Category Archives: Beer Styles

Danish Temperance Beer in 1905

While browsing Gambrinus (an old Austrian brewing industry newspaper), I came across an article discussing Danish temperance beers. At the time, Denmark had a significant amount of distilled spirit consumption (14.57 liters per capita per annum, allegedly the highest in the world at the time, compared to 9.8 liters in Austria-Hungary) as well as a significant beer consumption (91.39 liters, compared to 41.2 liters in Austria-Hungary) that was allegedly only topped by Belgium, the UK and Germany at the time.

In this environment, lower alcohol beers, so called temperance beers, were made tax-free: if a beer had less than 2.25% (the article isn’t clear whether this is by weight or by volume), no duty had to be paid on the beer itself.

Interestingly, these beers were brewed top-fermented, using different methods. The first method was to use a low-gravity wort that was then fully fermented, while the second method involved a regular-gravity wort that was fermented but fermentation was stopped early to only achieve a low attenuation. The article then compares the analytical data of five of these Danish temperance beers with the same data of a Viennese Abzugbier and a Bohemian Schankbier (výčepní).

Mörk Carlsberg Skattefri (Dark)
  • OG 7.47° Balling
  • Residual Extract 2.73°
  • Alcohol 1.92%
  • Apparent Attenuation 63.46%
Lys Carlsberg Skattefri (Pale)
  • OG 6.40° Balling
  • Residual Extract 1.71°
  • Alcohol 1.90%
  • Apparent Attenuation 73.28%
Aegte Kroneoel
  • OG 11.36° Balling
  • Residual Extract 7.51°
  • Alcohol 1.56%
  • Apparent Attenuation 33.89%
Export Dobbeltoel
  • OG 14.68° Balling
  • Residual Extract 10.90°
  • Alcohol 1.53%
  • Apparent Attenuation 25.75%
Krone Pilsener
  • OG 9.48° Balling
  • Residual Extract 5.76°
  • Alcohol 1.51%
  • Apparent Attenuation 39.24%
Wiener Abzugbier
  • OG 10.04° Balling
  • Residual Extract 3.46°
  • Alcohol 2.42%
  • Apparent Attenuation 65.54%
Böhmisches Schankbier
  • OG 10.09° Balling
  • Residual Extract 2.66°
  • Alcohol 3.02%
  • Apparent Attenuation 73.63%

In another article in Der Böhmische Bierbrauer from 1906, Krone-Oel-Bryggeriet is discussed in greater detail. They started brewing tax-free beers with the Kroneoel in 1895. Because of the product’s great success with just 1.5% alcohol by weight, a second product, Krone Pilsener was added in 1899, which was designed to be paler and lighter in original gravity, with a fine, mild hop bouquet. Just a year later, the portfolio was extended with Export Dobbeltoel, a dark beer very high in extract.

The popularity of these tax-free beers (this article is clearer, they must have less than 2.25% alcohol content by weight in order to be tax-free) shows in the sales figures:

  • 1895/1896: 2,918,508 half liter bottles
  • 1896/1897: 5,702,032 -“-
  • 1897/1898: 7,750,032 -“-
  • 1898/1899: 9,281,958 -“-
  • 1899/1900: 10,018,905 -“-
  • 1900/1901: 10,939,750 -“-
  • 1901/1902: 11,430,867 -“-
  • 1902/1903: 13,638,806 -“-
  • 1903/1904: 13,665,237 -“-
  • 1904/1905: 14,704,359 -“-

That is an astonishing increase of the sales volume by 503% over the course of just 10 years, from 29,185 hl to 147,043 hl per year. For comparison, Kleinschwechater Brewery from Austria, one of the largest European breweries at the time, produced 441,490 hl of beer in 1905. Producing a third of that volume just in bottled low-alcohol temperance beer seems quite a feat.

After reading about Danish tax-free beer, naturally I wanted to know more about. After some searching I found this Facebook post that gives a brief overview over it. According to the article, in 1891 the first beer tax law was introduced in Denmark (please note that this was not actually the first beer tax law in Denmark, as the situation is a lot more complicated; in Beer and Brewing in Pre-Industrial Denmark by Kristof Glamann, taxation of beer in Denmark is attested at least since the 1620s). It divided beer between tax-free beers (under 2.25% ABW) and taxable beers. In 1917, this was further revised and only top-fermented beers remained tax free, while other types of beer under 2.25% ABW were put into tax class 2. Previously taxable beers were put into tax class 1.

During World War 1, breweries were restricted how strong beers could be. These restrictions were lifted in 1923 and taxation was again revised. In particular, tax class 1 was divided into 3 sub-categories: the new tax class 1 consisted of all beers with no more than 10.75 °Balling original gravity, tax class A more than 10.75° Balling and up to 13° Balling original gravity, and tax class B consisted applied to all beers with more than 13° Balling original gravity. The new classes 1, A and B again only applied to beers with more than 2.25% ABW, so low alcohol beers could have a higher OG without getting taxed. This was again only revised in 1993 to have different brackets of OG (<2.25% ABW/2.8% ABV beers still remained tax-free), and again in 2004 when it was changed to a sliding scale system (<2.8% ABV beers still tax-free).

Even though the “skattefri” category of beers doesn’t seem to be as obviously prominent in the Danish beer market, it still exists in tax law.

A Turn-of-the-Twentieth-Century California Steam Beer

Somebody recently asked on Reddit about whether historic recipes of California Common from the late 19th or early 20th century exist, like something that Jack London would have drank when he lived in San Francisco, so here is an extended version of my initial reply on Reddit.

Historically, California Common has been more commonly known as Californian Steam Beer, but since “Steam Beer” is nowadays a brand of Anchor Brewery in San Francisco, the term “California Common” has found its way into the beer style guidelines.

A large majority of homebrew recipes for that style that float around nowadays are straight up clone recipes of Anchor Steam Beer, or at the very least heavily inspired by it as many style guidelines have based the style essentially upon Anchor’s beer.

But in reality, this beer goes back much further and has been more varied. This is very well documented in a brewing book from 1901, the American Handy Book of Brewing, Malting and Auxiliary Trades, edited and published by Robert Wahl and Max Henius, two Chicago-based brewing scientists.

In this book, California Steam Beer is described as a beer that at the time was consumed throughout the state of California. The name, according to that source, goes back to the high effervescence of the beer and the high pressure (“steam”) in the serving cask, ranging between 40 to 70 psi.

It has an original gravity of 11 to 12.5 Balling (Plato), which is equivalent to a specific gravity of 1.044 to 1.050. The ingredients used varied: some brewers made this beer from 100% malt, others from a combination of malt and grits or really any other raw cereal, as well as sugar like glucose syrup. The malt used is described as “malted as for lager beers”. The colour of the beer was apparently similar as Munich beer (dark lager), and was achieved through the use of roasted malt or sugar colouring.

The approach of mashing also greatly varied: some brewers simply used an English-style single infusion mash, while others have turned towards a multi-step infusion mash with rests at 60-62 °C, 65 to 66°C and finally 70 °C where the mash is held until all sugars have been converted. If raw cereals were used in the mash, they were cooked first and added in some way as if lager beer was being brewed (which I interpret as a cereal mash). Lautering and sparging commenced after a final 45 minute rest, with the sparge water at 75 °C.

The collected wort is then boiled for 1 to 2 hours, hops are added (presumably at the beginning). The amount depends on the quality of the hops, so with high-quality hops, 3/4 of a pound per barrel of finished beer were described as sufficient. Then the wort was cooled to about 15°C to 16°C. In the fermenters, a “special type of bottom-fermenting yeast” is pitched. After about 14 hours, a thick head should have formed. The fermenting beer in this state was added to other beer that was just racked into casks (more on this later).

The fermenting beer is then transferred to shallow “clarifiers” where it finishes fermentation. When the beer was finished fermenting and is clear, it is racked into trade packages, where a substantial amount of Kräusen are added, typically 33 to 40% of the overall volume. The casks are then closed with special iron screw bungs, and left for a few days so they can build up the necessary pressure. In the saloon, the cask was then left to settle for 2 days, and the bung was opened over night so that some of the CO2 could escape. This was called “steaming” and was only necessary when the beer was poured directly from the cask so that it wouldn’t foam too much.

The beer itself was very clear and refreshing. It could keep 2 to 6 months in (unopened) casks, but was typically consumed with 3 weeks to a month.

Based on this description, we can develop our own recipe, but there is actually a lot of variation possible. The grist could be something as simple as Pilsner malt and either a small amount of roasted malt or an addition of caramel colouring to get the beer to Munich dark lager colours (about 33 to 56 EBC), or something more complex like Pilsner malt, corn grits, and glucose syrup, again with caramel colouring for to set the right colour.

As for the mashing, a malt-only grist could do with a single infusion mash, while using corn grits would warrant a more complex cereal mash where most of the malt is mashed in and undergoing a step mash. The corn grits are then mashed in with a small amount of malt, with a single rest, then boiled and finally mixed into the main mash for the final increase of mash temperature.

As for the hops, California-grown Cluster hops would probably be the most appropriate, or any Cluster hops really if California-grown ones aren’t available to you. 3/4 pounds per barrel translates to a hopping rate of 2.9 grams per liter, bittering addition only.

The “special type of bottom-fermenting yeast” is California Common yeast, a bottom-fermenting yeast that has adapted to warmer fermentation temperatures. Such strains are readily available to home brewers by a multitude of yeast manufacturers, e.g. Wyeast 2112, White Labs WLP810, Imperial Yeast L05, Mangrove Jack’s M54, etc.

When fermentation is finished, the final beer should be highly carbonated (be careful about the maximum pressure your kegs or bottles can withstand!).

This is what I came up with to brew 22 liters of it, but you do you:

Specs:

  • OG: 11.7 °P
  • Bitterness: 50 IBU
  • Colour: 41 EBC
  • ABV: 5.0%

Ingredients:

  • 3.4 kg Pilsner malt
  • 0.9 kg corn grits
  • 0.25 kg glucose
  • 63g Cluster hops (7% alpha acid)
  • Wyeast 2112 California Lager yeast

Please note that this recipe does not conform to the BJCP Style Guidelines for the California Common beer style, so don’t use this to brew beer and get bad marks for it at home-brewing competitions.

(featured image: Picardin, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

The Story of East-German “Motorist’s Beer”

Alcohol-free beers are a hot topic these days, both because of consumer demand and improvements in quality of this beer achieved through research.

When recently talking about the subject with my friend Ben, I brought up Aubi, the East-German “Autofahrerbier” (lit. “motorist’s beer”). When looking into the topic of Aubi more closely, I found out more about its history that I’d like to share here.

First the plain facts: in the GDR, beer brewing was guided by TGL 7764, an industry standard that defined which beer types could be brewed, how they could be brewed, which ingredients could be used for them, and under which parameters each of these types had to fall. In short, it was an early form of a beer style guideline, but specifically for the East-German brewing industry.

In the 1980 revision of TGL 7764, Aubi was listed as the only alcohol-free type of beer. In its production, at most 11 kg of brewing malt per hectolitre of sellable beer could be used, and at most 9 g of hop bittering compounds (i.e. alpha acid) per hectolitre. At most 70% of hop bittering compounds could be from hop extracts. It had to be matured for at least 3 days, with a recommended time of 6 days. Its original gravity was between 6.9 and 7.4 °P, its apparent attenuation 30 to 40%, its CO2 content at least 0.38% (i.e. 3.8g/l), and its bitterness 22 to 34 IBU. In terms of colour, it had to be about as pale as pale lager beer (I can’t translate the GDR colour scales to modern ones like SRM or EBC). In bottles, it had to last at least 90 days, the longest best-before dating of all beer types (together with the Pilsner Spezial type). And unlike most other GDR beer types, it had no specific beer label colour prescribed.

The development of the beer itself was a relatively surprising one: at the time, brewmaster Ulrich Wappler at VEB Engelhardt brewery in Berlin had an unexpected surplus capacity, as the Schultheiss brewery on Schönhauser Allee in Berlin was shut down and Wappler’s technicians managed to transfer tanks to his own brewery. In East Germany, the blood alcohol limit was at 0.0 since 1956, much stricter than other Western countries at the time. Truck drivers coming in from West Germany would bring their own, specifically Birell, a Swiss brand developed and brewed at Hürlimann, and at the time (as far as I could find out) the only alcohol-free beer on the German market (Clausthaler, the later dominant alcohol-free beer brand in West Germany, only launched in 1979). Birell was even specifically advertised near the border on the West-German side with the fact of the strict alcohol ban for drivers in East Germany.

The brewmasters in East Berlin were approached whether they would be able to develop a GDR-brewed alcohol-free beer. With the free capacity, Wappler would have been able to do it and agreed to it. His problem was rather finding a way how to brew an alcohol-free beer. In the GDR, he unfortunately had no access to Western brewing literature, nor any of the Western patents, and he wasn’t allowed to get in touch with West-German brewers either as he wasn’t a party member and his brothers had left the GDR for the West. He eventually managed to get access to Western patents through a source, and studied them for 6 months. Of the two methods of producing alcohol-free beer (biological, i.e. restricted fermentation, and mechanical, i.e. physical dealcoholisation), they decided that they could build the equipment to brew using restricted fermentation.

This was still not without problems: they did not have any special yeast, so a special apparatus to quickly chill down the beer that had only just started fermenting had to be built. Then higher-ups had heard about the efforts and the supposed progress, and basically forced them to send out unfinished beer that had not fully matured, which was actually well-received.

An area where this new beer was particularly successful were the heavy industries, in particular glass blowers and steel mills. In these jobs, workers were of the opinion that they needed to drink beer to help with salivating. They refused to just drink water, while at the same time, the union had strictly banned alcohol. So they tested the alcohol-free beer (at less than 0.5% ABV) in some of these factories, and the workers liked it. Also price-wise, at 75 Pfennig per bottle it was cheaper to buy than imported Birell, and also cheaper than other domestic beers. So their alcohol-free beer filled a gap, even more so in the heavy industries than for motorists. It took some tweaking of the recipe, including hop oils, to make it a really good beer, and in the end, the product also piqued the interest of other countries of the Eastern Bloc like Bulgaria and Czechoslovakia, who also tried to brew similar beer but all had over 1% ABV and none of them tasted nice.

The cheap domestic price of just 75 Pfennig also became a problem in terms of economics: while it required fewer ingredients, brewing Aubi was much more energy-intense, because mashing involved a special mashing schedule (more on that later) and restricted fermentation required more energy on top of that for chilling down the beer. Because of this, production volumes were lowered.

The beer itself was brewing like this: the grist contained 20 to 50% (sic!) unmalted adjuncts and was mashed using a special type of decoction mashing that specifically skipped the optimal temperatures of beta amylase and rather inactivated them to then have alpha amylase saccharify the starches, resulting in a much less fermentable wort. After only briefly starting fermentation, the wort was chilled down quickly to restrict fermentation.

Internationally, the East German alcohol-free beer was also a success, and was exported from 1986 to the United States under the brand name “Foxy light”. If we can believe a tasting and ranking of alcohol-free beers in the Chicago Tribune from 1988, Foxy light couldn’t exactly compete in terms of flavour with other European imported alcohol-free beers at the time, but fared well compared to domestic alcohol-free beers, while also being one of the cheapest ones. In England, the same beer was sold under the brand “Berolina”.

With the end of the GDR, production of Aubi also ceased. Most East-German breweries were shut down as they were completely outdated compared to their West German counterparts. Brewmaster Wappler managed to get work in West Berlin breweries for his workers. Until his retirement, he helped conceptualising brew systems for other breweries and training people on them.

Sources:

The best beer I ever brewed?

OK, this is probably the clickbaitiest title of a blog post that I’ve ever come up with, but bear with me.

For the June/July 2022 issue of Craft Beer & Brewing magazine, Evan Rail wrote an article about Czech Dark Lager, aka tmavé pivo. I’ve always quite enjoyed this particular style, especially whenever we were visiting Prague, as it is (in my opinion) a very balanced beer type that combines the complexity of flavours of dark kilned and roasted malts with a great drinkability, the kind of balance that other dark beer styles don’t quite achieve. But it is not always hard to find.

Inspired by this article, I noted all the tips and tricks on formulating a recipe and brewing the beer, then developed a preliminary recipe, and got together with my friend and neighbour Ben to actually brew this.

What we brewed in the end had the following grist:

  • 2.5 kg Bohemian Pilsner malt (49.0%)
  • 1.9 kg Munich II malt (37.2%)
  • 0.6 kg CaraBohemian (11.8%)
  • 0.1 kg Carafa Special II (2.0%)

One important technique that was emphasized in Evan’s article was to add the roasted malt (Carafa Special II) only in the lauter/sparge stage. If this hadn’t been mentioned, I would have simply added it to the main mash, intensely boiled it in the first decoction, and probably ended up with a beer with too much roasty bitterness.

In Czech tradition, we chose a double decoction as our mashing regime. We mashed in relatively cold, then pulled a very large decoction which we step-mashed with a rest at 73°C, and then boiled it for 15 minutes until we mixed it back to get to our conversion temperature of 66°C. After a while, we pulled a thin decoction, boiled it for 6 minutes, then mixed it back to get to 73°C. After 15 minutes, we then heated the mash up to 78°C for mash out.

After transferring to the lauter tun, we added the roasted malt to the top of the mash, and started collecting the wort. The impact of the roasted wort is subtle at the start, but will develop over time until we ended up with a dark but still slightly translucent wort.

As for the hops, we went for something really simple: just Czech Sladek hops (8% alpha acid), with two additions at 60 min (1 g/l to contribute about 17 IBU) and 20 min (1.7 g/l to contribute about 17 IBU) before the end of the boil, for a total of 34 IBU. That was another tip from the article, namely that the beer style can do with more bitterness that you’d think.

(As a side note, I find the name Sladek for that hop variety just great; Sladek was developed as a cross of Czech Saaz hops and Northern Brewer hops; Sladek means brewer in Czech, so crossing Northern Brewer with the classic Czech hop variety made it a Czech Brewer – a Sladek; this is my personal theory of why this name was chosen)

After 60 minutes of boiling, we chilled down the wort which had a OG of 13.6°P, even better than the 13.3°P I had planned the recipe for. When the wort had reached a temperature of 10°C, we finally pitched a healthy dose of bottom-fermenting yeast. That was actually a point where we deviated from the tips in the article. Ben had gotten his hands on fresh pitching yeast from a large industrial lager brewery here in Berlin, so of course we just had to use this very fresh, vital yeast instead of using a genuinely Czech strain (which was actually a bit hard to find at the time).

Fermentation went a bit slow, but after 4 weeks, we finally reached our FG of 3.8°P. This may seem high, but a point of the mash schedule was to produce a larger quantity of unfermentable sugars which would keep the FG high and the beer’s body full. After an excruciating 6 weeks of lagering at low temperatures, we finally bottled the beer last weekend, adding just half a liter of wort we had held back as a source of sugar for bottle conditioning. During lagering, the beer had already attained quite a bit of carbonation where CO2 simply naturally went into solution due to the lower temperatures, so not much Speise was necessary.

The final beer probably has about 5.3% ABV, at least that’s what our calculations said. And now look at this beauty:

The beer is dark, but not black. The foam is dense and off-white. And the taste? Just sublime. Better than any of the samples I had taken from the fermenter or even during bottling. If I had been served this in a pub in Czechia, I would have been very happy. There is some roasted bitterness, but it melds nicely with the hop bitterness. There’s a lot of chocolate and coffee going on in there, the body is full but not too full, making you want to drink another one at the end of it (I restrained myself and only had one, as I want to keep more of the beer for Christmas). There are notes of dark malts and caramel malt, but no cloying sweetness whatsoever.

Ben and I then went through the BJCP style guideline’s description of Czech Dark Lager, and the beer seemed to tick all the boxes. The bitterness is certainly on the high side, but I think it only makes it more interesting and adds some complexity.

All in all, we’re both very happy with the result. For me, it is probably the best beer I’ve brewed myself. I’m rather self-critical, and I could not find a single flaw. And I think what got me there were the quality ingredients, sticking to all the traditional methods that I had learned about, and most importantly, not cutting any corners in the brewing process.

The PGI Beer Style Guidelines

In 1992, the EU introduced the Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) framework to preserve the designations of origin of food- and drink-related products. In particular, three different systems exist: PDO, Protected Geographic Indication (PGI), and Traditional Specialities Guaranteed (TSG). Each of these are easily recognizable through their logos which you may have seen on food packaging.

And of course, a number of these are registered for specific beers. Out of curiosity, I looked into some of these and realized that some of them are rather specific. So I wondered… how many types of beer are registered as any of these geographic indications in a specific enough way to turn them into beer style guidelines akin to the BJCP or the Brewers Association’s Beer Style Guidelines. Turns out: quite a few. So here are my PGI Beer Style Guidelines (see at the end for a brief discussion):

Munich Beer

(source)

Helles

OG °P: 11.4 – 11.9
% ABV: 4.7 – 5.4
EBC: 5.0 – 8.5
IBU: 14.0 – 25.0

Light yellow, pale, palateful, pure, smooth, mildly to pleasantly hopped, delicately spicy to spicily fresh with a pleasant bitterness depending on the brewing process.

Export Hell

OG °P: 12.5 – 12.8
% ABV: 5.5 – 6.0
EBC: 5.5 – 7.5
IBU: 15.0 – 26.0

Light yellow, highly attenuated (until bright), palateful, ranging from mild, mellow-smooth through to strongly spicy, delicately hopped and delicate bitterness.

Export Dunkel

OG °P: 12.5 – 13.7
% ABV: 5.0 – 5.9
EBC: 42.0 – 59.9
IBU: 15.0 – 24.0

Mellow, smooth, malty aroma to strong, Munich malt sometimes dominant.

Pils

OG °P: 11.5 – 12.5
% ABV: 4.9 – 5.8
EBC: 5.5 – 7.0
IBU: 30 – 38

Slightly sharp, delicate, fine, hoppy bitterness, hoppy accents through to hoppy aroma, light, elegant, sparkling.

Leichtes Weißbier

OG °P: 7.7 – 8.4
% ABV: 2.8 – 3.2
EBC: 11.0 – 13.0
IBU: 13.0 – 15.0

Refreshing, effervescent, tangy, cloudy with yeast, typical top-fermented Weißbier taste.

Kristall Weizen

OG °P: 11.5 – 12.4
% ABV: 4.9 – 5.5
EBC: 7.5 – 12.5
IBU: 12.0 – 16.0

Effervescent, very tangy, filtered bright, clear, sparkling, top-fermented note, typically top-fermented.

Hefeweizen Hell

OG °P: 11.4 – 12.6
% ABV: 4.5 – 5.5
EBC: 11.0 – 20.0
IBU: 12.0 – 20.0

Highly attenuated, naturally cloudy, typical top-fermented character, tangy, refreshing, effervescent, sparkling, sometimes yeasty, Weißbier aroma.

Hefeweizen Dunkel

OG °P: 11.6 – 12.4
% ABV: 4.5 – 5.3
EBC: 29.0 – 45.0
IBU: 13.0 – 16.0

Naturally cloudy, mellow, malty taste/character, top-fermented note/character.

Märzen

OG °P: 13.2 – 14.0
% ABV: 5.3 – 6.2
EBC: 8.0 – 32.5
IBU: 21.0 – 25.0

Very mellow, palatable, mild, altbayerisch aroma to malty aroma, very mild bitterness.

Bockbier

OG °P: 16.2 – 17.3
% ABV: 6.2 – 8.1
EBC: 7.5 – 40.0
IBU: 18.0 – 32.5

Highly attenuated, ranging from mellow, palateful, smooth, aromatic, via delicately hopped, slightly sharp to well hopped, sometimes spicy in character.

Doppelbock

OG °P: 18.2 – 18.7
% ABV: 7.2 – 7.7
EBC: 44.0 – 75.0
IBU: 18.0 – 28.0

Strong, powerful, spicy, full-bodied, malty taste.

Leichtbier

OG °P: 7.5 – 7.7
% ABV: 2.7 – 3.2
EBC: 5.5 – 7.0
IBU: 24.0 – 26.5

Slightly sharp fine taste.

Diät Pils

OG °P: 8.5 – 9.3
% ABV: 4.3 – 4.9
EBC: 5.0 – 6.5
IBU: 26.0 – 30.0

Low in carbohydrates, slightly sharp, dry taste.

Schwarzbier

OG °P: 11.3
% ABV: 4.8
EBC: 70.0
IBU: 17.0

Slightly spicy malty aroma.

ICE-Bier

OG °P: 11.2
% ABV: 4.9
EBC: 6.5
IBU: 20.0

Harmonious, mellow, palateful.

Nähr-/Malzbier

OG °P: 12.3 – 12.7
% ABV: 0.0 – 1.2
EBC: 65.0 – 90.0
IBU: 8.0 – 15.0

Low in alcohol, very mildly attenuated, malty, spicy, very weakly hopped.

Oktoberfestbier

OG °P: 13.6 – 14.0
% ABV: 5.3 – 6.6
EBC: 6.0 – 28.0
IBU: 16.0 – 28.0

Light, golden, amber colours or dark, ranging from palateful, very mellow, smooth or malty aroma through to slightly hopped with a very mild bitterness or a powerful, slightly sweet taste.

Czech Beer

(source)

Pale Lager

OG °P: 11.00 – 12.99
% ABV: 3.8 – 6.0
EBC: 8.0 – 16.0
IBU: 20 – 45

Dark Lager

OG °P: 11.00 – 12.99
% ABV: 3.6 – 5.7
EBC: 50 – 120
IBU: 20 – 45

Pale Draught

OG °P: 8.00 – 10.99
% ABV: 2.8 – 5.0
EBC: 7.0 – 16.0
IBU: 16 – 28

Dark Draught

OG °P: 8.00 – 10.99
% ABV: 2.6 – 4.8
EBC: 50 – 120
IBU: 16 – 28

Light Beer

OG °P: 7.99% max
% ABV: 2.6 – 3.6
EBC: 6.0 – 14.0
IBU: 14 – 26

Bavarian Beer

(source)

Schankbier

OG °P: 7.0 – 9.0
% ABV: 2.5 – 3.5
EBC: 5 – 20
IBU: 10 – 30

bottom-fermented; a full-bodied, soft, fizzy beer with fewer calories and less alcohol by volume than Vollbier (full-strength beer).

Hell/Lager

OG °P: 11.0 – 12.5
% ABV: 4.5 – 5.5
EBC: 5 – 20
IBU: 10 – 25

bottom-fermented; a slightly aromatic, light, full-bodied, mild beer.

Pils

OG °P: 11.0 – 12.5
% ABV: 4.5 – 6.0
EBC: 5 – 15
IBU: 30 – 40

bottom-fermented; a distinctive, slightly sharp beer with a bitter edge lent by the hops.

Export

OG °P: 12.0 – 13.5
% ABV: 4.5 – 6.0
EBC: 5 – 65 (hell – dunkel)
IBU: 15 – 35

bottom-fermented; a full-bodied, well-rounded bitter taste.

Dunkel

OG °P: 11.0 – 14.0
% ABV: 4.5 – 6.0
EBC: 40 – 65
IBU: 15 – 35

bottom-fermented; a full-bodied beer with a malty aroma.

Schwarzbier

OG °P: 11.0 – 13.0
% ABV: 4.5 – 6.0
EBC: 65 – 150
IBU: 15 – 40

bottom-fermented; a beer with a roasted aroma, a slight malty aroma and a bitter edge lent by the hops.

Märzen/Festbier

OG °P: 13.0 – 14.5
% ABV: 5.0 – 6.5
EBC: 7 – 40
IBU: 12 – 45

bottom-fermented; a malty-flavoured beer with a slightly bitter edge lent by the hops.

Bock

OG °P: 16.0 – 18.0
% ABV: 6.0 – 8.5
EBC: 7 – 120 (hell – dunkel)
IBU: 15 – 40

bottom-fermented; a full-bodied, malty-flavoured beer with a delicate aroma of hops.

Doppelbock

OG °P: 18.0 – 21.0
% ABV: 7.0 – 9.5
EBC: 10 – 150 (hell – dunkel)
IBU: 15 – 35

bottom-fermented; a distinctly full-bodied, malty-flavoured beer with a hint of caramel.

Weizenschankbier

OG °P: 7.0 – 9.0
% ABV: 2.5 – 3.5
EBC: 7 – 30
IBU: 5 – 20

top-fermented; a fizzy beer with the aroma of yeast.

Weizenbier

OG °P: 11.0 – 13.5
% ABV: 4.5 – 5.5
EBC: 5 – 65 (hell – dunkel)
IBU: 10 – 30

top-fermented; a fruity beer with an aroma of wheat and a slightly malty flavour.

Kristallweizen

OG °P: 11.0 – 13.5
% ABV: 4.5 – 5.5
EBC: 5 – 18
IBU: 5 – 20

top-fermented; a carbonated beer with the aroma of wheat.

Rauchbier

OG °P: 11.0 – 14.5
% ABV: 4.5 – 6.0
EBC: 30 – 60
IBU: 20 – 30

bottom-fermented; a full-bodied beer with a smoky flavour.

Kellerbier/Zwickelbier

OG °P: 11.0 – 13.5
% ABV: 4.5 – 6.0
EBC: 5 – 60
IBU: 10 – 35

bottom-fermented; a beer with a slightly bitter edge lent by the hops, unfiltered, tapped from the lower part of the barrel, with a low carbon dioxide content.

Eisbier/Icebier

OG °P: 11.0 – 13.0
% ABV: 4.5 – 5.0
EBC: 5 – 20
IBU: 10 – 25

bottom-fermented; very mild and soft.

Kulmbacher Beer

(source)

Alkoholreduziert

OG °P: 7.3 – 7.9
% ABV: 2.8 – 3.2
EBC: 5.0 – 7.0
IBU: 25 – 30

A mellow, slightly sharp-tasting beer with the trademark flavour of Kulmbacher Pils.

Pils

OG °P: 11.1 – 11.8
% ABV: 4.7 – 5.2
EBC: 5.0 – 11.0
IBU: 23 – 38

A mellow, lightly hopped beer with a fresh, delicately bitter character.

Lager hell

OG °P: 11.0 – 13.0
% ABV: 4.8 – 5.2
EBC: 6.5 – 12
IBU: 18 – 26

A balanced, mellow, mild-flavoured beer.

Lager dunkel

OG °P: 11.5 – 13.0
% ABV: 4.8 – 5.2
EBC: 30 – 40
IBU: 18 – 22

A mellow, malty-aromatic beer.

Export hell

OG °P: 12.1 – 13.0
% ABV: 4.7 – 5.9
EBC: 6.5 – 15
IBU: 22 – 30

A smooth, mildly aromatic-flavoured beer.

Export dunkel

OG °P: 12.1 – 13.0
% ABV: 4.7 – 5.6
EBC: 35 – 100
IBU: 22 – 32

This beer has a distinctively smooth and lightly hopped flavour.

Festbier

OG °P: 13.0 – 13.7
% ABV: 5.4 – 5.9
EBC: 10 – 13
IBU: 23 – 25

This is a strong, aromatic, slightly sweet beer with a robust colour.

Bock dunkel

OG °P: 16.0 – 16.8
% ABV: 6.4 – 6.8
EBC: 25 – 40
IBU: 21 – 27

This is lightly hopped, medium-coloured strong beer.

Starkbier hell

OG °P: 24.0 – 30.0
% ABV: 9.0 – 11.2
EBC: 30 – 38
IBU: 15 – 26

This is a lightly hopped, mediumcoloured strong beer.

Starkbier dunkel

OG °P: 24 – 30
% ABV: 9.0 – 11.2
EBC: 60 – 100
IBU: 15 – 26

This malty aromatic, dark, robust strong beer is the strongest beer in the world: EKU (Erste Kulmbacher Actienbrauerei) 28.

Hefeweizen alkoholreduziert

OG °P: 7.3 – 8.0
% ABV: 2.8 – 3.4
EBC: 7.0 – 15.0
IBU: 13 – 17

This is a light-flavoured, typical Weizenbier (literally “wheat beer”).

Hefeweizen hell

OG °P: 12.2 – 12.9
% ABV: 5.0 – 5.6
EBC: 10.0 – 15.0
IBU: 13 – 17

This is a slightly sweet, robust typical top-fermented beer.

Hefeweizen dunkel

OG °P: 12.2 – 12.9
% ABV: 4.9 – 5.4
EBC: 60 – 80
IBU: 13 – 17

This is a malty-aromatic, dark beer with the typical characteristics of a top-fermented beer.

Lower Francian (“Mainfranken”) Beer

(source)

Leichtbier

OG °P: 7 – 9
% ABV: 2.4 – 2.9
EBC: 6 – 12
IBU: 15 – 30

Hell/Lager

OG °P: 11 – 12.5
% ABV: 4.5 – 5
EBC: 7 – 15, 40+
IBU: 12 – 30

Pils

OG °P: 11 – 13
% ABV: 4.8 – 5.2
EBC: 6 – 12
IBU: 25 – 35

Schwarzbier

OG °P: 11 – 13
% ABV: 4.8 – 5.3
EBC: 40 – 80
IBU: 25 – 35

Export

OG °P: 12 – 13.5
% ABV: 4.9 – 5.5
EBC: 6 – 15, 40 – 80
IBU: 16 – 25

Märzen/Festbier

OG °P: 13 – 14
% ABV: 5.0 – 5.7
EBC: 10 – 20
IBU: 16 – 30

Weizenbier

OG °P: 11 – 13.5
% ABV: 4.8 – 5.5
EBC: 7 – 20, 40+
IBU: 12 – 20

Weizenbock

OG °P: 16 – 18
% ABV: 5.5 – 7.2
EBC: 7 – 20, 40+
IBU: 12 – 20

Bock/Doppelbock

OG °P: 16 – 19
% ABV: 5.5 – 7.2
EBC: 10 – 20, – 80
IBU: 20 – 30

Českobudějovické (Budweiser) Beer

(source)

Pale Lager

OG °P: 11.4 – 12.3
% ABV: 4.6 – 5.3
EBC: 9 – 13
IBU: 20 – 24

Aroma: medium to strong intensity, pronounced aroma of fine aromatic Žatec hops.

Taste: bitterness of slight to medium intensity, mild to slightly harsh character, medium to full-bodied taste with a sweetish aftertaste, pronounced sharpness.

Kräusened Pale Lager

OG °P: 11.4 – 12.3
% ABV: 4.6 – 5.3
EBC: 9 – 13
IBU: 20 – 24

Aroma: medium to strong intensity, pronounced aroma of fine aromatic Žatec hops.

Taste: bitterness of slight to medium intensity, mild to slightly harsh character, full- to very full-bodied taste with a sweetish aftertaste, pronounced sharpness.

Pale draught beer

OG °P: 9.5 – 10.1
% ABV: 3.5 – 4.5
EBC: 8 – 12
IBU: 18 – 21

Aroma: medium to strong intensity, pronounced aroma of fine aromatic Žatec hops.

Taste: bitterness of slight to medium intensity, slightly harsh character, medium-bodied taste with a sweetish aftertaste, pronounced sharpness.

Special beer

OG °P: 16.0 – 17.0
% ABV: 7.4 – 8.2
EBC: 11 – 17
IBU: 24 – 28

Aroma: medium to strong intensity, pronounced aroma of fine aromatic Žatec hops.

Taste: bitterness of medium to strong intensity, mild to slightly harsh character, full- to very full-bodied taste with a sweetish aftertaste, pronounced sharpness.

Non-alcoholic beer

OG °P: 3 – 4
% ABV: 0.2 – 0.5
EBC: 5 – 7
IBU: 22 – 26

Aroma: medium intensity, pronounced aroma of fine aromatic Žatec hops, slightly reminiscent of hopped wort.

Taste: bitterness of medium intensity, slightly harsh character, light-bodied taste, pronounced sharpness, with a hint of hopped wort.

Dark lager

OG °P: 10.5 – 12.0
% ABV: 4.0 – 5.3
EBC: 60 – 120
IBU: 20 – 35

Aroma: medium to strong intensity, pronounced aroma of fine aromatic Žatec hops and roasted malt.

Taste: bitterness of medium to strong intensity, mild to moderately harsh character, full- to very full-bodied taste with a dry, roasted aftertaste, pronounced sharpness.

Lithuanian Beer

Kaimiškas Jovarų alus

(source)

OG °P: 12.0 – 15.0
% ABV: 5.6 ± 1.0
EBC: 15 – 38
IBU: 10 – 30

Colour: the colour ranges from golden yellow to golden brown (amber).

Appearance: the beer froths when poured into a jug or glass, usually creating a tall head of thick, white foam. Characteristic turbidity as a result of the yeast sediment.

Nose: a notable aroma of yeast, bread, caramel and fruit.

Taste: an intense, malty beer taste. Characteristic bitter taste of hops with a hint of yeast, berries, caramel, hazelnuts, herbs and citrus fruit. If natural honey is added, there is a hint of honey.

Discussion

What is very noticeable is that all these guidelines are awfully specific. In particular the Bavarian groups of beer styles (Munich, Mainfranken, Kulmbach, Bavaria) have a significant amount of overlap in terms of styles, and of course, they mostly contradict each other in terms of what’s an outlier but still “within style” for original gravity, ABV, bitterness and colour. Some styles even seem very restricted, like the maximum bitterness of a Munich Pils would be 38 IBU, 40 for a Bavarian Pils, 38 for Kulmbacher Pils (which in turn could be as low as 23 IBU), or even only 35 for Lower Franconian Pils.

The next question is of course: how would any of this be enforced? Several of the official documents list contact addresses for fraudulent usage of the PGI term, but what would be fraudulent here? If a Bavarian brewed a 45 IBU Pils and put a Bavarian Beer PGI logo on their bottles, would that constitute fraud and a misuse of the PGI logo? Or are these style descriptions just vague suggestions? That’s been entirely unclear to me.

A funny detail to be found in the list of styles is a former fad in German brewing that has died off since the original filing of these documents: one of them is Diät Pils, a term that has actually been discontinued in Germany about a decade ago when it was prohibited to produce and advertise food products specifically for diabetics. Another one is Eisbier or “ice beer” (not to be confused with Eisbock, a freeze-distilled strong beer), where beer is lagered at colder temperatures than normal and ice crystals are filtered out which allegedly also removes some of the bitterness compounds and thus produces a very mild-tasting beer. In fact, both fads have fallen so much out of fashion that amendments have been filed to remove both from the PGI documents.

One thing I also need to note is that I only included some of the beer-related PGI filings. Some were not specific enough (like Kölsch, which just seems to be a translation of the Kölsch-Konvention), others were a bit ridiculous because they are so hyper-regional that at the time of filing, only 2 breweries existed there (like in the case of Hofer Bier from Hof/Saale in Bavaria). No PDO filings for beer seem to exist. There exist several TSG filings for various beers, though, but I chose to not include them because they were not quite specific enough.

Experience in Brewing a Belgian-Style Tripel

I’m not really an expert on Belgian beer styles. I do like my gueuzes and lambics, and there are some Belgian beers that enjoy occasionally (my wife and I keep a collection of various vintages of Orval), but my personal interest is not exactly focused on Belgian beer, and therefore I don’t seek them out regularly or brew them at home.

My Dutch neighbour Rick though, he’s very much into Belgian beer styles. When he learned that I knew how to brew beer at home, it was clear that we had to brew something together. I asked him what his favourite beer style was (it’s Tripel, with his favourite beer being Tripel Karmeliet), and so we decided to brew a Tripel. Prior to that, I had only brewed one Tripel that was loosely inspired by Brooklyn Brewery’s Local 1. So off I went to do a bit of research.

My first decision was to make the base mostly Pilsner malt, and use some sort of sugar so as to make the beer “thinner”. With a high original gravity, you’d expect the final gravity to be fairly high and the beer to be full-bodied, so adding sugar to amp up the original gravity but keep the final gravity at a fairly low level is the way to go.

With the hope of adding a bit more complexity to the malt profile of the beer, I decided to also add 500g of flaked spelt. Not only is it a fairly cheap and easy to get ingredient, it could potentially also impart its own flavour to the beer, and (as a relative of wheat) also help with head retention.

When it came to the choice of sugar, I first looked at what my options are with pale candi sugar. Turns out, candi sugar syrup from home-brew stores is really expensive, and so I decided to look into other types of sugar. I found a slide deck “The Sugars of Tripel” by Ted Hausotter which discusses several option in great detail and also involved some experimentation. If you plan to brew a Tripel yourself and are thinking your sugar options as well, don’t miss this presentation. Looking at the slides of tasting results and rankings of the type of sugar used, I opted to go for cane sugar, as it seemed an okay option that also didn’t deteriorate flavour-wise over time. There was some warning that sucrose could add a slight cidery note to the finished beer, but I was willing to risk that.

As for the yeast, I took a closer look at what my options were with dry yeast. Fermentis has two options that could roughly fit the phenolic and estery profile of Tripel, namely SafAle BE-256 and SafAle T-58. Lallemand also has two options, one is their LalBrew Abbaye, the other one a more recent offering that might seem a bit unusual at first: LalBrew Farmhouse, which they describe as a hybrid-style saison yeast. Unlike most other saison strains, this one is non-diastatic, meaning the yeast is missing a gene that would otherwise help it enzymes to break unfermentable sugars down to help ferment a beer to absolute dryness.

When I came across that product, it actually got me thinking: normally, saison yeasts are a bit more phenolic in their flavour profile, but if that yeast is indeed non-diastatic, I could end up with a beer less dry and still with enough body to make it a convincing Tripel. What’s the worst that could happen? If the flavour profile does turn more towards a typical saison, I’d have something akin to Dupont Bons Voeux. So let’s be a bit experimental.

When it came to hopping, I wanted to have enough bitterness and hop aroma so as not to make this beer too sweet. It’s what I had noticed with some Tripels, and Joe Stange had also mentioned to me in the past that Tripels can work surprisingly well even with higher levels of bitterness. I think his prime example was Westmalle Tripel. When aging strong beers, my experience is that you could lose quite a bit of noticeable bitterness, so it’s better to aim too high than too low. In the end, I decided for go for 1g/L of Herkules (16.7% alpha acid) as bittering addition, 1g/L of 2021 harvest Saaz hops (4.2% alpha acid) as flavour addition (30 minutes before end of boil), and 2.5g/L of the same Saaz hops as late aroma addition (5 minutes). In terms of calculated IBU, this should end up at about 38 IBU.

The brew day itself was fairly relaxed: Rick and I mashed in 5.2 kg of Bohemian Pilsner malt and 500g of flaked spelt, did an initial protein rest for about 15 minutes at 54°C, then ramped up to 62°C for saccharification for about 40 minutes, and then 72°C for another 30 minutes, finished off with an increase to 78°C. Lautering and sparging went fine, and we mixed in and dissolved 1.2 kg of cane sugar (an organic own brand from a local health and beauty retailer that is ever so slightly darker than regular table sugar). After 60 minutes of boiling and adding all our hop additions according to schedule, we chilled the wort to 20°C, measured OG (19°P) and pitched two sachets of the Lallemand Farmhouse yeast.

I had originally planned the recipe for an OG of 18.5°P, but for whatever reason, we had slightly higher extraction and got 19°P. Surely not a bad thing.

After about 2 weeks, the beer was fully fermented. We then bottled it, using the same cane sugar for priming, and then let it sit for a few weeks for bottle-conditioning. The final beer came out at 2.7°P FG, which means that the final beer should have about 9.2% ABV.

We finally sampled the first bottle together this Friday. The resulting beer was actually less bitter than expected, and the hop aroma was more subtle than what I had expected, but nevertheless present in sufficient amounts. The beer itself looked slightly hazy, with a pale orange tone that made it look very inviting. The foam was very white, long-lasting and pretty dense, while the carbonation was exactly the right amount to make it pleasantly fizzy but not overly so (we went for about 2.5 volumes / 5g/L carbon dioxide). As for the flavour of the beer itself, I think the yeast expressed a very balanced amount of fruity ester and spicy phenols without either of them being too much in your face or overpowering anything. The body is just right, not too dry and not too full, which makes the beer dangerously easy to drink. The alcohol does not show at all, it is very smooth and slightly warming, and no cidery note from using cane sugar was noticeable. Rick (as a home-brewing newbie and Belgian beer aficionado) was very happy, and so was I, as I hadn’t brewed this style much beforehand, and therefore was really just guessing my way into a recipe based on some reading about the style that I had done.

(it glows more when held against the light)

The choice of yeast, although a bit risky because it was supposedly not an ideal match for the style, was a good call, and I can absolutely recommend Lallemand Farmhouse dry yeast for Belgian Tripels and similar styles. Keeping the grist simple with just Pilsner malt and spelt flakes also turned out to be a good choice, as was the use of cane sugar.

To summarize the recipe:

  • 5.2 kg Pilsner malt
  • 0.5 kg flaked spelt
  • 1.2 kg cane sugar
  • 20 g Herkules hops (16.7% alpha acid) @ 60 minutes
  • 20 g Saaz hops (4.2% alpha acid) @ 30 minutes
  • 50 g Saaz hops (4.2% alpha acid) @ 5 minutes
  • 2 sachets Lallemand Farmhouse hybrid saison yeast

Mash in and do multi-step infusion mash as described above (54°C, 62°C 40 min, 72°C 30 min, 78°C mash-out), lauter, sparge, add cane sugar to wort, boil 60 minutes with hop additions as describe above, chill to 20°C, pitch yeast, package with carbonation level of 2.5 volumes / 5g/L.

2021, The Year of Vienna Lager?

Yesterday, I half-jokingly tweeted that two UK breweries best known for brewing German-style beers brewing a collaboration Vienna Lager is proof that 2021 is the year of Vienna Lager.

This actually made me reflect a bit on what happened since I published my book about the beer style. The book itself was very well received. I really feel like it filled a gap, and cleared up a lot of confusion about the style’s history. Of course, it takes a while to spread that knowledge, and I still come across some of the old myths around Vienna Lager that I was able to dispel.

Red Willow Brewery were the first ones to contact me about their own Vienna Lager. They had recently brewed one (named Meaningless, because of the Ultravox lyrics “This means nothing to me / Oh, Vienna” and all their beer names end with -less), and then found out about my book which they liked a lot. They were happy to send me a sample, and it was a good beer. Maltiness and bitterness were on the low end of the scale, but it’s certainly the kind of beer of which I’d have many more in one session, and thus in my opinion represented the spirit of Vienna Lager, to be an easily drinkable, flavourful beer that you can just enjoy with no fuzz.

One of the more surprising requests got to me just after Christmas when Rune Lindgreen of People Like Us reached out to me to get input on a Vienna Lager recipe. They were in the process of developing a coffee-infused Vienna Lager, certainly not the most traditional approach to the style, and wanted to get their base recipe counter-checked. I didn’t really have to do much, as the recipe looked fairly solid (I won’t go into details, but mostly Vienna malt as base malt, with small amounts of a few specialty malts). Then COVID hit me really bad, and it took me a while to recover from that, but a few months ago, I received several cans of the beer. Even though I’m not much of a coffee drinker, I was really impressed by this rather unusual interpretation: the base beer tasted exactly like I’d expect a modern Vienna Lager, some maltiness, balanced hop bitterness, well-attenuated, all with a distinct Vienna malt character, while the coffee added a particular roasted bitterness with some fruitiness that was enjoyable even for me.

By far the biggest surprise though was when Westerham Brewery from Kent got in touch with me. They had read my book, and took this line as a challenge:

As of 2020, no maltings is known to produce a Vienna malt using a historic variety such as Haná or Chevallier.

They got in touch with Crisp Malt, a traditional Norfolk-based maltings that still employs traditional floor malting techniques. In recent years, Crisp Malt has put considerable work in reestablishing old heritage barley varieties and turning them into quality malts. One of these heritage varieties is Haná, the old Moravian barley variety that was hailed the most in Austria for its brewing qualities. Crisp Malt had previously released a Haná Pilsner malt, and so they had the resources to also create a Haná Vienna malt. Long story short, Westerham brewed a Vienna Lager from it, and Crisp Malt started selling the malt as part of their small batch series. While I didn’t do much other than research and write a wee book, I’m full of joy to have inspired a brewery and a maltings to collaborate and produce a malt and a beer based on what I’ve written. I think it also speaks for the beer style that not only people are enthusiastic about it, but that even businesses are willing to take on some risk in recreating it true to the historic original.

Earlier this year, I was able to visit my family in Austria, which also gave me the chance to try out Austrian supermarket Vienna Lagers. That’s right, ever since two large Austrian breweries, Ottakringer and Schwechater (actually the original brewery where Vienna Lager was invented, nowadays owned by Heineken), released modern recreations of the style, Vienna Lager is a thing again back in its country of origin. I tested this by simply going to a local supermarket and picking two 4-packs of canned Vienna Lager. Austrian Märzen (similar to Bavarian Helles, but with a more robust bitterness) and Radler are still dominating Austrian supermarket beer aisles, but the fact that I can get two different mainstream brands in a regular supermarket shows that there is a niche for the style that goes way beyond craft beer.

Both beers are very similar: some maltiness, very well-attenuated, balanced bitterness, good body, a pale amber colour that is just a tad darker than e.g. Pilsner Urquell, and incredibly easy drinking and refreshing. The Schwechater version even features a picture of Anton Dreher, the inventor of the style, together with an extremely brief description of the style’s history. A tiny bit of beer history education.

Speaking of beer history education, Craft Beer & Brewing published a great article by Jeff Alworth summarizing the history of Vienna Lager, as well my historic reconstruction of the original Vienna Lager as it was brewed in the 1870s. On top of that, another book touching the subject of Vienna Lager was published, unfortunately in German only. Die Geschichte der Brauerei Schwechat, co-authored by Schwechater brewmaster Andreas Urban, which dissects the history of Schwechater brewery and the Dreher family in greatest detail, even better than my own book, with a large amount of previously unpublished pictures. It very much focuses on the brewery itself, though, so if you’re interested in Vienna Lager itself or don’t understand German, I can still recommend my own book. 😉

My views may be skewed, as I’ve been immersed in the whole topic of Vienna Lager for quite a while now, but at least my impression is that there is indeed an increased interest in the beer style. I’m very glad about that, as I still think it’s a fantastic beer. Donzoko’s and Braybrooke’s collaboration is just the latest interpretation of the style, but I’m sure it won’t be the last. In the “German Brewing” Facebook group, pictures of both home-brewed and commercially brewed Vienna Lager are posted at least semi-regularly, people on various social media platforms contact me to tell me about their latest home-brewed examples, and even I, together with a friend, recently brewed a 10° Abzugsbier version (well, it turned into a 11° beer as we overshot our expected efficiency) which is currently lagering. So, 2021 may indeed be the year of Vienna Lager.

About Dampfbier

So, the story of Dampfbier (lit. steam beer) goes like this… a 19th century Bavarian brewer who didn’t have a permit to brew with wheat malt instead brewed one with only lightly kilned barley malt and fermented it with a Weißbier yeast. As the beer was vigorously fermenting, it looked like steam coming off the beer, hence the name “Dampfbier”.

The problem here is… if a beer style’s origin story sounds too good to be true, it probably is not actually rooted in history. Naive me would simply ask why other beers like Weißbier brewed with wheat malt wouldn’t be called the same name because supposedly, the yeast would ferment as vigorous. When we actually look at historic sources though, an entirely different picture is unveiled:

One very early mention of Dampfbier can be found in Landwirthschaftliches ConversationsLexicon für Praktiker und Laien from 1837. The meaning is a different one, though: it is used to describe beer that was brewed using steam coming from a steam boiler as a heat source for mashing as well as boiling the wort. In that particular case, brewing itself really seemed more of a side business, as most of the article is about how the steam boiler was used in a distillery in Galicia that made Polish distilled spirit from potatoes, supposedly what would be called wodka nowadays.

Philipp Heiss, former brewmaster at Spaten brewery and author of Die Bierbrauerei mit besonderer Berücksichtigung der Dickmaischbrauerei (1853), added a small section in his book about brewing with steam. He sees two main applications: to use steam engines as a power source to steadily drive all kinds of machines in a brewery, and to use the steam as a direct or indirect heat source. He talked about several attempts to brew beer using steam, in particular brewer Zacherl (Paulaner) in Munich and Wanka in Prague, but classified both as less than successful. Heiss described Dampfbier as getting sour more quickly, and in total definitely wasn’t convinced about the technique.

Differences between beer brewed with steam vs. those with fire as heat source remained a hot topic in the decades to follow. In Dingler’s Polytechnisches Journal, a 1889 article lists a few experimental results. At Berlin’s Versuchs- und Lehranstalt für Brauerei (VLB), the amount of fuel required to brew beer using steam was determined to be significantly less than using direct firing, certainly one good argument in favour of steam. In addition, Schloßbrauerei in Schöneberg conducted an experiment to directly compare lager beer brewed using fire with beer of the same type brewed using steam, and the differences were negligible, “contrary to the widespread prejudice that Dampfbier was less full-bodied”.

I could go one like this, but when looking at historic sources, one thing becomes very clear very quickly: Dampfbier in the 19th century purely referred to beer brewed using steam as a heat source, not barley beers fermented with Weißbier yeast.

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

So, what can be said to vindicate the beer style? Beer brewed from pale barley malt and fermented using Weißbier yeast definitely existed and is well-documented. Friedrich Meyer mentioned Weißbier brewed from pale barley malt, sometimes with the addition of small amounts of wheat malt in his books, e.g. 1830 Die bayerische Bierbrauerei. The 1847 edition of this book even makes a distinction between weißes Gerstenbier (white barley beer) and weißes Weitzenbier (white wheat beer), but also explains that the term Weißbier commonly refers to the former.

So, in that sense, the beer style that some people nowadays call Dampfbier definitely existed. It just used to be called Weißbier (white beer), and has nothing to do with the historic understanding of Dampfbier as a beer brewed using steam. Personally, I’m just unhappy with the term as it is confusing, it gives credence to the too-good-to-be-true origin story, and it hides the much more complex history of white beers in Bavaria.

Carinthian Steinbier

Carinthian Steinbier (stone beer) is a very unique but extinct beer tradition in Austria, and probably the only farmhouse brewing tradition that survived long enough to be documented by historians and brewers alike. At the same time, Carinthian Steinbier was also brewed commercially, by a number of local breweries in Carinthia, with some stone beer brewing also documented in adjacent Styria.

Stone beer brewing is based on the principle that hot, glowing stones were used to heat up liquid in simple wooden vessels. This approach allows heating up a mash even without the availability of a metal kettle, something that would have been unavailable or prohibitively expensive for the vast majority of farmers for a very long time. It is considered to be the most primitive way of brewing, but at the same is probably also one of the oldest ways of brewing beer. If you’re interested in the general history and technique of stone beer brewing in Europe, I can recommend the excellent book Historical Brewing Techniques by Lars Marius Garshol, or his article How stone beer was brewed. I’ve previously also discussed Carinthian Steinbier in my book Historic German and Austrian Beers for the Home Brewer.

Carinthian Steinbier is interesting because it survived for a fairly long time, until 1917 to be exact, despite repeated attempts to completely supplant it with what was called “kettle brewing”, i.e. brewing involving metal kettles. During other research, I recently stumbled upon a 1962 article that is probably the most detailed description of Carinthian Steinbier tradition that I’ve found so far.

In Die Steinbiererzeugung, ein ausgestorbenes Gewerbe in Kärnten (lit. “stone beer production, an extinct industry in Carinthia”), Josef Grömmer discusses Steinbier brewing in Carinthia, the common brewing practices over time including the last few surviving breweries up to the demise of Steinbier in Carinthia. I will try and summarize the article here and highlight what I would consider to be important in these accounts.

Steinbier brewing used to be the standard mode of beer brewing in Carinthia until the 18th century, when empress Maria Theresia permitted kettle brewing to one brewer Simon Jessernigg in Klagenfurt, Carinthia’s capital. Farmhouse-brewed Steinbier seems to have been common in Carinthia for ages, but at least from the 14th century on, it was also done on a commercial basis and provided hundreds of people in Klagenfurt alone with jobs during the 18th century. Authors in the 19th century sometimes described Steinbier to be a drink purely consumed by the ethnically Slovenian population (Carinthia has been ethnically mixed between a German and Slovenian population, a fact that has caused massive political tensions especially during the 20th century and to a certain extent up to this day), but this was heavily disputed by others.

Steinbier brewing in Carinthia only ended in 1917, but interestingly not because of difficulties in sales, but rather because raw material had become unavailable. This was a problem of the Austrian brewing industry in general during World War I. The largest brewery, Schwechater, had to brew “beer” from broad beans, potato starch, various types of syrup, sugar beets or even plum jam due to a general malting prohibition that had been enacted in 1916. This also meant the end for the last two Steinbier breweries, Kaschitz and Ure, both located in Waidmannsdorf, nowadays a district of Klagenfurt.

As for the Carinthian Steinbier brewing process itself, it is fairly well-documented. Grömmer’s articles even provides sketches of a complete brewhouse as well as a photo of the Ure brewery that had been fully preserved in the Technical Museum in Vienna.

Brewing of course started with malting. The common grains that were used were barley, oats and wheat. Depending on the brewery, differerent ratios of these grains were used, such as 60%/25%/15% barley/wheat/oats, while others simply used a third per grain type. Earlier reports from the 18th century say that brewers at the time used oat malt exclusively.

The grains were steeped and then let to sprout. In modern malting practice, the grains would get turned regularly, but not so much in Carinthia: the grains were mostly let to sprout by themselves, which made them get stuck together. Historic brewing literature calls this “Filzmalz”, or “felt malt” (like the textile). This was done for a particular reason: the kilns used were extraordinarily primitive smoke kilns. These kilns didn’t even have a metal grid or mesh, but instead only consisted of wickerwork set up in the form of a slightly sloped roof. Due to the shape, this construction was called a “Satteldarre” (lit. “saddle kiln”). We can see the specific form of this kiln even in Grömmer’s sketches:

The malt was kilned for 24 hours using cherry wood for the fire and was then stored without removing germs or rootlets. Apparently, the germs quickly reabsorbed moisture which made it hard to actually properly crush the malt, so it often only got squeezed open.

The breweries themselves were rather minimalistic in their equipment. One brewery was reported to only have the following brewing equipment: two large vats, one small vat, 15 pointed conical casks, one bag, one pump with a bucket, two carriers for stones, one “Grantner” (a trough to collect wort), one small vessel to scoop stuff, one brick underlay for a large cask, one kiln, two pliers to pick up stones, two forks to pick up stones, one wooden mash stirrer, one open fireplace and one lantern.

We know how the brewing itself worked thanks to Fritz Kaschitz, who in his 20s was brewing foreman in a Carinthian Steinbier brewery and brewed his last batch of Steinbier in 1917. In the 1960s, he was described as “Carinthia’s last living Steinbier brewer”. He gave account about Steinbier brewing in 1955.

Brewing was done like this: 600 kg of malt (1/3 barley malt, 1/3 oat malt, 1/3 wheat malt) were coarsely crushed. At 23:45 in the evening, the fire was started to heat up the stones. It took about 2 to to 2.5 hours to bring them up to full temperature when they were glowing red. The specific fire wood used here was pine. To pick up the stones, long pliers were used, while to carry the stones around, wooden carriers were used that had been watered for several hours to prevent them from burning.

On the bottom of the mash tun several juniper branches were put. They needed to be as fresh as possible. If they were too dry, they would lose their needles and lose their function as mash filters. They were held down by stones, and then water was added at a temperature of 62 to 75°C. Then hot stones were added to bring the water to a boil, and then 7 kg of hops were added. The hot stones were not fully submerged, so the hops were “roasted” for one minute. To prevent them from burning, more water was slowly added, then the mash tun was covered and left for 10 minutes.

During this break, a few small stones were added to a small vessel and water was added, then another bigger vat was put over it for steam-cleaning.

After 10 minutes, the mash tun covers were removed and mashing in started. Under constant stirring, the crushed oat malt was added. Stirring had to be vigorous to prevent the malt from settling in the juniper branches. More hot and cold water was added. Only then, the barley malt was mashed in, and in some circumstances, also small amounts of roasted malt.

The mash was then carefully stirred for 30 minutes. At the same time, the wheat malt was mashed in with tepid water in a smaller vessel. Later, hot stones were added to both vessels to slowly increase the temperature up to boiling. The stones were carefully placed at different places to prevent the mash from scorching. The small vessel with the wheat malt was then left until the morning, and only then mixed back into the main mash. The big mash vessel was then brought to a complete boil using stones of weights up to 20 kg. This usually took until 4am, followed by a rest until 6am.

At 6am, the tap (really nothing more than a bung) was slowly opened and the first wort was drawn. Any wort that wasn’t clear was scooped back into the mash vessel. The clear wort was then collected in the Grantner and left to cool a bit until it was moved to the fermenter. Then the mash was sparged using more hot water, and more wort was collected in the Grantner until it eventually ended up in the fermenter.

The original gravity of this unboiled wort was measured at 6° Balling, while the last runnings were at 1.2° Balling. The whole brewing process was supervised by a tax officer who measured volume as well as original gravity, the basis for taxation.

In the fermenter, the wort was left to cool. Fermenters were previously washed with hot water, then cleaned with a brush and rinsed with cold water, and finally put over bits of burning juniper branches, with a stake on the side to allow fresh air to sustain the little fire.

When the wort was at 22°C, yeast was added. The yeast was usually repitched from the bottom of the serving casks, but every two years, the yeast was replaced with new yeast from a Weißbier brewery from Munich. Fermentation was done for 7 to 10 hours, after which the beer was filled into smaller serving casks which then got bunged up. Fermentation times varied, and especially during the colder months, would take place over a longer time period and much lower temperatures as low as 10°C.

When the beer casks were tapped, they were highly carbonated, and the beer was poured with lots of foam, usually at serving temperatures of 15 to 18°C. Besides a slightly sour flavour, a subtle smoke flavour was also noticeable, even more so when the beer was served cold. Especially during warmer seasons, the beer had a tendency to go sour very quickly. It never kept well, and tapped casks needed to be finished within 2 days.

There were of course variations of this process. One example is the 1905 article Vom Steinbier by R. Dürnwirth, which is what I’ve used as the basis for the Steinbier recipe in my book. But Mr. Kaschitz’s account describes the process in the last few years of Steinbier brewing in Carinthia.

That Elusive Horner Bier

Yesterday, August 28, Seedstock Brewery released a pilot batch of their Horner Bier, which makes them the first brewery in over 100 years to do so. Evan Rail wrote an article on VinePair.com about this particular beer style which, while often mentioned in historic beer literature, is so hard to get a grip on. What we basically know about the beer style itself is that it was brewed from oat malt, very pale and quite murky, slightly sour (something that’s been attributed to the use of cream of tartar), highly carbonated and very refreshing.

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

This all got me thinking, and so I went back to researching, going through all the digital libraries that I’ve used in the past, to see whether there were any more details about Horner Bier that I hadn’t been aware of before.

To cut it short: there was not a whole lot of new stuff, in particular nothing that would give any more insight into how the beer used to be brewed. But I found out more things about the culture around this beer.

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

Horner seems to have been an exclusively bottled beer, very highly carbonated and certainly not cheap compared to other beer types. Most likely because of that, Horner Bier in Vienna in the 18th century and the early 19th century had a similar status of champagne later on, as a drink that somebody would order to display their social status and wealth.

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

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

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

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

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

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