Category Archives: Beer Styles

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.

Hansla: the Revival of an old Beer Style

Germany is slightly opening up. ICE trains are going again, and in Bavaria, hotels and holiday apartments are again allowed to open and host tourists. Since we’ve been practically locked in for almost 3 months, my wife and I decided on a short notice to go to Bamberg for a quick trip.

The ICE from Berlin to Bamberg is quick, less than 3 hours with just a few stops. Our holiday flat was located near Wunderburg, a small district of Bamberg a bit off the town center which is best known for its two breweries that are practically opposite of each other, Keesmann and Mahrs Bräu. Most of the days were rather rainy, which was a good opportunity to walk around a bit, enjoy the scenery of this historic city, and then find the good places for beer. And, amazingly, physical distancing both in pubs and beer gardens worked really well all across Bamberg. Everyone was compliant, wore masks where and when asked to, and kept their distance to other parties. One place, zum Sternla, even put up perspex “windows” to divide large tables for different parties.

Perspex windows!

One thing that I had noticed in the weeks before the trip, particularly on Instagram, was that Brauerei Heller, the brewery behind the well-known Schlenkerla smoked beers, had launched a new low-alcohol beer, Heinzlein. I was intrigued about it, because I knew this beer type under various different spellings (“Hainslein”, “Heinzele”) of the same name from previous research in historic beer literature. This “new” low-alcohol beer clocks in at just 0.9% ABV. While it cannot be legally considered to be alcohol-free beer, it is still practically too low to taste any alcohol or to get even tipsy from it.

In historic beer literature, this beer type is already mentioned in the early 19th century as typical for Bamberg. In the 1818 book “Das Bamberger Bier” by Johann Seifert, it is described as being brewed from the third runnings, boiled with hops, left to cool in the brew kettle overnight, and fermented with bottom-fermenting yeast like the regular beer made from the first and second runnings. The 1836 book “Die Bamberger Bierbrauerei” by Johann Messerschmidt contains an own section about brewing this beer type, and calls it a “one-hundred-year tradition” which, even though it was actually not legal according to the Bavarian brewing regulation from 1811, resisted any attempts to abolish its brewing. So, just from historic sources we know fairly well that this beer was actually brewed, and more importantly, how it was brewed.

So just from that perspective, it makes me incredibly happy to see a recreation, even with a slight modernization, of this historic beer style: unlike the historic original, the modern Heinzlein is available in two different version, a pale and a dark version. The dark version is, well, brown, slightly malty and astringent, while the pale version also has a faint astringency, but a lot more hop aroma and bitterness in the foreground, which makes it quite the refreshing drink.

In addition to that, Schlenkerla also has a version of this historic beer which they spell differently again, Hansla. It’s advertised as less than 1.2% ABV, and very obviously is related to Schlenkerla’s smoked beers. It is slightly malty, still has some smokey flavour, but also carries the tiniest hint of astringency. I was lucky to sample this beer directly at the historic Schlenkerla pub.

Schlenkerla Hansla

In the context of beer history, the Schlenkerla version of this low-alcohol beer type is probably closer to the historic original than the more modern versions.

Historic sources describe it as light and agreeable, pale in colour. Some brewers apparently sold it directly (and there was plenty of demand from poor people that couldn’t afford a Maß of full-strength beer!), while others mixed it with the regular beer.

And that’s where I also see the Hansla’s great potential: while it’s nice and refreshing to drink on its own, I could totally see a Schlenkerla Märzen mixed half-and-half with Hansla, to produce a drink that’s still obviously classic Rauchbier, but at the same time only has about 3% ABV. Or, if you prefer it slightly stronger or weaker, in different ratios. Please note that I haven’t actually tried this, but as soon as I get my hands on bottles of Schlenkerla Märzen and Hansla or Heinzlein, this is certainly an experiment I would like to conduct.

And last but not least, kudos to brewmaster Matthias Trum, who created these beers with the full awareness of the historicity. In my opinion, it’s a drink with character, in some ways a bit rough around the edges, that can meet the current trend of low-alcohol beers without giving up any of its character or originality. Especially the Schlenkerla Hansla is very much a Schlenkerla beer. Just a few years back, I don’t think anybody would have expected low-alcohol Schlenkerla that would be recognizable as such. And going even a step further, I don’t think anybody would have really expected a low-alcohol dark beer, either.

After writing all about low-ABV beer, I’m actually quite thirsty. I wouldn’t mind a Heinzlein, or Hansla, or Heinzele, or Hainslein, or however you want to spell it (the German language has been very flexible in spelling before its standardization, especially when trying to write local dialect words in high German), but it hasn’t quite made its way up from Bamberg to Berlin.

How to Brew my Award-Winning Berliner Weisse

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

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

Grist

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

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

Hops

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

Mashing

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

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

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

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

Yeast and Bacteria

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Berliner Weisse Summit 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Early Evidence for Czech Brewing Categories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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