An Incomplete History of Schönramer’s Ownership

Some time ago, my wife and I started collecting Steinkrüge, German-style stoneware mugs for beer drinking. I don’t know what exactly started our interest, but what played into it was a historic Steinkrug of Franziskaner-Leistbräu that I got to photograph for my most recent book about Vienna Lager.

Most recently, we managed to win an online auction for a historic Steinkrug of one of our favourite breweries, Brauerei Schönram located in the Bavarian municipality of Petting, in particular a small settlement of it called Schönram. The Steinkrug that we got said “Franz Köllerer & Cie Brauerei Schönram” on it. From Schönramer’s own history on their website, I knew that the Köllerer surname has been connected with the brewery since 1780, the brewery’s official year of foundation when Jakob Köllerer bought the place, and only changed shortly before World War 2 when a daughter from the Köllerer family, Lisa, got married to Alfred Oberlindober.

So who was Franz Köllerer, and what does “Franz Köllerer & Cie” mean anyway? That whole thing got me down a bit of a rabbithole when I checked all my usual sources to see what I was able to find.

The earliest person named Franz Köllerer that I was able to identify was Franz Seraphim Köllerer, born on Sept 14, 1839 in Schönram. The Köllerer family must have been reasonably wealthy, as Franz was able to attend grammar school in nearby Salzburg. Schönram and Salzburg had been well-connected for quite some time, as Schönram was located on postal routes between Salzburg and Munich as well as Salzburg and Regensburg. According to a 1815 post manual for the kingdom of Bavaria, the local postman in Schönram was a certain Anton Köllerer.

Another sign of Franz Köllerer’s wealth is how well-travelled he was. Not only can his name be found in public records that he stayed in Salzburg, Linz and Graz several times during the 1860s and 1870s, a book titled “Deutscher Parlaments-Almanach” (German Parliament Almanac) credited him with having travelled abroad to Hungary, the principalities along the river Danube, Turkey, Asia Minor, Syria, Egypt, Greece and Italy.

“Why would he be mentioned in such a book?”, you wonder. Very simple: because he got elected as Member of Parliament to the German Reichstag in Berlin in 1874, for the district of Rosenheim, a role in which he served until he stepped down in 1877. According to Salzburger Chronik in 1874, he was “not a studied man” but a well-known man with a “healthy heart and mind from the midst of the German people”.

During his time as brewery owner, Brauerei Schönram must have been at a reasonable level of modernization. In 1870, it is cited as only one of two breweries in the region to have any sort of automation going on. In particular, the brewery had a steam engine, which not only was used for the brew kit, but also for crushing the malt. The brewery used an annual amount of about 2000 Scheffel of barley. The amount of beer that could be brewed from a certain quantity of barley was strictly regulated in Bavaria at the time, so we can roughly estimate how much beer was brewed annually, and it must have been roughly 7000 to 8000 hl. This is remarkably consistent with Schönramer’s “official” history on their website, which states that between 1900 and the 1960s, the brewery steadily produced about 7000 hl of beer every year.

Half of the barley that the brewery used was from the area, the other half was imported from Innviertel (Upper Austria), Moravia and Hungary. The hops that were bought were from the Bavarian hop regions as well as Bohemia, and more than 50 Zentner (2500 kg) were used every year. From that we can also derive the rough hopping rate of the typical beer brewed at Schönram, at 3 to 3.5 g/l.

Franz Köllerer died on January 26, 1879, in Schönram.

I was also able to find out about another Franz Köllerer. Unlike the previous one, he was indeed a studied man, an alumnus of Weihenstephan brewing school in 1894/1895. When he joined the alumni club of “Weihenstephaner” in 1903, he was credited as brewery owner in Schönram. He died from a stroke in 1915, aged only 41, which would make his year of birth 1874 or 1875. I haven’t been able to find out about how he was related to Franz Seraphim Köllerer, but it wouldn’t be unlikely if he was his son.

Franz Köllerer wasn’t the only brewery owner at the time, though. We know this because on August 1, 1900, the firm “Franz Köllerer & Cie Brauerei Schönram” was registered as a partnership, with a total of five business partners: Franz Köllerer, Anton Riedler, his wife Maria Riedler, and Wilhelmine and Seraphine Köllerer, the latter two described as adult brewery owner daughters. Judging from Franz Köllerer’s age, Wilhelmine and Seraphine were likely Franz Seraphim’s daughters.

And this is where we have the exact company name that is also on our Steinkrug. This at the very least helps us date it to the year 1900 or later.

After a bit of searching, I finally also understood was the “& Cie” stood for, it was short for “Compagnie”, and was used as a suffix for a particular type of company that was comprised of more than two business partners (five in Brauerei Schönram’s case). Nowadays, the suffix “& Co” would be more common in Germany.

Another partner, Anton Riedler, died in 1923, but only a few years later, in 1926, a new business partner makes his appearance in historic sources. Rudolf Nebinger, an Austrian retired cavalry officer of the Landwehrulanenregiment 4 stationed in Olomouc and veteran of World War I at Austria-Hungary’s Eastern front, who got engaged to Elsa Köllerer in 1917. His armed forces service is better documented than his work as brewery owner: in a registry book of regimental officers in 1911, he appears as First Lieutenant, when he got engaged in 1917, he had been promoted to Rittmeister (the cavalry’s equivalent to Captain), and he retired at some point, presumably at the end of World War I, as Lieutenant Colonel.

As a brewery owner, Rudolf Nebinger was wealthy enough to pay for a 30 meter long plane hangar at the newly opened Bad Reichenhall airfield in 1926. He died on October 18, 1934, from a heart attack.

Besides the brewing business itself, the brewery also owned a number of tied hotels and pubs, as well as land. Abtsdorfersee, a lake with an island near Schönram, was sold by the state to the brewery owner in 1869 for 3300 Gulden. The brewery ran a kind of pub or hotel there, named “Seebad”, which sounds like it was part of a lido. It burned down in February 1924, but was rebuilt and reopened in May 1927.

Another location they owned, Hotel Krone in Freilassing, also fell victim to fire: in the night of March 25-26, 1922, a defective oven caused the building to catch fire. Even the fire brigade from nearby Salzburg had to come and help extinguish.

Hotel Bavaria in Bad Reichenhall was also owned by the brewery and opened in 1890. They also owned two local train station restaurants, one in Piding (sold in 1926 to business man Matthias Schöndorfer), the other one in Hammerau.

And that was all I was able to find out in a few days research. While not representing a complete history of Schönramer brewery, I was still able to highlight a few more details about the owners over time, and in particular, was able to shed some light on the particular text on our Steinkrug.

A Conversion Chart Between Beer Colour Scales

In a recent Twitter discussion about beer colour and colour scales, Ron Pattinson said how handy it would be to have a conversion chart between colour scales, ideally for Lovibond, SRM, EBC, Stammer (famously used by Professor Schwackhöfer in his 1876 analyses of beers sold in Vienna) and “Einheiten nach Brand”. In particular, the discussion revolved around the latter, as it’s one of the scales used in TGL 7764, East Germany’s industry standard for beer.

TGL 7764 is a particularly interesting industry standard, as it’s a rare example of beer styles getting standardized down to original gravity, bitterness, beer colour and even beer label colour and (in the case of Porter) microorganisms (Brettanomyces). And unlike style guidelines nowadays, like BJCP or the Brewers Association’s ones, this was actually prescriptive, i.e. it was compulsory for breweries in the GDR to follow these beer styles. I’m not aware of any other country doing that, but then, I haven’t really looked into it systematically.

Unfortunately, there does not seem to be a linear relationship between the Brand scale and EBC, so a simple conversion based on a few data points that we have from the 1980 and 1986 versions of TGL 7764 (which uses NFE, Brand, K450 and EBC) is not possible. Nevertheless, I’ve looked at the conversion between Stammer and the other common scales in the past and even put a simple table in my latest book, so I took this as a chance to at least present the data that I already have.

I will try and find out more about the Brand scale and if I do, I will update this table accordingly.

Conversion Formulas

Stammer to Lovibond: °L = Stammer / 1.38

Lovibond to SRM: SRM = 1.3546 × °L – 0.76

SRM to EBC: EBC = SRM * 1.97

Conversion Table

EBCSRMLovibondStammer
1.00.50.91.3
2.01.01.31.8
3.01.51.72.3
4.02.02.12.8
5.02.52.43.4
6.03.02.83.9
7.03.63.24.4
8.04.13.64.9
9.04.63.95.4
10.05.14.35.9
12.06.15.17.0
14.07.15.88.0
16.08.16.69.0
18.09.17.310.1
20.010.28.111.1
25.012.79.913.7
30.015.211.816.3
35.017.813.718.9
40.020.315.621.5
45.022.817.424.0
50.025.419.326.6
60.030.523.031.8
70.035.526.837.0
80.040.630.542.1
90.045.734.347.3
100.050.838.052.5

Review: Kertelreiter Ciders

I used to drink a lot more cider than I do nowadays. Not necessarily quality stuff, though. Where I’m from in Austria, the state of Upper Austria, a local variety of cider call Most, made from apples and often a share of pears, was fairly common but not necessarily a refined drink.

Before I started home-brewing, the first fermented alcoholic beverage I made at home was a cider. I do enjoy the drink, but I don’t have it particularly often, not least because it’s not the kind of drink that is super popular in most of Germany. Like Austria, Germany does have pockets where local kinds of cider, Apfelwein, are common. Berlin is not one of them.

I’ve known Barry for a few years, just from the twitter beer bubble. Within the last few years, he documented on social media how he bought up patches of orchards and rejuvenated them, and of course, turned the harvested apples, pears and quinces into his own cider. Most recently, he turned this into a little business under the name Kertelreiter. I’ve been intrigued by the idea of locally produced, small batch, craft cider, so when Christmas season came around, I decided to not only gift a large mixed box of his ciders and perries to relatives of mine, but also to order a small mixed box for myself.

Barry asked me about my opinion about his ciders, so why not turn them into a wee blog post? I took myself time with trying all of the different ciders, having only one bottle per evening, with the exception of the last two on the list. I tasted each in the order in which I have them here.

First, I tried King of the Pippins. This one intrigued me the most as it’s made from just a single variety of apples, Goldparmäne in German, apparently one of the oldest cultivated apple varieties that still exist. It’s a dry, wild-fermented cider, and it showed: my first impression was lots of funk, which I like in beer, and I equally enjoyed it here. I noticed that it left a particularly dry feeling on my tongue, only had a relatively restrained fruitiness, and a very pleasant acidity. This tasted like a very classic cider, and totally unlike any of its industrial or mass-produced relatives. A great impression for the first sample.

Next up was Lacrimae Mundi, a cider barrel-aged in a Cabernet Sauvignon barrique. The difference to the first one was noticeable: while also dry, it was only slightly funky, but it had so much pleasant sharpness that reminded me of eating a Granny Smith apple. Less funk, lots of green apple fruitiness, and a particularly refreshing acidity. Again, a stunning cider.

Out of the Sun, fermented with Nottingham Ale yeast, presented itself fairly clean, dry, fruity, but also with a certain bitterness and a hint of booziness at the beginning that I didn’t quite enjoy as much. Still, a very nice cider.

Rehwasen, the next one, is made from a blend of seven apple varieties and one pear variety, and aged in an oak barrel. It was dry, with a bright acidity and some green apple. It got whiff of vinegar on the nose, which was actually not unpleasant. None of that vinegar could be tasted, so it might as well have been my senses playing a trick one me. And of course, there was a slight hint of oak.

After trying four different ciders, I went on to the perries, the first one being Levitation, fermented from 80% perry pears and 20% Conference pears. This one was very dry, with lots and lots of tannins. It actually made me want to chew the perry, and it definitely tasted like eating a perry pear. Absolutely fantastic, my favourite out of all of these.

The second perry, Pale Rider, has a wicked colour! This hazy perry comes in shades of pale pink, and is made of a 60/40 mix of perry and Conference pears. It was dry, more acidic and cleaner than Levitation, with not nearly as many tannins and some bitterness. Not quite a stunner as the previous one.

And finally, Holunderkin. This is a ciderkin, made from a second pressing of the pomace that had been rehydrated with water, wild-fermented and infused with elderflowers. It’s light, only 4% ABV, and comes across as quite acidic, leaning almost towards vinegar but in a really pleasant way! The elderflower aroma is very bright. My late grandmother told me that when they were young, they used to drink highly diluted vinegar as a refreshing drink, and this ciderkin reminded me of that: enough acidity, a really pleasant aroma from the elderflowers, I can imagine that to be the perfect drink for an extra-hot summer.

All in all, I’m really impressed by all the ciders and perries. All of them have unique characteristics on their own. This is what makes Barry’s selection of ciders so stunning: even though they are all made from a few simple ingredients, apples, pears and quince, pressed by hand, fermented and then matured for some time, they are all so remarkably different. Each of them seems carefully thought through and crafted, and every type of cider has something that really differentiates it from the rest of it. I’m absolutely impressed by the creativity that went into these 7 types of cider and perry, and can only recommend that you get yourself a box to try them as well.

Personally, my biggest surprise was how much of a joy it was to drink (and chew!) Levitation. My previous experience with perries was a bit underwhelming, so having a perry that was entirely different from what I’ve had before was kind of mind-blowing. Great stuff.

About Dampfbier

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.

Even when looking at more recent sources about Dampfbier, it becomes very clear that very few such beers ever existed. A few prominent examples that I was able to find were Maisel’s Dampfbier (Michael Jackson briefly mentioned it as an “ale-like specialty”), Dampfbier from 1. Dampfbierbrauerei Zwiesel (which also seems to be the source of the supposed origin story of the Dampfbier style), and Borbecker Helles Dampfbier, for which is not even clear whether this is actually a top-fermented beer using Weißbier yeast. Besides these three beers, there’s not much around.

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

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.

That Elusive Horner Bier

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.

In my own book, Historic German and Austrian Beers for the Home Brewer, I have a section about Horner Bier. It is one of just two beers for which I was not able to find a complete recipe at the time, so the recipe in the book is just a reconstruction based on educated guesses from the sources that I knew. Previously, I had written down the few things that I knew about about Horner Bier in this blog.

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.

An ad from 1836 for “very well matured Horner Bier in stoneware bottles”, available during the summer in Vienna’s beer house “zur weißen Taube”, Bräunerstraße.

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.

It was served in tightly sealed stoneware bottles which, when opened, would make a banging noise. The type of bottle was called a “Plutzer”, a term also used to describe a big head. Due to the banging noise, it was also called a “Kracher” (banger). Due to its very pale colour and slight sour taste, it was compared with Berliner Weisse.

One source claims that the beer style was allegedly invented in 1750 by a brewmaster called Faber. After his death, the exclusive privilege to brew this beer was rescinded and other brewers copied it, in some cases poorly, and so over time, the quality deteriorated and the beer style lost its high status. This may have been the reason why some people decided to grate a bit of nutmeg into their Horner Bier to improve its flavour.

Horner Bier brewing was definitely not just limited to Horn itself: in Droß, a town about 30 km south of Horn, a brewmaster named Meier was reported to have exported very little of his Horner Bier to Vienna in 1803 because of rising prices, possibly due to taxation.

It’s not even clear when Horner Bier stopped being made. In 1849, an article claimed that the last Horner was brewed 20 years ago. But this seems too early, as we can find ads for “well-matured Horner Bier” in newspapers as late as 1836 (the same page is interesting in that it seems to be dominated by ads for wine, a good example for how popular wine used to be in Vienna before the advent of lager beer).

Horner Bier brewing eventually did cease. In 1878, a new tenant of the Horn brewhouse was mentioned as brewing excellent beer. Despite the allusion to Horner Bier’s past reputation, which older beer drinkers seem to have still remembered at that time, it is not clear whether this was an attempt of a revival of Horner Bier, or just a local brewer trying to build on the past reputation. Even if it was a Horner Bier revival, it didn’t last long. In 1888, the brew house tenant ceased operation, and focused on reselling beer from Schwechat, i.e. Vienna Lager.

And this is all I’ve been able to find out about Horner Bier, the historic oat beer that eludes us all.

Double-Decoction Mashing on a Home-Brew System Not Designed For Decoction: A Post-Mortem

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.

A watched pot never boils, an unwatched pot boils over.

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.

Kettle in the front, sparging action in the back

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.

A brewing selfie. We were smiling under these masks, I swear.

“Vienna Lager”, My New Book

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!

Hansla: the Revival of an old Beer Style

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.

Perspex windows!

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.

Schlenkerla Hansla

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.

Experiment Time: Does Lactic Acid Skew Refractometer Readings?

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.