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.
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 (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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
Berliner Weisse is classically mash-hopped, so I simply added 6 g of Tettnanger hops (3.4% alpha acid) to the mash.
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.
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.
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.
Well, today I can proudly proclaim that I have finally discovered not only what the “6.3” means but also how the value relates the modern beer colour units like SRM or EBC.
The whole thing started with me finding the original source for the specs Ron had put in his book. In fact, I had found these specs reprinted in several other books, as well, but all of them lacked information what the colour value actually meant. The original source is an article in Dingler’s Polytechnisches Journal, “Untersuchung der Biere, die in Wien getrunken werden” [Examination of the beers that are being drunk in Vienna] by Professor Fr. Schwackhöfer, published in 1876. Underneath the rather long list of analyses (which is great because it gives us other clues; I’ll get back to that), almost at the end of the article, it briefly mentions the system that was used to determine the beer colour: a system called Stammer’sches Farbenmaß.
From what I could find out, the Stammer’sches Farbenmaß [Stammer’s colour measurement] was originally developed to grade the colour of sugars in the sugar industry. It was in use from the 1870’s to as late as the 1930’s. Quite a few similar systems like that existed. In English-speaking literature, it was often called Stammer’s colorimeter. It worked by comparing the solution to be tested(or in the case of beer, just the beer) with a standard glass plate. It consisted of two glass tubes. One tube was filled with the beer (or sugar solution), while the other one was covered with the standard glass plate. Both tubes were illuminated from the bottom, and a prism at the top allowed the user to compare how both the standard solution and the glass plate looked like. You could then lower an glass immersion rod into the solution until the colour and shade most closely matched the glass plate. The measurement of colour was then the number of millimeters you had lowered the immersion rod into your solution.
The tricky thing with Stammer’s colorimeter is that there are two values you can work with. You have the direct reading, i.e. the number of millimeters of immersion, and you have the colour value, which is 100 divided by the reading.
A more detailed description of Stammer’s colorimeter as well as other systems of that time can be found in the Handbook of Sugar Analysis by Charles Albert Browne.
The next thing I then had to find was a way of converting readings from Stammer’s colorimeter to other units. The only source I could find was the brief article “Conversion Curve for Lovibond’s Tintometer and Stammer’s Colorimeter“, published in 1914 by Carl A. Nowak in the Journal of Industrial and Engineering Chemistry. This is great, because Lovibond is a well-known scale that has historically been used to grade the colour of malt and beer, and is apparently still in use to a certain extent to grade malt colour. The article contains a chart that shows the relationship between Stammer’s colorimeter and Lovibond values.
The Y scale contains the value of Stammer’s Colorimeter, while the X scale contains the corresponding Lovibond value.
What is noticeable in the chart though is that there is an inverse relationship between these two: higher Stammer values correspond with lower Lovibond values, and vice versa. But what is the Stammer value exactly? We have two available, the reading, and its inverse, the colour value. That’s where the comprehensive list of analyses comes in handy. Not only does it contain various pale lager beers, it also contains colour values of beers that we know are most definitely dark beers, in particular Salvator with a colour value of 41.5, and a bottled Porter with a colour value of 40. So from that we know that the higher the value was, the darker the beer was.
Since the chart indicates that the lower the Stammer value in the chart, the darker the beer, we can derive that the chart contains the Stammer colour value, while the values in the analysis are the direct readings, i.e. the amount of millimeters the rod was immersed in the tested beer.
To convert the 6.3 reading to the Stammer colour value, we simply calculate 100 / 6.3 = 15.87, and look up the corresponding Lovibond value in the chart, which is about 4.6 to 4.7. In modern units, this is equivalent to 5.5-5.6 SRM, or 10.8-11 EBC.
So there we have it, the colour of historic Vienna Lager. It’s paler than the usual beer style guidelines will say about Vienna Lager, but it fits what I’ve been saying for quite a while, that historic Vienna Lager was most likely paler than its modern versions, and that the usual beer style guidelines don’t capture the historic examples.
The last time I blogged about Vienna lager, I wrote down everything we know about the historic specifications of the beer style and how it was brewed in the last few decades of the 19th century. The only point that was speculation on my side was the water profile. I can now say that this has changed (kinda), because I found a source quantifying the chemical compounds in the brewing water of the Klein-Schwechater brewery.
By pure accident, I stumbled upon an analysis of the brewing water (well water) of the brewery in Klein-Schwechat, in the book “The Theory and Practice of the Preparation of Malt and the Fabrication of Beer, with Especial Reference to the Vienna Process of Brewing” by Julius E. Thausing. It’s actually the English translation of a German book. One problem with the analysis is that it doesn’t specify any units for most of the numbers. It does specify the amount of residue after the water has been evaporated (in grams), but that was it. Unlike the English translation, the German original at least references the original source other than just specifying the author, Lermer. The original source for this analysis is Dingler’s Polytechnisches Journal, volume 187.
This journal apparently has quite a bit of history. It was founded in 1820 by chemist Johann Gottfried Dingler, was published for 111 years, and covered all topics from agriculture, mining and metallurgy to machine construction, chemistry, geology, electrics, and many more subjects. For the history of engineering and technology, it is a great source. Fortunately, all of its volumes have been digitalized by Humboldt University in Berlin, and published online. So of course, we also have the original source of the water analysis available. You can find it here. Even though the original source is more detailed, and not only contains the water analysis of the brewing water of Klein-Schwechat but also water analysis of the old well and the river Schwechat, it is not in any way clearer regarding units than what we had in the English translation of Thausing’s book. At least we do learn that Klein-Schwechat brewery had two wells, an old one and a new one, and at the time of the article’s publishing, all brewing water was taken from the new well, which is the analysis that has been reprinted by Thausing.
So by itself, the analysis is unfortunately not really helpful. If anybody knows how to interpret the numbers, I’m grateful for any help with it.
As for the author of the analysis, Johann Karl (Carl in some sources) Lermer is quite the interesting person himself. He was hired in the 1860’s by Anton Dreher as brewery technician but apparently quickly rose the ranks and became head of Dreher’s Trieste brewery. In the Polytechnisches Journal, he published a number of articles. Given his background as conducting analyses at Dreher’s breweries, it gives an interesting insight into what were technical subjects industrial-scale lager breweries at that time were concerned about: chemical analysis of Lupulin, analysis of barley malt sprout, the issue of beerstone in pipes, the issue of mold in wooden fermenting vessels, the effects of freezing beer, malting experiments, or chemical analysis of hot break. A complete list of his contributions can be found here.
Besides the theoretical side, I’ve also been active on the practical side of Vienna lager brewing. Recently, we brewed a Vienna lager reasonably close to the historic specifications, with an OG of 13.4 °P (historical sources say 13 to 13.25 °P, the difference is due to a slighter greater mash efficiency), and 4.5 °P FG (which is close to the 4 to 4.25 °P you see in some historic sources), from 100% Vienna malt. One modification I made was the use of a double decoction mash instead of the more traditional triple decoction: I dough in at 38 to 40 °C and take a huge first decoction that brings temperature up to 65 °C. That way, the only protein rest is very briefly happening when heating up the first decoction. The second decoction then brings the temperature to 72-75 °C. That way, I skip an extensively long protein rest which wouldn’t exactly be productive with modern malts. I also deviated slightly from the hopping schedule, and only had one hop addition. I also made a slight mistake: my recipe in BeerSmith still had 3% alpha acid set for the Saazer hops, and I forgot to compensate for the 4.2% alpha acid Saazer hops that I had bought. So instead of 30 IBU, the resulting beer now has roughly 40 IBU. Oops.
Nevertheless, the outcome is nice: after 3 weeks of fermentation and many more weeks of cold lager, it’s just finished carbonating in the bottle and ready to drink. The bitterness is nicely counter-balanced with the residual sweetness coming from the low attenuation of the WLP820 lager yeast. Personally, I’m perfectly fine with the higher bitterness, even though it doesn’t 100% hit the original specs of the historic style. Even at 30 IBU, the beer would have enough bitterness to work nicely enough with sweetness. The 100% Vienna malt bring enough own malt flavour without making the beer cloying. All in all, not only a good example for the style, but also a reminder that for some beer styles, process is at least important as the careful choice of ingredients.
Watch out, NEIPA, there’s a new fad in town: Brut IPA. If you haven’t heard of it yet, Brut IPA is a new IPA-inspired beer style with a dry body, low bitterness, high hop flavour and aroma, and high carbonation. One core element of achieving such a dry and hoppy but not bitter beer is to only add hops during flame-out or whirlpool, to dry-hop in the fermenter, and most importantly, to use enzymes during fermentation to convert any remaining complex sugars into simple sugars that the yeast can turn into alcohol and carbon dioxide. This unique combination of dryness, hop aroma, and high carbonation apparently gives the beer a very unique mouthfeel and sensory experience otherwise only found in highly attenuated and carbonated styles like Saison.
Brut IPAs haven’t really arrived in Germany yet (I hear there’s one or two small breweries releasing some), so I haven’t had the chance to try any examples yet. But from everything I’ve read so far, professional brewers who have done the style emphasize the use of enzymes to produce a highly attenuated beer. The problem with brewing such a beer in Germany is that enzymes would be an additional ingredient that’s currently normally not allowed to be used in brewing. So how would a brewer get around it?
Maybe let’s just first talk what the enzymes really are about. Basically, malt contains enzymes, called amylase (alpha amylase and beta amylase, to be more precise) , that break long starch chains into shorter bits. Beta amylase chops off simple sugar on the end of such a starch chain, while alpha amylase chops it up at any point of the chain, producing shorter and shorter chains, eventually ending up with unfermentable dextrins, or given enough time, simple, fermentable sugars. It’s the foundation of mashing, really. These amylase enzymes work at an optimal temperature range, depending on the specific type, between roughly 60 and 75 °C.
The thing with enzymes in Brut IPAs is that they are often added to the wort at the beginning of or during fermentation. A common product for that is glucoamylase, also known as amyloglucosidase or gamma amylase. While its optimum temperature is about 65 °C, it will still work at normal fermentation temperature and help with chopping up the last few remaining dextrins into fermentable sugars.
So, if German pro-brewers aren’t allowed to use enzymes to add to the fermenting beer, how else would they be able to achieve such a highly attenuated beer? Fortunately, there’s a precedent in recent German beer history. In Germany, you used to be able to buy Diätbier (“diet bier”) until the use of the term was prohibited in 2012. Diätbier is essentially a fully attenuated beer with no carbohydrates in it left, and it used to be advertised to be suitable for diabetics. This of course ignored the fact that alcohol changes the way sugar is absorbed by the body, and was one of the reason why Diätbier is not a thing anymore. But how Diätbier was free from carbohydrates is what made it similar to Brut IPA. So if we wanted to brew a Brut IPA that complies with German beer legislation, all we needed to do was to brew it just like German brewers used to brew Diätbier. There are a few approaches, which I’ll describe here:
The crudest and simplest approach is to just add a certain amount of barley malt flour to the chilled wort or freshly fermenting beer. The amylase in the beer will get active and not only convert the starch from the barley malt flour, but also any remaining dextrins, and given enough time, produce a beer with no residual extract. The risk there is that not all the starch will actually get converted, and starches in the final beer can have a negative impact on the overall shelf stability.
A better way and slightly more sophisticated way is to just take some of the mash when it’s at 60 °C to make sure none of the enzymes have been damaged, lauter it, put the wort aside, and continue brewing as normal. When the main wort is chilled and yeast has been pitched, the wort put aside earlier can be added to it, and the enzymes now have time to convert the remaining complex sugars and dextrins.
But wort can easily spoil, so you can go even further and produce a sotrable malt extract that can be used as enzyme source in brewing by mashing in malt at up to 65 °C, lautering, chilling, and then fermenting it. Without a boil, none of the enzymes should get denatured. The resulting unboiled beer can then be filtered to free it from proteins and yeast and kept for a longer period of time. Since it’s beer, it can be blended with other beer and still totally be within the purity law. This method was even patented in the 1980’s to a German company.
Practically, it’s probably the easiest for homebrewers to use the unboiled wort method. I would consider using barley malt flour to be unsafe, not just because of the risk of introducing starches into beer, but also for a slight contamination risk. Fermenting and filtering an enzyme-rich wort is probably also not great for homebrewers as you need to plan ahead and actually have the equipment and facilities to filter and package the beer in an contaminant-free environment. So the easiest is just to take a bit of wort during the mash, set it aside, and then add it to the fermenter a few hours later.
There’s also another way of achieving such high attenuation: super-attenuating yeast. There exist variants of brewers yeast, such as Saccharomyces cerevisiae var. diastaticus, that produce their own glucoamylase to help with converting starches and dextrines. Saison yeast is a well-known example for this type of yeast. Unfortunately, most diastaticus yeasts are also known for producing phenolic off-flavours (they are “phenolic off-flavour positive”, or POF+). In Saisons, these phenols are appropriate, while in other beer styles, such as IPAs, where the hop flavour and aroma should shine, probably not so much. So far, there are only two known diastaticus strains that are POF- (i.e. don’t produce phenolic off-flavours), which are WLP026 (an English ale yeast) and WLP644 (a yeast that had previously been misidentified as Brettanomyces since it is known for producing some funky, Brett-like aromas and flavours). This method is probably most suitable if you want to produce a “Belgian-style” or funky Brut IPA.
So, to summarize, if you want to brew a Brut IPA, and for whatever reason, have to stick to German beer legislation, and can’t or don’t want to add enzymes to your beer, or you can’t buy any glucoamylase in your homebrew shop, here’s a method that has been used in the past to produce very dry, highly attenuated beers. Just be aware that I haven’t actually tried this method in practice. Not only is it slightly too warm to brew beer unless you have good temperature control, I also didn’t really have time recently to brew much. This is just based on theory I read about in German brewing books.