Category Archives: Beer Styles

Decoding the Colour of Historic Vienna Lager

Back in 2015, when I started looking more closely into the historic specifications of Vienna Lager, one question where I started speculating and couldn’t really get a good answer was the question of colour. I based this off historic records that I had found in one of Ron Pattinson’s books, “Decoction!“. The provided value of “6.3” (no units) seemed reasonably close to be SRM, but as Ron commented below my posting, the beer colour is not in SRM, and that he’s not sure what exactly it is.

Well, today I can proudly proclaim that I have finally discovered not only what the “6.3” means but also how the value relates the modern beer colour units like SRM or EBC.

The whole thing started with me finding the original source for the specs Ron had put in his book. In fact, I had found these specs reprinted in several other books, as well, but all of them lacked information what the colour value actually meant. The original source is an article in Dingler’s Polytechnisches Journal, “Untersuchung der Biere, die in Wien getrunken werden” [Examination of the beers that are being drunk in Vienna] by Professor Fr. Schwackhöfer, published in 1876. Underneath the rather long list of analyses (which is great because it gives us other clues; I’ll get back to that), almost at the end of the article, it briefly mentions the system that was used to determine the beer colour: a system called Stammer’sches Farbenmaß.

From what I could find out, the Stammer’sches Farbenmaß [Stammer’s colour measurement] was originally developed to grade the colour of sugars in the sugar industry. It was in use from the 1870’s to as late as the 1930’s. Quite a few similar systems like that existed. In English-speaking literature, it was often called Stammer’s colorimeter. It worked by comparing the solution to be tested(or in the case of beer, just the beer) with a standard glass plate. It consisted of two glass tubes. One tube was filled with the beer (or sugar solution), while the other one was covered with the standard glass plate. Both tubes were illuminated from the bottom, and a prism at the top allowed the user to compare how both the standard solution and the glass plate looked like. You could then lower an glass immersion rod into the solution until the colour and shade most closely matched the glass plate. The measurement of colour was then the number of millimeters you had lowered the immersion rod into your solution.

The tricky thing with Stammer’s colorimeter is that there are two values you can work with. You have the direct reading, i.e. the number of millimeters of immersion, and you have the colour value, which is 100 divided by the reading.

A more detailed description of Stammer’s colorimeter as well as other systems of that time can be found in the Handbook of Sugar Analysis by Charles Albert Browne.

The next thing I then had to find was a way of converting readings from Stammer’s colorimeter to other units. The only source I could find was the brief article “Conversion Curve for Lovibond’s Tintometer and Stammer’s Colorimeter“, published in 1914 by Carl A. Nowak in the Journal of Industrial and Engineering Chemistry. This is great, because Lovibond is a well-known scale that has historically been used to grade the colour of malt and beer, and is apparently still in use to a certain extent to grade malt colour. The article contains a chart that shows the relationship between Stammer’s colorimeter and Lovibond values.

The Y scale contains the value of Stammer’s Colorimeter, while the X scale contains the corresponding Lovibond value.

What is noticeable in the chart though is that there is an inverse relationship between these two: higher Stammer values correspond with lower Lovibond values, and vice versa. But what is the Stammer value exactly? We have two available, the reading, and its inverse, the colour value. That’s where the comprehensive list of analyses comes in handy. Not only does it contain various pale lager beers, it also contains colour values of beers that we know are most definitely dark beers, in particular Salvator with a colour value of 41.5, and a bottled Porter with a colour value of 40. So from that we know that the higher the value was, the darker the beer was.

Since the chart indicates that the lower the Stammer value in the chart, the darker the beer, we can derive that the chart contains the Stammer colour value, while the values in the analysis are the direct readings, i.e. the amount of millimeters the rod was immersed in the tested beer.

To convert the 6.3 reading to the Stammer colour value, we simply calculate 100 / 6.3 = 15.87, and look up the corresponding Lovibond value in the chart, which is about 4.6 to 4.7. In modern units, this is equivalent to 5.5-5.6 SRM, or 10.8-11 EBC.

So there we have it, the colour of historic Vienna Lager. It’s paler than the usual beer style guidelines will say about Vienna Lager, but it fits what I’ve been saying for quite a while, that historic Vienna Lager was most likely paler than its modern versions, and that the usual beer style guidelines don’t capture the historic examples.

 

The Water Profile for Vienna Lager

The last time I blogged about Vienna lager, I wrote down everything we know about the historic specifications of the beer style and how it was brewed in the last few decades of the 19th century. The only point that was speculation on my side was the water profile. I can now say that this has changed (kinda), because I found a source quantifying the chemical compounds in the brewing water of the Klein-Schwechater brewery.

By pure accident, I stumbled upon an analysis of the brewing water (well water) of the brewery in Klein-Schwechat, in the book “The Theory and Practice of the Preparation of Malt and the Fabrication of Beer, with Especial Reference to the Vienna Process of Brewing” by Julius E. Thausing. It’s actually the English translation of a German book. One problem with the analysis is that it doesn’t specify any units for most of the numbers. It does specify the amount of residue after the water has been evaporated (in grams), but that was it. Unlike the English translation, the German original at least references the original source other than just specifying the author, Lermer. The original source for this analysis is Dingler’s Polytechnisches Journal, volume 187.

This journal apparently has quite a bit of history. It was founded in 1820 by chemist Johann Gottfried Dingler, was published for 111 years, and covered all topics from agriculture, mining and metallurgy to machine construction, chemistry, geology, electrics, and many more subjects. For the history of engineering and technology, it is a great source. Fortunately, all of its volumes have been digitalized by Humboldt University in Berlin, and published online. So of course, we also have the original source of the water analysis available. You can find it here. Even though the original source is more detailed, and not only contains the water analysis of the brewing water of Klein-Schwechat but also water analysis of the old well and the river Schwechat, it is not in any way clearer regarding units than what we had in the English translation of Thausing’s book. At least we do learn that Klein-Schwechat brewery had two wells, an old one and a new one, and at the time of the article’s publishing, all brewing water was taken from the new well, which is the analysis that has been reprinted by Thausing.

So by itself, the analysis is unfortunately not really helpful. If anybody knows how to interpret the numbers, I’m grateful for any help with it.

As for the author of the analysis, Johann Karl (Carl in some sources) Lermer is quite the interesting person himself. He was hired in the 1860’s by Anton Dreher as brewery technician but apparently quickly rose the ranks and became head of Dreher’s Trieste brewery. In the Polytechnisches Journal, he published a number of articles. Given his background as conducting analyses at Dreher’s breweries, it gives an interesting insight into what were technical subjects industrial-scale lager breweries at that time were concerned about: chemical analysis of Lupulin, analysis of barley malt sprout, the issue of beerstone in pipes, the issue of mold in wooden fermenting vessels, the effects of freezing beer, malting experiments, or chemical analysis of hot break. A complete list of his contributions can be found here.

Besides the theoretical side, I’ve also been active on the practical side of Vienna lager brewing. Recently, we brewed a Vienna lager reasonably close to the historic specifications, with an OG of 13.4 °P (historical sources say 13 to 13.25 °P, the difference is due to a slighter greater mash efficiency), and 4.5 °P FG (which is close to the 4 to 4.25 °P you see in some historic sources), from 100% Vienna malt. One modification I made was the use of a double decoction mash instead of the more traditional triple decoction: I dough in at 38 to 40 °C and take a huge first decoction that brings temperature up to 65 °C. That way, the only protein rest is very briefly happening when heating up the first decoction. The second decoction then brings the temperature to 72-75 °C. That way, I skip an extensively long protein rest which wouldn’t exactly be productive with modern malts. I also deviated slightly from the hopping schedule, and only had one hop addition. I also made a slight mistake: my recipe in BeerSmith still had 3% alpha acid set for the Saazer hops, and I forgot to compensate for the 4.2% alpha acid Saazer hops that I had bought. So instead of 30 IBU, the resulting beer now has roughly 40 IBU. Oops.

Nevertheless, the outcome is nice: after 3 weeks of fermentation and many more weeks of cold lager, it’s just finished carbonating in the bottle and ready to drink. The bitterness is nicely counter-balanced with the residual sweetness coming from the low attenuation of the WLP820 lager yeast. Personally, I’m perfectly fine with the higher bitterness, even though it doesn’t 100% hit the original specs of the historic style. Even at 30 IBU, the beer would have enough bitterness to work nicely enough with sweetness. The 100% Vienna malt bring enough own malt flavour without making the beer cloying. All in all, not only a good example for the style, but also a reminder that for some beer styles, process is at least important as the careful choice of ingredients.

The Theory of Brewing Reinheitsgebot-Compliant Brut IPA

Watch out, NEIPA, there’s a new fad in town: Brut IPA. If you haven’t heard of it yet, Brut IPA is a new IPA-inspired beer style with a dry body, low bitterness, high hop flavour and aroma, and high carbonation. One core element of achieving such a dry and hoppy but not bitter beer is to only add hops during flame-out or whirlpool, to dry-hop in the fermenter, and most importantly, to use enzymes during fermentation to convert any remaining complex sugars into simple sugars that the yeast can turn into alcohol and carbon dioxide. This unique combination of dryness, hop aroma, and high carbonation apparently gives the beer a very unique mouthfeel and sensory experience otherwise only found in highly attenuated and carbonated styles like Saison.

Brut IPAs haven’t really arrived in Germany yet (I hear there’s one or two small breweries releasing some), so I haven’t had the chance to try any examples yet. But from everything I’ve read so far, professional brewers who have done the style emphasize the use of enzymes to produce a highly attenuated beer. The problem with brewing such a beer in Germany is that enzymes would be an additional ingredient that’s currently normally not allowed to be used in brewing. So how would a brewer get around it?

Maybe let’s just first talk what the enzymes really are about. Basically, malt contains enzymes, called amylase (alpha amylase and beta amylase, to be more precise) , that break long starch chains into shorter bits. Beta amylase chops off simple sugar on the end of such a starch chain, while alpha amylase chops it up at any point of the chain, producing shorter and shorter chains, eventually ending up with unfermentable dextrins, or given enough time, simple, fermentable sugars. It’s the foundation of mashing, really. These amylase enzymes work at an optimal temperature range, depending on the specific type, between roughly 60 and 75 °C.

The thing with enzymes in Brut IPAs is that they are often added to the wort at the beginning of or during fermentation. A common product for that is glucoamylase, also known as amyloglucosidase or gamma amylase. While its optimum temperature is about 65 °C, it will still work at normal fermentation temperature and help with chopping up the last few remaining dextrins into fermentable sugars.

So, if German pro-brewers aren’t allowed to use enzymes to add to the fermenting beer, how else would they be able to achieve such a highly attenuated beer? Fortunately, there’s a precedent in recent German beer history. In Germany, you used to be able to buy Diätbier (“diet bier”) until the use of the term was prohibited in 2012. Diätbier is essentially a fully attenuated beer with no carbohydrates in it left, and it used to be advertised to be suitable for diabetics. This of course ignored the fact that alcohol changes the way sugar is absorbed by the body, and was one of the reason why Diätbier is not a thing anymore. But how Diätbier was free from carbohydrates is what made it similar to Brut IPA. So if we wanted to brew a Brut IPA that complies with German beer legislation, all we needed to do was to brew it just like German brewers used to brew Diätbier. There are a few approaches, which I’ll describe here:

The crudest and simplest approach is to just add a certain amount of barley malt flour to the chilled wort or freshly fermenting beer. The amylase in the beer will get active and not only convert the starch from the barley malt flour, but also any remaining dextrins, and given enough time, produce a beer with no residual extract. The risk there is that not all the starch will actually get converted, and starches in the final beer can have a negative impact on the overall shelf stability.

A better way and slightly more sophisticated way is to just take some of the mash when it’s at 60 °C to make sure none of the enzymes have been damaged, lauter it, put the wort aside, and continue brewing as normal. When the main wort is chilled and yeast has been pitched, the wort put aside earlier can be added to it, and the enzymes now have time to convert the remaining complex sugars and dextrins.

But wort can easily spoil, so you can go even further and produce a sotrable malt extract that can be used as enzyme source in brewing by mashing in malt at up to 65 °C, lautering, chilling, and then fermenting it. Without a boil, none of the enzymes should get denatured. The resulting unboiled beer can then be filtered to free it from proteins and yeast and kept for a longer period of time. Since it’s beer, it can be blended with other beer and still totally be within the purity law. This method was even patented in the 1980’s to a German company.

Practically, it’s probably the easiest for homebrewers to use the unboiled wort method. I would consider using barley malt flour to be unsafe, not just because of the risk of introducing starches into beer, but also for a slight contamination risk. Fermenting and filtering an enzyme-rich wort is probably also not great for homebrewers as you need to plan ahead and actually have the equipment and facilities to filter and package the beer in an contaminant-free environment. So the easiest is just to take a bit of wort during the mash, set it aside, and then add it to the fermenter a few hours later.

There’s also another way of achieving such high attenuation: super-attenuating yeast. There exist variants of brewers yeast, such as Saccharomyces cerevisiae var. diastaticus, that produce their own glucoamylase to help with converting starches and dextrines. Saison yeast is a well-known example for this type of yeast. Unfortunately, most diastaticus yeasts are also known for producing phenolic off-flavours (they are “phenolic off-flavour positive”, or POF+). In Saisons, these phenols are appropriate, while in other beer styles, such as IPAs, where the hop flavour and aroma should shine, probably not so much. So far, there are only two known diastaticus strains that are POF- (i.e. don’t produce phenolic off-flavours), which are WLP026 (an English ale yeast) and WLP644 (a yeast that had previously been misidentified as Brettanomyces since it is known for producing some funky, Brett-like aromas and flavours). This method is probably most suitable if you want to produce a “Belgian-style” or funky Brut IPA.

So, to summarize, if you want to brew a Brut IPA, and for whatever reason, have to stick to German beer legislation, and can’t or don’t want to add enzymes to your beer, or you can’t buy any glucoamylase in your homebrew shop, here’s a method that has been used in the past to produce very dry, highly attenuated beers. Just be aware that I haven’t actually tried this method in practice. Not only is it slightly too warm to brew beer unless you have good temperature control, I also didn’t really have time recently to brew much. This is just based on theory I read about in German brewing books.

If you want to learn more about Brut IPA, there’s been quite a lot of good stuff out there recently.  The Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine‘s August-September 2018 issue has a focus on IPAs, with a great article specifically about Brut IPAs. The New To Brew blog also posted an article about how to design and brew Brut IPAs back in June. So if you want to brew the latest hyped sub-style of IPA, there’s plenty of material how to do it right.

Vienna Lager: Another Piece of the Puzzle

In several previous postings, I wrote about various details in my effort to reconstruct historic Vienna lager as it was brewed in the 19th century by Viennese breweries, in particular Anton Dreher’s Kleinschwechater Brauerei, and exported all over Europe.

In a posting about a month ago, I discerned various mashing methods as they were described in the 1887 book “Die Dampf-Brauerei. Eine Darstellung des gesammten Brauwesens nach dem neuesten Stande des Gewerbes” by Franz Cassian. Despite all the interesting information that I was able to get out of that book, I missed one particular table much earlier in the book that shows a brief but informative overview over how Munich lager, Vienna lager, and Bohemian lager are brewed.

(click on the image to expand)

While much of this information was already known to me, there are a few more interestings bits and pieces in there: it lists a hopping rate of 1.5 kg per 100 kg of malt (which, after some calculation, should be roughly equivalent to between 3.45 g/L and 3.75 g/L). We get a hop boil time (2 hours), and a more detailed hopping schedule: 1/3 of the hops are added to the first runnings (so-called first wort hopping), while the remaining hops are added 45 minutes before the end of the boil. Unfortunately, the same book describes this just a few pages afterwards in words, and there it says that 2/3 of the hops are added 45 minutes after the beginning of the boil. At a 2 hours boil, that would be 75 minutes before the end of the boil. Personally, I find the latter a bit more convincing.

It also lists 13° as the OG of Vienna lager. Both the OG and the hopping rate corroborate previous findings from other pieces of literature. While not exactly new information, it adds much more confidence to this information.

All in all, we’ve now got the following information about historic Vienna lager:

  • Original gravity: about 13 °P
  • ABV: about 4.6%
  • Final gravity: about 4 °P
  • Hopping rate: 3.3 to 3.6 g/L
  • Boil time 2 hours, with hop schedule as described above
  • Hop variety: Saaz
  • Base malt: Vienna malt
  • Mashing schedule: triple decoction (more details here)

This information is pretty complete, and in fact quite detailed. The only things I would say are not 100% clear are the exact specs of historic Vienna malt such as colour, modification and barley variety (which means we need to trust commercially available modern Vienna malt), and the brewing water that was used. To give you a hint about what the ground water in Schwechat is like, you can find current water analysis data online. This is of course not a guarantee that the water profile is authentic. The water may have changed through 150 years of modern farming, and the brewery could have treated the local water, which would change everything. In any case, the important point about the water is that Viennese water is not necessarily right, as Schwechat’s water source is separate from Vienna’s, and Vienna’s water sources have changed in the last 150 years.

Nevertheless, quite a lot of information about Vienna lager has now been confirmed through historic sources, some of them even through multiple sources, which gives me greater confidence than ever before that Vienna lager brewed based on the specs above is as close to the historic original as possible.

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 obergäriger Biere” from 1930, describes that OG at 16 to 20%. “Handbuch der Ernährungslehre” 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 Ernährungslehre” 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.

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.

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 Löwenbräu (without being more specific about the style), a Doppel-Bier from Bürgerliche Brauerei Munich, and the Märzen-Export-Bier from the brewery “zum Franziskaner und Leist”, later better known als Franziskaner-Leist-Bräu, besides Spaten one of the breweries owned by the Sedlmayrs, and allegedly the first brewery to brew a 16°P Vienna-style Märzen especially for Oktoberfest in 1872. The Märzen-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 Bürgerliches Bräuhaus Budweis. Most breweries served Märzenbier, like Pschorr, Bergbräu (a relatively short-lived 19th century brewery located in Giesing), Kochelbräu, Thomasbräu, Münchner Kindl, Hacker, Franziskaner-Leistbräu, Bürger-Bräu, Eberlbräu, and Löwenbräu. Some breweries, like Thomasbräu or Bürgerbräu, also served more than one beer, like Thomasbräu-Pilsner and Bürgerbräu Doppel-Bier.

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

In the early 20th century, the breweries advertising their Oktoberfest is consolidating towards Munich breweries. Augustiner for the first time is advertising their Märzenbier 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 Märzen and a pale lager (like Thomasbräu), others, like Wagnerbräu, had a Märzen 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 Märzen, with only two exceptions: Thomasbräu Hell-Urtyp and Schramm’s Fest-Weizenbier. Fischer-Vroni, another well-known beer tent, makes its first appearance in advertising, serving Augustiner Märzen. In 1929, Wagnerbräu is again seen with their Märzen 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: Wagnerbräu offers 4 (!!) different beers in 1932: Oktoberfest-Märzen, Auer-Kirta-Bier, “Weißbier Münchener Weizengold”, and helles Export. In 1935, a large amount of breweries advertise two different beers, and Fischer-Vroni must have switched from Augustiner to Wagnerbräu 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

1882

  • Löwenaktien-Braubier (Wirthsbude 3)
  • Bürgerliche Brauerei München Doppel-Bier (Bude 10)
  • Brauerei “zum Franziskaner und Leist” Märzen-Export-Bier (Bude 17 Schottenhammel)

1893

  • Hackerbräu-Märzen-Bier (Bude 15)
  • Export-Bergbräubier (Bude 10)
  • Thomasbräu Märzenbier (Bude 16)
  • Kochelbräu-Märzenbier (Bude 14)

1894

  • Pschorr Märzenbier (Bude 5)
  • Export-Bergbräu-Märzenbier (Bude 10)
  • Zacherlbrauerei (Bude 12)
  • Kochelbräu-Märzenbier (Bude 16)

1895

  • Klein-Schwechater Märzenbier (Bude 9)
  • Thomasbräu-Pilsner (Burg zum Winzerer Fähndl)
  • Thomasbräu-Märzenbier (Burg zum Winzerer Fähndl)
  • Waizenbier aus der Waizenbierbrauerei von Schneider & Sohn (Waizenbierbude)
  • Pschorrbräu-Märzenbier (Bude 5)
  • Pschorrbräu-Lagerbier (Bude 22, 23, 25, 26)
  • Münchner Kindl Märzenbier (Bude 11 & 7)
  • Bergbräu-Export-Bier (Bude 10)
  • Kochelbräu Märzenbier (Bude 13)
  • Hacker Märzen-Bier (Bude 15)
  • Kraft-Bier aus der Spaten-Brauerei (Bude 8)
  • Märzen-Löwenbräubier (Bude 6)

1896

  • Bürgerliches Bräuhaus Budweis (Bude 4)
  • Pschorrbräu (Bude 5, 16, 27, Grosse Almhütte)
  • Thomasbräu-Pilsner (Bude 14, Burg zum Wintzerer Fähndl)
  • Thomasbräu-Märzenbier (Bude 14, Burg zum Wintzerer Fähndl)
  • Franziskanerkeller (Leistbräu) Märzen-Bier (Bude 1, Schottenhamel, Schützenwirth)
  • Märzen-Lowenbräubier (Bude 6)
  • Kochelbräu-Märzenbier (Bude 3, 13)
  • Kraft-Bier aus der Spaten-Brauerei (Bude 8)
  • Bürger-Bräu Märzen-Bier (Bude 18)
  • Bürger-Bräu Doppel-Bier (Bude 26)

1897

  • Pschorrbräu (Bude 4, 5, 19, Grosse Almhütte)
  • Klosterbräu-Märzenbier (Bude 2, 21)
  • Thomasbräu-Pilsner (Bude 14, Burg zum Wintzerer Fähndl)
  • Thomasbräu-Märzenbier (Bude 14, Burg zum Wintzerer Fähndl)
  • Franziskaner-Leistbräu Märzenbier (Schottenhamel)
  • Bürger-Bräu Märzenbier (Bude 18)

1898

  • Pschorrbräu (Bude 6, 19, Grosse Almhütte)
  • Thomasbräu-Pilsner (Bude 14, Burg zum Wintzerer Fähndl)
  • Thomasbräu-Märzenbier (Bude 14, Burg zum Wintzerer Fähndl)
  • Bürger-Bräu Märzen-Bier (Bude 18)
  • Bürger-Bräu Doppel-Bier (Bude 16)
  • Franziskaner-Leistbräu Märzenbier (Schottenhamel)
  • Münchner Kindl Märzenbier (Bude 22, 23, 24, 25, 26)

1899

  • Thomasbräu-Pilsner (Bude 14, Burg zum Wintzerer Fähndl)
  • Thomasbräu-Märzenbier (Bude 14, Burg zum Wintzerer Fähndl)
  • Pschorrbräu (Bude 19, Grosse Almhütte, M. Wohlmuth)
  • Bürger-Bräu Märzenbier (Bude 18)
  • Münchner Kindl (Bude 20, 21)
  • Franziskaner-Leistbräu-Märzenbier (Schottenhamel)

1900

  • Thomasbräu-Pilsner (Bude 14, Burg zum Wintzerer Fähndl)
  • Thomasbräu-Märzenbier (Bude 14, Burg zum Wintzerer Fähndl)
  • Pschorrbräu (Bude 20, 21, Wohlmuth, 17, 24)
  • Klosterbräu-Märzenbier (Bude 11)
  • Franziskaner-Leistbräu-Märzenbier (Schottenhamel)
  • Eberlbräu-Märzenbier (Bude 13)
  • Bürger-Bräu Märzenbier (Bude 18)

1903

  • Franziskaner-Leistbräu-Märzenbier (Schottenhamel)
  • Augustiner-Märzenbier (Bude 10, Lang)
  • Hackerbräu-Märzenbier (Bude 1, 2)
  • Kraftbier aus der Spatenbrauerei (Bude 7, 8)

1905

  • Thomasbräu-Pilsner (Bude 14, Burg zum Wintzerer Fähndl)
  • Thomasbräu-Märzenbier (Bude 14, Burg zum Wintzerer Fähndl)
  • Augustiner-Märzenbier (Bude 10, 11)
  • Hackerbräu-Märzenbier (Bude 1, 2)
  • Hackerbräu-Bier (Bude 4)
  • Löwenbräu-Märzenbier (Bude 3, 5, 6)
  • Löwenbräu-Sommerbier (Bude 3, 5, 6)
  • Wagnerbräu Märzenbier (Bude 12, 13)
  • Franziskaner-Leistbräu-Märzenbier (Schottenhamel)

1910

  • Thomasbräu-Märzenbier (Wintzerer-Fähndl)
  • Thomasbräu Hell-Urtyp (Wintzerer-Fähndl)
  • Hackerbräu-Märzenbier (Halle 4)
  • Wagnerbräu Jubiläums-Märzen (Halle 5)
  • Wagnerbräu Auer-Kirta-Bier (Halle 5)
  • Spatenbräu Märzenbier (Bude 3)
  • Löwenbräu-Märzen-Bier (Löwenbräu-Bude, Schützen-Bude)
  • Franziskaner-Leist-Bräu-Märzenbier (Schottenhamel)
  • Pschorrbräu-Märzenbier (Brau-Rosl)
  • Augustiner-Märzenbier (Augustiner-Burg)
  • Unionsbräu Märzen-Bier (Bude 2)
  • Bürgerbräu Märzenbier (Bude 1)
  • Bürgerbräu Lagerbier (Bude 1)

1926

  • Augustiner Märzen-Bier (Fischer-Vroni)
  • Wagner-Bräu Oktoberfest-Märzen (Wagner-Bräu-Festhalle)
  • Paulaner Märzen (Winzerer Fähndl)
  • Thomasbräu Hell-Urtyp (Winzerer Fähndl)
  • Franziskaner-Leistbräu (Schottenhamel)
  • Pschorrbräu-Märzenbier (Schützen-Cafe)
  • Schramm’s Fest-Weizenbier (Schützen-Cafe)
  • Löwenbräu (Löwenbräu-Festbude)

1929

  • Pschorrbräu-Märzenbier (Bräu-Rosl)
  • Spaten-Franziskaner-Leistbräu (Schottenhamel)
  • Paulaner-Märzen-Bier (Winzerer Fähndl)
  • Thomasbräu-Hell-Urtyp (Winzerer Fähndl)
  • Schneider & Sohn Wiesen-Edel-Weiße (Weißbräuhaus-Festhalle)
  • Löwenbräu (Löwenbräu-Festbude)
  • Wagnerbräu Oktoberfest-Märzen (Wagnerbräu-Festhalle)
  • Wagnerbräu Auer-Kirta-Bier (Wagnerbräu-Festhalle)
  • Augustiner Märzenbier (Augustiner-Bräu Festhalle)
  • Augustiner Edelstoff hell (Augustiner-Bräu Festhalle)

1932

  • Augustiner-Märzenbier (Augustiner-Festhalle)
  • Augustiner Edelstoff hell (Augustiner-Festhalle)
  • Wagnerbräu Oktoberfest-Märzen (Wagnerbräu-Festhalle, Schützenhalle Winzerer Fähndl)
  • Wagnerbräu Auer-Kirta-Bier (Wagnerbräu-Festhalle, Schützenhalle)
  • Wagnerbräu “Weißbier Münchener Weizengold” (Wagnerbräu-Festhalle)
  • Wagnerbräu helles Export (Schützenhalle Winzerer Fähndl)

1935

  • Augustiner-Märzenbier (Augustiner-Festhalle)
  • Augustiner Edelstoff-Hell (Augustiner-Festhalle)
  • Pschorrbräu-Märzen (Bräu-Rosl)
  • Pschorrbräu Edelhell (Bräu-Rosl)
  • Spaten-Franziskaner-Leistbräu Wiesen-Märzen (Schottenhamel)
  • Löwenbräu-Märzen (Löwenbräu)
  • Löwenbräu Hellquell-Export (Löwenbräu)
  • Paulaner-Märzen (Winzerer Fähndl)
  • Thomasbräu-Hell-Urtyp (Winzerer Fähndl)
  • Wagnerbräu Oktoberfest-Märzenbier (Wagnerbräu, Fischer Vroni)
  • Wagnerbräu Auer-Kirta-Bier (Wagnerbräu, Fischer Vroni)

1936

  • Paulaner Märzen (Winzerer Fähndl)
  • Thomasbräu Hell Urtyp (Winzerer Fähndl)
  • Spatenbräu-Leistbräu Urmärzen (Schottenhamel)
  • Augustiner-Märzenbier (Augustiner)
  • Augustiner Edelstoff-Hell (Augustiner)
  • Wagnerbräu Oktoberfest-Märzenbier (Wagnerbräu)
  • Wagnerbräu Auer-Kirta-Bier (Wagnerbräu)
  • Löwenbräu-Märzen (Löwenbräu)
  • Löwenbräu Hellquell-Export (Löwenbräu)
  • Pschorrbräu-Märzen (Bräurosl)
  • Pschorrbräu Edelhell (Bräurosl)

Let’s talk about SMaSH beers

This is my contribution to session 125, aka “Beer Blogging Friday”. In this session, I’m writing about my views about SMaSH beers.

SMaSH beers are a way of formulating beer recipes. SMaSH stands for “single malt and single hop”, meaning that in the formulation of the recipe only a single type of malt (usually a base malt of some sorts) of a single hop variety are being used. Everything else, from yeast to mashing regime to hop dosages and timing, is up to the brewer.

Would I consider SMaSH beers to be trendy? No, not at all. The only reason that I can see in purposefully producing a SMaSH is to try out a specific ingredient, be it a specific base malt, a new hop variety, or even a new yeast strain on top of a simple, neutral SMaSH wort. While certainly a great tool for homebrewers for learning to know ingredients, I personally find them boring and uninspired. In particular when commercial brewers produce them: it reeks of beer geekery, it will not impress people with no interest in the finer details of brewing, and more often than not, the resulting beer is unbalanced.

Don’t get me wrong: there are beers and whole styles that happen to be SMaSH beers, but they were not conceived with the specific idea of producing a beer to highlight one type of malt and one hop. From a purely historic point of view, most beers were probably SMaSH beers: the maltster made one type of malt, the brewer took that one malt and used the local hops he always used for brewing, and made beer out of that. Modern base malt names like Pilsner malt, Vienna malt, and Munich malt show this historic connection with classic styles.

Of course, there are many ways to formulate recipes for styles like Bohemian-style pale lager, Vienna lager, Munich Helles or Munich Dunkles. But for each of these classic lager styles, there is a straightforward way that happens to be SMaSH.

For a Bohemian-style pale lager, like a Pilsner, you can just use 100 % Pilsner malt to an OG that is suitable for the strength you want to achieve, hop it with large doses of a hop variety like Saaz for both bitterness and aroma, and ferment with a lager yeast.

Vienna lager? Similar: 100 % Vienna malt, bittering with a classic hop like a Bavarian noble hop variety or Saaz, ferment  with a lager yeast. And the same goes for the Munich beer styles: depending on whether you want it pale or dark (Helles or Dunkles), choose a pale or dark base malt, hop with some Bavarian noble hop for only a restrained bitterness, and ferment with a lager yeast.

Of course, this goes beyond classic lager styles: beers like pale ales, IPAs, golden ales, bitters, or saisons could easily be formulated with just a single base malt and just one hop variety. Even a relatively unknown style, Grätzer/Piwo Grodziskie, was/is usually brewed with a single malt: oak-smoked wheat malt. There are probably plenty of many more examples.

Other beer styles can practically not be achieved as a SMaSH, in particular those who require more than one type of grain: just think Bavarian wheat beer, which needs to be brewed with more than 50 % wheat malt, but usually also contains a certain share of barley malt. Dre Beechum suggested an interesting extension to SMaSH, “brewing on the ones“, that only slightly widens the constraints of SMaSH, but allows for more existing styles to be formulated easily. I wrote about this in the context of designing simple beer recipes a few years ago.

But still, I’m convinced that SMaSH or “brewing on the ones” beers should not be done just for the sake of strictly keeping to this scheme of recipe formulation, but rather as a rough guideline to formulate simple recipes in order to brew excellent beers. After all, the resulting beer is what counts to the connoisseur, not the (by itself meaningless) notion that only one hop and only one malt type were used. If a beer can be improved by adding a single specialty malt, or by using different bittering hops than aroma hops, then you should totally do that, instead of insisting on conceptual purity. Because what counts in the end is that the beer is good.

Beer Brewing in Bamberg, 200 Years Ago

I recently bought a reprint of a historic book by the name of “Das Bamberger Bier”, written by Johann Albert Joseph Seifert. It gives an overview over the ingredients and processes used specifically in Bamberg to produce beer. As I already said on twitter, it’s full of gems.

Let’s start with the ingredients: the malt. The book contains a description how to let the barley germinate, how it needs to be turned, when it needs to be dried, and so on. What caught my eye in the production process was a single paragraph that essentially says that brewers with enough space in their buildings to produce air-dried malt will have a good, pure, wine-coloured beer. I interpret that as a suggestion to use air-dried malt (“Luftmalz” as it’s often called in historic German brewing literature) for brewing beer if possible.

You can’t produce air-dried malt during the winter, though, as a night of frost can destroy all your drying malt. So kilning your malt is still recommended during these times.

Then the water. According to the author, rain water is the best for brewing, but at that time, cisterns to collect had already fallen out of use, so brewers would have to work without it. River water, if clean enough, was the next best choice, that is if the brewer has access to it. Well water was considered to be of the worst quality, and required thorough boiling before it was usable by the brewers.

As for the hops, Bohemian hops were commonly used in Bamberg at that time. The author then gets mysterious: he went to school in Komotau/Chomutov, only a few kilometers away from Saaz/Žatec, and he alleges some dodgy things are going on with customs between the Bohemian-Bavarian border without going into details. He does propose though that hops more local to Bamberg can produce equally good beers.

The yeast that brewers in Bamberg used was mostly bottom-fermenting. Probably it was all bottom-fermenting by today’s standards, but the differentiation 200 years ago could not be done on a morphological level (nobody knew what yeast really was), so instead yeasts were distinguished how they cropped: so-called “Oberzeug” is top-cropped yeast, and usually synonymous with proper top-fermenting yeast, while “Unterzeug” was bottom-cropped, all the stuff that was on the bottom of the fermenter at the end of the fermentation. Brewers weren’t keen on using top-cropped yeast, but if nothing else was available, they would still use it, in particular for winter beers.

Fermentation was done cold, as in most parts of Bavaria at that time, at least for the higher-strength lager beers or summer beers, at about 12 °C, while the Schenkbiere or winter beers, running beer that was brewed during the winter to be served after only a few weeks of maturation, was fermented warmer, at 18 °C or warmer.

Now about the process itself: while in most parts of Bavaria a triple decoction mash very common, Bamberg is quite different. The specific mashing regime is often attributed as the reason why beers from Bamberg are as peculiar and more alcoholic than other lager beers at that time.

So how mashing in Bamberg essentially worked 200 years ago is infusion mashing: grind the malt, add water of a certain temperature, let it stand for some time until all sugars have been converted, then lauter. Then do a second mash with water that’s a bit hotter, again let it stand for some time, then lauter again. In some way, the method bears a lot of similarity to classic English mashing. Homebrewers may also recognize it as similar to “batch sparging”.

You essentially start off to dough in the malt to a very thick consistency. The book is not very clear on how much water per amount of malt this would be, but from my own experience, I would guess about 1.3 liters per kg of malt, because that that’s about enough to wet all the malt, but not to have much free-standing liquid afterwards.

The water is mixed from 2 parts of cold water and 1 part of hot, nearly boiling water. If we assume “cold water” to mean about 10 °C and “hot water” to be between 95 and 100 °C, the water would have a temperature of 38 to 39 °C, and the resulting mash would end up at about 34 °C. That’s quite close to the temperature of an acid rest, which is done at about 35 to 45 °C to lower the pH of the mash. At this temperature, the mash is left to stand for about 15 minutes.

The next step is to do the first mash. Water is added (the author is unclear about how much, though) that was previously mixed from 2 parts of hot water and 1 part of cold water. If we make the same assumptions as before, we come up with a strike temperature of 66 °C. The resulting temperature of the mash will be lower. Since we do not know how much water we can add, we can at least assume that we need to add so much that we hit a mash temperature of 60 °C or higher. This mash, after thorough mixing, is then left to stand for an hour. After an hour, the first lautering starts, where the wort is first recirculated until it runs clear, then all wort is completely drained and put on the coolship.

Then the second mash is conducted, with water mixed from 3 parts of hot water and 1 part of cold water. That would mean 73 °C, and the resulting mash temperature will probably be around 68 to 70 °C. This again is thoroughly mixed, and left to stand for an hour, then again recirculated, and completely drained.

Optionally, you can do this even a third time, with hot water only, and this third wort would be used for small beer only. This small beer was called “Heinzele” or “Hansle” in Bamberg. Some brewers would also use cold water only for this final mash.

For lager beer, only the first and second wort was used. The hops were boiled in a very particular fashion, by what was called “Hopfen rösten”, or “roasting the hops”, where a small amount of wort was used to boil the hops for an hour, then the hops were removed (so that they could be reused for the Heinzele), and the hopped wort was boiled with the rest of the wort for another 60 to 90 minutes. The author did not like this practice, and said that beers made without roasting the hops would actually taste nicer and keep better.

After the wort was fully boiled, it is cooled as quickly as possible in a coolship, then moved to the fermenter, where yeast is added. After the fermentation has finished, the young beer is moved to casks, where it is left with the bungs open so that it can expel any remaining yeast and clear up. These casks were unpitched, but instead just washed with hot water and burnt with a small amount of sulphur. Since most other Bavarian beers were filled into pitched casks, this will very likely also have had an influcence on the flavour specific to beer from Bamberg.

As for the recipe itself, I converted the amounts of malt and hops provided in the books and ended up with these rough parameters: it most likely had an OG of about 14.5 °P (1.059), about 5 % ABV (depending how highly fermenting the lager yeast strain was), and used as much as 8.75 g/l of hops. Due to the hop roasting, alpha acid extraction was probably quite inefficient though, so the bitterness of the beer was probably at about 35 to 40 IBU.

To produce 20 liters of this beer, 5.4 kg Munich malt and 175 g Saazer or Spalter hops should suffice. Use a strike water calculator of your choice to find the optimal amounts of water for the different mashes. A bottom-fermenting yeast with a relatively low attenuation would be most suitable for this style. My personal preference is White Labs WLP820.

Besides a description of ingredients and brewing processes, the book also contains a list of all breweries in Bamberg at that time, 65 in total, including the owner’s name, the brewery’s or pub’s name, the address, the amount of malt used, and the amount of beer produced from it. Of the breweries that are still around in Bamberg, some of them do appear on this list:

  • “zum Spezial”, run by Peter Brust, 2nd district, house no. 593, produced 789 Eimer beer and 394 Eimer “Nachbier” (Hansle) from 306 Schäffel and 5 Metzen of malt.
  • “zum Greifenklau”, run by Johann Müller, 3rd district, house no. 1333, produced 835 Eimer beer and 417 Eimer Nachbier from 325 Schäffel and 1 Viertel of malt.
  • “zum Fäßlein”, run by Anton Kröner, 3rd district, house no. 1004, produced 364 Eimer beer and 182 Eimer Nachbier from 141 Schäffel, 2 Metzen and 2 Viertel of malt.

Ron Pattinson has the full list. These breweries, while still around, weren’t by far the largest though. The place with the highest beer production was “zur weißen Taube”, with a whopping 1379 Eimer of beer and 689 Eimer of Hansle.

Looking at the numbers, there’s also an interesting pattern showing up: for every 2 Eimer of beer, 1 Eimer of Hansle was produced. And also the ratio of beer to malt is relatively consistent, at about 2.5 to 2.6 Eimer of beer per Scheffel of malt.

Bavarian Brown Beer

This is my contribution to Session 120.

Bavaria is seen as a heartland of German beer culture, and people usually associate it with pale, sparkling, malty lager beers served in glasses way too large to comfortably lift and drink from. Dark beers are still around and brewed by the Munich breweries, usually referred to as “Munich Dunkel” in modern beer style guidelines, but they’re not fashionable anymore and more of a niche drink for connoisseurs. But this didn’t use to be like that: brewing pale lager was initially only done for export, to counter the fashion of Pilsner beers. Until the 1930’s, dark lager beers were still the most commonly consumed beer style in the Bavarian capital. Even Radler, many people’s favourite summer refreshment, a mix of about half-and-half beer and lemonade, was originally mixed using dark lager beer. And I can absolutely recommend to try a Radler made like that (in a good beer garden, simply ordering a “dunkler Radler” shouldn’t be a problem), the malty notes compliment the lemony tang more nicely than Helles.

So, how was such a beer brewed back then? As for most parts of Bavaria, beer in Munich was traditionally brewed using a decoction mash. As a base malt, a dark, melanoidin-rich 2-row malt, nowadays commonly known as “Munich malt”, is chosen: it produces a dark wort, but should ideally be neither roasted nor smokey.

When looking at historic sources, strength differs, of course, but let’s pick a recipe from the 1830’s: with an original gravity of 16 °P (1.065), it would nowadays be considered to be of Starkbier strength, and called a Bock, but lager yeast used to attenuate terribly (sometimes as low as 44 %, often as high as 55 to 65 %), so we can expect 5.3 % ABV using a modern, low-attenuating lager yeast.

The important bit about brewing this beer is the process, though: using a single-step infusion mash won’t get you there. You need to decoct.

Starting with 5.25 kg of Munich malt to produce about 20 liters of beer, dough in the milled grain with 18 liters of cold (~10 °C/50 °F) liquor (i.e. water), and let it rest for 4 hours. Then slowly mix in 9 liters of boiling liquor to raise the temperature to 40 °C.

Then take 9 liters of thick mash (you can just ladle out from the bottom of your mash tun), slowly bring it to a boil over the course of one hour, boil it for one hour, and then again slowly mix it back into the mash tun. This should raise the mash temperature to 55 °C.

Again, draw 9 liters of thick mash, bring to boil and boil for 30 minutes, then slowly mix it back into the mash tun. This should raise the mash temperature to 67 °C.

For the final decoction, draw 9 liters of thin mash, bring it to a boil, boil for 15 minutes, and slowly mix it back into the mash tun until it has reached a temperature of not more than 75 °C. Then rest for 1 hour.

After that, you can start lautering and sparging, until you’ve collected about 28 liters of wort.

Add 120 g Bavarian or Bohemian hops (3 % alpha acid), e.g. Hersbrucker, Spalter, Hallertauer Mittelfrüh or Saazer, to the first wort, and bring it to a boil. Boil for 2 to 2.5 hours. The calculated bitterness is 44 IBU, but much of this bitterness will age out and get smoother during lagering.

For fermentation, chill the wort to 8 °C. Pitch a healthy starter of lager yeast (in my experience, WLP820 comes close to the bad attenuation of historic yeast strains), and ferment the beer at 9 to 10 °C.

If you want to be extremely authentic about lagering, get a wooden, pitched cask of about 20 liters size, fill your beer into it, bung it up, and let it mature for 8 to 10 months. Alternatively, you can leave the pitch out and just use a metal keg or beer bottles.

The resulting beer should be sparkling, brown, malty, not too bitter, and contain about 5.3 % ABV.

If you want to check the historic sources for this beer yourself: this recipe is taken from the book “The Art of Brewing” by David Booth, published in 1834.

The resulting beer may not be cool, neither in the hip beer scene nor in the conservative Bavarian beer culture, but it’s nevertheless a great beer style. If you’re too lazy to brew it yourself (which is understandable, the recipe implies an extra-long brew day), here’s my suggestion for a fantastic example of the style: Augustiner Dunkel. At 5.6 % ABV, it is spicy, malty, with hints of chocolate and licorice, but never sweet.