Mahrs aU Clone, Iteration 1

As I’ve announced a month ago, my homebrewing project for 2020 is to develop a clone recipe for Mahrs aU. I brewed the first iteration on December 27, and here’s a quick report on how that went:

My grist was fairly simple, 2.4 kg Pilsner malt and 2.4 kg Munich I malt, both from Weyermann. I doughed in with 20 litres of water which I had treated with 6 ml of lactic acid (something something counteract local water’s hardness, I calculated this ages ago and stuck to it since, I’m terrible with water chemistry). I then conducted my preferred double decoction mash where I start with a very large thick decoction, rest it at around 70°C when heating up, then boil it and mix it back, and then pull a thin decoction, boil it, and mix it back again. The temperature steps the main mash was undergoing in this case were 39°C (dough-in temperature), 62°C and 72°C. I then moved the mash to the lauter tun, recirculated to get clear wort and then started lautering, measuring 17.6 Brix on the first runnings. I continuously sparge, and after 30 minutes, I had enough wort collected to bring it to a boil. Pre-boil gravity as determined by refractometer was 11 Brix.

After 90 minute boil, with hop additions (2019 harvest Perle, 7.2% alpha acid) at 90 minutes (32g) and 10 minutes (10g) before the end of the boil, I moved the wort the a fermenter and chilled it down to 10°C before adding two rehydrated sachets of W-34/70 yeast. Fermentation took off about 36 hours after pitching the yeast.

Things didn’t go quite as planned, as the wort’s OG turned out to be 13.3°P. My grist calculation was based on previous batches in which I employed the same mashing regime, but this time, for whatever reason, efficiency was quite a bit better than what I wanted to achieve. I’m not going to complain about it, as it’s only 0.6°P (roughly 0.002 in gravity points) higher than where I wanted to get to.

Fermentation was quite a bit slower than usual. I’m not sure why, but I may have rehydrated the dry yeast improperly, therefore slightly underpitching. Even after four weeks, fermentation did not seem quite finished. I would have waited, but two days ago, another problem came up: the seal on the fermenter’s tap was leaking. Not a whole lot, but in the tray underneath, a few hundred ml of beer had built up. Since this was just the first iteration, and things weren’t 100% right from the beginning, I decided for an emergency plan: instead of lagering properly, I just cold-crashed the beer, hoping not more would leak between Friday and today, and then bottled the beer today. With 4.4°P, I’m not 100% sure the beer had completely finished fermenting (though there wasn’t really much of a noticeable residual sweetness), but I bottled it anyway and just let it naturally carbonate over the next few weeks. To be frank, I’m not particularly happy with that, but given that things weren’t right from the beginning, it’s still an acceptable shortcut for a first iteration.

A quick taste test directly from the fermenter revealed that the beer indeed tasted remarkably close to the original Mahrs aU. While the beer was pretty clean-tasting, the hop bitterness still seemed a bit rough. My concern is that whenever this has aged a bit and smoothed out, the bitterness might not be quite high enough. Bear in mind that I based the hop additions and overall bitterness just on some very flimsy circumstantial evidence. Since then, I’ve received multiple pointers to other sources talking about the Mahrs aU parameters, such as this very helpful comment by DB who mentioned that Michael Jackson had written about aU in 1999, when it was still bittered with Northern Brewer and Hallertauer Tradition to 36 IBU, and this reply on Twitter pointing out that Ron Pattinson’s book Decoction! (seriously, you should buy it) contains OG, ABV, real extract, apparent attenuation, colour and bitterness from the year 2000 for “Mahr’s Bräu ungespundet – hefetrüb” (aka Mahrs aU), setting the bitterness at a whopping 42.5 EBU.

I’m still waiting for the bottled beer to condition and slightly mature before I’ll start a proper taste test the results of which will then be the basis for my next step. Based on the brew day itself, I will probably slightly reduce the amount of malt the next time so that I can get closer to 12.7°P in OG than the 13.3°P of the first iteration. Also depending on how the bitterness shines through, I may slightly increase the bittering hops.

I also chucked out that particular fermenter and ordered myself a 30 litre Speidel fermenter instead.

My Home-Brewing Project 2020: Cloning Mahrs aU

Possibly one of my and my wife’s favourite beers from Bamberg in Mahrs aU. It’s an ungespundetes (unbunged) pale-amber Kellerbier, meaning that it was carbonated without spunding, taking up only the amount of CO2 the liquid would do under the current temperature and atmospheric pressure, and is normally served unfiltered.

Brewing ungespundetes Bier is traditional for Bamberg, and has already been described as being particular to the city’s brewing practice in the 19th century (e.g. Das Bierbrauen in allen seinen Zweigen by Johann Muntz from 1840, p.121). It also shows in the name: “aU”, which some people call the shortest beer order in the world, is local colloquialism for “ein Ungespundetes”. The Mahr brewery in Bamberg, located in the city’s district “Wunderburg” and just opposite of Keesmann brewery, has been around since 1670, and has been owned by the Michel family since 1895. They are one of the traditional Bamberg breweries, and not just because of aU, they have a faithful followership locally and around the world.

A glass of aU, straight from the source.

If I want to brew a clone of Mahrs aU, I first need to find out about the beer’s specifications. Fortunately, I found a video from 2010 about the production of aU that contains some information: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ubmm2j-2Uq4 (embedding is unfortunatey disabled, so you’ll have to click the link to view it)

From there, we can extract quite a bit of information about the beer. It’s a bottom-fermented beer, with an original gravity of 12.7°P. The grist consists of Pilsner malt and Munich malt of unknown ratios. The sole hop variety used is Hallertauer Perle with an unknown hopping schedule or bitterness. The final beer contains about 5.2% alcohol by volume and is carbonated with 4 grams per litre of CO2.

This is already quite a bit of information that we can work with and construct a recipe out of. Of course, I don’t expect the result to be perfect, so this is just a rough first outline. Further changes to this are up to the result of the first brew.

For the grist, I will start with simply 50% Pilsner malt and 50% Munich I malt. I couldn’t find anything useful about the mashing regime employed at Mahrs, so I’m simply sticking to my preferred double decoction scheme, hopefully ending up with a wort of the right OG.

For the hops, I’m sticking to just Perle. I managed to buy fresh 2019 harvest cone hops, which in my case have 7.2% alpha acid. I estimate the bitterness of aU to be roughly around 30 IBU. This is not just based on taste testing, but also on a rough bitterness scale that Mahrs provides on their website: the Helles has 3 hops, the aU has 4 hops, and the Pils has 6 hops. The following is a lot of conjecture, but bear with me: if the Helles has roughly 20 IBU and 3 hops, then 1 hop in their proprietary scale is equivalent to 6.66 IBU. If we assume the Pils to have around 40 IBU (it is rather bitter) and 6 hops, we get the same result: 1 hop is equivlaent to 6.66 IBU. In that respect, the scale seems fairly consistent. Based on this, a beer with 4 hops bitterness should be equivalent to about 27 IBU. Now I dare anyone to correctly blind-taste the difference between 27 and 30 IBU.

So for a first test brew, I decided to simply add to hop additions, one at the beginning of the boil (90 minutes) at 1.6 g/l, and a late addition just 10 minutes before the end of the boil at 0.6 g/l. This should add the desired bitterness of about 30 IBU, and leave behind some hop flavour and aroma, without being too hop-forward.

I will ferment this beer like any of my other bottom-fermented beers at 10°C, and then briefly lager it. In the beginning, I will simply use W-34/70 yeast. I do think though that Mahrs house yeast strain has quite the impact on the overall flavour of the beer. This is noticeable in direct comparisons of their aU and their Helles which I’ve conducted, and the Helles has some underlying subtle spiciness that is very present in the aU and can’t simply be explained through the malt (the Helles most likely contains no darker malts, unlike aU) or the hops (the Helles is hopped with Hallertauer Tradition and Mittelfrüh, whereas aU is all Perle). A future point in experimentation is to see whether there is any live yeast in bottles of aU which could be grown and used to ferment later batches, or whether other commercial strains show better results, in case straight-up W-34/70 doesn’t cut it.

This is my hypothesis how an aU clone could be constructed. Whether any of speculations hold true will show when the first test brew is ready to drink. My plan is to brew it with the next few days, which means it will be ready in about 6 to 8 weeks time. I’ll keep you updated here.

German Sparklers

Sparklers, little attachments to a beer engine’s nozzle that aerate the beer and produce a bigger head, are a bit of a controversy. Northerners stereotypically swear by them, Southerners despise them, etc. Personally, I think they make sense with some beers, but not so much with others. My personal hypothesis is that a lot of cask beers are brewed with the intention of being dispensed with or without a sparkler. A pint of Landlord without a thick head on top would certainly be weird, while London Pride served through a sparkler was probably one of the grossest pints I’ve ever had.

Most people think that this is probably a problem only cask beer aficionados in England face, but at least in the 19th century, lager beers in Germany and Austria directly dispensed from wooden casks were served in a similar way: besides the regular tap, a device called Mousseux-Pipe, sometimes also called Bierbrause (lit. “beer shower”), was also quite common. I’ve never seen an actual photo or illustration of one, but the descriptions of it make it sound very much like a sparkler: when beer was dispensed from a cask through the Mousseux-Pipe, it foamed up and produced a bigger, denser head.

As with every aspect of beer, the effect of this dispensing method also came under scrutiny by beer researchers. Th. Lange compared how much carbon dioxide was lost when dispensing from a regular (wooden) tap compared to dispensing from a Mousseux-Pipe, both with bunged and unbunged beer.

The total loss of CO2 when pouring bunged beer was 14.6% from a regular tap, and 22.72% from the sparkler tap. For unbunged beer, which is lower in CO2 in the first place, the loss was slightly lower: 10.27% from a regular tap, and 14.03% from a sparkler tap. (Source)

What’s also interesting is the amount of CO2 lager beers were served in the late 19th century: a regularly carbonated (bunged) beer contained 3.9 g/L (= 1.99 volumes) of CO2, a medium-bunged beer 3.457 g/L (= 1.76 volumes), while an unbunged beer contained as little as 3.097 g/L (= 1.58 volumes) of carbon dioxide. Compared to the typical carbonation of modern beer, this is fairly low: modern lager beers are often carbonated at around 5 g/L or roughly 2.5 volumes, while cask ales are carbonated lower at roughly 2.9 to 4 g/L (1.5 to 2 volumes).

So when we’re looking at the historic carbonation rates, it clearly shows that they are more in the range of what we get in modern cask ale. These historic lager beers seemed to have been more gently carbonated, making for a nicer drinking experience, something that you would find also in beers gravity-poured from wooden casks in Franconia.

Just like its modern counterpart in England, the use of Mousseux-Pipen was not uncontroversial either: in Tyrol, the use of syringes of similar devices to create artificial foam in beer was prohibited from 1854 on for sanitary reasons. A letter to the editor in a newspaper from 1871 laments the “strict non-enforcement of this edict got rid of syringes” and popularized beer showers that produced a thick and dense foam that helped defraud customers through underpouring.

Some publicans also saw sparkler taps as an issue: the wooden casks of the era were not entirely tight, so they gradually lost carbonation. Combined with a sparkler tap and the agitation when transporting, handling and tapping the casks, this led to an unacceptable amount of carbonation loss resulting in flat beer.

The organization of Viennese brewery owners even blamed assertions of beer adulterations on poor beer pouring practices: beers that tasted overly bitter were accused of using something other than hops for bitterness. Practically, beer that was poured hard and through devices like sparkler taps ended up flat, and no CO2 to soften down the hop bitterness. The Viennese brewers therefore suggested to pour beer as little as possible, and with as little devices in between. Instead of getting beer poured through a sparkler tap into a jug or large bottle, and then carried all the way home, beer should ideally be poured directly into a glass through a regular tap, and protected from sun and heat while bringing it home.

All in all, Mousseux-Pipen seemed as controversial back in the day as sparklers are in England nowadays. While I couldn’t find anything definite, I’d say the practice at the very latest died out when gravity-pouring beer from cask fell out of fashion, and more modern top-pressure-based dispensing methods became popular. And frankly, in the narrow context of gravity-poured lager beers, I don’t really see the need for it, as I’ve never seen such a beer freshly poured from a cask suffering from any foam issues, while still having a gentle carbonation that makes it easy to drink. Maybe brewers have become more knowledgeable about brewing beer with greater foam stability, or the slightly higher carbonation of modern lager beer is making a difference, or maybe the higher quality of modern “wooden” casks (most of which are metal-lined nowadays) means less CO2 leakage and a better retention in carbonation. In any case, a properly poured beer directly from a cask, with a nice thick head on top, makes for a great presentation, and I crave one now.

About Saazer Genossenschaftsbrauerei

As some of you may have noticed on my Twitter account, I am currently researching for a book about historic and contemporary Vienna Lager. As with my previous book, I want to lay out the history of the style as detailed as possible, and accompany it with historic recipes and authentic brewing instructions. On top of that, I want to describe how “modern” Vienna lager came to be as part of the craft beer revolution, and what the current state of the beer style is.

Why am I doing this? Because I think that, compared to the popularity of the style, very little is known is about the beer’s history, and in addition, a lot of misinformation and myths have been spread which I try to clear up and reset the narrative.

As part of my historic research, I stumbled upon several references of “Anton Dreher’s Export-Brauerei” in Saaz/Žatec, a city best known for the local hop variety grown in and around it. I found this strange, because historic sources talk about only four brewery locations that were bought and run by Anton Dreher father and son: the main brewery in Klein-Schwechat just outside of Vienna, a brewery in Steinbruch/Kőbánya near Pest (nowadays Budapest), a brewery and hop garden in Michelob/Měcholupy just outside Saaz/Žatec, and a brewery in Trieste, but none of them mention a fifth brewry directly in Saaz. So of course I had to find out more about this brewery.

The first traces of the brewery can be found in newspaper articles mentioning its foundation on either 23 or 25 May, 1898, under the name “Saazer Genossenschaftsbrauerei”, literally “Saaz cooperative brewery”, allegedly by a syndicate that had managed to raise 3 million Crowns, the equivalent of over 42 million Euros nowadays.

The building works took several years, and only in January 1902 the brewery was able to announce that they would start operations in spring of the same year. Already later that year, ads can be found of their beer named “Urstoff” (lit. “original stuff”).

The other brewery from Saaz/Žatec, Bürgerliches Brauhaus (burgher brewhouse) Saaz, was not happy about it, went to court, and obtained judgement prohibiting Genossenschaftsbrauerei from using the name “Urstoff” altogether, and instead earning the right to the “Saazer Urstoff” brand exclusively for Bürgerliches Brauhaus. The court decided that the name “Urstoff” was consumer deception, probably because it insinuated that it was the “original” beer from Saaz, especially since Bürgerliches Brauhaus had been around since 1801, while Genossenschaftsbrauerei had been founded very recently at that time.

In 1903, Genossenschaftsbrauerei went one step further and made the “Urstoff” part of the company name: “Saazer Genossenschaftsbrauerei” was renamed to “Urstoff-Genossenschaftsbrauerei in Saaz”. Bürgerliches Brauhaus complained about this as well, and saw this as an attempt to circumvent the court’s verdict, which was again confirmed by court.

When looking not at trademark court cases but at beer production volume, Genossenschaftsbrauerei was doing quite well for such a young brewery: in 1903/1904, the brewery produced 85000 hectolitres. This was relatively miniscule compared to the amounts other Austrian breweries around that time period were brewing (Klein-Schwechat 1896/97: 770536 hl, Bürgerliches Brauhaus Pilsen 1904: 808000 hl).

In 1905, the legal troubles came to an end, when it was finally decided by the Austrian trade ministry that the “Urstoff” brand registered by Genossenschaftsbrauerei had to be deleted.

In 1914 then, the brewery was converted from a cooperative to a limited liability company (GmbH) named “Exportbrauerei GmbH in Saaz”, with a nominal capital of 1,029,000 Crown, about 5.7 million Euros in today’s money.

During World War I, the Austrian government apparently regulated beer exports, and Exportbrauerei was a complainant about this: the regulation apparently based on OG of the beers, and assumed an average of 11% which – according to Exportbrauerei – severely disadvantaged breweries only brewing 12% beers but no 10% beers, and suggested to instead determine an actual average OG per brewery. It is not known what came of this, but it does tell us one thing about the food economy in Austria-Hungary during the World War: at least in 1916, enough grains must have still been available to brew full-strength beers.

After the breakup of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, Exportbrauerei was located in newly founded Czechoslovakia, and of course operated like before. It was not exactly a big player in the export business, though: Bürgerliches Brauhaus Pilsen, by then also known as “Pilsner Urquell”, was responsible for 209000 hl beer export in 1929. The total beer exports of all of Czechoslavakia in the same year were 271000 hl, but Exportbrauerei Saaz was responsible for only 5000 hl of those.

One blog claims that Exportbrauerei was renamed to “Anton Dreher’s Exportbrauerei” in 1926, but interestingly, I haven’t really been able to find any other sources about it. In any case this is an interesting year, because at that time, the Dreher family was not really involved with the Austrian brewing business anymore: Anton Dreher Jr. had died in 1921, his son Anton Eugen Dreher died at the age of 54 in 1925, his son Theodor had died in 1914 in a car accident, and his son Eugen had moved to Budapest and sold off his stocks. The inheritance went to Anton Eugen’s daughter Katharina “Kitty” Wünschek-Dreher.

Exportbrauerei Saaz nowadays (photo by SchiDD, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)

I have not been able to find out who had the idea to give Exportbrauerei Anton Dreher’s name, and more importantly, why, as there is no discernible direct connection between Anton Dreher, who made Klein-Schwechater brewery big and pale lager beer famous around the world, and this medium-sized Bohemian brewery. This is also the reason why I decided to tell the story of “Anton Dreher’s Exportbrauerei” in my blog instead of my upcoming book, as it does not touch the history of Vienna Lager itself.

How to Brew my Award-Winning Berliner Weisse

I recently brewed a Berliner Weisse, submitted it to SLOSH SOUR 2019, a homebrewing competition dedicated to Berliner Weisse, and I won! So here I’m documenting how I brewed and what’s the rationale behind it.

Since the homebrewing competition was about brewing straight Berliner Weisse, with no twists and no innovations, I decided to simply follow how Berliner Weisse used to be brewed according to historic brewing literature.

Grist

Naturally, I wanted to use large amounts of pale wheat malt. Historically, the wheat malt used in Berliner Weisse was high in protein and quite undermodified. Malt like that is practically impossible to get, so instead, I chose to use a large amount of chit malt. To bulk the grist up a bit more, I also added some floor-malted Bohemian Pilsner malt. The final grist looked like this:

  • 2 kg pale wheat malt (Weyermann)
  • 1 kg chit malt (BEST)
  • 0.5 kg floor-malted Bohemian Pilsner malt (Weyermann)

Hops

Berliner Weisse is classically mash-hopped, so I simply added 6 g of Tettnanger hops (3.4% alpha acid) to the mash.

Mashing

I mashed in all the malt with 10 liters of hot water. To stay authentic, I used untreated Berlin tap water. I slightly underestimated the required temperature, so the resulting mash temperature was 46°C. I then heated it up to 53°C and did a protein rest of 40 minutes.

I then heated up the mash up to 62°C, and did a brief saccharification rest of 15 minutes, then further heated it up to 72°C to rest and convert for 45 minutes. After these 45 minutes, the mash was completely converted.

Now this is obviously a weird mash schedule, but in fact I based it on the mash schedule documented by the former Groterjan brewmaster A. Dörfel. At Groterjan, an initial protein rest was done at about 53-54°C, then the mash was slowly heated up to 75°C. I did a brief 62°C rest because I assumed that on my homebrew kit, heating up would be much quicker than on Groterjan’s big kit. I also kept the temperature a bit lower to prevent any issues from potentially overshooting the target temperature. I also left out one step that Groterjan did: they boiled parts of the mash as a final step and slowly mixed it back, trying to keep the temperature at a maximum of 76°C. This just did not make sense for me to do on my homebrew kit.

After conversion was finished, I moved the mash to my lauter tun, briefly did a lauter rest, and then started lautering and sparging. I collected about 20 liters of wort, which I then brought up to 80°C to pasteurize it for 10 minutes. I then chilled the wort down to 20°C and pitched all my microorganisms.

Yeast and Bacteria

I pitched half a sachet (5g) of S-04 dry yeast, a pack of White Labs WLP672 Lactobacillus brevis and a pack of White Labs WLP650 Brettanomyces bruxellensis at the same time, and let it ferment together.

If you want to recreate this and are worried about infections: my protocol is to simply have a separate fermenter for anything involving Brett and Lacto fermentation, that hasn’t caused me any issues in the past.

Primary fermentation quickly started and was finished after about 3 days. The souring process took a bit longer, but after about 3 weeks, the young beer had attained a good acidity. Around the same time, a secondary fermentation, presumably from the Brettanomyces kicked off, which was done after about a week. I then let the beer sit in the fermenter for another few weeks, and then bottled it. As priming sugar I used common sugar, and went for a carbonation level of 6 g/L. Then I put all the bottles in a quiet corner and let it mature.

The OG of the beer was 8.8°P (1.035), slightly higher than the 8°P I had actually planned. At bottling time, the FG was measured to be 0.8°P (1.003). The calculated amount of alcohol is therefore 4.2% ABV. A bit higher than what I wanted to go for, but still low enough to make the beer low and refreshing.

At the time of the competition, the beer was about 2.5 months old, so still fairly young. According to one taster who described himself as hypersensitive to sulphur, it still had some hints of sulphur left. The overall flavour and aroma was quite pleasant though: tart, citrusy, but not overly sour, so that the beer was still balanced and refreshing.

I still have a few bottles left, so my plan is to keep some of them and age them for longer. This should definitely help the Brettanomyces develop more complex and interesting flavours. I also kept the yeast from the bottom of the fermenter, and I plan to repitch it in future batches. I’m actually thinking about brewing another Berliner Weisse soon, just to have something to age and maybe hand in for next year’s SLOSH SOUR competition.

Thanks to everyone involved, in particular THE MASH PIT who organized the homebrewing competition, and Berliner Weisse Kultur e.V. who made it possible for me to present my home-brewed beer to a wider audience at Berliner Weisse Gipfel.

Berliner Weisse Summit 2019

Berlin is one of those places that have a rich brewing history, not just because of literally hundreds of breweries that used to brew beer all around the city, but also because it’s home to one of the few old German beer styles that have survived to this day.

While the style was neglected in the second half of the 20th century, and had a hard time to keep its place in Berlin’s beer landscape, the recent surge in interest through the craft beer movement has helped repopularize it. When a few years there were only a few breweries like Brewbaker and Bogk Bier that restarted brewing the style the traditional way, this has changed: with local breweries like BRLO, Vagabund, and Berliner Berg, the landscape of locally brewed Berliner Weisse has expanded dramatically.

The rise in popularity also shows in the beer festival landscape: 6 years ago, Sylvia Kopp initiated the Berliner Weisse Gipfel (Berliner Weisse Summit in English), a beer festival centered about Berliner Weisse, but it’s also open for other “wild and sour” beers. On June 1, the fifth edition of this beer festival (now organized by Berliner Weisse Kultur e.V.) took place, and the number of breweries visiting and exhibiting their beers has been even greater than in the years before. And not just from Berlin, but breweries from all the over Germany as well as the Netherlands and even the US took part.

There were too many beers to try, but some of my highlights were:

  • Berliner Berg Schiller Weisse, very refreshing and easy drinking, exactly how it should be as a summer beer. Cristal Peck, Berliner Berg’s brewmaster, is incredibly enthusiastic about the style, and seems to be doing plenty of experimentation to get the beer just perfect.
  • Schneeeule Marlene. Less sour than some might expect, but with plenty of funk. A great beer to age.
  • Nevel from the Netherlands brought two golden sour ales, one called Alm seasoned with “forgotten herbs” which they forage themselves, and another one called Minne which was seasoned with Japanese flowering quince. Very complex, very balanced, quite refreshing even at 5+% ABV.
  • Oedipus, also from the Netherlands, brought a few of their sour beer creations, which so far have always been great, and this year was no exception.
  • Felix from Orca Brau brought an unboiled Berliner Weisse of 14 months age as well as Bretted Brokantie, a bretted version of his farmhouse ale. Both beers were good on their own, but what stood out was that Felix also offered pouring blends, and it worked: a shot of his Berliner Weisse added to Bretted Brokantie really brightened it up.
  • August Schell from New Ulm, Minnesota was there with a few versions of their Berliner Weisse. I tried Ulmer Weisse, their version of American Weissbeer, an obscure American version of Berliner Weissbier that is mentioned in the 1901 book American Handy-Book of the Brewing, Malting and Auxilliary Trades. It worked beautifully, and I’m so glad that they revived this historic beer style and also brew traditional Berliner Weisse in a historically pretty authentic way. Jace Marti, August Schell’s assistant brewmaster, also did a presentation on how they brew Berliner Weisse, and he recently also recorded a podcast about the same topic.
  • Joe Stange brought bag-in-box Den Herberg Oude Lambiek, which was a real treat.

There were so many more breweries, but I couldn’t try them all.

Besides just visiting the beer festival, I also had the privilege of serving my own Berliner Weisse. This year, THE MASH PIT together with Berliner Weisse Kultur organized a homebrewing competiton just for Berliner Weisse, SLOSH SOUR. Since I wanted to get more into Weisse brewing, this was a great chance for me to take part. Unfortunately, it was a bit of a short notice period, so apparently one four or so people registered, and my beer was the only one that was actually submitted. The jury sampled the beer, and found it to be good, so I won the competition and could serve the beer to festival visitors. It was well received, and someone even took the time to add the beer on untappd!

All in all, I’m very happy this beer festival exists, and it’s become my favourite one in Berlin. This has been by far the most communicative, enthusiastic, exciting, and totally nerdy beer festival here in Berlin, and I’m especially glad about it because it’s one important part of the effort to keep this historic beer style alive.

My Beer At Slosh 2019

On May 4, Berlin’s homebrewing competition SLOSH happened at BRLO brewery. I took part with a beer myself. I didn’t win anything, but it was nevertheless a good event to serve samples of your own beer, drink beer, and talk homebrew.

In total, 37 or so homebrewers took part, serving 40-something different beers. The competition mode is different what you may know from other competititons: brewers were divided up into 8 different tables of 4 to 5 brewers each, labelled A to H. Every brewer and visitor could vote on the beers of another table, selecting their three favourites, giving them 3, 2, and 1 points respectively. Obviously, brewers were assigned different tables to vote on than their own.

At the end of round one, the points were added up, and the most popular beer of each table was selected for round two. In this second round, professional judges tasted the beers and selected an overall winner.

Of course, this mode makes it relatively hard to choose the “right” beer style to win over other homebrewers as well as visitors, as crowd pleasers would more likely be voted favourite than just technically well-executed beers. My table was a relatively strong one: besides my own beer, a Golden Ale inspired by our last year’s visit of New Zealand, there was a citrusy Pilsner (quite classic, but with a late addition of Pacifica hops), a Saison hopped with (IIRC) Galaxy hops, and a NEIPA. From what I’ve heard, the votes were relatively close, and in the end, the NEIPA won.

As for my NZ Golden Ale, it suffered from my “competition curse”. So far, not a single beer that I submitted to a competition worked out as intended: 4 years ago, a Czech pale lager (essentially a PU clone) got oxidized rather badly when bottling and therefore scored rather poorly. 3 years ago, two beers that I submitted (a Saison and an ESB) got mixed up, and the ESB also caught an infection when bottling. The Franconian-style Kellerbier (inspired by Mahrs aU) didn’t work out because the dry lager yeast I used stalled twice, once at lager temperature, and once at room temperature, and so the beer never finished and was dumped. And this year’s beer, that’s a story on its own…

When we brewed our NZ Golden Ale, everything went fine until we went to boil the wort. That’s when we found out that the immersion heater that we use to boil the wort had broken. I normally boil in an electric cooker, but the cooker’s own heating element is a bit too weak to bring 25+ liters of wort to a full boil. I nevertheless tried that, but even after 3 hours or so, I still couldn’t bring it higher than 90°C. So I had to improvise, and split up the wort between two electric cookers (the second one normally functions as a kettle to boil decoctions, and later on as hot liquor tank).

With pouring the wort back and forth, I think I unnecessarily oxidized the wort, making it darker that what I had planned for. Also, the boil-off rate was quite different, so instead of ending up with a 11°P wort, I instead got a 13.5°P wort.

I was also worried about possible underpitching, so I pitched two sachets of Nottingham Ale dry yeast. Unexpectedly, this caused a very rapid and intense fermentation which finished only 72 hours after pitching. The resulting beer had a slight taste of fusel alcohol, confirming my suspicion that the beer may have heated up too much during fermentation at room temperature. In total, I wasn’t super happy about the result, but nevertheless served it at yesterday’s competition.

The overall feedback was surprisingly positive, and fortunately for me, serving the beer cold masked the unpleasant fusel alcohol notes.

Here’s the recipe:

  • 4.5kg Pale Ale malt (it was kindly provided for free by competition sponsor Weyermann)
  • 20g East Kent Goldings (5% alpha acid) – 60 minutes boil
  • 40g Nelson Sauvin (10.8% alpha acid) – whirlpool
  • 20g Waimea (15.5% alpha acid) – whirlpool
  • 2 sachets of Nottinghame Ale dry yeast, rehydrated

Unlike most of my other brews, the mash was simple: just 60 minutes of mash at 67°C, then lautering, and then boiling for what was planned to be 60 minutes (see above). I used East Kent Goldings hops for bittering. After the end of the boil, I waited until the wort was down to 94°C to reduce the amount of additional bittering contributed by the whirlpool hopping, and then added the whirlpool hops for 20 minutes. I then transferred the wort to the fermenter, chilled it down to 20°C, pitched the yeast, and let it do its thing.

The outcome were 18 liters of Golden Ale with an OG of 13.5°P, and 5.7% ABV (stronger than your typical Golden Ale). The colour of the beer goes very much towards orange rather than gold, and probably due to the large amount of whirlpool hops, it also looks rather hazy and never dropped bright.

Early Evidence for Czech Brewing Categories

One system that is very particular to contemporary Czech beer is its categorization. Beers are mainly categorized in two dimensions, colour and strength.

The three main types of colour are světlé (pale), polotmavé (semi-dark), and tmavé (dark) or černé (black). The four types of strength are lehké (light beer at < 8°P), výčepní (draught beer >= 8°P and <11 °P), ležák (lager beer >= 11°P and <13°P) and speciál (specialty beer >= 13°P). Put in a matrix, you’d theoretically end up with 12 different types of beer.

From what Evan Rail told me, a lot of Czech breweries keep to a particular scheme: whereas the draught and lager beer at 10° and 12° would be typically pale, a 13° would often be semi-dark and a 14° would be dark or black. While there are certainly exceptions to it (Kozel Černý with its 10° comes to mind), it’s apparently something a lot of breweries stick to.

In my research, I have now found evidence that this practice may reach back well into the late 19th century. The book Die Malz- und Bierbereitung by E. Leyser, published in 1900, contains a whole section on Austrian brewing practices. At that time, the Austrian-Hungarian empire was still around, so Austrian brewing practices didn’t just cover what’s modern Austria, the small, mostly German-speaking country in Central Europe, but also those of the other Austrian crown lands, of which the most important one for beer brewing was Bohemia, a part of what’s the Czech Republic nowadays.

About the topic what beers are being brewed there, Leyser writes “In Bohemian and generally Austrian breweries, four types of beer are usually brewed: Abzugbier, Lagerbier, Exportbier und Märzenbier. Lager- and Exportbier are beers of the Pilsner type, Abzugbier is in its properties located between Pilsner and Vienna beer, and Märzenbier can be seen as a specialty beer which in its character turns out to be similar to Bavarian beers.”

Later, he describes which malts are used for these beers: “The kilning temperature of malt for Abzugbier is about 64°R [80°C], for Lager- and Exportbier 48°R [60°C] and for Märzen 72°R [90°C] resp. 77 to 80°R [96-100°C]. For Märzenbier, colouring malt is optionally used.”

To put this in context, we can correlate these temperature ranges with the typical kilning temperatures that the book mentions earlier on: 40 to 55°R for Bohemian malt and 60 to 70°R for Vienna malt. Unfortunately, Leyser mentions no particular kilning temperatures for Bavarian malts. But for that, we can use another source, Julius Thausing’s “Theorie und Praxis der Malzbereitung und Bierfabrikation” from 1888. It contains kilning temperatures for various malts, 45 to 60°R for Bohemian malt, 60-70°R for Vienna malt, and 65 to 80°R for Bavarian malt. This gives us a good impression what the colour of the different beers most likely would have been: Abzugbier had a colour like Vienna lager, but probably on the lighter side of it, while Lager- and Exportbier were golden beers. Märzen though must have been darker, probably a light brown, or even going into very dark or even black, in particular if colouring (roasted malt) was used.

What we now still need is some information on the particular strength of these beers. Leyser gives us quite a bit of information. In an example, it lists Abzugbier at 10.3°B (Balling, the direct predecessor of Plato), Lager at 11.3°B, Export at 12.3°B, and two different Märzen at 13°B and 14°B. With that, we get the impression of portfolio that roughly matches the common portfolio of beers from Czech breweries I described earlier: the lowest strength one, Abzugbier, was a pale-ish beer, somewhere between Pilsner and Vienna lager, while 11 and 12° beers were pale, Pilsner-type beers. The specialty beers, called Märzen, at 13 and 14°, were definitely darker, probably ranging from a pale brown to outright black when brewed with roasted malt.

While not explicitly stated, my interpretation of this is that one of the two Märzen was probably darker than the one. At least this would very much fit the differentiation of 13° polotmavý and 14° tmavý/černý.

This scheme wasn’t necessarily kept by all breweries in Austria. Leyser describes his observations made at “brewery B. in Austria”, which brewed a Viennese-style Schankbier at 11.5°B, a pale lager at 12.5°B, a Viennese-style Export-Lager at 13.5°B, a Märzen at 14.5°B and a Bock at 15.5°B. Unfortunately, we don’t learn anything about the colour of Märzen and Bock.

Nevertheless, it was refreshing to see a very systematic approach at categorizing beer like we know it from Czech brewing to be already used in the year 1900 or before, which is something that got lost in modern Austrian brewing since then, not least due to the fact that Vienna-style beers as well as dark lager beers have been mostly neglected (the modern Austrian equivalent of tmavý is often sickly sweet and almost undrinkable) and only recently have had a comeback of some sorts.

Why a Triple Decoction Mash Can Never Fail

I’m currently working on a new project, so as part of that, I’ve been reading quite a few historic descriptions of decoction mashing, in particular triple decoction which historic literature generally describes as the standard mash schedule in Bavaria, Bohemia and Austria around the 1870’s-1880’s.

When I played a bit with calculating the right mash volumes and the mash temperatures, I stumbled upon an interesting property of standard triple decoction: you can’t get it wrong. You actually have to actively try and sabotage it for it to fail.

This is a really cool thing because triple decoction sounds so ancient and complicated and easy to do wrong, and I think that scares a lot of people who then shy away from trying it out, but if you follow a few simple principles, you can’t go wrong at all.

These principles are:

  • always pull 1/3 of your total mash volume as decoction
  • pull the first and second decoction thick (i.e. mostly malt with little liquid), and the third decoction thin (i.e. mostly liquid)
  • bring each decoction to a boil, boil for a bit, then mix back into main mash
  • make sure you measure your volumes exactly, work quickly when mixing back, but also mix thoroughly
  • when doughing in, give the enzymes some time to get dissolved before starting to pull your first decoction

From a historic point of view, triple decoction was a reliable method to guide your mash through a number of particular ranges of rest temperatures to facilitate the activity of specific enzymes to convert long proteins into shorter protein chains and to convert starch into simple sugar molecules and shorter dextrin chains to both achieve a fermentable wort and a good mouthfeel, without requiring a thermometer.

And when you apply some maths, and draw a pretty graph, it really shows that all you need is the ability to vaguely judge your initial mash temperature to be between somewhere slightly above room temperature and slightly below tepid, and everything falls right into place, provided you follow the principles above.

The general equation to calculate your decoction volume is:

decoction volume = total mash volume * (target temperature – start temperature ) / ( boil temperature – start temperature)

If we assume the total mash volume to be 1, and our decoction volume to be 1/3, we can rewrite this to

target temperature = start temperature + 1/3 * (boil temperature – start temperature )

Based on this, we can easily calculate whole temperature series if all we do is repeatedly pull decoctions that are 1/3 of the whole mash volume, bring them to a boil, and mix them back.

I’ve done this in a spreadsheet, and put this into a nice temperature/time chart to indicate the time schedule your mash steps would follow. In total, I’ve done this with four different initial temperatures: 20, 25, 30 and 35 °C. This is a rather wide temperature range, but it’s also one where most people could easily and correctly judge whether a liquid is within that temperature range just by feeling with their finger or elbow. To keep the chart readable, I’ve only added the main mash temperature, and left out the temperature curves of the decoctions. To account for cooling during mixing back, especially so on a homebrew scale, I assumed a boiling temperature of 95 °C instead of 100 °C.

Triple Decoction Mash Temperatures

In addition, I’ve marked the temperature ranges in which you reasonably want to keep your mash to do a protein rest, as well as to give the alpha and beta amylases good conditions to do their work.

When you now look at the chart, it is very noticeable that at all stages (protein rest, maltose rest, saccharification rest/mash-out), all our target temperatures fall within the desired temperature ranges. The further we go, the more all the temperature curves converge towards a narrower and narrower temperature range, even though we started with a very wide one. This makes it very hard to screw up, even if you e.g. slightly miss your target temperature after your first decoction: you will still be well within the desired temperature range.

In addition to that, when you bring up your decoctions, in particular the first one, to a boil, they go through these temperature ranges as well. Some modern mash schedules recommend doing at least a saccharification rest to optimally use the enzymes that will later get destroyed, so you can have an infusion step mash within your decoction. Even if you don’t do it, unless you heat up very quickly, your decoction will at least partially convert when you heat it up.

And this is why your triple decoction mash can never fail: when bringing your decoctions to a boil, they will partially, if not mostly, convert, and then release more starch during the boil, which will then be fully converted in the main mash. There are two decoctions where the enzymes get into the right temperature range to convert starch into sugar, and there are two rest steps where the enzymes have even more time to convert more starch into sugar. Your whole mash goes through the right temperature so many times, it will eventually be fully converted. And to get into these right temperature ranges, all you need to do is follow a few simple principles. And if you want, you could even do this totally without a thermometer.

For most modern malts, triple decoction is possibly a bit to harsh, in particular when it comes to the extended protein rest which could potentially be very damaging to foam stability. For this, you can also employ an enhanced double decoction, in which you start at the same temperature as a triple decoction, but pull double the volume for the first decoction, and do a step mash of your first decoction before boiling it. That way you keep the intense treatment of your malt, but can keep the time within the protein rest range to an absolute minimum.

A Weekend in Bristol

Last year, my wife and I decided to go for a long weekend to Bristol, with the primary purpose of checking out the local beer scene. We had heard good things about it, not least due to Boak&Bailey blogging and tweeting about their adventures around Bristol pubs.

Our plan was to fly in from Berlin to Bristol on the Thursday, January 31, and return on Monday, February 4. On the day of flying to Bristol, we were slightly worried because of the weather, but in the end, the flight left Berlin-Schönefeld airport on time. On the way to Bristol though the captain announced that Bristol airport had been closed due to the snow (#snowmageddon, i.e. roughly 10cm of snow) – “but don’t worry, we anticipated that, and loaded up more fuel and are currently in waiting position over south Wales”. Great.

We eventually got diverted to Cardiff airport, which apparently still knew how to use a snow plough, but had to stay on the plane until it was decided that we were to get off the plane and be put into busses to bring us to Bristol airport.

Cardiff airport. Plenty of snow but still good enough to land.
The empty airspace over South-West England and Wales. The few planes left over Cornwall and Wales were en route overseas or much further North.

At Bristol airport, we managed to get another bus that drove us almost halfway back, into Bristol. We eventually reached our hotel at around 3am local time (only about 4 hours later than planned). After a short night, we decided to get some light breakfast at Hart’s Bakery near the train station. It’s one of those fancy hipster bakeries. It may seem hyped, but the hype is totally warranted. Fantastic baked goods, great coffee, but at the same time, the place was pretty packed, and we were lucky to get any seats.

The way back to the hotel brought us to the King’s Head. It was one of the pubs that I had earmarked as a must visit, as it serves Harvey’s Sussex Best. And of course that’s what we ordered. While not cheap, it tasted great, so we had a few more. I also tried whatever guest ale they had on, but forgot what it was. The interior of this pub is apparently historic, and it did have a nice enough atmosphere, save for the group of shouty lads blocking the space in front of the bar. Due to the rather long trip and the short night, we eventually needed some rest for our next stop in the evening: the Bridge Inn.

Prior to the trip, I had contacted Jessica & Ray aka Boak&Bailey whether they wanted to meet up for a wee drink, and they agreed. We met them at the Bridge Inn, a pub slightly too small but still feeling nice enough. The beer selection was good (I mostly remember the Dark Star Hophead), and we spent a good few hours there, chatting about all kinds of beer-related stuff. Since Boak&Bailey and I share an interest about Vienna lager, I had brought them a printed copy of my book as well as two samples of my home-brewed historic Vienna lager, the recipe of which is also straight out of my book. We eventually parted, mentioning that we’d be visiting the Drapers Arms, their local, the next day, together with my sister-in-law.

The chase for dinner on the Friday was less than glorious, and ended up being from a well-known golden-arched fast food chain.

The next day, we took an Uber to the Drapers Arms, as we were simply too lazy to use public transport. The Drapers Arms is a micropub, probably the latest trend in the British pub landscape: small freehouses with (usually) well-kept beer, run by people that care deeply about the atmosphere and the beer they serve. The Drapers was no exception: when we arrived, we were greeted by Jessica & Ray and a very long list of beers on a chalk board as well as a large stillage of casks.

As is common in micropubs, the beer was poured straight from the cask. To be honest, I can barely remember which beers were available. I think I basically had one of each, over a very long afternoon of chatting about Vienna lager and other beer stuff and just having great beer. Jessica & Ray mention the Drapers Arms regularly on social media, and it is indeed a fantastic place for people that just like good beer and a relaxed atmosphere. The two beers that I specifically remember were Butcombe Original, which Ray described as a “very classic 1970’s bitter”, and Tiley’s Special Bitter, which I think fell into a very similar category (even though the brewery’s history is much more recent). Both of these beers were sublime, and I’d very much like to have them again. Ray also surprised me with a hazy pale ale, full of tropical hop brightness, but none of that hop bite that I usually dislike about hazy, highly hopped beers. I really should take more notes what beers I’ve been drinking.

We eventually parted, and my wife, my sister-in-law and I went to the Annexe Inn, which was just a short 5 minute walk away from the Drapers Arms. Unfortunately, it was absolutely packed due to the Rugby, with a very loud, vape-scented and almost aggressive seeming atmosphere. Let’s just say there must have been a good reason why they served the beer for some people in plastic cups. We didn’t particularly enjoy that, but we still managed to have at least a pint of Landlord. When I queued for a second beer, as I wanted to try the St. Austell Proper Job, I was unfortunately told that they had run out of it. So the guy next to me suggested I should try the Landlord. “I know, I’ve just had it, but I want to try something different”. I eventually went for the London Pride, which was in equally great condition, and despite the surrounding and the plastic cup, a great joy to drink.

With our poor planning skills, we got a quick snack in the form of a bag of chips from a local fish&chips shop (I thought they were fantastic, crunchy and salted just right on the outside, fluffy in the middle with a great flavour, but my spud connoisseur wife thought they were just alright), and then reserved a table at an Italian not far from our hotel. So pizza and pasta and euro lager it was, and an early-ish night.

For the Sunday, we had planned to go to a market, which turned out to be super lame, so we went on to another pub we had earmarked: the Myrtle Tree. Looking it up online might be a bit confuse, as a lot of people themselves seem to confuse with another pub next to it, the Bag of Nails, the Bristol pub version of a cat café. The Myrtle Tree is not known for its cats, though, but two different things: horse racing and gravity-poured Bass. We went there specifically for the latter, as Bass has become rather a rarity and we’ve never had it before other than from keg. The Myrtle Tree was certainly rather different and unique: quite manky looking, not a lot of space, and most people there for the horse racing shown on the TV. People were very friendly, though, and we felt quite comfortable. And the beer… it was sublime. Like Ray had described Butcombe as a very classic-tasting bitter, the same associations came to my mind when I had the Bass. The maltiness, the hop bitterness, the fruity esters from the yeast, all played together extremely well and just left a fantastic impression.

Bass poured directly from the cask.

At the Myrtle Tree, we also first learned what seems to be thing in Bristol pubs on Sundays: free snacks for people to help themselves. We were asked whether we wanted to have mini scotch eggs, pork pies, or chicken drumsticks. If you don’t expect it, it can be frankly bizarre.

We eventually left this pub, not without a friendly send-off from the locals, and went for a second time to the King’s Head, which my sister-in-law hadn’t seen yet. As before, the Harvey’s was nice. After a quick nap at the hotel, we also made a second stop at the Bridge Inn, only to discover that they had a massive free cheese board. I like my cheese, but we had dinner plans (steak at Chomp), so I couldn’t indulge on it. As on the Friday, the Dark Star Hophead was great.

After dinner, we went for a quick last pint, which was the only real dud on our trip: the Old Fish Market, a Fuller’s pub which not only played live Jazz way too loud, but also served the lamest pint of Fuller’s ESB (it tasted like somebody had sucked all life out of it; not just stale, but outright dull) and, when ordering a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, poured the most expensive open wine from the menu, even though a much cheaper option of the same grape variety would’ve been available.

The Monday, our last day, was uneventful: we had breakfast, did some shopping of all the British things that we can’t easily get here in Germany, and eventually took the bus to the airport. When it comes to beer, Bristol airport was another disappointment, but then you can’t usually expect anything from an airport. They had three cask beers on, Doom Bar, Greene King IPA, and Butcombe, but refused to serve the Butcombe “because it pours funny”. Asking for clarifications, it was apparently hazy and weird-looking. Either dregs, or poor cellarmanship, I would guess. They had even run out of bottled Butcombe, so my wife got me a pint of cider (which I normally never have). The guy sitting next us, very obviously hung over and waiting for his flight to Switzerland, had ordered a pint of Doom Bar, and it also must have been so bad that he asked us whether we wanted to have a dodgy half-pint. We refused. He didn’t finish the pint and just left it.

The flight back was perfectly normal, and after immigration we got the direct train from Schönefeld airport to Berlin main train station.

All in all, my impression of Bristol and its beer was great. Okay, we pretty much only went there for the pubs, so I don’t think I can even claim I have properly seen Bristol, but I think it was very much worth the trip for all the pubs and all the nice beer, and I would totally go back, once we know how things will be post-Brexit.