by a number of local breweries in Carinthia, with some stone beer brewing also documented in adjacent Styria.
Stone beer brewing is based on the principle that hot, glowing stones were used to heat up liquid in simple wooden vessels. This approach allows heating up a mash even without the availability of a metal kettle, something that would have been unavailable or prohibitively expensive for the vast majority of farmers for a very long time. It is considered to be the most primitive way of brewing, but at the same is probably also one of the oldest ways of brewing beer. If you’re interested in the general history and technique of stone beer brewing in Europe, I can recommend the excellent book Historical Brewing Techniques by Lars Marius Garshol, or his article How stone beer was brewed. I’ve previously also discussed Carinthian Steinbier in my book Historic German and Austrian Beers for the Home Brewer.
Carinthian Steinbier is interesting because it survived for a fairly long time, until 1917 to be exact, despite repeated attempts to completely supplant it with what was called “kettle brewing”, i.e. brewing involving metal kettles. During other research, I recently stumbled upon a 1962 article that is probably the most detailed description of Carinthian Steinbier tradition that I’ve found so far.
In Die Steinbiererzeugung, ein ausgestorbenes Gewerbe in Kärnten (lit. “stone beer production, an extinct industry in Carinthia”), Josef Grömmer discusses Steinbier brewing in Carinthia, the common brewing practices over time including the last few surviving breweries up to the demise of Steinbier in Carinthia. I will try and summarize the article here and highlight what I would consider to be important in these accounts.
Steinbier brewing used to be the standard mode of beer brewing in Carinthia until the 18th century, when empress Maria Theresia permitted kettle brewing to one brewer Simon Jessernigg in Klagenfurt, Carinthia’s capital. Farmhouse-brewed Steinbier seems to have been common in Carinthia for ages, but at least from the 14th century on, it was also done on a commercial basis and provided hundreds of people in Klagenfurt alone with jobs during the 18th century. Authors in the 19th century sometimes described Steinbier to be a drink purely consumed by the ethnically Slovenian population (Carinthia has been ethnically mixed between a German and Slovenian population, a fact that has caused massive political tensions especially during the 20th century and to a certain extent up to this day), but this was heavily disputed by others.
Steinbier brewing in Carinthia only ended in 1917, but interestingly not because of difficulties in sales, but rather because raw material had become unavailable. This was a problem of the Austrian brewing industry in general during World War I. The largest brewery, Schwechater, had to brew “beer” from broad beans, potato starch, various types of syrup, sugar beets or even plum jam due to a general malting prohibition that had been enacted in 1916. This also meant the end for the last two Steinbier breweries, Kaschitz and Ure, both located in Waidmannsdorf, nowadays a district of Klagenfurt.
As for the Carinthian Steinbier brewing process itself, it is fairly well-documented. Grömmer’s articles even provides sketches of a complete brewhouse as well as a photo of the Ure brewery that had been fully preserved in the Technical Museum in Vienna.
Brewing of course started with malting. The common grains that were used were barley, oats and wheat. Depending on the brewery, differerent ratios of these grains were used, such as 60%/25%/15% barley/wheat/oats, while others simply used a third per grain type. Earlier reports from the 18th century say that brewers at the time used oat malt exclusively.
The grains were steeped and then let to sprout. In modern malting practice, the grains would get turned regularly, but not so much in Carinthia: the grains were mostly let to sprout by themselves, which made them get stuck together. Historic brewing literature calls this “Filzmalz”, or “felt malt” (like the textile). This was done for a particular reason: the kilns used were extraordinarily primitive smoke kilns. These kilns didn’t even have a metal grid or mesh, but instead only consisted of wickerwork set up in the form of a slightly sloped roof. Due to the shape, this construction was called a “Satteldarre” (lit. “saddle kiln”). We can see the specific form of this kiln even in Grömmer’s sketches:
The malt was kilned for 24 hours using cherry wood for the fire and was then stored without removing germs or rootlets. Apparently, the germs quickly reabsorbed moisture which made it hard to actually properly crush the malt, so it often only got squeezed open.
The breweries themselves were rather minimalistic in their equipment. One brewery was reported to only have the following brewing equipment: two large vats, one small vat, 15 pointed conical casks, one bag, one pump with a bucket, two carriers for stones, one “Grantner” (a trough to collect wort), one small vessel to scoop stuff, one brick underlay for a large cask, one kiln, two pliers to pick up stones, two forks to pick up stones, one wooden mash stirrer, one open fireplace and one lantern.
We know how the brewing itself worked thanks to Fritz Kaschitz, who in his 20s was brewing foreman in a Carinthian Steinbier brewery and brewed his last batch of Steinbier in 1917. In the 1960s, he was described as “Carinthia’s last living Steinbier brewer”. He gave account about Steinbier brewing in 1955.
Brewing was done like this: 600 kg of malt (1/3 barley malt, 1/3 oat malt, 1/3 wheat malt) were coarsely crushed. At 23:45 in the evening, the fire was started to heat up the stones. It took about 2 to to 2.5 hours to bring them up to full temperature when they were glowing red. The specific fire wood used here was pine. To pick up the stones, long pliers were used, while to carry the stones around, wooden carriers were used that had been watered for several hours to prevent them from burning.
On the bottom of the mash tun several juniper branches were put. They needed to be as fresh as possible. If they were too dry, they would lose their needles and lose their function as mash filters. They were held down by stones, and then water was added at a temperature of 62 to 75°C. Then hot stones were added to bring the water to a boil, and then 7 kg of hops were added. The hot stones were not fully submerged, so the hops were “roasted” for one minute. To prevent them from burning, more water was slowly added, then the mash tun was covered and left for 10 minutes.
During this break, a few small stones were added to a small vessel and water was added, then another bigger vat was put over it for steam-cleaning.
After 10 minutes, the mash tun covers were removed and mashing in started. Under constant stirring, the crushed oat malt was added. Stirring had to be vigorous to prevent the malt from settling in the juniper branches. More hot and cold water was added. Only then, the barley malt was mashed in, and in some circumstances, also small amounts of roasted malt.
The mash was then carefully stirred for 30 minutes. At the same time, the wheat malt was mashed in with tepid water in a smaller vessel. Later, hot stones were added to both vessels to slowly increase the temperature up to boiling. The stones were carefully placed at different places to prevent the mash from scorching. The small vessel with the wheat malt was then left until the morning, and only then mixed back into the main mash. The big mash vessel was then brought to a complete boil using stones of weights up to 20 kg. This usually took until 4am, followed by a rest until 6am.
At 6am, the tap (really nothing more than a bung) was slowly opened and the first wort was drawn. Any wort that wasn’t clear was scooped back into the mash vessel. The clear wort was then collected in the Grantner and left to cool a bit until it was moved to the fermenter. Then the mash was sparged using more hot water, and more wort was collected in the Grantner until it eventually ended up in the fermenter.
The original gravity of this unboiled wort was measured at 6° Balling, while the last runnings were at 1.2° Balling. The whole brewing process was supervised by a tax officer who measured volume as well as original gravity, the basis for taxation.
In the fermenter, the wort was left to cool. Fermenters were previously washed with hot water, then cleaned with a brush and rinsed with cold water, and finally put over bits of burning juniper branches, with a stake on the side to allow fresh air to sustain the little fire.
When the wort was at 22°C, yeast was added. The yeast was usually repitched from the bottom of the serving casks, but every two years, the yeast was replaced with new yeast from a Weißbier brewery from Munich. Fermentation was done for 7 to 10 hours, after which the beer was filled into smaller serving casks which then got bunged up. Fermentation times varied, and especially during the colder months, would take place over a longer time period and much lower temperatures as low as 10°C.
When the beer casks were tapped, they were highly carbonated, and the beer was poured with lots of foam, usually at serving temperatures of 15 to 18°C. Besides a slightly sour flavour, a subtle smoke flavour was also noticeable, even more so when the beer was served cold. Especially during warmer seasons, the beer had a tendency to go sour very quickly. It never kept well, and tapped casks needed to be finished within 2 days.
There were of course variations of this process. One example is the 1905 article Vom Steinbier by R. Dürnwirth, which is what I’ve used as the basis for the Steinbier recipe in my book. But Mr. Kaschitz’s account describes the process in the last few years of Steinbier brewing in Carinthia.
Yesterday, August 28, Seedstock Brewery released a pilot batch of their Horner Bier, which makes them the first brewery in over 100 years to do so. Evan Rail wrote an article on VinePair.com about this particular beer style which, while often mentioned in historic beer literature, is so hard to get a grip on. What we basically know about the beer style itself is that it was brewed from oat malt, very pale and quite murky, slightly sour (something that’s been attributed to the use of cream of tartar), highly carbonated and very refreshing.
This all got me thinking, and so I went back to researching, going through all the digital libraries that I’ve used in the past, to see whether there were any more details about Horner Bier that I hadn’t been aware of before.
To cut it short: there was not a whole lot of new stuff, in particular nothing that would give any more insight into how the beer used to be brewed. But I found out more things about the culture around this beer.
Horner seems to have been an exclusively bottled beer, very highly carbonated and certainly not cheap compared to other beer types. Most likely because of that, Horner Bier in Vienna in the 18th century and the early 19th century had a similar status of champagne later on, as a drink that somebody would order to display their social status and wealth.
Today, I brewed together with Ben Palmer at the MASH PIT, a kind of nanobrewery/home-brewing co-working space that allows you to brew your own beer on the brew kits installed there. Ben had recently moved to Berlin, and since we knew each other through Twitter, we met up and eventually decided to brew a beer together.
One thing that I’ve been wanting to do for a long time at the MASH PIT was to brew a beer using a decoction mash. Ben was also happy to do that, so we agreed on a simple recipe. Our grist consisted of 98% Pilsner malt and 2% CaraMunich II, while the hops we chose were Celeia (Ben had never used Slovenian hops, and since I hadn’t either, I was happy to also try them out). The original idea was to ferment it with a Kölsch yeast, but since we were informed that the MASH PIT had run out of that yeast the day before the brew day, so we substituted it with Nottingham Ale yeast instead, another fairly neutral and attenuative top-fermenting yeast. For mashing, we wanted to do a double decoction, for several reasons: my reasons were that I wanted to try brewing a double-decocted beer on the MASH PIT kit, and I also wanted to try brewing an ale of some sorts that had a distinct decoction character. This was something I had stuck in my head ever since my last visit to Prague, where I tried a few ales [sic!] from Pivovar Matuška, and they all had a distinct “Czech” flavour that I could only attribute to decoction mashing. Ben’s reason to try out double decoction was that he hadn’t really much experience beyond a few demonstrations at his vocational school.
A few words on the MASH PIT brew kit: it is fairly simple and straight-forward. It consists of three large pots of maybe 75 litres volume (the scale only goes to 65), all equipped with taps on the bottom and the top and embedded thermometers. One of these pots is sat on a gas burner and mainly serves as kettle to boil the wort as well as to heat up the liquor (brewing water). The middle pot serves as mash and lauter tun and is equipped with a removable false bottom. It also comes with a RIMS attachment that allows you to pump wort (a liquid pump is part of the setup) from the false bottom through the attachment and sprinkle it again on top of the mash. The attachment has a heating element that can be turned off and on. With this setup, you can do a multi-step infusion mash fairly easily. The third pot is also equipped with an electric heating element and mainly serves as hot liquor tank (HLT). Through three switches, you can turn on and off pump, RIMS heating element and HLT heating element.
But instead of following this scheme, we instead decided to repurpose the kit for decoction mashing. With about 11 kg of grist, we filled the mash tun with 44 l of liquor at 45°C, then mashed in. This increased the overall mash volume to 55 l. The mash temperature was 41°C. After a short rest, we pulled 36 l (i.e. two thirds) of thick decoction and moved it over to the kettle. We brought the decoction up to a temperature of 70°C, which went very quickly thanks to the powerful burner. A quick rest of 15 minutes to at least partially convert the available starch, and then brought the mash up to a boil. That’s where the problems started: we had a bit of a boil-over, which was our mistake as we partially covered the pot with the lid and also kept it unwatched. After a quick cleanup and making sure we hadn’t lost much of our decoction, we continued boiling it for another 10 minutes.
We then started mixing the decoction back into the main mash. We noticed that even though we had moved only about 50% of the decoction, we were already overshooting our target temperature of 65°C. That was not good. We had to improvise somehow, and so we decided to add some more cold water to the decoction to bring its temperature down. We eventually got that done and ended up with a mash at pretty much exactly 65°C, but now with a total volume of more than 60 litres, which we left to rest for 50 minutes.
So obviously we had overdone it with the decoction volume. I had chosen two thirds as the initial volume because that’s what had worked for me at home on my home-brew kit. Except my kit at home is for 20 litre batches, while this system is for 50 litre batches. I realize that my home system is at such a small scale that boiled mash can cool down fairly quickly, but I didn’t think that effect would effectively disappear at at scale-up from 20 to 50 litres.
The change in mash volume also meant that any previous estimations of the volume for the second decoction were out the window. We then decided to just estimate it to one third of the total volume, and then a bit, so the second decoction we pulled was thin and sized at 25 litres.
We brought this second decoction again to a boil, boiled it for 5 minutes, and then mixed it back again. By that time, the main mash had cooled down to 61°C, so the final temperature after mixing back was only 71°C. Not exactly the 75°C where we wanted to get to, but still good enough. We then left the mash to rest for another 30 minutes and prepared for lautering and sparging: we cleaned the kettle, filled up the HLT and heated the sparging liquor.
With everything prepared, we decided to just skip the iodine rest (YOLO, right?) and started a vorlauf. We only got very few hard bits and very quickly got a very clear wort. We then connected the mash/lauter tun’s tap to the kettle, and slightly opened the tap. Lautering went quickly and ran off smoothly, looking very clear and bright. We then started sparging by pumping liquor from the HLT onto the mash, breaking up the stream with a highly technical piece of equipment: the mash paddle.
We managed to collect a total of 63 litres of sweet wort. In the end, this was limited by gravity: at 63 litres, the level of the wort was the same as the tap of the mash/lauter tun. We then starting bringing the wort to a boil.
Ben then had the idea that we should check the gravity of the last runnings with the refacrometer that we had used to check on gravities during the process. Turned out, the “last” runnings still were at more than 5°Brix. Instead of just conceding to the laws of gravity, we should have lautered the last remains into a separate vessel and topped off the kettle instead. It probably would have also helped with another issue we noticed: according to the refractometer, the pre-boil gravity was at 12.4°Brix. Our plan was to have an OG of 11.8°P (°P and °Brix are very similar scales, and virtually identical and practically interchangeable). So strangely, we seemed to have a much higher OG to expect than what we had planned and calculated. Of course, we didn’t know what extract efficiency to expect on this home-brew kit, but still.
We decided to continue with boiling the wort anyway, and added hop additions at 90 minutes and 5 minutes before flame-out, and then more during whirlpool. Post-boil gravity according to the refractometer was at 15°Brix. This was way too much, and would have meant a much greater efficiency than what we could have planned for.
We then sent the hot wort through the plate chiller to the fermenter at a nice 18°C, and measured the OG using a saccharometer. It really was at 14.1°P. This was weird, a difference of almost one degree. I then rechecked the refractometer with just water, and it turned out that refractometer wasn’t properly calibrated.
Another problem also popped up when pumping the wort from the kettle through the plate chiller to the fermenter: towards the end, we started pulling in hot break and hop particles. We were then told that they actually had a hop filter that we should have attached that would have allowed us to get more of the wort from the kettle to the fermenter without sucking up any of the gunk. We had to stop the pump early, and only ended up with about 45 litres of wort, but at a higher OG than we what we wanted.
Our solution to that was simple but almost embarrassing: we decided to dilute the wort with cold water to bring the OG down to 12°P. The final step was then to hydrate the yeast (3 sachets of Nottingham Ale yeast should do just fine) with some fresh wort, pitch it, and move the fermenter to the temperature-controlled fermentation room.
The day was concluded with lots of cleaning up and a glass of cold, fresh beer from the MASH PIT tap room. A lot of things went wrong during the brew day, but we managed to salvage any issues, and still arrived at something that I think should come out pretty nicely. I’m definitely looking forward to trying out the resulting beer. The main things I want to see is whether I really do get a pronounced decoction character in the beer, and of course, what Celeia hops taste like in a beer.
Today, I am publishing my new book titled “Vienna Lager”. It’s the result of 1.5 year of intense research about the history of the Vienna Lager beer style and its current state. And of course, how to brew it.
I consider this to be my greatest work so far, and I’m absolutely proud about the result. I achieved everything I wanted to achieve in this book: first, I managed to put together the history of Vienna Lager in Austria from its very beginning in the late 1830’s until its demise after World War I in great detail, all embedded in the history of its inventor, Anton Dreher, and his brewery in Klein-Schwechat near Vienna. Second, I was able to shed more light on the supposed survival of Vienna Lager in Mexico. My research very quickly showed that it wasn’t Mexico that was big in brewing Vienna Lager, it was the United States! This is something many will be surprised about, but Vienna Lager was a fairly popular style in the US, and even survived Prohibition to a certain extent, until it made it into the canon of classic beer style as we know it nowadays. And third, I could reconstruct how Vienna Lager was brewed, from the ingredients to the brewing process, fermentation and lagering. I have previously discussed elements of this here in my blog, but in this book, I can finally present all the sources that corroborate even the tiniest detail about historic Vienna Lager brewing.
So today, I’m releasing the book both as printed book and e-book, exclusively on Amazon. You can find more information about the book including links to Amazon on vienna-lager.com.
As with my previous book, I tried to keep the price moderate to make it affordable for everyone. While “Vienna Lager” is more extensive compared to my previous book, I deliberately decided to keep the price for the e-book the same. As for the print-of-demand book, I had to slightly increase the price to offset the increased printing costs. For every book sold, I roughly get the same amount of royalties, no matter which media. I think this is fair, as I’m happy with the individual royalties that I earn, while being able to keep the costs down for interested readers. Ultimately, we have to face the hard truth: there is not a whole lot of money to be made as an author in a niche topic such as beer history and home-brewing. And that’s not my reason why I decided to write about historic, extinct German beers or Vienna Lager in the first place: instead, I wanted to let everyone know about everything I’ve been able to find out about these beer styles. Which brings me to my next point…
The history about Vienna Lager, as communicated in many works in the general beer history and craft beer sphere, has not been of great quality up to now. I’m not going to name names, but some books are outright works of fiction, while others suffer from something that’s called the Woozle effect. I didn’t know the term until a few months ago, but it’s what I had observed for quite a while: unsourced claims or historic stories frequently get cited even when they lack any historic factuality. The existence of citations creates an illusion of authority, which in turn gives credence to these claims, and generates even more citations which in turns boost the illusion of authority, and the spiral continues. The more citations are found or the same historic-sounding story is encountered, the more it seems like it’s true. The historic narrative around Vienna Lager is certainly not unique (IPA and Porter for example have long suffered from similar problems, and despite beer historians like Martyn Cornell, Ron Pattinson and others trying to correct them, they still cling on), but it’s the topic that I’ve researched fairly extensively for 1.5 years and that is now closest to my heart.
So this is my attempt to correct the narratives, and ironically, the real history of Vienna Lager is much more exciting. There is just so much we got wrong that got perpetuated over the years. Probably the most prominent example is the narrative that Vienna Lager supposedly survived into the 20th century due to Mexican brewing tradition. You often find stories of some unnamed Austrian brewers or German or Swiss brewers like Santiago Graf or Emil Dercher who supposedly went to Mexico (the Austrian brewers are often associated with Mexican King Maximilian, who, as a Habsburger and younger brother of the Austrian Emperor, was of Austrian descent) and started brewing Vienna Lager there. From everything I could gather, none of that was true. While brewers like Dercher and Graf definitely existed and (especially in the case of Santiago Graf) had great influence on brewing in Mexico, their connection with Vienna Lager is very doubtful.
But the real truth behind is actually much more interesting: up to the 1880’s, beer in Mexico was an imported niche product mostly enjoyed by expats or rich European immigrants. Most alcohol consumed at the time was agave-based, either just fermented (pulque) or distilled (mezcal). The first brewers didn’t have the conditions to brew cold-fermented lager beers, either, but instead brewed top-fermented beers from locally sourced ingredients such as sun-dried barley malt and unrefined cane sugar known as piloncillo. There are exceptions to it, like one German brewer allegedly building a small lager brewery including lagering cellars on the slopes of mount Popocatépetl, but lager brewing was only a necessity introduced the fight back American imported beer that came into the country after Mexico and the United States were better connected by railroad. That’s the kind of history of early Mexican beer that I actually find more interesting, and which in my opinion should be researched more thoroughly as it makes for a much better topic than just the narrative of Vienna Lager in Mexico.
But enough spoilers.
And there is one more thing I want to emphasize: I can’t even blame any of the writers that perpetuated any of the stories that we’ve previously heard about Vienna Lager that turned out to be not quite true. That’s what used to be the only material accessible to English speakers, and even for German speakers, there wasn’t a whole lot of stuff around (by now, the situation has slightly improved; in particular the history of brewing in Vienna independent of Vienna Lager is really well-researched and well-presented). In that sense, I very much recognize my privilege in being a native German speaker with sufficient proficiency in English that allowed me to research the topic based on original sources and to communicate my research results to a wider audience in English.
Of course, I wouldn’t have been able to complete my work without the help of many other people. In particular, I’d like to thank my wife Louise for supporting me in writing my book and for her tolerance of my obsession with the whole topic. I’d also like to thank everyone who inspired me to write this book, who provided me with interesting source material, or who supported me by giving me lots and lots of valuable feedback: Boak & Bailey, Ron Pattinson, Gary Gillman, Geoff Latham, Jeff Alworth, Joe Stange, Johannes Kugler, Michael Williams, Michelle Humphrey, Sven Förster, Michaela Knör, Glen and Julie, Doug Hoverson, Stan Hieronymus, Dave Carpenter, Mark Dredge, Natalya Watson and Benedikt Koch. A big Thank You to all of you!
Here are some of the online resources that I used for my research:
A few more geeky details: I wrote the book using Visual Studio Code in Markdown format, and used pandoc with custom templates to render it into epub as well as a print-ready PDF (via LaTeX). When all the dust has settled, I intend to publish a whole template to produce books for self-publication in the same way I did it for my last two books. The book cover design is self-made: as background image, I used a historic map of Vienna from 1875, while the book title itself was inspired by Vienna’s iconic street signs and made possible by the Wiener Norm font which is freely available under a Creative Commons license.
“OK, great, what’s next?” some of you may ask, and to be honest, I don’t know yet. Originally, I had planned a lot more around the launch of this book, but due to The Event that has plagued us since at least March 2020, and the necessary precautions due to it, much of that simply has not been possible. I hope to be able to do something like a proper launch event at a later time, and will announce this accordingly in case it will actually be possible in the near future.
If you think the topic of my new book is interesting and more people deserve to know about it, please spread the word and tell people about it. If you have a blog, write about, if you have a beery podcast, feel free to get in touch with me and I’ll happily talk about Vienna Lager with you.
For now, enjoy the book, enjoy Vienna Lager, if you’re a home-brewer, or even a pro brewer, go and brew some. Cheers!
Germany is slightly opening up. ICE trains are going again, and in Bavaria, hotels and holiday apartments are again allowed to open and host tourists. Since we’ve been practically locked in for almost 3 months, my wife and I decided on a short notice to go to Bamberg for a quick trip.
The ICE from Berlin to Bamberg is quick, less than 3 hours with just a few stops. Our holiday flat was located near Wunderburg, a small district of Bamberg a bit off the town center which is best known for its two breweries that are practically opposite of each other, Keesmann and Mahrs Bräu. Most of the days were rather rainy, which was a good opportunity to walk around a bit, enjoy the scenery of this historic city, and then find the good places for beer. And, amazingly, physical distancing both in pubs and beer gardens worked really well all across Bamberg. Everyone was compliant, wore masks where and when asked to, and kept their distance to other parties. One place, zum Sternla, even put up perspex “windows” to divide large tables for different parties.
One thing that I had noticed in the weeks before the trip, particularly on Instagram, was that Brauerei Heller, the brewery behind the well-known Schlenkerla smoked beers, had launched a new low-alcohol beer, Heinzlein. I was intrigued about it, because I knew this beer type under various different spellings (“Hainslein”, “Heinzele”) of the same name from previous research in historic beer literature. This “new” low-alcohol beer clocks in at just 0.9% ABV. While it cannot be legally considered to be alcohol-free beer, it is still practically too low to taste any alcohol or to get even tipsy from it.
In historic beer literature, this beer type is already mentioned in the early 19th century as typical for Bamberg. In the 1818 book “Das Bamberger Bier” by Johann Seifert, it is described as being brewed from the third runnings, boiled with hops, left to cool in the brew kettle overnight, and fermented with bottom-fermenting yeast like the regular beer made from the first and second runnings. The 1836 book “Die Bamberger Bierbrauerei” by Johann Messerschmidt contains an own section about brewing this beer type, and calls it a “one-hundred-year tradition” which, even though it was actually not legal according to the Bavarian brewing regulation from 1811, resisted any attempts to abolish its brewing. So, just from historic sources we know fairly well that this beer was actually brewed, and more importantly, how it was brewed.
So just from that perspective, it makes me incredibly happy to see a recreation, even with a slight modernization, of this historic beer style: unlike the historic original, the modern Heinzlein is available in two different version, a pale and a dark version. The dark version is, well, brown, slightly malty and astringent, while the pale version also has a faint astringency, but a lot more hop aroma and bitterness in the foreground, which makes it quite the refreshing drink.
In addition to that, Schlenkerla also has a version of this historic beer which they spell differently again, Hansla. It’s advertised as less than 1.2% ABV, and very obviously is related to Schlenkerla’s smoked beers. It is slightly malty, still has some smokey flavour, but also carries the tiniest hint of astringency. I was lucky to sample this beer directly at the historic Schlenkerla pub.
In the context of beer history, the Schlenkerla version of this low-alcohol beer type is probably closer to the historic original than the more modern versions.
Historic sources describe it as light and agreeable, pale in colour. Some brewers apparently sold it directly (and there was plenty of demand from poor people that couldn’t afford a Maß of full-strength beer!), while others mixed it with the regular beer.
And that’s where I also see the Hansla’s great potential: while it’s nice and refreshing to drink on its own, I could totally see a Schlenkerla Märzen mixed half-and-half with Hansla, to produce a drink that’s still obviously classic Rauchbier, but at the same time only has about 3% ABV. Or, if you prefer it slightly stronger or weaker, in different ratios. Please note that I haven’t actually tried this, but as soon as I get my hands on bottles of Schlenkerla Märzen and Hansla or Heinzlein, this is certainly an experiment I would like to conduct.
And last but not least, kudos to brewmaster Matthias Trum, who created these beers with the full awareness of the historicity. In my opinion, it’s a drink with character, in some ways a bit rough around the edges, that can meet the current trend of low-alcohol beers without giving up any of its character or originality. Especially the Schlenkerla Hansla is very much a Schlenkerla beer. Just a few years back, I don’t think anybody would have expected low-alcohol Schlenkerla that would be recognizable as such. And going even a step further, I don’t think anybody would have really expected a low-alcohol dark beer, either.
After writing all about low-ABV beer, I’m actually quite thirsty. I wouldn’t mind a Heinzlein, or Hansla, or Heinzele, or Hainslein, or however you want to spell it (the German language has been very flexible in spelling before its standardization, especially when trying to write local dialect words in high German), but it hasn’t quite made its way up from Bamberg to Berlin.
In a Facebook group I follow, an interesting problem came up. Somebody had brewed a mixed-fermentation Berliner Weisse with brewer’s yeast, lactobacillus brevis and brettanonymces claussenii. They didn’t own a saccharometer, but instead determined their OG with a refractometer. They now wanted to know whether fermentation was finished, and used the refractometer as well to measure the beer that had been in the fermenter for several weeks.
Before I continue, a quick excursion into how refractometers work. Every translucent material bends light to a certain extent, the light gets refracted. To describe the extent with which the light is bent, the so-called refractive index is used. The refractive index n is defined as n = c / v, where c is the speed of light in a vacuum, and v is the speed of light in the particular medium. Water for example has a refractive index of 1.333. When we dissolve sugar in water, the refractive index of the solution is increased. The refractive index of a 10% glucose solution in water is 1.347, for example. This change in the refractive index can be used to indirectly measure the OG, by looking at the difference between the expected refraction of water vs the measured one, i.e. by how much more light gets refracted.
In fermented beer, this gets trickier, because due to fermentation, the resulting liquid contains ethanol. Ethanol has a refractive index of 1.361, which skews the overall measurement. Ethanol also skews the measurement when determining the FG of a beer, as its specific gravity is just 0.79. In typical fermented beers, the amount of ethanol is large enough that we need to correct our measurements to be able to estimate the actual FG. This is all fine.
The mixed fermentation opens up another problem, though. It has a refractive index of 1.427 which significantly higher than that of either water or ethanol, but in typical fermented sour beers, its content by weight is fairly low compared to e.g. ethanol. According to this presentation, typical Berliner Weisse contains 2 to 4 g/L of lactic acid, i.e. 0.2 to 0.4% by weight.
When I read about the issue of seemingly underattenuated Berliner Weisse, one of the things that came to my mind was exactly whether the lactic acid from the mixed fermentation skewed the measurement enough to cause such a large disparity that a beer that is expected to be overattenuated to come up with an apparent attenuation of just 68%.
So I asked myself the question: if I added the typical concentration of lactic acid in a Berliner Weisse (i.e. 2 to 4 g/L) to distilled water, by how much would my refractometer be skewed?
I have a refractometer at home, 2 litres of distilled water, a big bottle of 80% lactic acid, and pipets with which I can measure out millilitres of lactic acid. But how many grams is a millilitre of lactic acid? A millilitre of pure lactic acid weighs 1.357 grams, therefore a millilitre of an 80% solution would weigh would weight about 1.285 grams. Since I want to test a whole range of lactic acid content, just measuring out by ml is good enough for me.
I poured 1 litre of distilled water into a clean vessel, and calibrated my refractometer so that it shows exactly 0°Brix. I then added 1 ml of lactic acid (= 1.285 g), stirred it well, and measured again with the refractometer. I measured X°Brix. I then repeated this to up to 5 ml of lactic acid (= 6.425g), and got the following measurements:
1 ml (~ 1.3g): 0°Brix
2 ml (~ 2.6g): 0.2°Brix
3 ml (~ 3.8g): 0.4°Brix
4 ml (~ 5.1g): 0.4°Brix
5 ml (~ 6.4g): 0.6°Brix
This was actually less skew than what I had expected. For a quick counter-check, I added 80% lactic acid on the refractometer, and the measurement was off the scale.
Luckily, I have a Berliner Weisse maturing at home. I brewed it a few months ago, mixed fermentation with S-04, Lacto brevis and Brett bruxellensis. I simply lautered and sparged 30 litres of wort from a 50% Pilsner/50% pale wheat malt mash, which turned out at 11°P OG (unboiled, of course). On my refractometer, I measured 5.2°Brix, while with my saccharometer, I measured 2.0°P. I used calculators to get the expected attenuation based on the OG (in Plato) and FG (in Plato) resp. refractometer reading (in Brix). For both values, I got almost the same level of attenuation (81.82 vs 82.11 apparent attenuation) as well as almost the same ABV (4.7% vs. 4.72%). This is fairly consistent with what I’ve measured earlier, namely that the amount of lactic acid in Berliner Weisse has very little impact to skew a refractometer measurement.
Nevertheless, I think it goes without saying though that a brewer should never ever rely on a refractometer alone. While I use one during my home-brewing, I only ever employ it to measure sugar content ad hoc during the brew day: it’s useful to observe saccharification of your mash, the strength of your first runnings, as well as the sugar content in your final runnings, or to get a good idea about the pre-boil gravity and post-boil gravity of your wort. It’s a tool that has its place, but for observing the progress of fermenting beer, I think it’s a much better idea to just use saccharometers. Even quite precise ones, with a scale down to 1/10 of a degree Plato, and thermometers for further correction of the measurement, are not exactly expensive.
I’ve been doing fine for the last 7 weeks. My company decided to implement a work-from-home policy (I’m privileged to work in IT as a software developer) on March 12, so it’s been pretty much exactly 7 weeks since this has started for me. In some ways, it was perfectly timed, as my wife had to undergo a knee operation around the same time, so it was actually good that I could work from home and be able to care for her as well.
The first time leaving the house has actually been stressful. One thing that I’m annoyed about are people who don’t care about keeping their distance or blocking a whole lot of space by needlessly hanging around outside in larger-than-legal groups. This didn’t just use to be annoyance, but rather anxiety. Mind you, this was at a time when I didn’t have a a home-made face mask (thanks, mum!). With a face mask on, I’m now feeling perfectly happy and content walking outside, even with people not keeping their distance. Even if they might not be effective, they sure do work for me at least on a psychological level.
As for beer, we were shopping wisely and bought two crates of beer from a local specialty beer shop before any lock-down measures were even announced. These two crates kept us going for quite a while. I did a quick count of how much other booze we had in the house, easily more than 40 bottles of all kinds of whisk(e)y, more than 10 types of gin, several rums, and even absinthe, vodka and fancy calvados. I put together a list in my mind of small beer businesses I wanted to still have around when this is all over, and supported them by either buying their beer, or buying vouchers from them if they offered such a thing.
My drinking has actually gone down. I don’t drink for the most of the week, and only a bit during the weekend. If I have 3 beers on one of these days, it’s already unusually much. Yesterday was such a day, as my Stammtisch has a Zoom session full of beer drinking and pub quizzing and discussing craft malts and their importance for historic beer styles, so I had three beers (Wicküler Pils, Neder Schwarze Anna, Schönramer Pils) and two small whiskeys (Koval Rye).
Stammtisch. I used to meet friends once a month for a few beers in one of the best German beer bars of Berlin, Foersters. We had a Stammtisch scheduled for March 12, but decided to move it to a Zoom call instead. We’ve kept this up, and actually met more often that we do normally, once every one to two weeks. It certainly helped me keep sane, and due to the decentralized nature of it, we’ve been able to include former regulars and friends that now live in other parts of Germany or the world.
Most of my beer writing energy has actually been going towards my upcoming book about Vienna Lager. I’m now in the final stages: I have only a few small gaps to fill, I have the printing layout set up, and a solid idea for a book cover, less beery per se but rather a nice homage to the city of Vienna itself. I’m so absolutely excited about the whole topic, as I found out so many things that have never been discussed in the context of the history of Vienna Lager, so many things that are just misrepresented and have even been forgotten. At the moment it seems quite realistic for me to publish the book in June or early July. It’s going to be kick-ass if I may say so myself.
That said, work itself has been hard-going at times. Not everything is great when you’re just sat at home for most of the time, trying to avoid distraction is hard, days just blend into each other, and you barely realize what day of the week it actually is. Weekends just pass super quickly and don’t really provide as much rest and recuperation as I would like them to do.
Since the beginning of The Event (remain indoors!), people have been panic-buying flour. Lots of flour. More recently, some people on Twitter have also complained about how ordinary baking yeast is unavailable at the moment. For myself, that’s not an issue, as I have a healthy sourdough culture (named Penelope) that I now use more regularly to bake some delicious bread for both fun and sustenance. But others aren’t so lucky, so a question asked by many is whether brewers yeast is an acceptable substitute for baking yeast.
The short answer is: yes, they’re both Saccharomyces cerevisiae.
The slightly longer answer is: yes, just be aware that the pitching rates in baking are much higher than in brewing, so if you start using dry brewing yeast, your bakes will be very expensive. A good way to deal with this is to keep some of your yeast in the form of dough, like a sourdough, except not sour, and just regularly feed it with sugar or flour. That should make it possible to propagate the yeast for quite a while, making the last pack of bakers (or brewers) yeast last for quite a while longer.
The beer historian’s answer is: yes, they’re both Saccharomyces cerevisiae, and were a focal point of cooperation between the brewing and the baking trade. In the first half of the 19th century, it was common in Vienna for bakers to use top-cropped yeast from the local breweries. It was in fact their main source of yeast. Then something happened: in late 1840, Anton Dreher in Klein-Schwechat (just outside of Vienna) starting brewing using bottom-fermented yeast. His new types of beers became an instant hit in and around Vienna, and of course, other local breweries had to react and also introduced bottom fermentation to their breweries. This change went in fact so quick that within just five years, all the Viennese breweries had switched. The bakers weren’t happy, because that changed the yeast they could get from the brewers: while top-cropped yeast was previously plenty and of good quality, the new type of yeast was harvested from the bottom of the fermentation vessel, and was full of bitter hop compounds, hop resins and cold break (coagulated proteins), which tasted bitter and looked darker than previous yeast, making it unsuitable for baking.
The bakers first tried to import fresh yeast from outside Vienna, but this turned out to be infeasible as the yeast’s quality and health would deteriorate too quickly, so they needed to find another way to get a reliable yeast source, ideally making them independent from any brewers. So the Viennese bakers’ guild started a competition in 1845, announcing that they would award a prize to the person who could produce a leaven that was suitable for completely replacing the much sought-after top-fermenting brewers yeast.
The brewer Adolf Ignaz Mautner of St. Marx brewery went on and developed a system to industrially produce and press yeast. His general approach was fairly simple: first, a mash is produced and converted into sugar, then the mash is cooled and fermented. The resulting yeast can be harvested, washed and pressed.
For the mash, kilned barley malt and rye (in a ratio 1:2) are finely crushed and mashed in with hot water (3.5 l of water for every 1 kg of grist) to rest at 70°C for two hours. This should fully convert all starches into sugar, and also allow other contents of the malt to dissolve. This thin slurry is then chilled to about 28°C using a coolship, and then inoculated with a “mother yeast”, which is basically a smaller amount of the same type of mash that has previously been inoculated with pressed yeast or top-cropped brewers yeast and left to ferment until it is in its most active state. Essentially a yeast starter.
After about 10 to 12 hours, the fermentation is active enough to be covered with a thick foam, the yeast. This yeast is then skimmed and put onto a fine sieve that is slightly submerged in water. The idea here is to dissolve the yeast in the water, while other hard matter from the mash will be caught by the sieve. Using ice, the yeast can be made to fall out of suspension. This watered yeast is then mixed with high-dried wheat or potato starch flour, put into multi-layered linen bags, and then pressed. In terms of yield, 100 kg of crushed malt and rye produce about 8 to 10 kg of yeast, to which about 2 to 5 kg of starch flour are added.
This method is now known as “Vienna Process” and after a few improvements, it won Adolf Ignaz Mautner the Viennese bakers’ guild’s prize.
In later years, more improvements and new methods were introduced, such as a switch to green malt and corn (maize) for the mash, the introduction of single strain yeasts, as well as ways of promoting more yeast budding (and therefore a greater yield), such as aerating the mash or diluting it. These improvements increased the yield from 10% in the 1840’s up to 40% in the early 20th century. But essentially, pressed bakers yeast is still produced using methods that every brewer at the time understood, just used in a way to make yeast, not beer.
Adolf Ignaz Mautner was later made a knight of the Order of the Iron Crown, receiving the hereditary title “Ritter Mautner von Markhof”. While his brewing business was merged with the breweries of Klein-Schwechat and Simmering in the early 20th century to form a public limited company, the Mautner Markhof family remained in the food business. While family sold their business to German food company Develey, Mautner Markhof still exists as a brand in Austria, for products such as mustard (and other condiments), vinegar and pressed yeast.
And that’s how baking yeast has historically been the same as (top-fermenting) brewers yeast, and how its production was turned into an own industry by a brewer using beer brewing methods.
Due to The Event, I’ve been working from home for over a week now, basically self-isolating voluntarily, and counterintuitively (but not unexpectedly), I haven’t really had a lot of spare time since then. I nevertheless want to use my free time better, support everyone out there with some fresh new content on my blog, and also get into a better rhythm to blog more. Also, remain indoors.
In December 2019, I got into a twitter conversation with Natalya Watson, discussing the minutiae of Vienna Lager history in the Americas, a conversation we then continued by email. Natalya recently published her new book, “Beer: Taste the Evolution in 50 Styles“, and she was so kind to send me a free copy as the book touched some of the topics that we had discussed.
The book’s concept is simply as it is intriguing: give a brief introduction into the history of beer based on the evolution of its four main ingredients (malt, water, hops, yeast) over time, and accompany each of these evolutionary steps with a beer that lets you experience that particular ingredient in its respective stage. Its target audience are people who are interested in beer but haven’t yet deep-dived into brewing or even the basic history of beer.
The book starts off with very brief introductions to each of beer’s four main ingredients and how they are made, grown or prepared, and what variety exists of them, followed by a short explanation of the brewing process itself. While really short, I found these introductions exactly on point, like an elevator pitch except that it tells you how grains are malted, why this is done, what types of malts exist, and how they’re used in brewing beer.
It then goes on to introduce each ingredient in greater detail: for malt, it explains the evolution from smoked malts to the invention and development of pale malts and roasted malts, to amber and pale lager beers and ales that started being brewed in the 19th century, finishing with all the different types of pale beers that have been invented in the 20th century. Each of these evolutionary steps of malt introduces you to a new beer that stands in as an example.
For the topic of water, Natalya shows by example how the composition of the local water used to heavily influence what the locally brewed used to be like.
The evolution is hops is explained by first looking at unhopped beer seasoned with other herbs and spices, then introducing landrace varieties resp. varieties of hops that were discovered and then propagated, followed by an introduction to European and American hop breeding and how it influenced beer in the 20th century, finished off with an excursion into how these recent developments in hop breeding have completely changed the beer styles of India Pale Ale.
To finish with the last ingredient, yeast, Natalya introduces the reader not just to different types of yeast, but to different approaches in fermentation, such as spontaneous fermentation and sour beers, and also talks about top-fermenting beers that have held on despite a gain in popularity of bottom-fermented lager beers within the last 150 years, as well as the influence of the science of microbiology on brewers yeast and innovations around them.
The book then finishes with an outlook into possible futures of brewing, how styles could change, and which other ingredients are available to brewers.
While I’m certainly not the intended target audience for this book, I nevertheless found it very informative. It explains some of the most important concepts of beer and brewing, and while some details were left out for brevity, all explanations seemed on point. The fun and easy to read language made the book rather captivating: I finished it in less than 2 days. The pages are colour-coded, so you always know what to expect next when turning the page, and a timeline on the top of the page guides you at what time period you currently are when reading.
As for the historical accuracy, a gripe that I have with a lot of beer books, I think Natalya did a good job in researching the general history of the beer styles that are discussed in the book. Of all the styles where I actually have first-hand knowledge, I couldn’t find any obvious mistakes. Except for one, and that was actually the start of our Twitter conversation, namely how Vienna Lager came to Mexico and persisted there. This is a pet peeve of mine, as much of the literature reiterates that supposedly Austrian brewers brought this beer style to Mexico in the 19th century. I will hopefully soon publish my book on Vienna Lager (The Event is preventing me a bit from doing research at VLB’s library), and Natalya told me she will start an errata page. Of course, do not be swayed by this detail, because the rest of the book is great.
If I knew someone who was interested in beer, and wanted to learn more about it and didn’t know where to start, then I would definitely recommend Natalya’s book to them and tell them to read the book, front to back, and then try and get the beers described in the book, and sample them while re-reading the individual sections. It certainly would get you acquainted with a large amount of different styles, and expose you to many classic beers that I think everyone should try. For the purpose of education, I think “Beer: Taste the Evolution in 50 Styles” is a great book to get started. For people who want to dive in even further, it even guides them to more beer literature.