All posts by ak

My new book

As I had previously mentioned here, I’ve been working on a book about historic German and Austrian beer styles and how to brew them at home. Finally, today was the big day: the book is finally published! It’s called “Historic German and Austrian Beers for the Home Brewer” and can be purchased on Amazon as an e-book. You can get it here on, here on Amazon UK, and here on Amazon Germany. If you’re from another country, just search for the book title on your country’s Amazon website.

I decided to go the route of self-publishing, and went for exclusively publishing it for Amazon Kindle. You don’t need a Kindle e-book reader to read it, there are also mobile apps and desktop apps for Windows and Mac available for download. While this locks the book into the Amazon platform for the next 3 months, it also gives me, the author, more options to earn royalties. Not that I expect to earn a lot of money from this…

Work on the book started in November 2016, shortly after I had released my previous book which is shorter, in German and has a broader focus. The overwhelming feedback back then was that there was a huge interest in historic beer recipes from non-German speakers, so there was really no other option than to prepare the content in English, but very quickly turned into just focusing on German and Austrian beer styles and researching them much more in detail.

Due to a change in jobs in the middle of 2017, I didn’t put much effort into the project for several months, and only picked up work on it again towards the end of last year. So, part of my new year’s resolution for 2018 was to release this book within the first quarter of the year, which I’ve successfully managed. In the end, it was quite a bit of work to clean things up and get everything right. Thanks to everyone who was willing to proof-read the book beforehand and give me some feedback!

To give you a few insights into my nerdy ways of creating the e-book, let me describe my workflow. Just skip this paragraph if you’re not into geeky e-book software for programmers. Essentially, I used the Markdown format to write my book, with one file per section. It’s a simple text-based file format for documents which can then be converted into a number of other file formats by using various different tools. One of them is called pandoc, and is probably the most powerful converter of text file formats. It does a pretty good job converting a bunch of Markdown files to e-books, in particular the epub format. I also used it to produce a PDF file for easier reviewing, and used a tool named kindlegen to convert the epub file to .mobi, which I ultimately uploaded to Amazon for publishing. To build all these files, I used an old-fashioned Makefile, so whenever I edited any of the Markdown files, a simple “make” command rebuilt all files (.epub, .mobi, .pdf). To create the cover design, I used gimp. The cover image was painted by Eduard GrĂŒtzner in 1912 and in the public domain. I downloaded it from Wikimedia Commons.

All in all, it was a great experience to work on the book. I learned a lot myself, discovered lots of interesting and exciting details about German beers, and I hope this e-book helps me get the word out that there is a side about German beer culture that goes way beyond the typical association of pale lager beers, Pilsner, and Bavarian wheat beer. That side has long been neglected, and was mostly replaced by modern lager brewing, but just that the fact that historically, there has been a beer tradition that is entirely different from modern German beer, is worth celebrating and worth spreading the word about. And my book is just a glimpse, there were literally hundreds of local beer styles around, while my book can only cover those for which specific recipes were preserved and documented. Unless more historic sources are uncovered, many old German beer styles may be lost.

So, if you’re a homebrewer, or a craft brewer, and you’re interested in exploring something new that is actually old, read my book, brew these beers, and help these styles have a revival. It worked for Gose, a beer style that was functionally extinct for several decades, and is now one of the most popular beer styles of the international craft beer scene, so I think it can work for other German beer styles, as well.

What will my next project be? I don’t know yet. I haven’t really thought about it. But I’m pretty sure something will come up, some topic that I will eventually find interesting enough to write about. Until then… read my book, and if you like it, spread the word. 😉

Why homebrewing made me appreciate beer even more

This is my contribution to Session 132 (aka Beer Blogging Friday).

My homebrewing “career” started in December 2012, when my girlfriend (now wife) and I decided to just try out brewing with an electric preserving cooker and a mash bag. The first beer was not great. I got a terrible recipe from a German homebrewing website which was described as a Bass clone. In retrospect, now that I know more about beer, it was completely misguided, as it used Vienna malt as base malt and German caramel malt, didn’t prescribe a specific hop variety nor a specific yeast. Luckily, I bought East Kent Goldings, not that I had heard about the variety before, but because the name sounded good to me, and Wyeast 1318 “London Ale III” yeast because hey, it was advertised as an English strain. We bottled the beer way too early, so it turned out way overcarbonated. I may have also overdone it with the hops, so it was very bitter, but in a pleasant way. In total, there was something about it that reminded of a typical German brewpub beer. My wife usually mentions this early period as the time when all our beers had “this homebrew taste”.

Despite these issues, we didn’t give up brewing, but continued with a stout (bought as an all-grain kit) and a Hefeweizen (also an all-grain kit), both of which turned out okay. The fourth beer was a special one, though. I was confident enough to somehow come up with a recipe myself, and I wanted to brew an IPA: not for us, but as a wedding present for a friend of mine who had spent three months in San Diego just a few months earlier. I read up on which hop varieties and which malts would be alright for an IPA, and the end result was actually pretty tasty. I even documented the recipe a few years ago in this blog, and looking back, I didn’t do too bad of a job.

Putting together my own recipes actually got me even more interested in homebrewing, because I suddenly realized how much of a potential for creative freedom there was in brewing: so many different techniques, ingredients, and beer styles, you could brew anything you wanted. Also around that time, I got a copy of Graham Wheeler’s Brew Your Own British Real Ale, a collection of over 100 clone recipes of more or less well-known British ales. Reading through it and comparing the recipes gave me a feeling for how recipes could be designed. From there on, with very few exceptions, practically every recipe was something I had put together myself (I think the only exceptions were a Black Sheep Best Bitter clone from said book with a weird diacetyl note, and a Heidenpeters Thirsty Lady clone), not all of them were great, but most of them taught me something new about brewing.

Besides the brewing itself, we also started going regularly to a Berlin craft beer meetup organized by Rory, who had an extensive knowledge about the Berlin beer scene and beer itself, and regularly organized visits to various breweries, craft beer bars, as well as beer tastings of different sorts. Anybody who has been involved with beer in Berlin within the last few years knows Rory, that’s how tightly he held the Berlin craft beer scene together. At some point, he organized a meetup of people from that craft beer meetup that were brewing at home, and a spin-off homebrewing meetup was started. While there had been occasional homebrewer-organized events in Berlin before, they were very irregular, usually German-speaking only, and more focused on just visiting bars. Rory’s homebrew meetup was different: very international, mostly English-speaking but not excluding German speakers, very open-minded, and very beer-focused. Everybody could just bring their own beer, and we would just taste one after the other, discuss them, and give feedback. It was well-structured, and very enjoyable at the same time. From these tasting, both guided tastings of commercial beers, and relatively unguided tastings of homebrewed beers, opened up a horizon of flavours (and off-flavours) that I otherwise probably wouldn’t have been able to experience. For some time, we even had themed tastings, where we’d e.g. all brew a Belgian style beer, or a Porter, or the same base recipe but everybody used a different hop variety. These themes made the meetups something that you could look forward to and work towards.

I think only in retrospect I realized how much of a nucleus of the emerging Berlin craft beer scene this homebrew meetup was: Thomas Wiestner who later co-founded Braukunst Wiestner was a regular participant who brought a lot of great and creative beers to the meetups. The two founders of Pirate Brew were there quite a few times, giving us crazy stuff to sample. The founder of The Mash Pit, Christian, helped organize the homebrew meetup, and usually provided us with the space to meet. A few people who I met there did beer sommelier trainings, and are now running beer tastings and homebrewing courses. It was a forum that inspired and encouraged people to do creative things, and to brew more exciting beer.

All these impressions had an impact on me as well: not only did I understand beer and its nuances better (or so I’d think, at least), it made me appreciate the craft of beer brewing more, because the close contact with all the processes (even just on a small scale at home) made me realize the complexity behind brewing as such. Don’t get me wrong, I think homebrewing is a hobby that is easy to get into as long as you can make porridge, read a thermometer, follow general instructions, and prepare well enough in advance to have all the necessary equipment and ingredients ready to go. But beyond that simplicity lie so many details, and the phenomenal thing about homebrewing is that you can explore all these details: you can just work on perfecting your single favourite recipe, you can experiment with different hop varieties, you can brew all the beer styles you’d like, you can use the most outlandish ingredients beyond just hops, malt, hops and yeast (as long as it’s not beetroot; I’m serious). You can do lager brewing, or explore decoction mashing, or strife towards the perfectly juicy double-dry-hopped NEIPA. Or, what I’ve been doing, explore historic beers both in theory and practice.

For me, beer is an ongoing journey, and the hobby of homebrewing, for the last few years, has been a reliable companion. I think it improved my understanding of beer as a whole, and for sure it will for the next coming years, if not decades. There’s still so much more to explore, so much more to try out, so much more to document and write about. I met and learned to know people that I otherwise would have never ever met in my life, and I looked into subjects of which I would have never ever thought that I’d be even remotely interested in them. And because of my rather positive and pleasant experience that homebrewing has been to me, I can only recommend to everyone who tries to understand beer better or get a different view on it: do get into homebrewing. At least try it out once. It’s an interesting hobby, one that is incredibly satisfying and rewarding, where you can learn about all the ins and outs of a drink that at its core is incredibly simple and yet can be totally complex.

Styrian Hops in the 1920’s

Recently, I came across “Handbuch der Brauerei und MĂ€lzerei”, published as three books from 1930 to 1935 by author Franz Schönfeld, who some of you may know as the author of “Die Herstellung obergĂ€hriger Biere” from 1902 and its updated version “ObergĂ€rige Biere und ihre Herstellung” from 1939.

This “manual of brewing and malting” is more technical, and focuses on beer ingredients (first book, published in 1930), malting (second book, published in 1932), and brewing (third book, published in 1935). When going through all three, I found a list of common hop varieties and their distinction which I think reflects hop varieties around that time quite well.

What particularly caught my eye was the list of hop varieties that were derived from Saazer hops, which in this book is described as one of the finest hops, what is nowadays known as “Saazer Formenkreis”. According to these list, it includes the following hops:

  • Schwetzinger (from Schwetzingen in Baden-WĂŒrttemberg)
  • Tettnanger (from Tettnang at Lake Constance)
  • Neutomischler (from Nowy Tomyƛl in Poland)
  • Auschaer Rothopfen (from Úơtěk/Auscha in Bohemia)
  • Steirer (from Styria, in particular Lower Styria in Slovenia)

The last one was particularly interesting, because it solved a big question that I asked in 2016, what hop varieties used to be grown in Austria (and formerly Austrian lands) before Styrian hops were replaced with Styrian Goldings due to an issue with hop disease, and before Upper Austrian hops were uprooted.  As it turns out, the hops grown in Styria were simply Saazer with local terroir!

There’s still another question surrounding Styrian hops, and that is when the change from Saaz-derived Styrian hops to Fuggles-derived Styrian Goldings due to an alleged hop disease issue happened. Many source say in the 1930’s, and at least major cases of downy mildew can be corroborated through the Joh.Barth&Sohn-issued annual hop reports: in the 1934/35 report, Poland and Yugoslavia are mentioned as two countries who have been indifferent about Peronospora (downy mildew) in the past and now have to pay the price for it through crop failures. But (Styrian) Goldings are mentioned in earlier issues of the same report: the 1931/32 report mentions both Goldings and “late hops” being picked in Slovenia. The 1926/27 report mentions both varieties, with the “late hops” only being grown on 90 hectares (ha) of a total of 1150 ha of hop gardens in Slovenia. The “late hops” suffered from Peronospora, while the quality of the Goldings was good. Earlier Barth reports give no insight into which hop varieties were grown.

So what we do know from these reports is that the change from the old Styrian variety to the newer Styrian Goldings variety must have happened in the years before 1926/1927. During that time, Slovenian hop farming went through huge changes: where Styria grew 1788 ha of hops in 1914, that area had shrunk to just 855 ha in 1917, and to a mere 400 ha in 1919. From then on, the hop acreage grew dramatically to 850 ha in 1924 and reached its peak of 3000 ha in 1928. In 1930, it took another drop to 1380 ha, but slowly recovered to 1850 ha in 1937, roughly the size before World War I. During these many ups and downs, it is very likely that new hop gardens were planted with Styrian Goldings, whereas old hop gardens that were abandoned were more likely old Styrian hops. But this is more speculation on my side, so that question when this change really happened is still unanswered.

German Porter

Porter and stout are certainly beer styles that made their way around the world and were transformed over the last 200 years or so into a vast amount of different sub styles, with dry Irish Stout, English Porter, hop-forward American Porter, Imperial Stout just being a few examples. One sub-style of this hasn’t been picked up that much: German Porter. 19th century beer literature is full of evidence that bottled Porter imported from the UK was a very common beer in Germany, with Porter being almost twice as expensive as Munich lager beers. So naturally, by the early 20th century, and probably earlier, it was brewed domestically.

Several sources exist that describe some very general properties of German Porter. In addition to that, I was able to find three sources that document possible grists and hopping rates.

Original gravity: German Porter was generally characterized as Starkbier, a generic designation in Germany for beer with an OG of 16% or more, and at least 6.5% ABV. Kulitzscher, in the book “Handbuch zur Fabrikation obergĂ€riger Biere” from 1930, describes that OG at 16 to 20%. “Handbuch der ErnĂ€hrungslehre” from 1920, mentions an OG of 18%. The brewmaster of the Groterjan brewery, Dörfel, mentions an OG of 18% for the pre-war Porter that was brewed in small amounts at Groterjan, but describes the general beer type as going up to 22%. The more recent “Abriss der Bierbrauerei” bei Prof. Narziss mentions a lower range of 13 to 16%.

Grists: three sources describe possible grists. The oldest one is is Kulitzscher in 1930, who mentions Munich malt as base malt, 20% (sic!) caramel malt, and 6% debittered roasted malt. Dörfel on the other hand describes the grist as 70% Munich malt, 20% pale malt, 7% caramel malt, and 3% roasted malt, as well as 400 g of caramel colouring per hectolitre. Narziss describes an even simpler grist: about 2/3 pale malt, 1/3 dark malt (presumably Munich malt), and 2 to 2.5% roasted malt.

Hopping rate: Kulitzscher says 1 to 1.5 Pfund (500 to 750g) of hops (of unknown alpha acid content) per Zentner (50kg) of grist. If we assume an alpha acid content of 3 to 4.5%, this means anything between roughly 23 and 50 IBU. Dörfel on the other hand mentions 500g of hops per hectolitre, which, if we assume the same range of alpha acid content, is equivalent to about 30 to 46 IBU. Narziss mentions 30 IBU of bitterness. Since this is a German beer style, we can assume that German hop varieties were used.

Yeast: remarkably, pretty much all sources agree that Porter needs to be fermented with Brettanomyces. Without Brettanomyces, they agree, Porter doesn’t develop its typical aroma and flavour during secondary fermentation. Dörfel mentions the use of “Porterhefe” (porter yeast), which is described as a yeast blend which contains both Saccharomyces and Brettanomyces and seems to get repitched. He also mentions though that Schönfeld of VLB Berlin was able to create pure cultures of both yeast types in the 1920’s, and that Hochschulbrauerei used pure cultures separately for primary and secondary fermentation. Interestingly, there are two sources that mention that German Porter could also be bottom-fermented: “Handbuch der ErnĂ€hrungslehre” describes it as “either top- or bottom-fermented”, while Narziss says that Porter is “often bottom-fermented”.

With sources on these parameters, I think it’s quite easy to extract how German Porter was typically formulated. Despite the name, it is certainly closer to Stout due to its higher strength. One important element of British Porter and Stout in the 19th century, the matured character coming from a secondary fermentation with Brettanomyces, was certainly recognized and improved on through the use of pure yeast cultures. And it’s definitely a beer style I’d like to try: the use of large amounts of Munich malt and caramel malt to a certain extent, as well as German hop varieties, I wouldn’t be surprised if it has its very own character on top of what I’d expect from a Bretted Porter.

My New Year’s Resolutions for 2018

2017 was a bit of a slump for me in terms of homebrewing: my keezer broke (and was unfixable), I was generally too busy with work, and didn’t really have that much motivation. Due to a broken keezer, I had to dump beer, and I brewed some terrible beer afterwards which I also had to dump. I also dumped some aged beer, such as my Berliner Weisse Starkbier, because the vinegar note was just too strong on it (not an Acetobacter infection, but a contribution of Wyeast 5335 which can produce acetic acid). Also, I noticed that my beer taste has changed a bit over the last 2 years, so brewing overly hoppy stuff just isn’t for me anymore.

So over the course of 2017, I developed the idea that I wanted to refocus my homebrewing efforts, develop my skills and improve my knowledge. A pinnacle in homebrewing is certainly lager brewing, and since this is actually the kind of beer we drink most in our household (there’s always a crate of Augustiner Helles or Edelstoff in), I decided to exclusively brew lager beers for the whole year of 2018.

Thankfully, my father got us a commercial refrigerator as an (early) Christmas present, which now not only functions as a beer fridge, but also controls fermentation temperatures quite well. I already have one batch of Helles currently lagering in there, so I actually kind of already started with this new year’s resolution, but in any case, I plan to stick to it at least until December 31, 2018. I also have the ingredients for two more beers ready to go: one of them will be the historic Vienna Lager I kept blogging about in the past, with the right ingredients, OG, FG, attenuation, hopping rate, and mashing regime. The other one is the Helles recipe which I crowd-sourced for fun through Twitter polls back in October.

My other new year’s resolution for 2018 is a matter of procrastination. In late 2016, I published a German-language e-book about historic beer styles. After that, I started working on an English-language e-book about historic German and Austrian beer styles. It’s been a lot of work, I went through an incredible amount of sources just to find out all possible details about classic German beer styles, some of which are practically extinct. Unfortunately, I also hit a bit of a rough spot where I wasn’t really happy with the detailedness of some of the styles that I had researched, and where I generally wasn’t motivated enough to continue working on it. But hey, that’s why I decided to self-publish, right? No advance money, no deadlines, no pressure from publishers.

Therefore, my plan for 2018 is to finalize the book and publish it within the first 3 months of 2018. I think I’m actually pretty close, it may require a few finishing touches here and there, and maybe a less robotic writing style (that’s what you get when most of the writing you’ve done in your professional career is technical documentation), and it should be presentable enough. Should I not keep this new year’s resolution, you’re free to call me out on it!

How to build up the Prussian hop industry for 3 decades and implode it within a few years

Prussian king Frederick the Great was apparently very interested in the state of hops in Prussia. He noticed that most hops that Prussian brewers used in brewing was imported from surrounding hop growing regions like Bavaria, Franconia and Bohemia. Self-sufficiency was apparently an important economic principle at that time, if you could grow it locally it meant you didn’t need to spend time to import it from somewhere else.

So in 1743, Frederick the Great gradually ordered the various regions of his kingdom to start planting hop gardens and grow more hops: first Pomerania, then Saxony was ordered to become self-sufficient and if possible, export any surplus hops. In 1751, he ordered that experiments with Bohemian seedlings shall be undertaken in the regions of Altmark and Kurmark, as these hops were more popular on the hop markets due to “their greater strength and power”.

The Seven Years’ War stifled further initiatives, but in 1770, new orders were sent out to further promote growing hops for self-sufficiency. Hop poles were sold to new hop farmers for a very cheap price, and even a contest was started, with a cash prize of the farmer with the greatest hop production at the end of the year.

In 1775, hop gardens were introduced in Western Prussia, and the king’s chamber director was ordered to expand the hop gardens around Potsdam as the existing ones still couldn’t cover to demand from brewers in Berlin. In April 1776, imports into Prussia were completely prohibited due to a substantial surplus production of 2600 Wispel from 1775, about 1420 hecolitres in modern units (it is unknown whether this was in pressed or unpressed form), and enforcement of this law was supervised by the king himself.

There’s a story where allegedly Frederick the Great on one of his carriage rides through his kingdom noticed a carriage with a delivery of hops. Realising that from that particular street, it could have only come from Dessau, he suspected that the hops may have been smuggled in from the adjacent Principality of Anhalt. He immediately started an investigation that eventually found out that the hops were indeed contraband and illegally imported from Anhalt.

But the tides turned: due to a bad hop harvest in 1777, the king didn’t decide to allow imports, but he instead also forbade exports, to prefer the local market. And not just temporarily to deal with the hop shortage, no, this export ban was permanent, and the Prussian hop market was insular. Hop prices crashed, and by 1779, many hop farmers gave up the crop completely. The French period and the German campaign of 1813 didn’t help with developing Prussian hop gardens, either. Only in 1860, when Europe was hit by a terrible hop crop failure, Prussia had a temporary surge in new hop gradens: the Hallertau was the only region with a good harvest of high-quality hops, which sold for 6.5 times the normal rate. Farmers again started looking into hops as an attractive cash crop. By the end of the 19th century, much of the hop growing had shifted to Posen/PoznaƄ, while both the acreage and the yield in the rest of Prussia steadily decreased: in 1898, Prussia only harvested a miserable 4.6 Zentner per hectare, while Bavaria reached 10.6, Baden 13.6, and Alsace 16.8.

If Frederick the Great had been more forward-thinking and less focused on self-sustenance, the current German landscape of major hop growing regions may have looked differently.

Missing Local Beer Styles

This is my contribution to The Session 129, aka Beer Blogging Friday.

As someone who lives in Berlin, I would call myself rather privileged when it comes to beer diversity: there is a vibrant craft beer scene, including a number of microbreweries, places dedicated to specifically German or Belgian beer culture, and generally a great availability of everything. Except for one thing: cask ale.

One of my great pleasures in beer is cask ale, that is fresh beer, usually top-fermented and of a British style, conditioned with live yeast in small casks, and served directly from it or via a beer engine. When done right, this is probably the best beer you can have, and you can have more than one of it. Now, if I said that there was no cask ale in Berlin, I’d be lying, because there is in fact one pub called Loch Ness, a pub run by two Germans who are rather… enthusiastic about Scotland, including the beer culture, and so cask ale is usually available which they import themselves once every few weeks. Once a year, they even do a Real Ale Festival. The only problem is: it’s rather far away. From where I live, it is surprisingly hard to reach, we’re easily talking about an hour. Ironically, Försters Feine Biere is only about 30 minutes away by foot, but for me to get there, it takes me about 30 minutes as well, so it works out the same in the end. This difference is owed to the layout of public transport in Berlin: while Försters is close to an U-Bahn line which runs close to mine, Loch Ness is close to an S-Bahn line which is rather out of the way and would require me to travel to Brandenburg gate.

But then, that’s not even the point. I don’t want one pub that serves cask ale, I want several. I don’t want outrageous beers in them, but rather easy-drinkable beers that are just well done, think of beers like Landlord, Harvey’s Best, London Pride, Old Peculier, or for when I want a hoppier beer, something like Jaipur. I’m not saying I want exactly these beers (I certainly wouldn’t mind them, though), but rather something like it, possibly and preferably even locally brewed.

My other interest in beer, besides drinking it, is the history of beer. One truly local beer style that I miss in Berlin is Berliner Braunbier. You’ve probably never even heard of it. Berliner Braunbier is the other local top-fermented beer style in Berlin besides Berliner Weisse. Unlike Weisse, the Braunbier was a proper brown beer, made from a very dark kilned malt, and was not sour (or if sour, only very little). But just like Berliner Weisse, it was put in casks while it was still fermenting and sent to the local pubs and inns, where it finished fermenting. Also like Berliner Weisse, it was diluted before it was served or bottled.

Berliner Braunbier existed in two variations: one was a rather sweet version, barely hopped, while the other was strongly hopped, a so-called Bitterbier. Already in the 19th century, some beer writers argue that Berliner Braunbier are actually two distinct types of beer because of the vast differences in the different Braunbiere that were served in Berlin.

The Braunbier itself was brewed from a high-dried malt, some sources even claim it was four-row barley malt. Because of relatively simple smoke kilns at that time, the malt was smokey, but the malt was left to mature for several months in order to lose some of that smokiness. The resulting beer was described as very dark, and hopped differently, at rates ranging from 1.4 g/l to 11 g/l. Again, already in the 19th century, some literature notes that for efficiency and flavour reasons, roasted malt together with a paler malt could be used instead of producing a dark malt. Does that ring a bell? It sounds similar to English Porter used to be brewed: first it was formulated as 100% diastatic brown malt, and only later the amount of brown malt was reduced in favour of pale malt and black malt.

In some ways, that makes Berliner Braunbier a kind of local convergent evolution that shares several similarities to Porter, but is historically unrelated to it. How can we be sure that it is unrelated? Because Germans knew and liked Porter, and when German brewers produced something like a Porter, they would call it a Porter, even going so far as making their own German Porter beer style (which is a whole topic on its own).

Funny side story: in February or March this year, I attended a talk by Joe Stange about German and American brewing and the mutual influences, hosted at Vagabund Brauerei. In a discussion, one of the brewery owners noted that Berlin’s water is relatively hard and quite suitable for brewing dark beers, so he wondered why there’s no local dark beer style. Haha, there actually was! It’s just been completely forgotten about, and like many top-fermented beer styles that were popular in Northern Germany, died out when pale Lager beers became popular and revolutionized the beer market.

If you want to brew Berliner Braunbier yourself, here are some rough specs. You will find a number of historic recipes in my upcoming e-book about homebrewing historic beers which I will hopefully be able to release soon. So anyways, here’s roughly what the beer looked like:

  •  OG 15-16 °P (1.061-1.065)
  • 96-97 % dark malt (e.g. Munich malt)
  • 3-4 % black malt
  • Any German noble hop variety, with a hopping rate of e.g. 1.4 g/l, 4.4 g/l or 11 g/l.

Dough in malt with hot water into a very thick mash at 61 °C, then rest for 30 minutes. Add boiling water while stirring to raise temperature to 76 °C, then rest 120 minutes. When lautering, add another 9 liters of boiling water. Boil for 90 minutes, add all hops at the beginning of the boil. Ferment with a top-fermenting yeast strain at 23 °C.

Decoction and Undermodified Malt

In a discussion I recently about decoction, the topic of under-modified malt came up. Decoction mashing is typically associated with under-modified malt, as it helps break up the not yet fully dissolved endosperm of the malt with the help of boiling parts of the mash, while at the same time, the enzymes themselves have been dissolved in the thin mash.

Maybe let’s step back a bit, and talk about malt modification. To produce malt, grains are germinated by soaking them in water and giving them time to sprout. What happens is that the grain starts growing, all kinds of enzymes are produced, and the internal structures of the hard barley grain are modified to make it softer. Protein within that grain becomes soluble, and eventually, the grain starts to grow to become a new plant. Of course, that’s not what we what, the brewer wants to have the starch and the enzymes, so these are locked in by drying the so-called green malt. In order to determine how far this modification has progressed, the ratio of soluble proteins compared to the total amount of proteins is measured. You will find this in brewing literature als SNR (soluble nitrogen ratio) or Kolbach index, and it’s a percentage. A Kolbach index of less than 35 is considered to be poorly modified or undermodified malt, 35 to about 40 is considered well-modified, 41 to 45 is very well-modified, and over 45 is considered to be over-modified.

While decoction mashing is a remedy to deal with under-modified malt, some homebrewers even turn this around and say that under-modified malt would even be necessary for a decoction mash. In my opinion, using under-modified malt is not a necessity, and a decoction mash works equally well with well-modified malt, it just is not strictly necessary. If you want to do a decoction mash, use whatever malt you prefer, and don’t worry about it.

Now, if I as a homebrewer wanted to use an under-modified malt, which one would I buy? You sometimes read rumours that the Weyermann floor-malted Bohemian malt is poorly modified, but there’s not really much substantial information around. So I went out and tried to get some more detailed specifications on the base malts of two well-known German maltings, Weyermann and Bestmalz to see whether there’s any poorly modified base malt in their portfolio.

When I went through Weyermann’s specs to get the Kolbach index, I was actually genuinely surprised: all of their base malts are well-modified, some of them even specified to be potentially over-modified. These are the ones I had a look at:

  • Barke Pilsner malt: 36-41.5
  • Barke Vienna malt: 37-44.5
  • Barke Munich malt: 38-45
  • Pilsner malt: 36-42.5
  • Vienna malt: 37-45.5
  • Munich malt type 1: 37-46
  • Munich malt type 2: 38-47
  • Pale Ale malt: 37-43
  • Bohemian Pilsner malt: 38-42

Every  single malt was well-modified. What about Bestmalz? Same thing, really:

  • Heidelberg malt: 36-43
  • Pilsner malt: 36-45
  • Vienna malt: 37-45
  • Munich malt: 36-47
  • Munich (dark) malt: up to 47
  • Pale Ale malt: 36-45

What’s noticeable is that with both maltings, the darker kilned malts (Vienna malt, Munich malt) have a tendency to be specified to be more modified than the less kilned, paler malts like Pilsner and Pale Ale malt.

So, if I really wanted to brew with a properly under-modified malt, what options do I have? Not many. There is one product though that falls well into the under-modified range: chit malt, or as it’s called in German, Spitzmalz.

Chit malt is produced by kilning green malt that has barely sprouted. There is only a tiny tip poking out from the malt, indicating that modification has not gone very far yet. Because of this, chit malt is Germany’s loop hole around the prohibition of using unmalted grains according to modern beer legislation: because it’s technically malt, it can be used, but still has many of the properties of unmalted grains. Sometimes, you will also read about the use of chit malt being recommended to compensate for over-modified malts.

And that’s how you can approximate an under-modified malt for which you need to use a decoction mash: by mixing well-modified (but not over-modified) with a relatively large portion of just chit malt. Some sources on the internet say that you can theoretically use up to 40% of chit malt, and will be able to produce a reasonably good quality wort by employing a decoction mash. Papers on the TU Munich website suggest that even a 100% chit malt mash is possible.

Specification about chit malts are a bit sparse, especially when it comes to the Kolbach index. Bestmalz describes theirs as “up to 34”, but the lower threshold is not mentioned at all, so it can be extremely under-modified at worst. Weyermann stopped producing chit malt a few years ago due to lack of demand, and recommends CaraPils as an alternative if your intention to use chit malt was a better foam stability.

Given this information, I would say the best bet for homebrewers is to mix normal base malts with chit malt in amounts of 10 to 40%. Personally, I am not super keen on actually trying it, but if you insists on doing a decoction mash using under-modified malt, go for chit malt.

More Historic Beer at the Oktoberfest

As a followup to my last article on Beer Blogging Friday, “Beer at the Oktoberfest 120 years ago“, I looked more closely into which beers were advertised as being served at the Oktoberfest. This of course is not a comprehensive list of all beers that were served, but merely those that were advertised. Also, the list is not complete, but covers the years 1882, 1893-1900, 1903, 1905, 1910, 1926, 1929, 1932, 1935 and 1936.

Starting in 1882, the beers advertised then were Löwenaktien-Braubier, aka LöwenbrĂ€u (without being more specific about the style), a Doppel-Bier from BĂŒrgerliche Brauerei Munich, and the MĂ€rzen-Export-Bier from the brewery “zum Franziskaner und Leist”, later better known als Franziskaner-Leist-BrĂ€u, besides Spaten one of the breweries owned by the Sedlmayrs, and allegedly the first brewery to brew a 16°P Vienna-style MĂ€rzen especially for Oktoberfest in 1872. The MĂ€rzen-Export was also served in a beer tent that is still around nowadays: Schottenhamel.

In the 1890’s, the number of breweries advertising their beer and the tents and stalls at which they’re served increases, and even breweries from outside Munich serve their beer, like Anton Dreher‘s Kleinschwechater Brauerei, or BĂŒrgerliches BrĂ€uhaus Budweis. Most breweries served MĂ€rzenbier, like Pschorr, BergbrĂ€u (a relatively short-lived 19th century brewery located in Giesing), KochelbrĂ€u, ThomasbrĂ€u, MĂŒnchner Kindl, Hacker, Franziskaner-LeistbrĂ€u, BĂŒrger-BrĂ€u, EberlbrĂ€u, and LöwenbrĂ€u. Some breweries, like ThomasbrĂ€u or BĂŒrgerbrĂ€u, also served more than one beer, like ThomasbrĂ€u-Pilsner and BĂŒrgerbrĂ€u Doppel-Bier.

Also, fancier large beer tents were established. Besides the well-known Schottenhamel, others like Wintzerer FĂ€hndl.

In the early 20th century, the breweries advertising their Oktoberfest is consolidating towards Munich breweries. Augustiner for the first time is advertising their MĂ€rzenbier in 1903. In 1905, 6 Munich breweries can be found in ads, offering a total of 9 different beers. In 1910, it’s 10 breweries with 13 different beers. Some breweries sold a MĂ€rzen and a pale lager (like ThomasbrĂ€u), others, like WagnerbrĂ€u, had a MĂ€rzen and their Auer-Kirta-Bier, which is mentioned as being a dark lager, and, as the name suggests, was brewed for the Kirta in Au, a south-eastern district of Munich.

In the 1920’s, this diversity seems to have disappeared, as 8 different breweries advertise one beer each in 1926, mostly MĂ€rzen, with only two exceptions: ThomasbrĂ€u Hell-Urtyp and Schramm’s Fest-Weizenbier. Fischer-Vroni, another well-known beer tent, makes its first appearance in advertising, serving Augustiner MĂ€rzen. In 1929, WagnerbrĂ€u is again seen with their MĂ€rzen and the Auer-Kirta-Bier, Schneider & Sohn have a Wiesen-Edel-Weiße, and Augustiner for the first time advertises their Edelstoff hell.

In the 1930’s, beer diversity, at least in advertising, seems to go up again: WagnerbrĂ€u offers 4 (!!) different beers in 1932: Oktoberfest-MĂ€rzen, Auer-Kirta-Bier, “Weißbier MĂŒnchener Weizengold”, and helles Export. In 1935, a large amount of breweries advertise two different beers, and Fischer-Vroni must have switched from Augustiner to WagnerbrĂ€u between 1929 and then.

If you’re interested in the complete list that I compiled, here’s all beers that I found being advertised in official and unofficial Oktoberfest programme guides from the time between 1882 and 1936:

Beers served at Oktoberfest


  • Löwenaktien-Braubier (Wirthsbude 3)
  • BĂŒrgerliche Brauerei MĂŒnchen Doppel-Bier (Bude 10)
  • Brauerei “zum Franziskaner und Leist” MĂ€rzen-Export-Bier (Bude 17 Schottenhammel)


  • HackerbrĂ€u-MĂ€rzen-Bier (Bude 15)
  • Export-BergbrĂ€ubier (Bude 10)
  • ThomasbrĂ€u MĂ€rzenbier (Bude 16)
  • KochelbrĂ€u-MĂ€rzenbier (Bude 14)


  • Pschorr MĂ€rzenbier (Bude 5)
  • Export-BergbrĂ€u-MĂ€rzenbier (Bude 10)
  • Zacherlbrauerei (Bude 12)
  • KochelbrĂ€u-MĂ€rzenbier (Bude 16)


  • Klein-Schwechater MĂ€rzenbier (Bude 9)
  • ThomasbrĂ€u-Pilsner (Burg zum Winzerer FĂ€hndl)
  • ThomasbrĂ€u-MĂ€rzenbier (Burg zum Winzerer FĂ€hndl)
  • Waizenbier aus der Waizenbierbrauerei von Schneider & Sohn (Waizenbierbude)
  • PschorrbrĂ€u-MĂ€rzenbier (Bude 5)
  • PschorrbrĂ€u-Lagerbier (Bude 22, 23, 25, 26)
  • MĂŒnchner Kindl MĂ€rzenbier (Bude 11 & 7)
  • BergbrĂ€u-Export-Bier (Bude 10)
  • KochelbrĂ€u MĂ€rzenbier (Bude 13)
  • Hacker MĂ€rzen-Bier (Bude 15)
  • Kraft-Bier aus der Spaten-Brauerei (Bude 8)
  • MĂ€rzen-LöwenbrĂ€ubier (Bude 6)


  • BĂŒrgerliches BrĂ€uhaus Budweis (Bude 4)
  • PschorrbrĂ€u (Bude 5, 16, 27, Grosse AlmhĂŒtte)
  • ThomasbrĂ€u-Pilsner (Bude 14, Burg zum Wintzerer FĂ€hndl)
  • ThomasbrĂ€u-MĂ€rzenbier (Bude 14, Burg zum Wintzerer FĂ€hndl)
  • Franziskanerkeller (LeistbrĂ€u) MĂ€rzen-Bier (Bude 1, Schottenhamel, SchĂŒtzenwirth)
  • MĂ€rzen-LowenbrĂ€ubier (Bude 6)
  • KochelbrĂ€u-MĂ€rzenbier (Bude 3, 13)
  • Kraft-Bier aus der Spaten-Brauerei (Bude 8)
  • BĂŒrger-BrĂ€u MĂ€rzen-Bier (Bude 18)
  • BĂŒrger-BrĂ€u Doppel-Bier (Bude 26)


  • PschorrbrĂ€u (Bude 4, 5, 19, Grosse AlmhĂŒtte)
  • KlosterbrĂ€u-MĂ€rzenbier (Bude 2, 21)
  • ThomasbrĂ€u-Pilsner (Bude 14, Burg zum Wintzerer FĂ€hndl)
  • ThomasbrĂ€u-MĂ€rzenbier (Bude 14, Burg zum Wintzerer FĂ€hndl)
  • Franziskaner-LeistbrĂ€u MĂ€rzenbier (Schottenhamel)
  • BĂŒrger-BrĂ€u MĂ€rzenbier (Bude 18)


  • PschorrbrĂ€u (Bude 6, 19, Grosse AlmhĂŒtte)
  • ThomasbrĂ€u-Pilsner (Bude 14, Burg zum Wintzerer FĂ€hndl)
  • ThomasbrĂ€u-MĂ€rzenbier (Bude 14, Burg zum Wintzerer FĂ€hndl)
  • BĂŒrger-BrĂ€u MĂ€rzen-Bier (Bude 18)
  • BĂŒrger-BrĂ€u Doppel-Bier (Bude 16)
  • Franziskaner-LeistbrĂ€u MĂ€rzenbier (Schottenhamel)
  • MĂŒnchner Kindl MĂ€rzenbier (Bude 22, 23, 24, 25, 26)


  • ThomasbrĂ€u-Pilsner (Bude 14, Burg zum Wintzerer FĂ€hndl)
  • ThomasbrĂ€u-MĂ€rzenbier (Bude 14, Burg zum Wintzerer FĂ€hndl)
  • PschorrbrĂ€u (Bude 19, Grosse AlmhĂŒtte, M. Wohlmuth)
  • BĂŒrger-BrĂ€u MĂ€rzenbier (Bude 18)
  • MĂŒnchner Kindl (Bude 20, 21)
  • Franziskaner-LeistbrĂ€u-MĂ€rzenbier (Schottenhamel)


  • ThomasbrĂ€u-Pilsner (Bude 14, Burg zum Wintzerer FĂ€hndl)
  • ThomasbrĂ€u-MĂ€rzenbier (Bude 14, Burg zum Wintzerer FĂ€hndl)
  • PschorrbrĂ€u (Bude 20, 21, Wohlmuth, 17, 24)
  • KlosterbrĂ€u-MĂ€rzenbier (Bude 11)
  • Franziskaner-LeistbrĂ€u-MĂ€rzenbier (Schottenhamel)
  • EberlbrĂ€u-MĂ€rzenbier (Bude 13)
  • BĂŒrger-BrĂ€u MĂ€rzenbier (Bude 18)


  • Franziskaner-LeistbrĂ€u-MĂ€rzenbier (Schottenhamel)
  • Augustiner-MĂ€rzenbier (Bude 10, Lang)
  • HackerbrĂ€u-MĂ€rzenbier (Bude 1, 2)
  • Kraftbier aus der Spatenbrauerei (Bude 7, 8)


  • ThomasbrĂ€u-Pilsner (Bude 14, Burg zum Wintzerer FĂ€hndl)
  • ThomasbrĂ€u-MĂ€rzenbier (Bude 14, Burg zum Wintzerer FĂ€hndl)
  • Augustiner-MĂ€rzenbier (Bude 10, 11)
  • HackerbrĂ€u-MĂ€rzenbier (Bude 1, 2)
  • HackerbrĂ€u-Bier (Bude 4)
  • LöwenbrĂ€u-MĂ€rzenbier (Bude 3, 5, 6)
  • LöwenbrĂ€u-Sommerbier (Bude 3, 5, 6)
  • WagnerbrĂ€u MĂ€rzenbier (Bude 12, 13)
  • Franziskaner-LeistbrĂ€u-MĂ€rzenbier (Schottenhamel)


  • ThomasbrĂ€u-MĂ€rzenbier (Wintzerer-FĂ€hndl)
  • ThomasbrĂ€u Hell-Urtyp (Wintzerer-FĂ€hndl)
  • HackerbrĂ€u-MĂ€rzenbier (Halle 4)
  • WagnerbrĂ€u JubilĂ€ums-MĂ€rzen (Halle 5)
  • WagnerbrĂ€u Auer-Kirta-Bier (Halle 5)
  • SpatenbrĂ€u MĂ€rzenbier (Bude 3)
  • LöwenbrĂ€u-MĂ€rzen-Bier (LöwenbrĂ€u-Bude, SchĂŒtzen-Bude)
  • Franziskaner-Leist-BrĂ€u-MĂ€rzenbier (Schottenhamel)
  • PschorrbrĂ€u-MĂ€rzenbier (Brau-Rosl)
  • Augustiner-MĂ€rzenbier (Augustiner-Burg)
  • UnionsbrĂ€u MĂ€rzen-Bier (Bude 2)
  • BĂŒrgerbrĂ€u MĂ€rzenbier (Bude 1)
  • BĂŒrgerbrĂ€u Lagerbier (Bude 1)


  • Augustiner MĂ€rzen-Bier (Fischer-Vroni)
  • Wagner-BrĂ€u Oktoberfest-MĂ€rzen (Wagner-BrĂ€u-Festhalle)
  • Paulaner MĂ€rzen (Winzerer FĂ€hndl)
  • ThomasbrĂ€u Hell-Urtyp (Winzerer FĂ€hndl)
  • Franziskaner-LeistbrĂ€u (Schottenhamel)
  • PschorrbrĂ€u-MĂ€rzenbier (SchĂŒtzen-Cafe)
  • Schramm’s Fest-Weizenbier (SchĂŒtzen-Cafe)
  • LöwenbrĂ€u (LöwenbrĂ€u-Festbude)


  • PschorrbrĂ€u-MĂ€rzenbier (BrĂ€u-Rosl)
  • Spaten-Franziskaner-LeistbrĂ€u (Schottenhamel)
  • Paulaner-MĂ€rzen-Bier (Winzerer FĂ€hndl)
  • ThomasbrĂ€u-Hell-Urtyp (Winzerer FĂ€hndl)
  • Schneider & Sohn Wiesen-Edel-Weiße (WeißbrĂ€uhaus-Festhalle)
  • LöwenbrĂ€u (LöwenbrĂ€u-Festbude)
  • WagnerbrĂ€u Oktoberfest-MĂ€rzen (WagnerbrĂ€u-Festhalle)
  • WagnerbrĂ€u Auer-Kirta-Bier (WagnerbrĂ€u-Festhalle)
  • Augustiner MĂ€rzenbier (Augustiner-BrĂ€u Festhalle)
  • Augustiner Edelstoff hell (Augustiner-BrĂ€u Festhalle)


  • Augustiner-MĂ€rzenbier (Augustiner-Festhalle)
  • Augustiner Edelstoff hell (Augustiner-Festhalle)
  • WagnerbrĂ€u Oktoberfest-MĂ€rzen (WagnerbrĂ€u-Festhalle, SchĂŒtzenhalle Winzerer FĂ€hndl)
  • WagnerbrĂ€u Auer-Kirta-Bier (WagnerbrĂ€u-Festhalle, SchĂŒtzenhalle)
  • WagnerbrĂ€u “Weißbier MĂŒnchener Weizengold” (WagnerbrĂ€u-Festhalle)
  • WagnerbrĂ€u helles Export (SchĂŒtzenhalle Winzerer FĂ€hndl)


  • Augustiner-MĂ€rzenbier (Augustiner-Festhalle)
  • Augustiner Edelstoff-Hell (Augustiner-Festhalle)
  • PschorrbrĂ€u-MĂ€rzen (BrĂ€u-Rosl)
  • PschorrbrĂ€u Edelhell (BrĂ€u-Rosl)
  • Spaten-Franziskaner-LeistbrĂ€u Wiesen-MĂ€rzen (Schottenhamel)
  • LöwenbrĂ€u-MĂ€rzen (LöwenbrĂ€u)
  • LöwenbrĂ€u Hellquell-Export (LöwenbrĂ€u)
  • Paulaner-MĂ€rzen (Winzerer FĂ€hndl)
  • ThomasbrĂ€u-Hell-Urtyp (Winzerer FĂ€hndl)
  • WagnerbrĂ€u Oktoberfest-MĂ€rzenbier (WagnerbrĂ€u, Fischer Vroni)
  • WagnerbrĂ€u Auer-Kirta-Bier (WagnerbrĂ€u, Fischer Vroni)


  • Paulaner MĂ€rzen (Winzerer FĂ€hndl)
  • ThomasbrĂ€u Hell Urtyp (Winzerer FĂ€hndl)
  • SpatenbrĂ€u-LeistbrĂ€u UrmĂ€rzen (Schottenhamel)
  • Augustiner-MĂ€rzenbier (Augustiner)
  • Augustiner Edelstoff-Hell (Augustiner)
  • WagnerbrĂ€u Oktoberfest-MĂ€rzenbier (WagnerbrĂ€u)
  • WagnerbrĂ€u Auer-Kirta-Bier (WagnerbrĂ€u)
  • LöwenbrĂ€u-MĂ€rzen (LöwenbrĂ€u)
  • LöwenbrĂ€u Hellquell-Export (LöwenbrĂ€u)
  • PschorrbrĂ€u-MĂ€rzen (BrĂ€urosl)
  • PschorrbrĂ€u Edelhell (BrĂ€urosl)

Beer at the Oktoberfest, 120 years ago

This is my short and quick contribution to Session 127. After Boak and Bailey asked me about my expectations of Festbier, I thought I should leave a few notes what beer was served at the Oktoberfest in the 19th century.

The Oktoberfest didn’t start out as a beer festival. The first one was a wedding celebration of Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig I. and Princess Therese in 1810. In the years after that, it became an annual fair where things like horse racing, prize shooting, and an agricultural fair were the main attractions. Eventually, beer was being served, and the whole beer drinking eventually took over. The agricultural fair still exists, but is scheduled to only take place once every four years.

The beer served was, as far as I could find out, regular “Sommerbier” (i.e. lager beer) as it was consumed elsewhere in the city. In 1872, Michael Schottenhamel procured a 16° Vienna-style MĂ€rzen brewed at Franziskaner-LeistbrĂ€u, which eventually got established as the regular beer at Oktoberfest. But it was not the only beer being served at the Fest, as we know from festival programme advertising of that era.

In 1895, wheat beer from Schneider & Sohn was served, which was a novelty that year, as well as MĂ€rzenbier brewed at Klein-Schwechater Brauerei and imported from Vienna.
In 1896, beer from BĂŒrgerliches Brauhaus Budweis was served at the Oktoberfest. The brewery was at that time a purveyour to the court of the King of WĂŒrttemberg.

Some breweries, like ThomasbrÀu, served both a Pilsner and a MÀrzenbier.

Most of the other local breweries, like Franziskaner-LeistbrÀu, Pschorr, Hacker, Spaten, and LöwenbrÀu, only served a single type of beer, MÀrzen.

All in all, the variety of beer available at the Oktoberfest back then was not only greater in number, it was also more diverse in available beer styles, and more international. More like what you’d expect from a proper beer festival.